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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Russia

Russia - Consular Information Sheet
October 4, 2000

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Russia is a nation undergoing profound political and economic change. Recent economic difficulties include many bank closures. Travelers cannot access money easily, if at all, via credit card advances or wire transfers even at major hotels. While good tourist facilities exist in Moscow, St. Petersburg and some other large cities, they are not developed in most of Russia, and many goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available. Travel to the Caucasus region of Russia is dangerous. The Department of State recommends Americans not travel to Chechyna and adjoining areas and if they are there, to depart immediately. Travelers may need to cross great distances, especially in Siberia and the Far East, to obtain services from Russian government organizations, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, or one of the three consulates in Russia: St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: All Americans traveling to or transiting through Russia must have a passport and visa. The Russian visa, unlike that of most other countries, is considered an entry and exit visa. Travelers who arrive without a passport or entry visa may be subject to large fines, days of processing requirements imposed by Russian officials, and/or immediate departure by route of entry (at the traveler's expense).

Visas, other than for transit purposes, are issued based on support from a Russian individual or organization - a sponsor. It is very important to know who the sponsor is (usually a tour agency or hotel) and how to contact the sponsor, as Russian law allows only the sponsor to apply for replacement, extension, or changes to your visa. The U.S. Embassy cannot act as a sponsor. Travelers should verify their sponsor before departure from the United States.

All foreigners must have an exit visa to depart Russia. For short stays, the exit visa is issued along with the entry visa and is only valid until the date listed on the visa. All travelers who spend more than three days in Russia must register their visa through their hotel or sponsor. Visitors who overstay their visa's validity, even for one day, or who neglect to register their visa, may be prevented from leaving. Errors in dates or other information on the visa can occur, and it is helpful to have someone who reads Russian check the visa before departing the U.S.

Any person applying for a visa for a stay of more than three months must present a certificate showing that the individual is HIV-negative. The certificate must contain the applicant's passport data, proposed length of stay in Russia, blood test results for HIV infection, including date of the test, signature of the doctor conducting the test, medical examination results, diagnostic series, and seal of the hospital/medical organization. The certificate must be in both Russian and English and valid for three months from the date of medical examination and blood test.

It is not necessary for travelers to have either entry or itinerary points in the Russian Federation printed on their visas. All travelers must continue to list on the visa application all areas to be visited and subsequently register with authorities at each destination. If travelers in Russia experience entry and exit visa problems they and/or their sponsor must contact the nearest Russian visa and passport office (OVIR) for assistance. Due to the possibility of random document checks by police, U.S. citizens should carry their passports and registered visas or photocopies thereof. Failure to provide proper documentation can result in detention and/or heavy fines.

There are a number of closed cities throughout Russia. Travelers who attempt to enter these cities without prior authorization are subject to fines, court hearings and/or deportation. Travelers should check with their sponsor, hotel or the nearest Russian visa and passport office (OVIR) before travelling to unfamiliar cities and towns.

For information concerning entry and exit requirements, travelers may contact the Russian Embassy, Consular Section, 2641 Tunlaw Rd., NW, Washington, DC 20007 (tel (202) 939-8907; website), or the Consulates in New York, San Francisco, or Seattle.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: Due to continued civil and political unrest throughout most of the Caucasus region of Russia, the Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to the areas of Chechnya, all areas bordering Chechnya, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Stavropol, Karachayevo-Cherkessiya and Kabardino-Balkariya. United States Government personnel are prohibited from traveling to these areas and American citizens residing in these areas should depart immediately as the safety of Americans and other foreigners cannot be effectively guaranteed. Throughout the region, local criminal gangs routinely kidnap foreigners, including Americans, for ransom. U.S. citizens have disappeared in Chechnya and remain unaccounted for. In December 1998, four foreign hostages were decapitated by their captors. Close contacts with the local population do not guarantee safety. The U.S. Government's ability to assist Americans who travel to the Northern Caucasus is extremely limited.

Acts of terrorism, including bombings, continue in large Russian cities. These bombings have occurred at Russian government buildings, hotels, tourist sites, residential complexes and on public transportation. While Americans have not been singled out in these attacks, travelers should be alert for unusual behavior, unattended luggage in public areas, and other common indicators that something out of the ordinary is in progress.

