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Official Name: Russian Federation.

Passport/Visa Requirements: Passports, visas and proof of onward passage are needed by Canadian and U.S. citizens. If you arrange your trip through a tour agency, the agency will handle visa arrangements for you. If you are traveling independently, you'll need an official letter of invitation from a Russian citizen or company, and you'll have to apply for a visa through a Russian consulate. (Although an experiment is currently under way to obtain visas at the airport, it is advisable to take care of visa arrangements before arrival in Russia. Visas issued at the airport are only valid for a maximum of 72 hours, and it is unclear how long the experiment will continue.) After entering the country, the visa must be registered within three days. Your hotel will usually take care of this for you, but you may be charged a small fee. Expect the process to take at least a day, and be sure to pick up your documents from the hotel (they don't necessarily return them to you until you ask). Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure.

Capital: Moscow.

Population: 145,470,197.

Languages: Russian, many regional languages.

Predominant Religions: Russian Orthodox, Muslim.

Time Zone: 2-12 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+2 through +12 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed March-October.

Voltage Requirements: 220 volts.

Telephone Codes: 7, country code; 095, Moscow city code; 812, St. Petersburg city code.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: The Russian government maintains a restrictive and complicated visa regime for foreign travelers who visit, transit, or reside in the Russian Federation. The Russian system includes requirements of sponsorship, visas for entry and exit, migration cards, and registration. American citizens who also carry Russian passports face additional complicated regulations. Dual citizen minors who travel on their Russian passports also face special problems.

Russian immigration and visa laws have been recently changed, and, reportedly more changes are being contemplated. The implementation of these laws has not always been transparent or predictable. In addition, Russian Immigration officials at times implement the laws and regulations governing entry and exit inconsistently, especially in remote areas.

The Russian government does not recognize the standing of U.S. consular officers to intervene in visa cases. The U.S. diplomatic mission in Russia is not able to act as sponsor, submit visa applications, register private travelers, or request that visas or migration cards be corrected, replaced, or extended.  

Entry Visas: Before traveling to Russia, U.S. citizens should verify the latest requirements with the nearest Russian Embassy or Consulate (for contact information for the Russian Embassy and Consulates in the United States, please refer to the last paragraph of this section).  

U.S. citizens must always possess a valid U.S. passport and appropriate visas for travel to or transit through Russia, whether by train, car, ship or airplane. The visas should be obtained from a Russian Embassy or Consulate in the U.S. or abroad in advance of travel, as it is impossible to obtain a Russian entry visa upon arrival. Travelers who arrive without an entry visa are not permitted to enter Russia and face immediate expulsion by route of entry, at the traveler・s expense.

U.S. citizens transiting Russia in route to any other country do need transit visas. In several instances, travelers were advised differently and erroneously by their travel agents or sponsors. The misinformation caused great delays and hardships. Similarly, Russia-bound U.S. citizens attempting to transit Belarus or Ukraine or the Central Asian republics without visas, have encountered great difficulties. U.S. citizens are strongly advised to check the visa requirements for all countries on their itinerary.

A Russia entry/exit visa has two dates written in the European style (day, month, year). The first date indicates the earliest day a traveler may enter Russia; the second date indicates the date by which a traveler must leave Russia. Russian tourist visas are often granted only for the specific dates mentioned in the invitation letter provided by the sponsor. United States citizens often receive visas only valid for periods as short as four days. Even if the visa is misdated through error of a Russian Embassy or Consulate, the traveler will still not be allowed into Russia before the visa start date or be allowed to leave after the visa expiration date. Any mistakes in visa dates must be corrected before the traveler enters Russia. It is helpful to have someone who reads Russian check the visa before departing the United States

Visas are valid for specific purposes and dates. Travelers should ensure that they apply for and receive the correct visa that reflects their intended action in Russia (i.e., student visa, religious worker visa, commercial visa). Foreigners can be expelled for engaging in activities inconsistent with 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. There are several 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 before traveling to unfamiliar cities and towns.

