Russia is the largest country on the planet, stretching all the way from Europe in the west across Siberia and Central Asia to the Pacific Coast in the east.
It’s a huge, multicultural country, but a country that can be difficult to travel around. While the vast majority of Russia is safe to travel to, some border areas might be disputed or prone to violence, while remote cities might simply be unused to seeing tourists, particularly tourists from abroad.
But risk the language difficulties, brave the vast distances that await you between destinations, and take on the dangers and annoyances of being a foreigner in what can be a very enclosed culture, and you’ll find that Russia is not only an exciting place to travel to but an immensely rewarding one too.
To inspire your journey, here’s everything you need to know about staying safe while travelling in Russia.
Health Concerns in Russia
There are a number of health concerns that tourists will need to take into consideration before travelling to Russia and whilst they are travelling through Russia.
Anyone planning on travelling to Russia needs to be up to date when it comes to their travel vaccinations. Before visiting, you will want to look on the excellent Fit For Travel website, which is run by the NHS and keeps up-to-date information on both vaccinations and health concerns within the country.
You will also want to book an appointment with your GP or with a travel nurse, as they will be able to advise you on your vaccination history and on any boosters or extra immunisations that you may require.
At a minimum, anyone travelling to Russia will need basic vaccinations such as Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Polio, Diphtheria, and Tetanus. You may also want to consider the Rabies injection, especially if you’re travelling to remote regions.
Unfortunately, the quality of healthcare in Russia lags far behind that of the rest of Europe, and local hospitals and medical services are not up to the same standards as the West.
While you will find a few excellent private facilities in big cities such as Moscow and St Petersburg, on a more regional level it can be hard to find quality medical services in an emergency. For travel in Russia, you need to be covered by specialist insurance that can evacuate you to the best facilities in the country, particularly in a severe emergency.
Healthcare for foreigners isn’t free in Russia, so you will always need adequate travel insurance, as there are few reciprocal healthcare agreements.
In remote areas like Siberia, you may want to consider taking medical equipment such as syringes with you, because these can be difficult to come by in isolated areas. With a high rate of HIV in the population, you do not want even the smallest chance that needles are being reused.
Food and Water
Russia isn’t exactly renowned as a foodie destination, and the country is perhaps best known for its Soviet-style canteens that could have been in use, unchanged, for decades.
While this is very much a generalisation and there is, in fact, a huge range of cuisines to be found across Russia, it can be said that in general food hygiene standards are below Western levels.
For starters, it’s advised that foreigners don’t drink tap water. Most of the locals won’t drink the tap water either, unless they can’t afford not to. The tap water is not up to standard in most locations, with the exception of cities such as St Petersburg and Moscow, and it can lead to illness and stomach problems. At the very least you’ll want to filter the water, while in more remote areas you will want to stick to bottled mineral water where possible.
You’ll also want to be careful where you eat. While most upmarket restaurants will have high food standards, this won’t be universal. If it seems unclean or risky, then it’s not worth eating if you’re only in Russia for a short time. You don’t want to spend your holiday fighting food poisoning.
But Russian food can be excellent, and it’s not all Soviet-style soups and gulag goulash. In fact, it’s very diverse and each region has its own unique dishes.
You’ll find many delicious types of dumplings, stuffed with meat or vegetables, across the country, while staples such as potato salads, chicken salads, and pork or chicken cutlets are always a safe bet.
You can also indulge in a variety of ex-soviet cuisines from surrounding nations, including delicious food from Georgia and the Caucasus, or excellent rice dishes such as Plov, from Central Asia.
Of course, no trip to Russia is complete without sampling the local vodka. But be careful and only drink from reputable sources, because illicit, home-brewed spirits passed off as vodka are all too common and far too dangerous to drink.
Russia has an unfortunate reputation when it comes to crime, and particularly when it comes to crime against foreigners. Unfortunately, this reputation isn’t exactly unwarranted, so when travelling through Russia you will need to keep your wits about you.
Petty theft and opportunistic crime can be a real threat, and you need to keep your valuables safe in your hotel room and on public transport such as trains.
In certain areas in cities, you will also want to be wary, especially at night, when you could become the victim of muggings. Research the neighbourhoods in advance, and make sure your valuables are well insured.
Scams can also be a big problem, especially in touristy cities such as Moscow, and you’ll be wise to avoid taking taxis, but rather to use ridesharing apps or public transport such as the metro where possible.
Try to avoid any trouble with the police or government officials, because it’s unlikely that they will be on your side. All too often you might find yourself having to hand over substantial bribes in order to get assistance, or if you happen to have committed some sort of minor infraction.
