Business Travel in Russia

A Hot Tip about Business Travel in Russia

Posted on: 4 Jan 2010

Business Customs

The Russian market is extremely competitive. Salesmanship is a key factor and U.S. firms should be prepared to describe their products/technologies competitive advantages and factors that distinguish them in the marketplace.

 

Establishing a personal relationship with business partners is a critical factor in the successful negotiation of major projects, government procurement or in developing long-term business relationship.

 

Scheduling meetings with potential Russian business partners can sometimes be challenging. It may take weeks to get a response to an email, fax or a telephone request for a meeting. Once contact has been established, patience is still required to confirm a date and time to meet. And, it is not uncommon for meetings to be cancelled with no explanation. Russians will typically accept invitations but may frequently not show. Since traffic is a problem in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russian company representatives appreciate meeting at locations convenient to the metro, and are not averse to meeting in their offices or accepting an invitation for a lunch meeting.

 

Russian language ability is a must and an interpreter should be hired if necessary. An increasing number of Russian businesspeople speak a courtesy level of English; however, many prefer to conduct business discussions in Russian. The Commercial Service can arrange for the services of qualified interpreters upon request.

 

Business cards are important and are exchanged freely. Cards should have regular contact information and an email address and website if available. Most foreign businesspeople in Russia carry bilingual English/Russian business cards (one side English, the other Russian).

 

Promotional materials in Russian are an important tool for creating interest for a company’s products in the Russian market. It is very important that the translation be accurate and of high quality. Many companies interested in the Russian market have used on-line translation services for translation of their promotional material, only to learn that the translation was inferior and did not serve the intended purpose. For the best results, it is highly recommended that professional translation services be used. The Commercial Service can recommend fully qualified translators upon request.

 

Refreshments are usually served at business meetings - coffee, tea and water are the norms. Small gifts are acceptable but not expected.

 

Travel Advisory

Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid a certain country, and issues travel advisories when warranted by local conditions. As of this writing, there are no travel warnings or advisories for travel to Russia.

 

The Department of State’s Consular Information Sheet for Russia contains the following information on Safety and Security for U.S. citizens in the Russian Federation:

 

Given 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. There have been several kidnappings of foreigners and Russians working for media and non-governmental organizations in the region. Because of ongoing security concerns, U.S. government travel to the area is very limited. 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 Russia over the last several years. Bombings have occurred at Russian government buildings, hotels, tourist sites, markets, entertainment venues, schools, residential complexes, and on public transportation including subways, buses, trains, and scheduled commercial flights. Hostage-taking incidents have included a raid on a school that resulted in horrific losses of life of children, teachers, and parents.

 

There is no current indication that American institutions or citizens are targets, but there is a general risk of American citizens being victims of indiscriminate terrorist attacks. American citizens in Russia should be aware of their personal surroundings and follow good security practices. Americans are urged to remain vigilant and exercise good judgment and discretion when using any form of public transportation. When traveling, Americans may wish to provide a friend, family member, or coworker a copy of their itinerary. Americans should avoid large crowds and public gatherings that lack enhanced security measures. Travelers should also exercise a high degree of caution and remain alert when patronizing restaurants, casinos, nightclubs, bars, theaters, etc., especially during peak hours of business.

 

American citizens living in Russia or traveling there for even a few days are strongly urged to register with the U.S. Embassy or nearest Consulate General. Registration will allow the embassy to provide direct information on the security situation as necessary. Registration can be done on-line and can be done in advance of travel. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

 

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

 

Travel Tips

Hotels: While world-class tourist and business facilities exist in Moscow and St. Petersburg, they are under-developed in most of Russia, and many goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available. Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novgorod, Nizhniy Novgorod, Nizhnevartovsk, Perm, Samara, Yekaterinburg, Perm, Sochi, Yuzhno Sakhalinsk and Vladivostok, among other cities, have Western-style hotels, though often priced at a premium compared with other major cities of the world. Outside major cities, traditional Russian hotels offer modest accommodations at modest rates. Some regional hotels raise rates for foreign guests. It is possible to find well-appointed hotels in some small towns; it is equally possible to be temporarily without water or electricity when visiting other regions of Russia.

