Includes information on business customs, travel advisory, visa requirements, and other aspects of international travel.
Establishing a personal relationship with business partners is a critical factor in successfully negotiating major projects, government procurements, or developing long-term business relationships. Scheduling meetings with potential Russian business partners can be challenging. It may take weeks to get a response to an email, fax, or telephone request for a meeting. Once contact has been established, patience may still be required to confirm a date and time to meet. U.S. business visitors to Moscow or St. Petersburg are advised to factor heavy road traffic into scheduling.
Russian language ability is a must for concluding business successfully, and an interpreter should be hired if necessary. An increasing number of Russian businesspeople speak a courtesy level of English; however, many prefer to conduct business discussions in Russian. The U.S. Commercial Service can arrange for the services of qualified interpreters.
Business cards are important and are exchanged freely. Cards should have regular contact information and an email address and website if available. Most foreign businesspeople in Russia carry bilingual English/Russian business cards (one side English, the other Russian).
Russian language promotional materials are an important tool for creating interest in a company’s products in the Russian market. The translation must be accurate and of high quality, utilizing professional translation services. Many companies interested in the Russian market have used online translation platforms, only to learn that the translation did not appropriately convey the U.S. firm’s message or conform to professional standards or take into account local cultural idiosyncrasies. The Commercial Service has started identifying business service providers in Russia in different categories that are known by our team and/or U.S. companies in the market.
Hotels: While world-class tourist and business facilities exist in Moscow and St. Petersburg, they are under-developed in much of Russia, and many goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet widely available outside large cities. Western-style hotels are present in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Kazan, Nizhniy Novgorod, Nizhnevartovsk, Perm, Samara, Sochi, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, and Vladivostok, though they are often priced at a premium in comparison to similar accommodations in other countries. Outside major cities, traditional Russian hotels offer modest accommodations at modest rates, and some regional hotels raise rates for foreign guests. It is possible to find well-appointed hotels in some small towns; it is equally possible to be temporarily without water or electricity when visiting some regions of Russia, during seasonal maintenance outages, for example.
Clothing: Russian businessmen and women predominately wear business suits. For women, dresses, skirts, or pants are acceptable. Winters can be extremely cold in Russia with occasional temperatures in the minus-20 Fahrenheit range in northern and Siberian cities; Moscow and St. Petersburg can be quite cold as well, with temperatures in the teens. Winter clothes may be needed as early as October or as late as May. Travelers are advised to bring boots or other protective footwear, as streets and sidewalks in winter are frequently slushy or icy. Summers, while brief, can be surprisingly hot, and air conditioning is still rare outside big-city hotels and offices.
Food: The recent ruble depreciation has made dining out in Moscow and St. Petersburg more affordable, in line with major U.S. cities. Russian food can be bland to American tastes, while many visitors find Caucasian, Georgian and Uzbek cuisines an interesting contrast. Asian food is becoming increasingly popular and sushi restaurants are pervasive. Along with ethnic cuisines, gourmet cafeterias have risen in popularity as well due to a large variety of food and high quality of ingredients. Regardless of the city or hotel, bottled water served with no ice is recommended. Tips are generally 10% of the bill for good service.
Mail Services: The following companies, with offices in Moscow, offer priority mail services between the United States and Russia:
• Federal Express
• Pony Express
The State Department issues Travel Alerts and Warnings when warranted by local conditions. If you are traveling to Russia, please refer to the Country-Specific Information (CSI) for the Russian Federation and consider enrolling your travel with the Department of State to receive e-mail updates. The CSI is updated regularly and contains key information for travelers regarding security and safety, health, visa and immigration regulations, and general travel information about the Russian Federation.
Personal Security: Deterioration in the U.S.-Russian bilateral relationship has not dramatically affected the security environment for U.S. travelers to Russia. Although anti-American and anti-Western sentiment has increased since mid-2014, there have not been widespread reports of overt aggression against or harassment of Westerners because of their nationality. To an extent, Russians tend to mind their own business and/or fully ignore Westerners. Media reports highlighting incidents of discrimination against those who are not ethnically Russian portray that aggression as directed more towards individuals from the North Caucasus and Central Asia rather than Westerners who happen to be darker-skinned.
Discrimination based on sexual orientation is widespread; harassment, threats, and acts of violence targeting the LGBT community are also prevalent. Members of the LGBT community who do not openly express their preferences can avoid extra attention. Small demonstrations in support of LGBT rights are often dispersed, sometimes violently, by nationalists claiming to be defending traditional Russian values. In large cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, it is frowned upon but will likely only result in a backlash if public displays of affection are shown.