Sponsorship: Under Russian law, every foreign traveler must have a Russian-based sponsor (a hotel, tour company, relative, employer, etc). Generally speaking, visas sponsored by Russian individuals are :guest; visas, and visas sponsored by tour agencies or hotels are :tourist; visas. Note that travelers who enter Russia on :tourist; visas, but who then reside with Russian individuals, may have difficulty registering their visas and migration cards and may be required by Russian authorities to depart Russia sooner than they had planned.

Even if your visa was obtained through a travel agency in the U.S., there is always a Russian legal entity whose name is indicated on the visa and who is considered to be your legal sponsor. It is important for travelers to know who the sponsor is and how to contact him/her because Russian law requires that the sponsor must apply on the traveler・s behalf for replacement, extension, or changes to a Russian visa. U.S. citizens are strongly advised to contact their tour company or hotel in advance for the contact information of the visa sponsor.

To resolve any visa difficulties (lost visa, expired visa), the traveler・s sponsor must contact the nearest Russian visa and passport office (OVIR/UVIR) for assistance. Resolving the visa problem usually requires the payment of a fee and a wait of up to twenty calendar days.

Exit Visa: A valid visa is necessary to depart Russia. Generally, the visa issued by a Russian Embassy or Consulate is valid for entry and exit.

Visitors who lose or have their U.S. passport and Russian visa stolen must replace their passport at the U.S. Embassy or one of the Consulates General, and then obtain a new visa to depart with the assistance of their sponsor (see above). Without a valid visa in their new United States passports, U.S. citizens cannot leave Russia.

By Russian law, travelers without a valid visa, whether the visa is lost, stolen, or expired, may not check in at any hotel, guesthouse, hostel, or other lodging establishment in Russia. United States citizens without valid visas face significant delays in leaving Russia and may have trouble finding adequate accommodation.

There are no adequate public shelters or safe havens in Russia and the Embassy or the Consulates General have no means to accommodate such stranded travelers.

Visitors, who overstay their visa・s validity, even for one day, will be prevented from leaving until their sponsor intervenes and requests a visa extension on their behalf (see above).

Student visas allow only for one entry. The sponsoring school is responsible for registering the visa and migration card and obtaining an exit visa.

Migration Card: All foreigners entering Russia must fill out a migration card, depositing one part with immigration authorities at the port of entry and holding on to the other part for the duration of their stay. Upon exit, the migration card, which serves as a statistical tool and a record of entry, exit, and registration, must be submitted to immigration authorities. The card is also necessary to register at hotels, most of which will not allow a traveler to check in if he or she does not have a migration card.

Migration cards, in theory, are available at all ports of entry from Russian immigration officials (Border Guards). The cards are generally left in literature racks at arrival points. Officials at borders and airports usually do not point out these cards to travelers and it is up to the travelers to find them and fill them out. From time to time, various ports of entry V even the major international airport in Moscow V run out of these cards. There is no mechanism to obtain such cards once a traveler has entered into Russia. The Russian government has not indicated what a traveler should do in such a case.

Lost/stolen migration cards cannot be replaced. While authorities will not prevent foreigners who have lost their migration cards and have not replaced them with a duplicate from leaving the country, foreigners could experience problems when trying to reenter Russia at a future date.

Registration: Travelers who spend more than three days in the country must register their visa and migration card through their sponsor. However, travelers spending less than three days are advised to register their visas as well, since they may encounter problems finding lodging without proper registration. Travelers staying in a hotel must register their visa and migration card with their hotel within one day. It is helpful to make a photocopy of your visa in the event of loss, but note that a copy of your visa will not be sufficient for leaving the country, as Russian border officials always ask for the original. A failure to register is unlikely to result in problems leaving Russia but travelers could experience problems when trying to reenter Russia at a future date.

