Moscow is a challenging destination for wheelchair-bound visitors and travellers with other disabilities. Toilets are frequently accessed from stairs in restaurants and museums; distances are great; public transport is extremely crowded; and many footpaths are in poor condition.
This situation is changing (albeit very slowly) as buildings undergo renovations and become more accessible. Many hotels offer accessible rooms and all new metro stations are equipped with lifts and ramps.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
All-Russian Society for the Blind Provides info and services for visually impaired people, including operating holiday and recreation centres.
All-Russian Society for the Deaf (Всероссийское общество глухих, www.voginfo.ru) Organises cultural activities and recreational facilities for its members.
All-Russian Society of Disabled People Does not offer any services to travellers, but may provide publications (in Russian) on legal issues or local resources.
Prices are fixed in shops; at souvenir markets, such as Izmaylovsky, polite haggling over prices is expected. You'll get 5% off with little effort, but vendors rarely budge past 10%.
Dangers & Annoyances
Moscow is mostly a safe city.
- As in any big city, be on guard against pickpockets, especially around train stations and in crowded metro cars.
- Be extra-vigilant when crossing streets – some drivers are positively crazy.
- Always be cautious about taking taxis late at night, especially near bars and clubs. Never get into a car that already has two or more people in it.
- Always carry a photocopy of your passport and visa. If stopped by a member of the police force, it is perfectly acceptable to show a photocopy.
- Your biggest threat in Moscow is xenophobic or overly friendly drunks.
- Moscow Pass (www.moscowpass.com) Purchase a one- or three-day pass (€27/51) and get admission to more than 40 Moscow museums, plus a riverboat cruise. Extra €8 charge if you want to include the Kremlin. Additional savings at two dozen different restaurants, as well as Moscow Free walking tours.
- Russia City Pass (www.russiacitypass.com) Admission to the same 40 museums (more or less) and riverboat cruise, with a miniguide to show you where to go. Also promises that you can skip the line at the most popular sights. Prices range from US$50 for a one-day pass to US$111 for a five-day pass.
- Pass City (www.passcity.ru) Includes museums and cultural attractions in both Moscow and St Petersburg, as well as Yandex Taxi rides and free audio tours in both cities. Prices start at R5990 for a three-day pass.
Access electricity (220V, 50Hz AC) with a European plug with two round pins. A few places still have the old 127V system.
Embassies & Consulates
It’s wise to register with your embassy, especially if you’ll be in Russia for a long stay.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Tourist Helpline||8-800-220 0001/2|
|Universal Emergency Number||112|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Nowadays, entry into (and departure from) Russia is a straightforward affair. Upon arrival, you will receive a computer-generated immigration card, which you should keep with your passport for the duration of your stay. Don't lose this card, as you must present it at departure.
- Searches beyond the perfunctory are quite rare, but clearing customs when you leave Russia by a land border can be lengthy.
- Visitors are allowed to bring in and take out up to US$10,000 (or its equivalent) in currency, and goods up to the value of €10,000, weighing less than 50kg, without making a customs declaration.
- Fill in a customs declaration form if you’re bringing into Russia major equipment, antiques, artworks or musical instruments (including a guitar) that you plan to take out with you – get it stamped in the red channel of customs to avoid any problems leaving with the same goods.
- If you plan to export anything vaguely ‘arty’ – instruments, coins, jewellery, antiques, antiquarian manuscripts and books (older than 50 years) or art (also older than 50 years) – it should first be assessed by the Expert Collegium; it is very difficult to export anything over 100 years old. Bring two photographs of your item, your receipt and your passport. If export is allowed, you'll be issued a receipt for tax paid, which you show to customs officers on your way out of the country.
Required by all; apply at least a month in advance of your trip.
Need to Know
You will need the following for all visas:
- Passport Valid for at least six months beyond your return date.
- Photos One or two passport-sized photos.
- Completed application form Allow some time for this: it's a doozy.
- Handling fee Usually in the form of a money order; amount varies.
- Visa-support letter Provided by hotel, travel agent or online service.
Types of Visas
For most travellers a tourist visa (single- or double-entry, valid for a maximum of 30 days) will be sufficient. If you plan to stay longer than a month, you can apply for a business visa or – if you are a US citizen – a three-year multi-entry visa.
These are the most straightforward Russian visas available, but they are also the most inflexible. They allow a stay of up to 30 days in the country, with one or two entries within that time period. It is not possible to extend a tourist visa.
In addition to the standard documents required for all Russian visas, you’ll need a voucher issued by the hotel or travel agency that provided your invitation. Note that Russian consulates also reserve the right to see your return ticket or some other proof of onward travel, but this is rarely requested.