 

Clothing: Russian businessmen and women predominately wear business suits. For women, dresses, skirts or pants are acceptable. While winters can be extremely cold in Russia with occasional temperatures in the minus-20 Fahrenheit range in northern and Siberian cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg's climate can be less severe than some northern U.S. cities. Winter clothes may be needed as early as October or as late as April. During the winter months people dress for warmth. Hats, coats, gloves and boots are a must. Men usually wear a heavy topcoat and women a mid-calf length coat. Wool, fur and down coats are the most common. Russian men usually wear thick-soled water-resistant shoes. Women on the other hand wear both tall and short boots with high heels. In winter one must be prepared for either slush and/or icy sidewalks. Summers, while brief, can be surprisingly hot, and air conditioning is still rare outside big-city hotels.

 

Food: A meal in a hotel or top restaurant in Moscow and St. Petersburg can be very expensive by U.S. standards. Nevertheless, in these cities there is an increasing variety of less expensive restaurants, including pizza, and fast food establishments. Russian food can be bland to American tastes, while many visitors find Caucasian, Georgian, and Uzbek cuisines to be interesting contrasts. In smaller communities, visitors often must accept the food available at hotels or traditional Russian restaurants. Regardless of the city or hotel, bottled water served with no ice is recommended. The price of the water depends on whether it is local or imported.

 

Money: Russia is a predominately cash economy with the Russian ruble as the only legal tender for local transactions. It is illegal to pay for goods and services in U.S. dollars or other foreign currency. Old, worn, or marked bills are often not accepted at banks and exchanges. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, currency exchange offices are available in most shopping areas and provide reliable service. Credit cards are now accepted at many modern businesses in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and at some hotels and restaurants in larger regional cities, but only in major stores. Traveler checks are not widely accepted in Russia. Travelers to regional cities or towns are advised to carry enough cash to cover foreseeable expenses. Major hotels and the American Express offices in Moscow and St. Petersburg may be able to suggest locations for cashing travelers checks or obtaining cash advances on credit cards. Rubles (and dollars, if needed) may be obtained from bank ATMs that are connected to the PLUS and CIRRUS systems using U.S. debit/credit cards. It is not recommended to use credit/debit cards for small purchases or in standalone ATMs (those not physically located at a bank). ATMs are becoming more common in downtown Moscow, although there have been some instances of theft from card numbers used in these systems. Western Union has many agents in Moscow, and other cities in Russia, which disburse money wired from the United States.

 

Personal Security

Crime: The U.S. Embassy and Consulates General continue to receive reports of unprovoked, violent harassment against racial and ethnic minorities, including well-publicized cases in which members of minorities have been beaten and in several instances, murdered. Travelers are urged to exercise caution in areas frequented by “skinhead” groups and wherever large crowds have gathered. Americans most at risk are those of African, South Asian, or East Asian descent, or those who, because of their complexion, are perceived to be from the Caucasus region or the Middle East. These Americans are also at risk for harassment by police authorities.

 

Visitors to Russia need to be alert to their surroundings. In large cities, they need to take the same precautions against assault, robbery, or pickpockets that they would take in any large U.S. city:

— keep billfolds in inner front pockets,

— carry purses tucked securely under arms,

— wear the shoulder strap of cameras or bags across the chest,

— walk away from the curb and carry purses away from the street.

 

The most vulnerable areas include underground walkways and the subway, overnight trains, train stations, airports, markets, tourist attractions, and restaurants.

 

Groups of children and adolescents have been 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.

 

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. Bogus trolley inspectors, who aim to extort a bribe from individuals while checking for trolley tickets are also a threat. Travelers have generally found it safer to travel in groups organized by reputable tour agencies. Robberies may occur in taxis shared with strangers. Travelers should be aware that there are few registered taxi services in Russia and should be aware of the safety risks inherent in flagging down informal or “gypsy” cabs.

