Some say that “Russia is a state of mind”. To some extent I agree with this statement. Russia has many traditions, customs or rules which shock or are hard to understand. So what Russia travel tips do you need to go there and feel comfortable?
Even though Russia can be surprising, I learnt how to live in its reality – and I am going to share useful Russia travel advice with you 🙂
Russia Travel Tips
Visa to Russia
If you are Polish, go to Polish version of this article for specific information about visa.
Citizens of only 34 countries don’t need visa to Russia at all. You can find a full list here. Luckily, residents of a lot more countries can get a free e-visa while visiting Saint Petersburg or Kaliningrad area. You can check if it applies to your country and apply for visa on the website here.
If you plan to visit other parts of Russia or your country isn’t included in the above lists, you will need to go through Russian visa procedures. Check the rules applying to your country, gather your patience and go for it! 🙂
Carry your passport or its copy with you
Russia travel advice – note that passport is an incredibly important document. Open borders of European Union made us lazy and used to lack of controls – but one of my first Russian travel tips is, forget that. In Russia you may have to present your passport when you least expect it.
You need your passport to buy a train ticket. You need it to buy a local SIM card. They ask you for it when you want to get permission to enter Pribaikalskiy National Park – and in many other cases.
A friend who volunteered in Saint Petersburg with me had to present his passport on a regular basis around metro stations. His skin is darker which makes him similar to immigrants from the East. Many of them stay there illegally.
If you don’t want to carry your passport – make a copy of the first page and the visa. Take a photo of your migration card. In case you need to present the document and you don’t have it – the copies may suffice. It all depends on the mood of the person checking it though. I also heard that if you happen to lose your passport, it is easier to get a new one if you have the copies. Luckily, I didn’t have to check if this information is true.
Migration card: Russia travel tips
You will get a migration card on the passport control while entering Russia. Do not ignore this small piece of paper left in your passport. It is an EXTREMELY important Russian travel tip.
You need to show your migration card on the border when you leave Russia. Border guards will keep it and let you go. If you happen to lose it, you are basically an illegal immigrant and you can have troubles with the police. You could even be deported. I totally don’t recommend. When I volunteered in Russia, my friend lost his migration card. Getting a new one in a local migration office took over 3 weeks and it was an unpleasant experience. If this happens to you (and I hope it won’t), contact your embassy and ask for advice immediately.
This year (2019) for the first time I was going back from Russia via Belarus. They didn’t take the migration card on Russian-Belarussian border, only when leaving Belarus. Conclusion – keep an eye on your migration card until one of the border control guards takes it from you.
Learn reading Cyrillic alphabet and basic Russian
Finding someone who speaks English is Russia is difficult. And it doesn’t matter if you are in a touristic place or not. If you need to deal with something a touch more complicated than buying a ticket to tourist attraction, you might have bigger success with mixing all languages you know than with English.
Street names, cities or even toilet signs can be in Russian only, in Cyrillic so one of basic Russia travel tips is – learn it. If you are able to decipher it, it will help you a lot. Knowing some basic phrases will be useful too. A few weeks before going, download an app like Duolingo and go through a few basic lessons. You’ll thank me when you’re back. 🙂
The Russians also learned communicating with Chinese tourists via Google Translate. You can try that too 😉
Russian SIM card
Cost of calls and text messages from Russia are usually expensive. And one of the most important Russia travel tips – don’t you dare trying to use mobile data or your travel budget will shrink fast! Wifi is available in many places in Saint Petersburg and Moscow so if you want to visit these countries only, you will be fine without a local SIM.
If you plan to visit Russia from the less famous side or you would like to use Internet without limits, I recommend you to get a local SIM card. I had Tele2 and I can totally recommend it. It worked great, even on Olkhon island, in places which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. I got a plan called Везде онлайн (everywhere online). For 500 rubles you get 40 GB of Internet for a month, 500 minutes of talks with Russian numbers and 50 sms – working in the whole Russia.
Important – Russia has internal roaming. Basic SIM card bought in Saint Petersburg will not work in Moscow and other parts of Russia. Make sure you get a plan for the whole country.
You will need your passport to get the SIM card.
