Things to Know Before Going to Russia

Embarking on a trip to Russia for the first time?

Great athletes, ballet, saunas, vodka, Vladimir Putin, pretty girls…those are some of the things that come to mind when thinking of Russia. As far as places in Eastern Europe, you won’t find a more enigmatic and more fascinating eastern European destination than Russia!
Things to Know Before Going to Russia

Embarking on a journey to Russia is not only fun but also hassle-free, and if you know what to expect and plan accordingly before you go, you too will have a blast! I live you now with a list where I round up some essential things every tourist should know when traveling to Russia:

You will need a visa support letter in order to get a visa

Before you book tickets to Russia one of the most important things to know before going to Russia is that you need an "invitation letter" (a.k.a. tourist visa support letter) before you can apply for a visa. A tourist visa support letter is basically a confirmation letter that states that you indeed plan to be a tourist in Russia.

You can easily get a tourist visa support letter from the Russian tour agency you’re booking with, an officially registered hotel, or friend/family member. What they need to do is to send by fax/email/post a letter stating who they are, how they can be contacted, and that your purpose of your trip to Russia is for tourism. Once you receive the "support letter of invitation" or tourist voucher you can then go to the nearest Russian consulate to get a visa.

Russia uses different electrical outlets & electrical voltage

If you’re traveling from continental Europe, you won’t have to worry about getting a power converter/ transformer or travel plug adapter. However, if you’re traveling to Russia you need to be aware of the voltage difference (220-240 volts) and difference wall sockets in Russia (standard Europlug: two rounded prongs). As a US citizen, you’ll need to buy both a plug adapter (~$2) and a voltage transformer (~$30), which you can get cheaply online from websites such as “220 Electronics”, “Amazon”,”Ebay”, etc.

The good news is that if you’re appliance is dual voltage, you won’t need to get a transformer but if the appliance just says 110-120 volts (it's the voltage in North America) you will need to get a transformer because it won’t work in Russia.

If you’re traveling from the UK, you’ll only need to get a travel plug adapter since the United Kingdom uses the same voltage electricity as Russia (and the rest of continental Europe).

International roaming is convenient but it isn’t always best

If you’re going to Russia for work purposes or long vacation, you’ll no doubt want to get in touch back home. International roaming charges in Russia aren't so bad when traveling from continental Europe but if you’re traveling from North America, Australia, UK, etc, you can expect international call charges per minute to be seriously expensive (~$5/$6p/m).

Rather than activating international roaming on your phone, you could easily unlock your phone and buy a standard prepaid Russian SIM card in Russia, which will cost you less than $7 (~170RUB) and it’ll allow you to make cheaper calls back home for ~$2p/m. Saying this, you definitely want to consider getting the ”prepaid Megafon-Moscow SIM card”, which offers local rates for international calls for as little as $0.20 (look up “Pre Paid GSM Megafon” and “COMFI” for more details on pre-paid SIMs and international calling cards).

US Dollars & Euros aren’t widely accepted

One of the most important things to know before going to Russia is that euros and dollars are not widely accepted in Russia. Russians aren’t allowed to request currencies other than Russian Rubles to charge for services and goods. However, many Russians will gladly take your euros and dollars as tips or as “under-the-table” transactions.

Overall, it’s best to exchange your euros/dollars into Russian Rubles to pay for things if you don’t want to end up paying over the odds. The main thing to remember about using cash in Russia is that Russian Rubles are the best way to pay for things.

Credit /debit cards are widely accepted

Whether it’s a US credit card or the Visa Euro debit card, you’ll be able to use them without problems in most major cities in Russia (i.e. Moscow, St Petersburg, etc) to pay for things and withdrawing money from ATM machines. However, if you plan to stay in smaller towns it’s a good idea you withdraw some cash when you land in Moscow before you head out into the Russian countryside.

The best thing to do though it's to double-check with your bank whether you can use your credit card before you travel to Russia just in case circumstances have changed. Whatever you do, it’s important that your bank knows that you are traveling to Russia because otherwise they’ll think someone else is fraudulently using your card and your card will stop working!

There are some things that are subject to declaration

One of the most important things to know before going to Russia is that some things need to be declared at the border control. Of course, if you know what needs to be declared in advance then, you can avoid unnecessary hassle at the airport by being taken through the dreaded “Red Corridor” to the inspection room.

In a nutshell, you have to declare goods that you intend to sell but you don’t have to declare goods or things that are going to be used for personal use or personal consumption. However, be sure not to take more than 6 packets of cigarettes, expensive goods (exceeding €1500/$2000), more than $3000/€2300/75,000 RUB in cash and traveler’s cheques because you’ll get taxed and you'll have to declare them right there and then!

AMEX, Thomas Cook and Visa traveler’s cheques are accepted in Russia but you won’t be able to use them everywhere besides major hotels and top restaurants. By the way, the only places you can redeem traveler’s cheques are banks.

If you are on any prescription drugs make sure you bring a doctor’s note and you declare this on the customs declaration form. Check the Sheremetyevo Airport website ( for more details and latest updates on customs and border control.

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