When you plan to visit Russia for the first time, you are likely to hear some rumors about what kind of things you should always have with you. From the perspective of locals and experienced travelers we would like to give you some travelling to Russia tips.
Visa and documents
Make sure your passport and visa are valid throughout the entire stay in Russia. If you plan to enter and leave Russia during your trip, you need a multi-entry visa, otherwise a single-entry visa will do. Make sure your departure date is before your visa expiration date.
Bring with you 2 copies of your passport and visa, make sure that you carry one with you wherever you go in case of random police checks. Keep the other copy at the hotel.
Visa and MasterCard credit cards are widely acceptable, make sure you bring no more than 2. ATMs are numerous in airports, hotels, and all throughout cities. You may withdraw local currency ruble, US dollar or euro. Restaurants, shops and museums accepts cards.
Please note: American Express and Diners Club have very limited circulation, so keep them at home.
Besides cards you may need some cash, for taxi or a small shop, for tips or in case of emergency. From 3000 to 10000 rubles (equivalent of 50 to 150 US$) is enough to carry with you.
Do not spoil the best impressions of your Russian vacation by such trifles as pickpocketing, keep an eye on your money and documents. Either wear a money belt or get a small bag that sits close to your body with a secure closure.
Big cities in Russia are safe. Except for pick-pocketing which is common in every big city you cannot get in any trouble. There is a lot of police to show you are taken care of 😉
However, we advise you to be sensible when contacting strangers who offer you to buy something from them or get in a private car.
Quite a lot of young Muscovites and people of big cities speak English. English speaking people are among hotel staff, taxi drivers, restaurant waiters.
Airports, railway stations and Metro have English navigation while other ground public transport does not.
If you get lost you may address in English to a younger person and get pretty good English in reply, or download a city map (Maps.me) which works off-line.
Weather and clothing
Start with checking the weather forecast before you pack your suitcase ☺
Summer is the best time to visit Russia. Generally summers are quite nice, it can range between 20-25° C (68-77° F) and occasionally be humid or rainy. Summer ends in mid-August when it cools down substantially.
It is usually warmer and less humid in Moscow than in St Petersburg where the weather is affected by the proximity to the Baltic sea.
Bring what you would usually wear in summer at home and an umbrella and a light jacket or sweater. In general, it’s good to bring layers. For ladies a scarf is particularly useful as you may also cover your head when visiting religious monuments. This is usually not obligatory but appreciated.
Local people are quite conservative about clothes, especially if it comes to visiting official and religious places, so avoid shorts or open and very short clothes.
Good walking shoes are essential. Moscow city center is paved with cobble stone just like most European cities, so high heels or slippers may be uncomfortable.
If you happen to visit Russia in winter which can make you a hero of the neighborhood when you come back, you will definitely need solid waterproof boots with thick soles, warm (very warm) wind and snow-proof jacket, a hat, gloves and warm socks. And it is good to bring layers ☺ Winter usually starts in November and lasts till end of March. Average temperature is -5-9° C (23-14° F), with rear severe frosts. It often snows, the wind is sometimes strong, and in big cities it is usually humid and foggy. Having said that it is worth mentioning that homes (hotels, shops, restaurants and other interiors) are well-adjusted to cold weather, so you may feel too hot inside with central heating on.
For a theater or a high-end restaurant you may dress smart casual, no need for black tie.
Make sure you have medical insurance along with passport and visa. Take all prescription drugs and contact lens solutions with you, for any other over the counter medications there are numerous drugstores.
You do not need any shots before you visit Russia, it is a safe civilized European country. You may only take your usual sanitary precautions, like washing hands and using hand sanitizer.
Locals do not usually drink tap water, we prefer to have it boiled or bottled. Washing fruit and vegetable is a must.
Phones, SIM cards and I-net
International calls may be expensive if you use your home provider abroad. To keep it simple, buy a cheap pay-as-you-go phone in Russia for around $20, and get a SIM card. Or you may use I-net connection where free Wi-Fi is available and get on WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram, etc.
Most hotels, museums and restaurants provide free Wi-Fi upon request, at airports and in transport you need to register to get free I-net.
Bring a power converter if you plan to use any non-European electronics in Russia.
And make sure your bags comply with airlines baggage requirement in size and weight and are easy to carry in case you do not plan to pay the porter.