While violent crime is rare, it’s still an issue, particularly if you don’t look Russian or speak Russian. Racism and xenophobia are rife across Russia, and unfortunately, this can be a big problem for tourists.
While most visits will be trouble-free, persons of colour might find it harder to travel around Russia and may even be confronted by right-wing groups. Avoid the streets during demonstrations and avoid nationalistic holidays or days of importance to these ultra groups, who are tolerated far too liberally across the country.
Russia has often been hit by terrorist attacks in the past, and most governments advise that tourists should be wary of future attacks, as they are all too possible in the current political climate.
Russia is a vast nation, and certain border areas are off-limits or have an increased risk attached to them. These include the border regions with Ukraine, including Crimea and other disputed areas where there have been conflicts in recent years.
The Caucasus regions, such as Dagestan or Chechnya, are also dangerous for foreigners to visit, as there is a huge risk of terrorism here due to ongoing ethnic and religious conflicts in these regions.
But terror attacks aren’t necessarily isolated to these disputed regions and, historically, disgruntled groups have attacked busy urban areas, including Moscow. While the chance of being caught up in one of these attacks is no greater than anywhere else in the world, you do need to be aware of the threat and keep abreast and informed of ongoing political events that might make such incidents more likely to occur.
Family Travel Safety (Russia with Kids)
Russia is not one of the most popular family travel destinations and, for many, it’s often seen as a country that’s best left to experienced travellers.
It doesn’t have to be this way though. In fact, Russia can be an eye-opening experience for families. It will be a challenge though, and you’ll need to be prepared to speak the local language to get by and to keep an eye on the kids.
But in the cities, you’ll find that the kids are perfectly safe, just as in any other European city. There are plenty of family-friendly attractions to visit, from zoos to amusement parks, and Russians will be welcoming to families in shops and restaurants.
There are lots of parks to enjoy with the children and plenty of iconic sights that they will remember for years. In winter though, make sure that the family wraps up warm, and be careful of the cold chill if you’re travelling with really small kids. In summer, the heat can be oppressive, so be careful too. You’re best travelling in spring or autumn if you have the children in tow.
Family Travel Safety (Russia for Women)
Russia is becoming more and more popular a destination for solo female travellers, because women are starting to realise that it can be a safe country to visit.
Russian society is, in many ways, very inclusive when it comes to gender equality, in large parts thanks to the equality policies of the Soviets. But that doesn’t mean that old prejudices and traditions don’t still arise.
Women need to be particularly careful walking around at night, as Russians can be notoriously drunk in the late evenings, whether you are in a remote village or the capital city.
Women also need to be wary in bars or clubs and be careful of drinks and unwanted advances. The same goes for trains, especially long-distance journeys.
But common sense and common travel acumen aside, women will find that travelling in Russia can be both an exciting and enlightening experience.
For foreigners, regardless of your gender, Russia is a destination that will always be a challenge, but that’s just part of the intrigue and part of the fun. Be prepared with a bit of forward planning, a few Russian phrases and the right insurance and you should have a safe trip as a female traveller in Russia.
Tips for Staying Safe in Russia
Buy the Right Insurance
When travelling to Russia, it’s incredibly important that you purchase the right insurance before you leave your home country.
Russia can be an unpredictable place to travel. While the chance that you will become the victim of crime or suffer an accident is low, you want to be prepared for the worst.
Make sure that your insurance covers you for evacuation, particularly for healthcare, and make sure that you are covered in remote regions.
Be careful where you travel to as well, because some areas, such as the border with Ukraine or Chechnya, are considered to be no-go zones by many governments. Your insurance may then become invalidated if you travel to these areas of high risk without checking with your provider first whether you are actually covered.
Learn the Language
Russian is a notoriously difficult language to learn if you are unfamiliar with it, especially as the language uses the Cyrillic script rather than the Roman alphabet.
Even in big cities, few people speak basic English, so learning the language is a must when visiting Russia. At the very least, learn the Cyrillic alphabet, so you can decipher place names when you are on the road, and make sense of train and bus tickets.
It also helps to learn a few common phrases such as please and thank you, while having a phrase book or a translation app will help immensely too.
Know the Laws
The Russian law might not always be on the side of the tourist and, unfortunately, corruption is endemic across the corruption.
That means that you will want to be aware of the local laws before travelling and, in particular, minor laws such as whether you can cross roads on foot or drive on your home license.
This is to avoid being held at the mercy of unscrupulous police officers who might try and take advantage of you for seemingly innocuous infractions.
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