 

A common street scam in Russia is the “turkey drop” in which an individual “accidentally” drops the money on the ground in front of an intended victim, while an accomplice either waits for the money to be picked up, or picks up the money himself and offers to split it with the pedestrian. The individual who dropped the currency returns, aggressively accusing both of stealing the money. This confrontation generally results in the pedestrian’s money being stolen. Avoidance is the best defense. Do not get trapped into picking up the money, and walk quickly away from the scene.

 

To avoid highway crime, travelers should try not to drive at night, especially when alone, or sleep in vehicles along the road. Travelers should not, under any circumstances, pick up hitchhikers: they not only pose a threat to physical safety, but also put the driver in danger of being arrested for unwittingly transporting narcotics.

 

Extortion and corruption are common in the business environment. Threats of violence and acts of violence are commonly resorted to in business disputes. 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 General.

 

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). U.S. citizens should be particularly aware of potential risks involved in any commercial activity with the Russian military-industrial complex, including research institutes, design bureaus, 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.

 

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. If stopped, travelers should try to obtain, if safe to do so, the officer’s name, badge number, and patrol car number, and note where the stop happened, as this information assists local officials in identifying the perpetrators. Authorities are concerned about these incidents and have cooperated in investigating such cases. Travelers should report crimes to the U.S. Embassy or the nearest Consulate General.

 

Visa Requirements

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: The Russian government maintains a restrictive and complicated visa regime for foreigners who visit, transit, or reside in the Russian Federation. A U.S. citizen who does not comply with Russian visa laws can be subject to arrest, fines, and/or deportation. Russian authorities will not allow a U.S. citizen traveler with an expired visa to depart the country, effectively stranding the person for up to 20 days, until local authorities grant an exit visa.

 

The Government of Russia does not recognize the standing of the U.S. diplomatic mission to intervene in visa matters, including situations in which an American is stranded because of an expired visa. U.S. citizens should also be aware that Russian immigration and visa laws change regularly, and the implementation of new regulations has not always been transparent or predictable.

 

Sponsorship

Under Russian law, every foreign traveler must have a Russian-based sponsor, which could be a hotel, tour company, relative, employer, university, etc. Even if a visa was obtained through a travel agency in the United States, there is always a Russian legal entity whose name is indicated on the visa and who is considered to be the legal sponsor. 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 ensure that they have contact information for the visa sponsor prior to arrival in Russia, as the sponsor’s assistance will be essential to resolve any visa problems.

 

Entry Visas

To enter Russia for any purpose, a U.S. citizen must possess a valid U.S. passport and a bona fide visa issued by a Russian Embassy or Consulate. It is impossible to obtain an entry visa upon arrival, so travelers must apply for their visas well in advance. U.S. citizens who apply for Russian visas in third countries where they do not have permission to stay more than 90 days may face considerable delays in visa processing. Travelers who arrive in Russia without an entry visa will not be permitted to enter the country, and face immediate return to the point of embarkation at their own expense.

 

A Russian entry/exit visa has two dates written in the European style (day/month/year) as opposed to the American style (month/day/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. A Russian visa is only valid for those exact dates and cannot be extended after the traveler has arrived in the country, except in the case of a medical emergency.

 

Russian tourist visas are often granted only for the specific dates mentioned in the invitation letter provided by the sponsor. U.S. citizens sometimes receive visas 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. Travelers should ensure that their visas reflect intended activities in Russia (e.g., tourism, study, business, etc.).

 

Limitations on Length of Stay

In October 2007, the Russian government made significant changes to its rules regarding the length of stay permitted to most foreign visitors. For any visa issued on or after October 18, 2007, unless that visa specifically authorizes employment or study, a foreigner may stay in Russia only 90 days in any 180-day period. This applies to business, tourist, humanitarian and cultural visas, among other categories.

 

Exit Visas

A valid visa is necessary to depart Russia. Travelers 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. Russian authorities may take up to 20 calendar days to authorize an exit visa, during which time the traveler will be stranded in Russia at his or her own expense. The ability of the Embassy or Consulates General to intervene in these situations is extremely limited.