Visitors to Russia need to be alert to their surroundings. The overall crime threat is comparable to that of other large cities around the world. Pickpocketing, muggings, and similar personal crimes take place on metros, areas with heavy pedestrian traffic, and tourist sites. In large cities, visitors need to take the same precautions against assault, robbery, or pickpockets that they would take in any large U.S. city:
• Keep billfolds in inner front pockets,
• Carry purses tucked securely under arms,
• Wear the shoulder strap of cameras or bags across the chest, and
• Walk away from the curb and carry purses and other bags away from the street.
The most vulnerable areas include underground walkways and the subway, overnight trains, train stations, airports, markets, tourist attractions, and restaurants. Violent crime, including incidents backed by organized crime, is not uncommon. Police reports indicate that criminal groups actively target individuals carrying large sums of cash, often numbering in the tens of thousands of U.S. dollars and/or millions of rubles. Robberies of individuals in expensive vehicles are common.
Groups of children and adolescents have been aggressive in some cities, swarming victims, or assaulting and knocking them down. They frequently target people who are perceived as vulnerable, especially people traveling alone. Some victims report that the attackers use knives, and the use of pneumatic pistols/air guns has been witnessed. People carrying valuables in backpacks, in back pockets of pants, and coat pockets are especially vulnerable to pickpockets.
A common street scam in Russia is the “turkey drop” in which an individual “accidentally” drops money on the ground in front of an intended victim, while an accomplice either waits for the money to be picked up or picks up the money him/herself and offers to split it with the pedestrian. The individual who dropped the currency then returns, aggressively accusing both of stealing the money. This confrontation generally results in the pedestrian’s money being stolen. Avoidance is the best defense. Do not get trapped into picking up the money and quickly walk away from the scene.
Foreigners who have been drinking alcohol are especially vulnerable to assault and robbery in or around nightclubs or bars, or on their way home. Some travelers have reported being drugged at bars, while others have taken strangers back to their lodgings, where they were drugged, robbed, and/or assaulted. It is difficult to gauge how common drug-facilitated crimes are in Russia. Travelers should be aware that many drugs are tasteless, odorless, and difficult to detect both before and after consumption. These substances can be quickly mixed into beverages without one’s knowledge. Effects of these substances include loss of consciousness, inability to remember events before and after consumption, and possibly death. Effects can be magnified when substances are mixed with alcohol. The relatively short half-life of these substances makes it difficult for medical personnel to determine what might have been consumed. To avoid such situations, it is best to go out for drinks with a group of people of three or more. This could lower the chances of being, drugged, robbed, and/or assaulted because there is less vulnerability within a larger group.
The cybercrime threat is acute. The risk of infection, compromise, and theft via malware, spam e-mail, sophisticated spear phishing, and social engineering attacks are significant. U.S. businesses and private citizens should exercise all due caution and adhere to all cybersecurity best practices. The U.S. Embassy continues to receive periodic reports of ATM and credit card fraud. Victims of credit card or ATM card theft should report the theft to their credit card company or issuing bank immediately.
Travelers are advised to be vigilant in bus and train stations and on public transport. Travelers have generally found it safer to travel in groups organized by reputable tour agencies. Visitors are strongly discouraged from using unmarked, “gypsy” taxis. Passengers have been victims of robbery, kidnapping, extortion, and theft. Criminals using these taxis to rob passengers often wait outside bars or restaurants to find passengers who have been drinking and therefore more susceptible to robbery. Robberies may also occur in taxis shared with strangers. Travelers should always use authorized taxi services when arriving at major airports and avoid solicitations by drivers in the terminal. In addition, online ride-hailing applications, such as Uber, Yandex Taxi, and GettTaxi are used widely in major cities.
To avoid highway crime, travelers should try not to drive at night, especially when alone, or sleep in vehicles along the roadway. Travelers should not, under any circumstances, pick up hitchhikers; they not only pose a threat to physical safety but also put the driver in danger of being arrested for unwittingly transporting contraband. In addition, Russia practices a zero-tolerance policy toward alcohol consumption before driving. The maximum punishment is a two-year suspension of a driver’s license. An intoxicated driver may also be detained until deemed to be sober.
Travelers should be aware that certain activities that would be normal business activities in the United States and other countries are either illegal under the Russian legal code or are considered cause for investigation by the Federal Security Service (FSB). U.S. citizens should be particularly aware of potential risks involved in any commercial activity with the Russian military-industrial complex, including research institutes, design bureaus, production facilities, or other high-tech, government-related institutions. Any misunderstanding or dispute in such transactions can attract the involvement of the security services and lead to investigation or prosecution for espionage. Rules governing the treatment of such violations remain poorly defined.