Police have the authority to stop people and request their documents at any time without cause. Due to the possibility of random document checks by police, U.S. citizens should carry their original passports, registered migration cards, and visas with them at all times. Failure to provide proper documentation can result in detention and/or heavy fines. It is not necessary for travelers to have either entry or itinerary points in the Russian Federation printed on their visas.

Any person applying for a visa for a stay of more than three months must present a certificate showing that he/she 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 HIV test must be administered no later than three months prior to travel and the certificate must be in both Russian and English. Medical facilities are required to report positive HIV tests to the authorities. Foreigners who test positive for HIV while in Russia are subject to deportation.

American Citizens Also Holding Russian Passports: The United States government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause. It expects American citizens to travel on U.S. passports. However, possessing and traveling on a Russian passport, outside of the United States, does not negate a traveler・s American citizenship. American citizens who choose to enter Russia on a Russian passport do face several possible difficulties.

U.S. citizens who have at one time held Russian citizenship are often required to renounce Russian citizenship before applying for a Russian visa in their U.S. passport. Unless a former Russian citizen has formally renounced his or her Russian citizenship through a Russian Embassy or Consulate, he or she always risks being considered a Russian citizen and not allowed to depart on any travel document except a Russian passport. This can also interfere with access to U.S. consular services in case of an emergency. This risk is greatly diminished if the traveler enters Russia on a U.S. passport and Russian visa.

Such persons should also be aware that if their Russian passport expires after entry, Russian authorities will not permit them to depart Russia using their U.S. passport. They will be required to obtain a new Russian passport V a process that generally takes several months. Russian external passports extended by Russian Consulates or Embassies overseas are not considered valid for departure from Russia no matter how long the extension. Bearers of such passports will have to apply for a new passport inside the country.

Males of conscript age (18 - 27 years old) who are deemed to be Russian citizens may experience problems if they have not satisfied their military service requirement.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child・s travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian if not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.

American citizen minors, who also have Russian citizenship, and who are traveling on their Russian passports, must have a power-of-attorney, written in Russian, allowing them to travel if they are traveling alone or in the company of adults who are not their parents. Such minors will be stopped from leaving Russia if they cannot present such a power-of-attorney.

For additional information concerning entry and exit requirements, travelers may contact the Russian Embassy, Consular Section, 2641 Tunlaw Rd., NW, Washington, DC 20007, telephone (202) 939-8907, website http://www.russianembassy.org , or the Consulates in Houston (tel. 713-337-3300), New York (tel. 212-348-0926/55), San Francisco (tel. 415-928-6878, 415-929-0862, 415-202-9800/01) or Seattle (tel. 206-728-1910).

SAFETY AND SECURITY: Due to continued civil and political unrest throughout much of the Caucasus region, the Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens against travel to Chechnya and all areas that border it: North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Stavropol, Karachayevo-Cherkessiya and Kabardino-Balkariya. The U.S. government・s ability to assist Americans who travel to the northern Caucasus is extremely limited. Throughout the region, local criminal gangs have kidnapped foreigners, including Americans, for ransom. U.S. citizens have disappeared in Chechnya and remain missing. Close contacts with the local population do not guarantee safety. Recently, there have been several kidnappings of foreigners and Russians working for non-governmental organizations in the region. 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.

Acts of terrorism, including bombings and hostage taking, have occurred in large Russian cities over the last several years. Bombings have occurred at Russian government buildings, hotels, tourist sites, markets, residential complexes and on public transportation. In October 2002, terrorists seized a Moscow theater and held its audience captive for several days before Russian Special Forces stormed it. Over 130 persons died in the seizure and subsequent rescue operation. In the summer of 2003, several venues, including an outdoor music festival, were targeted by suicide bombers, and in December 2003, a bomb exploded adjacent to the National Hotel in downtown Moscow, killing six people. In 2004, several incidents occurred: in February, a bomb exploded in a Moscow subway train killing over 40 people; in August explosives on two Russian domestic flights caused them to crash claiming 90 lives, the same week a bomb outside a Moscow Metro station killed another 9 people and injured dozens more; in September, the seizure of a school in the Russian Republic of North Ossetia by armed terrorists resulted in over 300 deaths.

