Travelling to Russia

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A thousand years of history. Tsars, revolutionaries and repression. Fairytale palaces, majestic cathedrals, ugly concrete monoliths, peasant cottages with thriving gardens. Peasants, fashionistas, soldiers, artists, mafia, babushkas, ordinary citizens. How to sum up a country of such massive contradictions?

Russia has given the world some of its finest artists, dancers, athletes, writers and thinkers, as well as some of its most horrifying history. Once a closed shop, it is now listed on many a bucket list.

You’ll have to work hard at travelling in Russia, but the rewards are intense experiences and amazing memories.

Risks of travelling to Russia

Crime and unrest

Smartraveller currently recommends that you exercise a high degree of caution in Russia due to the ongoing threat of terrorist activity and the high level of crime.

Terrorism risk spots include public transport and hubs, and tourist areas as well as popular accommodation and shopping spots. Terrorism is rife in the north, particularly the North Caucasus region.

Petty crime, pick-pocketing and mugging, sometimes by groups of children, are common, especially around tourist attractions. Beware of credit card scams and do not let vendors or others take your card out of sight.

There are also scams involving ‘dropped’ money – do not pick up money that someone seems to have dropped and don’t get into arguments with strangers.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation is widespread.

Weather

Blizzards and other severe weather events are common during winter, so if you are travelling between November and March it’s wise to take out travel insurance to cover you for unexpected delays or cancellations.

If a delay means you will overstay your visa (tourist visas cannot normally be extended) you risk a heavy fine and possible deportation. You should contact local authorities for an extension in this case.

Take care if travelling in autumn and winter that you do not slip on the ice – this is the most common form of injury in Russia. Temperatures can reach well below zero in many areas, so take precautions to avoid exposure if you are travelling during winter.

Health

HIV/AIDS, typhoid, rabies, hepatitis, diphtheria, measles and tuberculosis are prevalent, so check with your GP for prevention and basic treatment before you leave. It’s best to drink bottled water and avoid ice in drinks. Travelling in the forest in spring and summer can leave you vulnerable to tick-borne encephalitis.

Russia has very strict rules on importing prescription drugs, and some Australian over-the-counter medications are illegal there. Take appropriate certification from your GP.

Public medical care in Russia is well below Australian standards in the cities and very basic in rural areas. A few private medical clinics are available in the major cities, but these will require either upfront payment or a guarantee from your travel insurer.

Other

Importing GPS systems is strictly controlled and you must have certification or face a heavy fine. There are no restrictions on bringing laptops, however, your hard drive may be examined on leaving and encrypted data may be confiscated. Cellular mobile phones with GPS are OK, however satellite phones require permission.

It’s best to have a variety of ways to access money in Russia including credit cards, travellers' cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. It’s best not to carry too much cash as you may be targeted, and to leave copies of your travel documents at home or in a safe place. The only legal tender is the Russian rouble.

The cost of skipping travel insurance

In 2014, Worldcare helped 3 Australians who travelled to Russia, ran into trouble and made a claim on their travel insurance policy.

Most of our total claims cost for Russia that year was for medical and hospital expenses (73%). Other claims were for cancellation fees and lost deposits (3%) and pick-pocketing (2%).

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It’s worth considering travel insurance, which may save you considerable cost and trouble.

Worldcare has a range of travel insurance options and inclusions to suit any Russia holiday budget – even if yours is limited.*

*Terms, conditions, limits and exclusions apply. Refer to the Product Disclosure Statement for details.

Read more about travelling to Russia on our blog

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