It is not uncommon for foreigners to become victims of harassment, mistreatment, and extortion by law enforcement. Police do not need to show probable cause to stop, question, or detain individuals. If stopped, travelers should obtain, if safe to do so, the officer’s name, badge number, and patrol car number, and note where the stop happened, as this information assists local officials in identifying the perpetrators in cases where the incident is not for legitimate purposes. Individuals should refrain from paying bribes and should instead ask the officer to take them to a police station where the matter can be handled in the presence of others. Police agencies are concerned about these incidents and have cooperated in investigating such cases. Travelers should report crimes to the U.S. Embassy or the nearest Consulate General.
Consular Services: All Americans who travel to Russia are encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy or at one of the U.S. Consulates, listed below. In addition to providing updated travel and security information, registration facilitates the replacement of a lost or stolen passport as well as a contact in case of emergency.
Due to the Russian government’s ban on locally employed staff, which took effect in the summer of 2021, U.S. Embassy Moscow has reduced consular services to include only emergency U.S. citizen services and a very limited number of age-out and life or death emergency immigrant visas. For the latest information, please check the U.S. Embassy’s website for updates.
U.S. Embassy - Moscow
8 Bolshoy Devyatinsky Pereulok, Moscow 121099
American Citizen Services, Consular Section
21 Novinskiy Blvd, Moscow 123242
Tel: +7 (495) 728 5577, Fax: +7 (495) 728 5084
After-hours (emergencies): Tel: +7 (495) 728 5025/728 5000
U.S. Consulate General – Vladivostok (operations temporarily suspended)
32 Pushkinskaya Street, Vladivostok 690001
Tel: +7 (4232) 300 070, Fax: +7 (4232) 499 371/2 (4232) 300 091 (visa section)
After-hours emergencies: Tel: +7 (4232) 710 067
U.S. Consulate General – Yekaterinburg (operations temporarily suspended)
15 Gogol Street, 4th Floor, Yekaterinburg 620151
Tel: +7 (343) 379 3001/379 4619/91, Fax: +7 (343) 379 4515
The Russian government requires visas and residence permits for businesspersons and investors. Work and residence permits must be renewed periodically – a cumbersome process that almost always requires local legal counsel.
Travelers planning to attend business meetings, negotiate transactions, or make business presentations while in Russia are required to clearly state this on their visa application and apply for the proper category of visa. There have been several instances of U.S. citizens being detaining and/or expelled for traveling on an incorrect visa, typically for conducting business while on a tourist visa. In addition, registration with local authorities is required when remaining in Russia for more than seven business days.
Russia’s visa system is very complicated, and visitors should consult the State Department, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Country Travel Information for the Russian Federation for up-to-date information and links regarding Russian entry and exit requirements. The Russia Country Travel Information may be accessed here.
U.S. companies that require the travel of foreign businesspersons or workers to the United States should be aware that Russian citizens require visas to enter the United States. A visa is issued by a U.S. embassy or consulate and entitles the holder to travel to the United States and apply for admission; it does not guarantee entry. An immigration inspector at the port of entry determines the visa holder’s eligibility for admission into the United States. The embassy and consulates expeditiously process visa applications, but it is important to apply as early as possible. Due to the COVID-19 situation, and the Russian government’s ban on locally employed staff starting August 1, 2021, please check the U.S. Embassy’s website for the latest information on consular services and visas:
Note: As of this writing, Russia’s borders remain largely closed to business travelers due to the COVID-19 pandemic; closely monitor the website of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for updated traveler information.
Russia is predominately a cash economy with the Russian ruble as the only legal tender for local transactions. It is illegal to pay for goods and services in U.S. dollars or another foreign currency. Old, worn, or marked bills are often not accepted at banks and exchanges. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, currency exchange offices are available in most shopping areas and provide reliable service. Credit cards are now accepted at most modern businesses in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and most hotels and restaurants in larger regional cities, but often only in major or chain stores. Traveler’s checks are not widely accepted in Russia. Travelers to regional cities or towns are advised to carry enough cash to cover foreseeable expenses. Major hotels and the American Express offices in Moscow and St. Petersburg may be able to suggest locations for cashing traveler’s checks or obtaining cash advances on credit cards. Rubles (and dollars, if needed) may be obtained from bank ATMs that are connected to the PLUS and CIRRUS systems using U.S. debit/credit cards. It is not recommended to use credit/debit cards for small purchases or in standalone ATMs (those not physically located at a bank). ATMs are common in the larger cities, although there have been some instances of theft from card numbers used in these systems. Western Union has many agents in Moscow and other cities in Russia, which disburse money wired from the United States.