 

Travelers with expired visas should also be aware that they may have difficulty checking into a hotel, hostel, or other lodging establishment. There are no adequate public shelters or safe havens in Russia and neither the U.S. Embassy nor the Consulates General have means to accommodate such stranded travelers. Visitors who lose their U.S. passports and Russian visas to accident or theft must immediately replace their passports at the U.S. Embassy or one of the Consulates General. The traveler must then enlist the visa sponsor to obtain a new visa in order to depart the country. As noted above, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates General are not able to intercede in cases in which visas must be replaced. It is helpful to make a photocopy of your visa in the event of loss, but a copy is not sufficient to permit departure.

 

Travelers who are departing Russia by train should be aware that if they board a train on the last day of a visa’s validity, Russian immigration officials may consider the visa to have expired if the train crosses the international border after midnight on the day of expiry. The Embassy and Consulates General are aware of cases in which travelers have been detained at border crossings, unable to leave Russia, because their visas were expired by a matter of hours or minutes.

 

Visas for students and English teachers sometimes allow only one entry. In these cases, the sponsoring school is responsible for registering the visa and migration card and obtaining an exit visa. Obtaining an exit visa can take up to twenty days so students and teachers need to plan accordingly. Please see the section below regarding Teaching in Russia.

 

Migration Cards

All foreigners entering Russia must fill out a two-part migration card upon arrival. The traveler deposits one part of the card with immigration authorities at the port of entry, and keeps the other part for the duration of his or her stay. Upon departure, the traveler must submit his or her card to immigration authorities. Foreign visitors to Russia are normally required to present their migration cards in order to register at hotels.

 

Migration cards, in theory, are available at all ports of entry from Russian immigration officials (Border Guards). The cards are generally distributed to passengers on incoming flights and left in literature racks at arrival points. Officials at borders and airports usually do not point out these cards to travelers; it is up to the individual travelers to find them and fill them out. Replacing a lost or stolen migration card is extremely difficult. While authorities will not prevent foreigners from leaving the country if they cannot present their migration cards, travelers could experience problems when trying to re-enter Russia at a future date.

 

Although Russia and Belarus use the same migration card, travelers should be aware that each country maintains its own visa regime. U.S. citizens wishing to travel to both nations must apply for two separate visas. A traveler entering Russia directly from Belarus is not required to obtain a new migration card, but at his or her option may do so if blank ones are available at the time of entry.

 

Visa Registration

Travelers who spend more than three days in Russia must register their visa and migration card through their sponsor. Travelers staying in a hotel must register their visa and migration card with their hotel within one day. Even travelers who spend less than three days in one place are encouraged to register their visas. If a traveler chooses not to register a stay of less than three days, he or she is advised to keep copies of tickets, hotel bills, or itineraries in order to prove compliance with the law. U.S. citizens should be aware that Russian police officers have the authority to stop people and request their identity and travel documents at any time, and without cause. Due to the possibility of random document checks by police, travelers should carry their original passports, migration cards, and visas with them at all times.

 

Transit Visas

Travelers intending to transit through Russia en route to a third country must have a Russian transit visa. Even travelers who are simply changing planes in Moscow or another international airport in Russia for an onward destination will be asked to present a transit visa issued by a Russian Embassy or Consulate. Russian authorities may refuse to allow a U.S. citizen who does not have a transit visa to continue with his or her travel, obliging the person to immediately return to the point of embarkation at the traveler’s own expense.

 

Restricted Areas

U.S. citizens should be aware that there are several closed cities and regions in Russia. Travelers who attempt to enter these areas without prior authorization are subject to arrest, fines, and/or deportation. A traveler must list on the visa application all areas to be visited and subsequently register with authorities upon arrival at each destination. Travelers should check with their sponsor, hotel, or the nearest office of the Russian Federal Migration Service before traveling to unfamiliar cities and towns.

 

American Citizens Also Holding Russian Passports

Dual U.S./Russian nationals who enter Russia on Russian passports face several possible difficulties. Russian authorities will not permit departure from Russia if the person’s Russian passport has expired or has been lost, whether or not the traveler also has a valid U.S. passport. In these cases the traveler will be required to obtain a new Russian passport, a process that can take several months. In order to apply for a Russian visa in a U.S. passport, however, Russian consular officials normally require a person to renounce his or her Russian citizenship. 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.