Demonstrations occasionally occur in large cities, and sometimes in front of the U.S. Embassy and Consulates. While these demonstrations are for the most part peaceful and controlled, it is best to avoid such gatherings. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department・s Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov where the current travel warnings and public announcements can be found. The Overseas Citizens Services call center at 1-888-407-4747 can answer general inquiries on safety and security overseas. This number is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Callers who are unable to use toll-free numbers, such as those calling from overseas, may obtain information and assistance during these hours by calling 1-317-472-2328.

CRIME: As a visitor to Russia, be alert to your surroundings. In large cities, take the same precautions against assault, robbery, or pickpockets that you would take in any large U.S. city. Be aware that women and small children, as well as men, can be pickpockets or purse-snatchers. Groups of children and adolescents have been increasingly aggressive in some cities, swarming victims, or assaulting and knocking them down. They frequently target persons who are perceived as vulnerable, especially elderly tourists or persons traveling alone. Some victims report that the attackers use knives. Persons carrying valuables in backpacks, in back pockets of pants, and in coat pockets are especially vulnerable to pickpockets. Keep your billfold in an inner front pocket, carry your purse tucked securely under your arm, and wear the shoulder strap of your camera or bag across your chest. Walk away from the curb and carry your purse away from the street. 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.

Foreigners who have been drinking alcohol are especially vulnerable to assault and robbery in or around nightclubs or bars, or on their way home. Some travelers have been drugged at bars, while others have taken strangers back to their lodgings, where they were drugged, robbed and/or assaulted.

In many cases involving stolen credit cards, thieves use them immediately. Victims of credit card or ATM card theft should report the theft to the credit card company or bank without delay.

Travelers are advised to be vigilant in bus and train stations and on public transport. Always watch for pickpockets in these areas. Travelers have generally found it safer to travel in groups organized by reputable tour agencies. Robberies may occur in taxis shared with strangers. Crime aboard overnight trains has occurred as thieves, on some trains, have been able to open locked compartment doors. U.S. citizens should never hitchhike or accept rides from strangers.  

To avoid highway crime, travelers should try not to drive at night, especially when alone. Never sleep in vehicles along the road. Do not, under any circumstances, pick up hitchhikers, who not only pose a threat to your physical safety, but also put you in danger of being arrested for unwittingly transporting narcotics or narcotics traffickers in your vehicle. Your vehicle can be confiscated if you are transporting marijuana or other narcotics.

Violent, racially motivated attacks on people of color and foreigners have become widespread in Russia. Many of these attacks target university students, particularly those of Asian and African origin, but older tourists have also been targeted. Travelers are urged to exercise caution in areas frequented by "skinhead" groups and wherever large groups have gathered.

It is not uncommon for foreigners in general to become victims of harassment, mistreatment and extortion by law enforcement and other officials. Police do not need to show probable cause in order to stop, question or detain individuals. Be wary of persons representing themselves as police or other local officials. Try to obtain the officer・s name, badge number, and patrol car number, and note where it happened, as this information assists local officials in identifying the perpetrators. Authorities are concerned about these incidents and have cooperated in investigating such cases. Report crimes committed against you by persons presenting themselves as police or other governmental authorities to the U.S. Embassy or the nearest U.S. Consulate.

Extortion and corruption are common in the business environment. Organized criminal groups and sometimes local police target foreign businesses in many cities and have been known to demand protection money. Many western firms hire security services that have improved their overall security, although this is no guarantee. Small businesses are particularly vulnerable. 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.

Travelers should be aware that certain activities that would be normal business activities in the United States and other countries are 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 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 -- when convicted.