If you plan to take cash with you, take euro or US dollars, you can exchange them easily. Make sure the banknotes are in good condition. Torn or crumpled banknotes may be exchanged at a worse rate.
Except for this, you can use cash machines. Before leaving, call your bank to let them know you’ll be traveling to Russia so that they don’t block your card during the first transactions. Some banks in Poland automatically block all transactions outside of the EU. I learned it the hard way so don’t make the same mistake and check with your bank 🙂
You can pay by card in many restaurants and shops. However, I recommend you to always have some cash with you. You usually have to pay by cash for accommodation or in cheap restaurants “stolovayas”.
If you keep your funds on PayPal, keep in mind you may have difficulties to log in. I tried to open my PayPal account and wasn’t able to do so from Irkutsk. The system didn’t like my completely new, random location. I eventually managed to log in from my phone but it would cause me a lot of stress if I didn’t have money in other places. In order to make sure this doesn’t happen to you – you can log in using a VPN, so the system thinks you are in your home country.
Is it expensive to travel in Russia? I always have a problem to answer these questions. It depends on how you travel. Two course lunch for two in a chain of “stolovayas” costs around 800 rubles. In restaurants – from 1500 rubles up. The most expensive meal we had wasn’t surprisingly in Moscow – it was in Listvianka by lake Baikal. A plate of fish for two and 2 beers were 4000 rubles. But I think we managed to find the most expensive restaurant in town… 😉
You can check prices of basic products in Russia here.
Public transportation, taxi, Uber
In cities like Petersburg or Moscow, basic public transportation is metro. Especially in Moscow you can get everywhere by metro. In Saint Petersburg there aren’t enough stations and distances between them are big. But anyway, you can reach the most famous parts of the city by metro.
Marshrutkas are basic mean of transportation in Russia. They are private mini-buses operating both in cities and on long routes. It is such an important topic I covered it in a separate post here.
Buses and trams are available, in Moscow and Saint Petersburg you can use them for free if you have a metro ticket for a few days. Otherwise, you don’t need to buy tickets in advance. You get on the bus and pay to the driver or a special worker in the bus.
If you’d like to use Uber, you won’t be able to do it via the usual app. Russian company Yandex bought Uber in Russia – you can use it now only via a separate app, Uber Russia. However, it’s best to use Yandex Taxi – the biggest local alternative. Even if you order an Uber, Yandex taxi will arrive anyway 🙂
Trains are one of basic mean of transportation in Russia. For the Russians, a 24-hour train ride isn’t anything extraordinary, they may even say it’s “close”.
If you plan a trip by train, no matter if on a short distance (like Moscow-Petersburg) or a longer like like Trans-Siberian Railway – you can get your ticket on the website of Russian railways here.
The fastest way to travel between Moscow and Saint Petersburg is a modern train Sapsan. The way takes only 4 hours. You can also hunt a cheaper but equally fast train, Nevsky Express. The difference is that Sapsan leaves many times every day and Nevsky – just once.
Except for this, you can take a much cheaper and twice slower night train. It offers different standards – 3rd class (plackartnyi – beds in an open carriage) or a bit more comfort (separate compartment for 4 people) You can read more about types of train carriages in Russia here.
It doesn’t matter much on a short route but if you consider taking a Trans-Sbierian train think whether you prefer to spend 3 days and 4 nights in an open carriage – which makes meeting people easier but can have negative sides after 3 days with no shower – or you prefer a smaller compartment, more comfort but less interaction.
Is Russia safe?
Yes. Of course, you do need basic precautions. You can get robbed in metro or in the street so keep your belongings close. Don’t walk in a dark an empty street at night.
In general however, I do feel safe in Russia. I don’t see any reason to be more afraid of Russia than any country of Western Europe for example.
I hope these Russia travel tips helped you plan your trip. If you look for further information about the country, check out my other articles:
- How to organize a trip to Saint Petersburg?
- What to do in Saint Petersburg? Full guide with printables
- All the best things to do in Moscow during your first visit
- The Most Breathtaking Places To See By Lake Baikal, Siberia
- 11 Best Tips On Traveling Trans-Siberian Railway
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