 

Telecommunications

Internet Accessibility

The level of penetration and Internet awareness is increasing in Russia. Recent figures show that about 28% of the Russian population uses the Internet on a regular basis; 70% use ADSL or Broadband connection services. The largest players in Russian language e-mail services and search engines are Mail.ru, Rambler and Yandex. Internet is widely available in the major cities.

 

Wi-Fi is in the final stage of development in Russia. Currently, there are about 3,500 hot spots active in Russia that are primarily located in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other large cities. The Marriott Hotel chain was the first Wi-Fi zone in Moscow and in Russia, launched in spring 2003. Launching WIMAX services combined with Wi-Fi will be the driver for further proliferation of wireless Internet access.

 

Mobile Technology

Mobile services are provided in the GSM, CDMA-450, AMPS and DAMPS standards. GSM dominates the market, with 3G gaining some share. The major cellular operators in the market are Mobile TeleSystems (MTS), Vimpelcom and Megafon.

 

Long distance telephone calls can usually be made from any place in the city using IP phone cards or SKYPE, if you have an available Internet connection. Check with your provider to make sure coverage is available. With a pre-paid, locally purchased phone card you can also make calls from phone kiosks located near metro and train stations, tourist attractions and in downtown areas.

 

A rudimentary knowledge of Russian is extremely helpful for those placing a call through local telephone and telegraph offices. Moscow is eight hours ahead of Washington, D.C. To reach Moscow by phone from the United States you need to access an international line, and then dial Russia Country Code “7,” Moscow City Code “495” followed by the phone number. Some new numbers use “499” for Moscow, and calling cell phones in Russia often require a different dialing string.

 

Transportation

Travelers should be aware some 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. Travelers should have their passport with them at all times. Air travel within western Russia is occasionally erratic but generally stays on schedule; the quality of service continues to improve. Flights within the Russian Far East are often delayed or cancelled in winter months due to snow or fog. International Russian carriers such as Aeroflot and Transaero usually use western equipment and meet higher standards than domestic carriers.

 

Moscow has four major airports. Most international flights enter Moscow through Sheremetyevo-2 and Domodedovo. Travelers may continue to other Russian cities from Sheremeyevo-1, Vnukovo or Domodedovo airports. However, travel time between airports or to the city center can take as much as three hours, and ample time must be allowed for passport control, customs clearance and baggage retrieval. St. Petersburg's airport has two terminals: Pulkovo-1 (domestic flights) and Pulkovo-2 (international flights).

 

Passengers arriving by air in Russia should be aware that Russian authorities are now beginning to enforce a 2003 Customs regulation that prohibits airlines from delivering lost luggage. Passengers must either return to the airport to retrieve it or provide a power of attorney to another person or legal entity to act on their behalf. Train travel in Russia is generally reliable and convenient as stations are located in the city center. From St. Petersburg to Moscow, travelers often ride overnight trains, although unaccompanied passengers are reminded to keep an eye on their valuables and lock their doors at night (if in a sleeping compartment), as some incidents of pick-pocketing have been reported. Inclement weather, erratic maintenance and a culture of aggressive driving make road conditions throughout Russia highly variable. Drivers and pedestrians should exercise extreme caution to avoid accidents. Traffic police sometimes stop motorists to levy cash "fines," and criminals occasionally prey on travelers, especially in isolated areas.

 

In Moscow and St. Petersburg, the metro (subway) can be an efficient and inexpensive means of transportation. However, for non-Russian speakers, it can be difficult unless prepared in advance. Be sure to carry a metro map with you and learning Cyrillic alphabet is helpful. Marked taxis are increasingly present in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Short-term business travelers may wish to consider renting a car and driver for extensive excursions, or hire taxis through their hotels for shorter jaunts. Car rentals are another option that has opened up in the last couple of years, although driving in Russia can be difficult for the uninitiated.