Available for three months, six months or one year (or three years in the US), and as single entry, double entry or multiple entry visas, business visas are valid for up to 90 days of travel within any 180-day period. You don’t actually need to be on business to apply for these visas. In fact, they’re great for independent tourists with longer travel itineraries and flexible schedules. But you must have a letter of invitation from a registered Russian company or organisation (available from specialist visa agencies) and a covering letter stating the purpose of your trip. Some applicants are also asked to provide proof of sufficient funds to cover their visit.
For transit by air, a transit visa is usually valid for up to three days. For a nonstop Trans-Siberian Railway journey, it’s valid for 10 days, giving westbound passengers a few days in Moscow; those heading east, however, are not allowed to linger in Moscow. Note that transit visas for train journeys are tricky to secure and are usually exactly the same price as a single entry tourist visa (in the UK £70 for either, plus a service charge of £38.40).
To obtain a visa, everyone needs an invitation, also known as 'visa support'. Hotels and hostels will usually issue anyone staying with them an invitation voucher free or for a small fee (typically around €20 to €40). If you are not staying in a hotel or hostel, you will need to buy an invitation – this can be done through most travel agents or via specialist visa agencies. Prices may vary depending on how quickly you need your invitation.
Invitation voucher in hand, you can then apply for a visa. Wherever in the world you are applying you can start by entering details in the online form of the Consular Department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (https://visa.kdmid.ru/PetitionChoice.aspx).
Take care in answering the questions accurately on this form, including listing all the countries you have visited in the last 10 years and the dates of the visits – stamps in your passport will be checked against this information and if there are anomalies you will likely have to restart the process. Keep a note of the unique identity number provided for your submitted form – if you have to make changes later, you will need this to access it without having to fill the form in from scratch again.
Russian embassies in many countries, including the UK, US, France and Germany, have contracted separate agencies to process the submission of visa applications and check everything is in order; these companies use online interfaces that direct the relevant information into the standard visa application form:
- VFS.Global (http://ru.vfsglobal.co.uk) Offices in London and Edinburgh.
- Invisa Logistic Services (http://ils-usa.com) Offices in Washington DC, New York, San Francisco, Houston and Seattle.
Consular offices apply different fees and slightly different application rules country by country. For example, at the time of writing a pilot project to collect biometric data via fingerprinting was being run for visa applications in the UK, Denmark, Myanmar and Namibia. Avoid potential hassles by checking well in advance what these rules might be. Among the things that you may need are:
- A printout of the invitation/visa support document.
- A passport-sized photograph for the application form.
- If you're self employed, bank statements for the previous three months showing you have sufficient funds to cover your time in Russia.
- Details of your travel insurance.
- Birth certificates of any children you are travelling with.
The charge for the visa will depend on the type of visa applied for and how quickly you need it.
Every visitor to Russia is obligated to have their visa registered within seven business days of arrival. If you are in Moscow for less than seven business days, you are exempt. If you leave Moscow, you must register again in any city where you stay seven days or longer. The obligation to register is with the accommodating party – your hotel or hostel, or landlord, friend or family if you’re staying in a private residence.
When you check in at a hotel or hostel, you surrender your passport and visa so the hotel can register you with the local visa office. You’ll get your documents back the next day.
If you are staying in a homestay or rental apartment, your landlord can register your visa through the local post office. But this is a big hassle that most landlords don't care to undertake. An easier alternative is to get registered through the agency that issued your invitation (though you'll probably pay an extra fee).
It is unlikely but possible that police officers may request to see your proof of registration, so keep all documentation and transportation tickets. This is perhaps more of a concern for those who are travelling extensively outside of Moscow. In any case, you will not have to show proof of registration upon departure.
Any extensions or changes to your visa will be handled by Russia’s Federal Migration Service (Federalnoy Migratsionnoy Slyzhby), often shortened to FMS. It’s possible you’ll hear the old acronyms PVU and OVIR used for this office.
Extensions are time consuming and difficult; tourist visas can’t be extended at all. Avoid the need for an extension by arranging a longer visa than you might need. Note that many trains out of St Petersburg and Moscow to Eastern Europe cross the border after midnight, so make sure your visa is valid up to and including this day.
At A Glance
Main Visa Types
Tourist Valid maximum of 30 days, single- or double-entry, nonextendable.
Business Valid for three months, six months or one year (three years for US citizens); may or may not limit the number of entries.
Private On invitation from a Russian citizen, who provides your accommodation. Up to 90 days, single- or double-entry.
Transit By air for 72 hours, by train 10 days.
Russian Far East Free e-Visa Citizens of 18 countries can arrive without a visa for stays of up to 30 days if entering via Vladivostok, Kamchatka or Sakhalin and staying only in the Russian Far East.
