What should you know before going to Russia?

We always hear a lot about Russia. The most common topic is politics, but it also appears in the media as a touristic destination. Saint Petersburg – Venice of the north, cultural capital of Russia, “connection” to the West. Moscow, famous Red Square, Kreml, Arbat. Trans-siberian railway, Baikal lake,,, all these places attract tourists from all around the world every year. This country fascinates – “Russia is not a country”, they say, “…Russia is a state of mind”. There is a lot of things, situations, customs and rules in Russia that may surprise us, people from other countries, and if we are not aware of them, they may turn out to be problematic. If you are planning a trip to the biggest country in the world, the below list may come in handy.


What should you know before going to Russia?


1. Russians don’t speak English

Not all of them, of course. I met many Russians speaking very good English, and even some real polyglots (!). But generally speaking, communicating in English is very, very hard in Russia. If you want to ask for directions and the first, second, third young person you stop can’t help you, don’t be surprised. No matter how very touristic place this is, if you don’t speak Russian be prepared to use a mixture of all possible languages, your basic one being sign language.

2. What is marshrutka and how to use it

This topic is so useful and wide, that you will find a separate article about it. Check it out!

3. How important is your passport in Russia

Passport in Russia is a very important document. Seriously, A Very Important Document. Travelling in the European Union made us forget about the existence of passport controls and borders, but in Russia the police may ask you to present your documents in the least expected situations. Our co-worker from Brasil had to show his passport to the police really often, mainly around metro stations. The reason for that was his a bit darker skin which made him look similar to numerous immigrants from the east, who stay in St. Petersburg, legally or not. If you attract attention in any way, you may be asked to present your documents. We were asked this after a sleepless night on a train (regarding trains – you can’t even buy a ticket for a long distance train without your passport!). We looked quite bad, red eyes with dark circles, slowly walking around, not sure where to go. It was enough to make the policemen make sure if we are allowed to be where we are and if all our documents are in order. It’s not anything bad or scary, we just should be ready for this. Keep a watchful eye on your passport in Russia, guard it! Just in case, make a copy of the first page of your passport (the one with photo) and your visa. If anything happens, I heard that it’s much easier to get new ones in the embassy if you have such copies. I still have the copies of my passport and visa in my wallet even though I came back from Russia 1,5 year ago! Either I’m sentimental or it’s a proof that “Russia is a state of mind” – I’m not sure myself 🙂

4. How important is your migration card in Russia

A migration card is another Very Important Document. It’s a small piece of paper which you get while entering Russia on the border or at the airport. You have to keep it and give it back while leaving the country. If you happen to lose it, you can be treated as an illegal immigrant, you can have serious troubles with the police and it may even lead to deportation from Russia and very big problems with getting another Russian visa during next 5 years. My friend from Italy with whom I was working lost his migration card. How stressed he was, and we all were… I will once describe how great fun we had during the process of getting a new one for him, I strongly do not recommend this… 😉 Guard your migration card as attentively as your passport!

5. Registration in Russia

If you stay in Russia for more that 7 working days, you are obliged to register. This means that you need to let the officials know where you live, the officials want and need to know this stuff 🙂 If you stay in a hotel, there’s no problem, because the hotel should register you automatically. In case of hostels, it’s good to make sure that they will do it (I think law says they should, but you never know where they want to save money… 🙂 ). However, if you live at someone’s place – friends, colleagues, airbnb, couchsurfing, then you have to remember about the registration by yourself. Your host needs to go to a post office or police station with a copy of your passport, visa and migration card (you can but don’t have to be present 🙂 ). He should fill in the documents, pay (I’m not sure, but the price is around 150 roubles), and he will get another Very Important Document for you, which you’d better not lose. What is also important – if your visa lets you enter Russia few times and you leave the country and come back again for more than 7 working days – you have to register again!
If you are not registered, you may get a fee and be taken to a police station. In theory, this may also result in deportation from Russia, but as far as I heard, this happens very rarely. What is more, the hotel/hostel/your host may be punished with a fee as well for not fulfilling this obligation.
By the way, while writing this post I started wondering what happens with the registration if you’re travelling with Trans-Siberian Railway – do you declare to live in a train? 🙂 I will try to check, but if you know – tell me please.

6. Russia is not so scary!

Did I frighten you with all this? Don’t get discouraged! Russia has its peculiarities, like all other countries. What’s happening in politics – we all know. But it’s not scary at all there. It really is a fascinating country, where you can find a lot of beautiful places to see, interesting customs to observe, great people to know. Oh, yes. Really, there just live normal, friendly, great people – let’s not forget this, despite all the media buzz about Russia.

Just go there and see by yourself. And share your experience with me! 🙂

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