 

Language

Though many better-educated Russians in major cities speak English, you should be prepared to conduct business in Russian. Many first-time visitors are surprised by how difficult it can be to find anyone who speaks English. U.S. businesses should hire a reputable interpreter when conducting important negotiations. Not having product literature in Russian will put your company at a big disadvantage relative to your European and Asian competitors, not to mention local firms.

 

Health

As in many countries of the world, travelers should drink only boiled or bottled water. Medical care is usually far below western standards, with occasional shortages of basic medical supplies. In Moscow and St. Petersburg there are now a number of Western managed medical and dental clinics that provide adequate ambulatory care. Such facilities usually require cash payment at Western rates upon admission. For serious medical conditions, it may be necessary to travel to the West, and this can be very expensive if undertaken under emergency conditions. The cost of a medical evacuation (in an air ambulance) from some Russian regions exceeds $100,000. The Embassy strongly urges all travelers who visit Russia to purchase traveler’s medical insurance, which includes coverage for a medical evacuation. Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems may be at particular risk.

 

Local Time, Business Hours, and Holidays

There are eleven time zones across Russia. Moscow is eight hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. Russian changes relative to daylight savings time are made on the last Sundays of March and October, at 2am. Most companies and offices maintain business hours of 9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. Many of the shopping centers and supermarkets are open from 10:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. Increasingly, many major supermarket chains are also open 24 hours, 7 days per week.

 

Russian Holidays: The holidays listed on the U.S. Embassy’s website are not an exclusive list. Occasionally days off will be declared by the government to create a long weekend, particularly at Christmas (When holidays fall on weekends, Russian authorities generally announce during the week prior to the holiday whether it will be celebrated on the previous Friday or the following Monday). Travelers should be advised that little business is done from mid-December through mid-January. The country basically shuts down for business from New Years to Russian Orthodox Christmas (January 7). Government offices, most businesses and even much of the press close during this period. The period from May 1 through May 9 is similar.

 

Temporary Entry of Materials and Personal Belongings

Russian customs procedures include entry and exit declaration forms. Foreigners are allowed to export up to $3,000 without providing a customs declaration or proof of how the money was obtained. Foreigners may also export up to $10,000 by simply filling out a customs declaration upon exit. More than $10,000 can be exported upon proof that it was imported into Russia legally (a stamped customs declaration or proof of a legal bank or wire transfer must be presented to export currency). Failure to follow these procedures can and does result in delays, detentions, confiscation of the currency, and even imprisonment. 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.

 

Generally speaking, you should obtain a receipt for all items of value – including caviar – purchased in Russia. Furthermore, old artifacts and antiques must have a certificate indicating that they have no historical value. For further information call Russian Customs at 7 (495) 265-6628 or 208-2808.

 

Currently, personal items not exceeding rubles 65,000 in value and a weight of 50 kilos may be exported free of charge. A 30% duty may be required to export any personal items valued at over rubles 650,000 and weighing no more than 200 kilos, although additional charges may be required depending on the type of item to be exported. Export duties may be imposed on any items that are determined by customs officials at the point of departure to be of commercial use. Items which may appear to have historical or cultural value -- icons, rugs, art, antiques, etc. -- may be taken out of Russia only with prior written approval of the Ministry of Culture and payment of a 100% duty. Occasionally, dealers of quality items may be able to arrange this approval at considerably less cost. Certain items, such as caviar, medications, jewelry, precious/semi-precious stones or metals, and fuel may be exported duty-free in limited amounts only.

 

Computers, electronic notebooks and related hardware must be presented to customs officials at the airport for scanning at least two hours prior to departure. The Embassy understands that customs officials may require "information storage devices" to be submitted 24 hours before departure. The law is often neglected but can be enforced on a-case-by-case basis. Failure to follow the customs regulations may result in penalties ranging from confiscation of the property in question and/or imposition of fines or arrest. To prevent possible difficulties in taking currency and valuables back out of Russia, travelers are highly advised to ensure that their passenger declaration form is completed and is stamped by customs officials at the point of entry. This customs declaration should be kept and made available when exiting Russia.

 

 

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Posted: 04 January 2010

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