- Action-visas.com www.action-visas.com
- Comet Consular Services www.cometconsular.com
- Express to Russia www.expresstorussia.com
- IVDS www.ivds.de
- Real Russia http://realrussia.co.uk
- VisaCentral http://visacentral.com
- VisaHQ.com http://russia.visahq.com
- Visa to Russia www.visatorussia.com
- Way to Russia www.waytorussia.net
Immigration forms are produced electronically by passport control at airports. Take good care of your half of the completed form as you’ll need it for registration and could face problems while travelling in Russia – and certainly will on leaving – if you can’t produce it.
Russians are sticklers for formality. They’re also rather superstitious. Follow these tips to avoid faux pas.
- Visiting homes Shaking hands across the threshold is considered unlucky; wait until you’re fully inside. Remove your shoes and coat on entering. Always bring a gift. If you give flowers, make sure they're an odd number – even numbers of blooms are for funerals.
- Religion Women should cover their heads and bare shoulders when entering a church. In some monasteries and churches it’s also required that they wear a skirt – wraps are usually available at the door. Men should remove hats in church and not wear shorts.
- Eating & drinking Russians eat resting their wrists on the table edge, with fork in left hand and knife in the right. Vodka toasts are common at meals – it’s rude to refuse to join in and traditional (and good sense) to eat a little something after each shot.
We strongly recommend taking out travel insurance. Check the small print to see if the policy covers potentially dangerous sporting activities, such as diving or trekking. For medical treatment, some policies pay doctors or hospitals directly but most require you to pay on the spot and claim later (keep all receipts and documentation). Check that the policy covers ambulances or an emergency flight home. Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
- Almost all hotels and hostels offer wi-fi, as do many bars, restaurants and cafes. It isn’t always free, but it is ubiquitous. There is also free wi-fi on the metro and at hot spots around the city.
- To use the free wi-fi, you will be obliged to register your phone number to obtain a pass code. Some services only accept Russian telephone numbers, in which case you may have to ask a local to use their number.
- Most hostels and hotels offer internet access for guests who are not travelling with their own device. Internet cafes are a thing of the past.
- Also popular is shared work space, which offers a comfortable work space, functional wi-fi, and sometimes drinks and snacks, for a per-minute or per-hour fee.
You may spot 'tourist police' hanging around Red Square and other popular tourist haunts. No, they are not a special police force to harass tourists, but rather to assist tourists. Tourist police supposedly have a degree of foreign language proficiency and other training and communication skills.
That said, it’s not unusual to see the regular police officers (politsiya) randomly stopping people on the street to check their documents. Often, the politsiya target individuals who look like they come from the Caucasus, and other people with darkish skin. But officers have the right to stop anyone, and they do exercise it.
Technically, everyone is required to carry a passport (dokumenty) at all times. Such reports have declined, but in the past travellers have complained about police pocketing their passports and demanding bribes. The best way to avoid such unpleasantness is to carry a photocopy of your passport, visa and registration, and present them when an officer demands to see your dokumenty.
If a police officer demands payment for some infraction, you have the right to insist that the ‘fine’ be paid the legal way, through Sberbank.
If you are arrested, the police are obliged to inform your embassy or consulate immediately and allow you to communicate with it without delay. You can’t count on the rules being followed, so be polite and respectful towards officials and hopefully things will go far more smoothly for you.
Although homosexuality is legal in Russia, this is a socially conservative country where open displays of affection may attract unwanted attention. Watchdog groups have reported an increase in violence since legislation banning 'gay propaganda' was enacted in 2011. There have also been reports of police harassment around gay clubs and cruising areas in Moscow. Exercise extra caution around LGBT-specific venues (or avoid them) and you are unlikely to experience any problems.
- Russia is a conservative country and being gay is generally frowned upon. LGBT people face stigma, harassment and violence in their everyday lives.
- Homosexuality isn't illegal, but promoting it (and other LGBT lifestyles) is. What constitutes promotion is at the discretion of the authorities.
- Moscow Pride has not taken place since it was banned by city courts (despite fines from the European Court of Human Rights in 2010). Activists were violently attacked by extremists at the event in 2011.
- That said, Moscow is the most cosmopolitan of Russian cities, and the active gay and lesbian scene reflects this attitude. Newspapers such as the Moscow Times feature articles about gay and lesbian issues, as well as listings of gay and lesbian clubs.
- Gay.ru (http://english.gay.ru) is rather out of date but still has good links and resources for getting in touch with personal guides.
- Newspapers The Moscow Times (www.themoscowtimes.com) is a first-rate weekly and the last remaining publication for English-language news. It covers Russian and international issues, as well as sport and entertainment. Find it at hotels and restaurants around town.