The U.S. Embassy receives reports almost every day of fraud committed against U.S. citizens by internet correspondents professing love and romantic interest. Typically, the Russian correspondent asks the U.S. citizen to send money or credit card information for living expenses, travel expenses, or :visa costs.; When the U.S. citizen asks to arrange a face-to-face meeting, the Russian correspondent often :dies; in a sudden accident. The anonymity of the Internet means that the U.S. citizen cannot be sure of the real name, age, marital status, nationality, or even gender of the correspondent. Several citizens・ report losing thousands of dollars through such scams. U.S. citizens may refer to http://uscis.gov for authoritative information about the immigration process and the true costs involved. For example, U.S. law does not require Russian visitors to have a certain amount of :pocket money; or :walking around money; in either rubles or dollars.

Thefts of U.S. passports can and do occur. 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. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, "A Safe Trip Abroad," for ways to promote a 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.gpoaccess.gov, or via the Bureau of Consular affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.  

MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical care is below western standards, with shortages of basic medical supplies and equipment and inferior standards of care and hygiene. The few :quality; facilities in Moscow that approach acceptable standards have limited spaces and do not accept all cases (i.e., they may reject cases of infectious illnesses or trauma ). Access to these facilities 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 their medical needs. Such travel can be very expensive if undertaken under emergency conditions. Travelers should check their insurance coverage and purchase supplemental coverage for medical evacuation. A medical evacuation from Russian can cost between 50,000 to 100,000 U.S. dollars, depending on the complexity of the situation. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at particular risk. Elective surgery and non-essential blood transfusions are not recommended, due to uncertainties surrounding the local blood supply. Most hospitals and clinics in major urban areas have adopted the use of disposable syringes as standard practice; however, travelers to remote regions should bring a supply of sterile, disposable syringes for eventualities. Travelers should refrain from visiting tattoo parlors or piercing services due to the risk of infection.

Rates of HIV infection have risen markedly in recent years. While most prevalent among intravenous drug users, prostitutes, and their clients, the HIV/AIDS rate in the general population is increasing. Reported cases of syphilis are much higher than in the U.S., and some sources suggest that gonorrhea and chlamydia are also more prevalent than in Western Europe or the U.S. Travelers should be aware of the related health and legal risks and take all appropriate measures.

Information on appropriate health precautions can be obtained from local health departments or private doctors. General guidance can also be found in the U.S. Public Health Service book, "Health Information For International Travel," available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. Tourists in frail health are strongly advised not to visit Russia because of the harsh conditions and lack of adequate medical facilities.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and if it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations.

When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Because conditions in many hospitals do not meet American standards, medical evacuation is frequently necessary for illnesses or injuries that could be treated locally in other countries. Medical evacuation companies can require a substantial down payment before they commit themselves to arranging a flight out of Russia. In addition, medical evacuation from remote areas can be especially long and difficult. Evacuation from the interior of the country, such as Siberia, can take days to organize and set into motion. Also note that the U.S. Government cannot pay for a medical evacuation. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or if 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.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Outbreaks of diphtheria have been reported throughout the country, even in large cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend up-to-date diphtheria immunizations before traveling to Russia and neighboring countries. Typhoid can be a concern for those who plan to travel extensively in the region. Cases of cholera have also been reported throughout the area. Tap water in St. Petersburg is considered unsafe to drink due to giardia. Drinking bottled water can reduce the risk of exposure to cholera. Tuberculosis and HIV have been an increasing source of concern for Russian healthcare providers. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's international traveler's hotline at (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: good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: poor

In some areas of Russia roads are practically non-existent. Persons planning to drive in Russia should adhere to all local driving regulations. These are strictly enforced and violators are subject to severe legal penalties.