Travelers should be aware that in Russia certain activities, which would be normal business activities in the United States and other countries, are still either illegal under the Russian legal code or are considered suspect by the FSB (Federal Security Service). Americans should be particularly aware of potential risks involved in any commercial activity with the Russian military-industrial complex, including research institutes, design bureaus, and production facilities or other high technology, 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 information remain poorly defined. During the last several years, there have been a number of such incidents involving the arrest and/or detention of U.S. citizens. While the U.S. Embassy has had consular access to these individuals, arrested Americans faced lengthy sentences -- sometimes in deplorable conditions -- if convicted. In the most recent case, the arrested American's health suffered and he was not allowed to receive independent medical evaluations or treatment despite the Embassy's efforts.

CRIME INFORMATION: Crime against foreigners is a problem, especially in major cities. Pickpocketings, assaults, and robberies occur frequently and at any time or place. The most vulnerable areas include underground walkways and the subway, overnight trains, train stations, airports, markets, tourist attractions, restaurants, hotel rooms, and residences, even when locked or occupied. Groups of children are known to assault and rob foreigners on city streets or underground walkways. Foreigners who have been drinking alcohol are especially vulnerable to assault and robbery in or around nightclubs or bars, or on their way home. Robberies may occur in taxis shared with strangers. Travelers have found it safer to travel in groups.

There has been an increase in the harassment of and attacks on foreigners particularly those of Asian and African descent by "skinhead" groups, individuals, and, in a few cases, by local militia in some urban centers. Travelers, particularly those of Asian and African descent, are urged to exercise caution in crowded and places frequented by "skinhead" groups, including the various "rynoks" or open markets in all cities.

Demonstrations are frequently held in front of the U.S. Embassy and Consulates. While these demonstrations have been peaceful and controlled, it is best to avoid such gatherings.

Extortion and corruption are common in the business environment. Organized criminal groups target foreign businesses in many cities and have been known to demand protection money under threat of serious violence. Many Western firms hire security services, which have improved their overall security, although this is no guarantee. Small businesses are particularly vulnerable. Since the mid 1990's, several American business people have been attacked, kidnapped, and even killed. U.S. citizens are encouraged to report all extortion attempts to the Russian authorities and to inform consular officials at the U.S. Embassy or nearest consulate.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical care is usually far below Western standards, with severe shortages of basic medical supplies. Access to the few quality facilities that exist in major cities usually requires cash payment at Western rates upon admission. The U.S. Embassy and Consulates maintain lists of such facilities and English-speaking doctors. Many resident Americans travel to the West for virtually all of their medical needs; such travel can be very expensive if undertaken under emergency conditions.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas may face extreme difficulties.

Check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas, including provision for medical evacuation, and for adequacy of coverage. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Tick-borne encephalitis has been reported in the vicinity of Novosibirsk, Vladivostok and in the Sverdlovsk Oblast. Pre-exposure vaccination is recommended for anyone who will be spending prolonged periods outdoors in the infested areas of Russia.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via their Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Russia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Fair
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

Inclement weather and lack of routine maintenance of roads and vehicles make road conditions throughout Russia highly variable. Drivers and pedestrians should exercise extreme caution to avoid accidents, which are commonplace. Travelers may which to take extra precautions when hiring local drivers. Heavy alcohol consumption is frequently a contributing factor in accidents. Traffic police sometimes stop motorists to extract cash "fines," and bandits occasionally prey on travelers.

For additional information about road safety, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page road safety overseas feature.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: After extensive joint reviews with the Federal Aviation Authority of Russia (FAAR), the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has concluded under its International Aviation (IASA) Program that the FAAR oversees and licenses Russia's air carriers in accordance with international safety oversight provisions.

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet website. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

Air travel within Russia can at times be unreliable. Flight schedules are sometimes subject to last minute changes. Russian-based airlines are striving to improve the quality of service although they generally fall short of western standards.

CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Russian customs laws and regulations are in a state of flux and are not consistently enforced. When arriving in Russia travelers must declare all items of value on a customs form; the same form used during arrival in Russia must be presented to customs officials at the time of departure. As of August 1999, travelers must declare all foreign currency they are bringing into Russia. Non-residents of Russia are prohibited from taking any cash money in currency other than the Russian ruble out of the country unless it has been declared upon arrival. Those with stamped declaration forms may exit Russia with a sum of foreign currency no greater than the sum declared upon entry. 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 easily be replaced.