Internet Accessibility: Current statistics demonstrate that roughly half of the Russian population uses the Internet regularly. The largest players in Russian e-mail services and search engines are Mail.ru, Rambler, and Yandex. Internet service is widely available in the major cities, and Wi-Fi is increasingly available in restaurants, hotels, shops, and public spaces throughout Russia though primarily in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other large cities. Public Wi-Fi access comes with considerable risk in Russia.
Mobile Technology: Mobile services are provided in the GSM, CDMA-450, AMPS, and DAMPS standards. GSM dominates the market, holding 80% of the market space. The major cellular operators include Mobile TeleSystems (MTS), Vimpelcom (Beeline), and Megafon.
Long-distance telephone calls can be placed using IP phone services, including Skype, with an internet connection. One can also buy a mobile SIM card for intercity or international phone calls at a special rate. To save money on international calls and domestic calls, one can buy a phone locally for around $30 and a local SIM card for $5.
A rudimentary knowledge of Russian is extremely helpful for those placing calls through local telephone offices. Moscow is seven hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time in the summer and eight hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the winter. To reach Moscow by phone from the United States you need to access an international line by dialing “011”, then dial Russia Country Code “7,” Moscow City Code “495” (for example), followed by the phone number. Some new numbers use “499” for Moscow and calling cell phones in Russia often requires a different dialing string.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) assesses the Russian Government as compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) safety standards for oversight of Russian air carriers’ operations. See https://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/iasa/ for more information.
The following are current characteristics of Russian airlines:
· Most domestic airlines offer online ticket sales.
· Flights can be canceled if more than 30% of the seats remain unsold; however, this rarely transpires.
· Travelers should always have their passports with them. Air travel within western Russia generally stays on schedule and the quality of service continues to improve.
· Flights within the Russian Far East are sometimes delayed or canceled in the winter months due to snow or fog.
· International Russian carriers, such as Aeroflot and S7 Airlines, typically use Western aircraft and meet higher customer service standards than other domestic carriers.
Moscow has three major airports (Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo, and Vnukovo); the fourth airport, Bykovo, deals primarily with cargo and emergency flights. The VIP terminals of Sheremetyevo (Terminal A), Domodedovo (Domodedovo Business Aviation Center), and Vnukovo (Vnukovo-3) offers customized service to VIP clients regularly. International flights generally enter Moscow through Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo. Most international flights arrive in Sheremetyevo-2 (renamed SVO-F in December 2009) while Sheremetyevo-1 (renamed SVO-B in March 2010) handles most domestic traffic. With the opening of Terminal C (SVO-C) in March 2007 and the opening of Terminal D (SVO-D) in November 2009, some international and domestic travel has been redirected to these facilities. Terminal E (SVO-E) provides convenient access between SVO-D and SVO-F, offering high-speed movement systems (elevators, escalators, and moving walkways) and other amenities for travelers.
Travelers may continue to other Russian cities from Sheremetyevo, Vnukovo, or Domodedovo airports. However, travel time between airports or to the city center can take as much as three hours, depending on traffic, and ample time must be allowed for passport control, customs clearance, and baggage retrieval. The introduction of Aeroexpress trains that provide a high-speed direct connection from each of the airports to the city center (35-45 minutes travel time) has greatly alleviated this problem in recent years. St. Petersburg’s airport has two terminals: Pulkovo-1 (domestic flights) and Pulkovo-2 (international flights).
Train travel in Russia is generally reliable and convenient, and stations are located in the city center. From St. Petersburg to Moscow, travelers often ride overnight trains, although unaccompanied passengers are reminded to keep an eye on their valuables and lock their doors at night (if in a sleeping compartment), as some incidents of pick-pocketing have been reported. For quicker train connections between Moscow and St. Petersburg, travelers can take the high-speed Sapsan train, which takes approximately four hours.
Inclement weather, erratic maintenance, and a culture of aggressive driving make road conditions throughout Russia highly variable. Drivers and pedestrians should exercise extreme caution to avoid accidents. Traffic police sometimes stop motorists to levy cash “fines,” but the scope of this problem has declined in recent years. Criminals occasionally prey on travelers, especially in isolated areas.