A valid U.S. driver・s license with a notarized Russian translation of it or a valid Russian license is necessary to drive a vehicle in Russia. International driver・s licenses issued by the American Automobile Association are not accepted in Russia. Tourists may use international driver・s licenses issued by the American Automobile Association to drive in Russia. Foreigners who are in Russia on a business visa or with a permanent residence status in Russia are required by law to have a Russian driver・s license. In order to obtain this license one has to take the appropriate exam. An American driver's license cannot be exchanged for a Russian license. Travelers without a valid license are often subject to prolonged stops by police and fines.

Drivers must carry third party liability insurance under a policy valid in Russia. U.S. automobile liability insurance is not valid in Russia nor are most collision and comprehensive coverage policies issued by U.S. companies. A good rule of thumb is to buy coverage equivalent to that which you carry in the United States. Drivers should be aware that Russia practices a zero tolerance policy with regard to alcohol consumption prior to driving.

Avoid excessive speed and, if at all possible, do not drive at night. In rural areas, it is not uncommon to find livestock crossing roadways at any given time. Construction sites or stranded vehicles are often unmarked by flares or other warning signals. Sometimes cars have only one headlight with many cars lacking brake lights. Bicycles seldom have lights or reflectors. Due to these road conditions, be prepared for sudden stops at any time. Learn about your route from an auto club, guidebook or a government tourist office. Some routes have heavy truck and bus traffic; others have poor or nonexistent shoulders. Also, some of the newer roads have very few restaurants, motels, gas stations or auto repair shops along their routes. For your safety, have your vehicle serviced and in optimum condition before you travel. It is wise to bring an extra fan belt, fuses and other spare parts.

Law enforcement checkpoints aimed at detecting narcotics, alien smuggling and firearms traffic are located at various places throughout the country. Many checkpoints are operated by uniformed officials; however, others will not be marked and are manned by police or military officers not in uniform. Traffic police sometimes stop motorists to extract cash :fines.; For additional information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/travel/abroad_roadsafety.html . For specific information concerning Russian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Russia national tourist organization offices in New York via the Internet at http://www.russia-travel.com.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT : The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Russia・s civil aviation authority as Category 1 V- in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Russia ・s air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA・s Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm .

Travelers should note that air travel within Russia, particularly in remote regions, could be unreliable at times. Some small local airlines do not have advance reservation systems but sell tickets for cash at the airport. Flights often are canceled if more than 30% of the seats remain unsold.

CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: 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. Travelers may enter Russia with up to 10,000 U.S. dollars without submitting a customs declaration. They may now leave Russia with up to 3,000 U.S. dollars without submitting a customs declaration. Travelers may export up to 10,000 U.S. dollars by submitting a customs declaration form. In order to ensure one's ability to leave with valuable items (such as expensive jewelry) that were brought into the country, travelers should be sure to declare all such items upon arrival and receive a stamp on their customs declaration form. The stamped form will have to be submitted upon exit from Russia. 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 be replaced. Travelers attempting to depart Russia with more money than allowed under customs regulations face possible detention, arrest, fines and confiscation of currency.

Travelers should obtain receipts for all high-value items (including caviar) purchased in Russia. Any article that could appear old or as having cultural value to the customs service, including artwork, icons, samovars, rugs, military medals and antiques, must have a certificate indicating that it has no historical or cultural value. It is illegal to remove such items from Russia without this certificate. Certificates will not be granted for the export of articles that are more than 100 years old, no matter the value. These certificates may be obtained from the Russian Ministry of Culture. For further information, Russian speakers may call the Airport Sheremetyevo-2 Customs Information Service in Moscow at (7) (095) 578-2125/578-2120, or, in St. Petersburg, the Ministry of Culture may be reached at 311-3496.