Travelers should obtain receipts for all high-value items (including caviar) purchased in Russia. Any article that could appear old to the customs service, including icons, samovars, rugs, and other antiques, must have a certificate indicating that it has no historical value. It is illegal to remove such items from Russia without this certificate. These certificates may be obtained either from the vendor of the item or from the Russian ministry of culture. For further information, Russian speakers may call the customs service of the Russian Federation in Moscow at (7) (095) 265-6629 or 208-2808.

The importation and use of global positioning system (GPS) devices are subject to special rules and regulations. In recent incidents foreigners, including U.S. citizens, using such devices were detained by Russian authorities and faced various charges, including espionage. No traveler should seek to import or use GPS equipment in any manner unless it has been properly and fully documented before arrival and is declared in full on a customs declaration at the point of entry to the Russian Federation.

Permission for radio electronic devices, including cellular phones, may be required from the state customs committee of the Russian Federation. The committee has stated that there are no restrictions on bringing laptop computers into the country for personal use. The software, however, may be inspected upon departure. Some equipment and software have been confiscated because of the data contained or due to software encryption, which is standard in many programs.

Russia also has very strict rules on the importation of large quantities of medication. It is advisable to contact the Russian Embassy or one of Russia's Consulates for specific information regarding this or other customs regulations.

A general information sheet on the importation and use of GPS devices, radio-electronic equipment, and computers in Russia is available on the Internet , from the Department of State automated telefax at (202) 647-3000, or from the American Citizens Services unit of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow or U.S. Consulates in elsewhere Russia.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Russian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Russia are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: The ruble is the only legal tender. It is illegal to pay for goods and services in U.S. dollars except at authorized retail establishments. Old or very worn dollar bills are often not accepted at banks and exchange offices, even though this constitutes a violation of currency laws. Travelers checks and credit cards are not widely accepted outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Even in these cities, the acceptance of credit cards is subject to change. The dollar-ruble exchange rate has fluctuated widely at times. Travelers should expect some difficulty in obtaining dollars in Russia, although dollars can be easily exchanged into rubles. Travelers should not rely on automated teller machines (ATM) for cash. There have been several reports of credit card and ATM fraud in Russia. When using a credit card, attempt to keep your card in view at all times. Watch the merchant scan your card and ask that he or she return it immediately. Americans who choose to obtain cash from ATM's should not use stand alone machines, such as those found in metro stations or on street corners. If you must obtain cash, use a machine bearing the name of a well-known bank or credit card institution. Theft involving the capture of electronic ATM and credit card data has also been reported. Major hotels or the American Express offices in Moscow or St. Petersburg may be able to suggest locations for cashing travelers checks or obtaining cash advances on credit cards. Western Union agents in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and some other large cities disburse money wired from the U.S.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: Russia's adoption law allows U.S. citizens and foreigners to adopt Russian orphans if no Russian family applies to adopt them. For information on international adoption of children and international child support enforcement issues, please refer to our Internet site or telephone (202) 736-7000.

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS: Americans living in or visiting Russia are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Russia and obtain updated information on travel and security within Russia. The U.S. Embassy is located in Moscow at Novinskiy Bulvar 19/23; Tel. (7) (095) 728-5000, Fax (7) (095) 728-5084. After hours emergencies: (7) (095) 728-5109. Also monitor the Embassy's website or e-mail at Consulmo@state.gov

U.S. Consulates are located at:

St. Petersburg: Ulitsa Furshtadskaya 15; tel (7-812) 275-1701; fax (7-812) 110-7022; after hours (7-812) 274-8692. The e-mail address is Acs_stpete@state.gov.

Vladivostok: Ulitsa Pushkinskaya 32, Tel. (7) (4232) 30-00-70. FAX (7)(4232) 30-00-91. After hours emergencies: (7) (4232) 26-84-58 and (7) (4232) 21-52-90. Monitor the Consulate's Internet home page.

Yekaterinburg: Ulitsa Gogolya 15a, 4th Floor tel (7-3432) 62-98-88; and (7-3432) 564-744; fax (7-3432) 564-515. After hours emergencies within Yekaterinburg: (8)(29) 05-15-06. After hours emergencies elsewhere in Russia for Yekaterinburg: (8)(3439) 05-15-06. Monitor the Consulate's Internet home page or e-mail at uscgyekat@gin.ru.

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