In Moscow and St. Petersburg, the metro (subway) is an efficient and inexpensive means of transportation. However, for non-Russian speakers, it can be difficult without researching the route in advance. Be sure to carry a metro map with you. Learning the Cyrillic alphabet is useful, as is the Yandex metro map application.
Marked taxis are prevalent in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and as noted previously, online ride-hailing applications, such as Uber and GettTaxi, are used widely in major cities. Short-term business travelers may wish to consider renting a car and driver for extensive excursions or hire taxis through their hotels for shorter trips. Car rentals are another option that has become available recently, although driving in Russia can be difficult for the uninitiated.
Many first-time visitors are surprised by how difficult it can be to find anyone who speaks English. U.S. businesses should hire a reputable interpreter when conducting important negotiations. Not having product literature in Russian will put your company at a disadvantage relative to your European, Asian, and local competitors. It is recommended to download a translation app on your smartphone and to employ a reputable interpreter.
Western medical care in Moscow can be expensive, difficult to obtain, and is not entirely comprehensive. The Embassy strongly urges all travelers who visit Russia to purchase traveler’s medical insurance which includes coverage for a medical evacuation.
The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of medical service providers on its website (https://ru.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/).
The Department of State updates its CSI for Russia every six months and includes information on Medical Facilities and Health Information as well as Medical Insurance. Please visit the U.S. Department of State’s website.
Further information on health matters can be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s international traveler’s hotline at 1-877-394-8747, or via the CDC home page.
Local Time, Business Hours, and Holidays
There are eleven official time zones in Russia. (The country experimented briefly with a consolidated, 9-time-zone map from 2010-2014 but reverted to an 11-zone map in autumn 2014.) Since Russia has not observed summer Daylight Savings Time since 2014, Moscow is seven hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Daylight Time in the summer and eight hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time in the winter. Most companies and offices maintain business hours of 9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. Many shopping centers and supermarkets are open from 10:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. Increasingly, major supermarket chains are open 24 hours, seven days per week.
Holidays: Russian holidays listed on the U.S. Embassy’s Web site are not an all-inclusive list. Occasionally days off will be declared by the government to create a long weekend, particularly in late December/early January (when holidays fall on weekends, Russian authorities generally announce during the week before the holiday whether it will be celebrated on the previous Friday or the following Monday). Travelers should be aware that little business is conducted from mid-December through mid-January. The country essentially shuts down for business from New Year’s Day to Russian Orthodox Christmas (January 7). Government offices, most businesses, and even much of the press close during this period. The period from May 1 through May 9 is similar.
Temporary Entry of Materials or Personal Belongings
Russian customs procedures include entry and exit declaration forms. Foreigners are allowed to export up to $3,000 without providing a customs declaration or proof of how the money was obtained. Foreigners may also export up to $10,000 by simply filling out a customs declaration upon exit. More than $10,000 can be exported upon proof that it was imported into Russia legally (a stamped customs declaration or proof of a legal bank or wire transfer must be presented to export currency). Failure to follow these procedures can and does result in delays, detentions, confiscation of the currency, and even imprisonment. Lost or stolen customs forms should be reported to the Russian police, and a police report (spravka) should be obtained to present to customs officials upon departure. Often, however, the traveler will find that the lost customs declaration cannot be replaced.
You should obtain a receipt for all items of value – including caviar – purchased in Russia. Furthermore, old artifacts and antiques must have a certificate indicating that they have no historical value. For further information, call Russian Customs at +7 (495) 265 6628 or 208 2808. Additional information may be found on Russian Customs’ website.
Export duties may be imposed on any items that are determined by customs officials at the point of departure to be of commercial use. Items that may appear to have historical or cultural value – icons, rugs, art, antiques, etc. – generally may be taken out of Russia only with the prior written approval of the Ministry of Culture and payment of a 100% duty. Occasionally, dealers of quality items may be able to arrange this approval at a lower cost. Certain items, such as caviar, medications, jewelry, precious and semi-precious stones or metals, and fuel may be exported duty-free in limited amounts only.
Computers, electronic notebooks, and related hardware must be presented to customs officials at the airport for security scanning at least two hours before departure. The embassy understands that customs officials may require “information storage devices” to be submitted 24 hours before departure. The law is often neglected but can be enforced on a case-by-case basis. Failure to follow the customs regulations may result in penalties ranging from confiscation of the property in question and/or imposition of fines or arrest.
To prevent possible difficulties in taking currency and valuables out of Russia, travelers are highly advised to ensure that their passenger declaration form is completed and is stamped by customs officials at the point of entry. This customs declaration should be kept and made available when exiting Russia.