Russia also has very strict rules on the importation of large quantities of medication : certain prescription and over the counter drugs that are common in the United States are prohibited in Russia and large quantities of any medicine will receive scrutiny. It is advisable to contact the Russian embassy or one of Russia ・s consulates for specific information regarding this or other customs regulations.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. A current list of those countries with serious problems in this regard can be found here. [Link missing]

GLOBAL POSITIONING EQUIPMENT AND RADIO ELECTRONICS: The importation and use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and other radio electronic devices are subject to special rules and regulations in Russia. Mapping and natural resource data collection activities associated with normal, commercial and scientific collaboration may result in the seizure of equipment and/or arrest of the user. The penalty for using a GPS device in a manner that is determined to have compromised Russia ・s national security can carry a prison term of ten to twenty years. No traveler should attempt to import or use GPS equipment in any manner unless it has been properly and fully documented by the traveler in accordance with the instructions of the Glavgossvyaznadzor (Main Inspectorate of Communications) and is declared in full on a customs declaration at the point of entry to the Russian Federation.

All radio electronic devices brought into Russia must have a certificate from the Glavgossvyaznadzor of the Russian Federation. This includes all emitting, transmitting and receiving equipment such as GPS devices, satellite telephones and other kinds of radio electronic equipment. Excluded from the list are consumer electronic devices such as am/fm radios and cellular phones. A general information sheet on the importation and use of GPS devices, radio-electronic equipment, and computers in Russia is available on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov and from the American Citizens Services Unit of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow or U.S. Consulates elsewhere in Russia.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens are subject to that country・s laws and regulations. In some instances, laws in Russia differ significantly from those in the United States and do 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 the law, even unknowingly, may be arrested, imprisoned, expelled and forced to forfeit the unused part of a pre-purchased tour. Serious transgressions of the law can lead to arrest and imprisonment. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Russia are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines .  

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: The restrictive and complicated Russian visa regime creates situations unique in the world and unexpected and irrational features of the Russian system will surprise even seasoned travelers. Most striking, Russian visa law requires travelers to have a valid visa to depart Russia and resolving this situation may take up to twenty days. At the same time, travelers without valid visas cannot check in to any hotel, guesthouse, hostel, or other lodging establishment in Russia. United States citizens without valid visas face significant delays lasting several days or more in leaving Russia and during this time may have trouble finding adequate accommodation.

There are no adequate public shelters or safe havens in Russia and the Embassy or the Consulates General have no means to accommodate such stranded travelers.

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.

Worn U.S. bills or bills marked in any way are often not accepted at banks and exchange offices, even though this constitutes a violation of currency laws. Travelers may sporadically experience some difficulty in obtaining or exchanging dollars outside of major cities in Russia.

Travelers need no longer bring large amounts of hard currency unless they expect to travel in rural areas. Outside of major cities, commercial enterprises still operate largely on a cash basis and travelers should plan accordingly.

Credit card acceptance, while not universal, is rapidly spreading in Moscow and to a lesser extent in other large cities. However, it is not always predictable. Travelers should check in advance whether a specific store, restaurant, or hotel accepts credit cards. Travelers should know that for no apparent reason Russian credit card readers sometimes decline some valid credit cards. For this reasons, travelers should also have a back up (multiple cards or an ATM card) in case their card is not accepted.

Automated Teller machines (ATMs) are plentiful throughout Moscow and to a lesser extent other large cities. As in any city, American citizens should only use ATMs in well-lit, populated places. Dark, deserted locations invite theft and attacks. In addition, ATM users in Russia are more susceptible to becoming victims of fraud than in the United States. To lessen the possibility of becoming a victim of ATM fraud, American citizens should use ATMs that are physically attached to an established banking institution. Avoid "stand-alone" machines found on street corners and in metro stations. ATM users should also monitor their bank accounts on a regular basis. Any irregular activity associated with unauthorized withdrawals should be reported immediately to the bank.

Holders of travelers・ checks have reported problems having them accepted in many commercial enterprises and even some banks. Personal checks are rarely accepted in Russia.  

Western union agents in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other large cities, which disburse money wired from the U.S. to Russia, sometimes experience periodic cash shortages.  

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