- Television TV channels include Channel 1 (Pervy Kanal; www.1tv.ru); NTV (www.ntv.ru); Rossiya (www.russia.tv); Kultura (www.tvkultura.ru); RenTV (www.ren-tv.com); and RT (http://rt.com), offering the 'Russian perspective' to overseas audiences in English, Arabic and Spanish.
ATMs widely available. Credit cards accepted by most hotels and restaurants.
- Even if prices are listed in US dollars or euros, you will be presented with a final bill in roubles.
- ATMs linked to international networks are all over Moscow – look for signs that say bankomat (банкомат).
- Credit cards are commonly accepted, but Americans may have some difficulty if they do not have a 'chip and pin' credit card. This is more of a problem at shops than at hotels and restaurants.
- Inform your bank or credit-card provider of the dates you’ll be travelling in Russia, to avoid a situation where the card is blocked.
Automatic teller machines (ATMs), linked to international networks such as Amex, Cirrus, Eurocard, MasterCard and Visa, are now common throughout Moscow. Look for signs that say bankomat (БАНКОМАТ). Using a credit or debit card, you can always obtain roubles and often US dollars or euros.
US dollars and euros are now widely accepted at exchange bureaus around Moscow. Other currencies will undoubtedly cause more hassle than they are worth. Whatever currency you bring should be in pristine condition. Banks and exchanges do not accept old, tatty bills with rips or tears. With US dollars, make certain that, besides looking and smelling newly minted, they are of the new design, with the large off-set portrait. Be prepared to show your passport.
Credit cards, especially Visa and MasterCard, are widely accepted at upmarket hotels, as well as restaurants and stores and some hostels. You can also use your credit card to get a cash advance at most major banks in Moscow.
Russian currency is the rouble, written as рубль or abbreviated as руб. There are 100 kopecks (копеек or коп) in the rouble and these come in small coins that are worth one, five, 10 and 50 kopecks. Roubles are issued in coins in amounts of one, two and five roubles. Banknotes come in values of 10, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 roubles. Small stores, kiosks and many other vendors have difficulty changing large notes, so save those scrappy little ones.
- Guides Around 10% of their daily rate; a small gift will also be appreciated.
- Hotels Only in the most luxurious hotels need you tip bellboys etc, and only if service is good.
- Restaurants Leave small change or 10%, if the service warrants it.
- Taxis No need to tip as the fare is either agreed to before you get in or metered.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Government offices 9am or 10am to 5pm or 6pm weekdays.
Banks and other services 9am–6pm weekdays; shorter hours Saturday.
Shops 10am–8pm daily. Department stores and food shops have longer hours.
Restaurants Noon–midnight daily.
Museums 10am or 11am to 6pm Tuesday to Sunday. Many museums have instituted evening hours one day a week, usually Thursday. Opening hours vary widely, as do the museums' weekly days off.
Although the service has improved dramatically in recent years, the usual warnings about delays and disappearances of incoming and outgoing mail apply to Moscow. Airmail letters take at least two weeks from Moscow to Europe, and longer to the USA or Australasia. DHL, UPS and FedEx are all active in Moscow.
Should you decide to send mail to Moscow, or try to receive it, note that addresses should be written in reverse order: Russia, postal code, city, street address and then name.
New Year’s Day 1 January
Russian Orthodox Christmas 7 January
International Women’s Day 8 March
International Labour Day/Spring Festival 1 and 2 May
Victory (1945) Day 9 May
Russian Independence 12 June
Day of Reconciliation and Accord (formerly Revolution Day) 7 November
- Smoking Banned in public places, including bars, hotels, restaurants, children’s playgrounds, train station platforms and train carriages. If you're caught smoking in such places, you could be liable for fines of up to R1500.
Taxes & Refunds
The value-added tax (VAT, in Russian NDS) is 18% (10% for food and children's products). It is usually included in the price listed for purchases. Moscow also has a 5% sales tax that is usually only encountered in top hotels.
At the time of research a pilot project was in the process of being set up to allow visitors to recover part of the VAT paid on purchases (other than food) of R10,000 or more. The project will involve a limited number of outlets, mainly fashion and luxury brand retailers such as some Bosco stores, TsUM and the Crocus City Mall.
Making telephone calls in Moscow is complicated, with four area codes and different dialling patterns for mobile phones and land lines.
- Russia’s country code is 7.
- There are now four area codes operating within Moscow. Both 495 and 499 are used in the city, while 496 and 498 are used on the outskirts.
- For all calls within Russia (including within Moscow), you must dial 8 plus the 10-digit number including the area code.
- To call internationally from Moscow, dial 810 plus the country code, city code and phone number.
- Russian mobile phones have a 10-digit number (no area code), usually starting with 9.
- For calls from a mobile telephone, dial +7 plus the 10-digit number (mobile or land line).
Prepaid SIM cards are readily available. International roaming also works well.
There are several major phone networks, all offering pay-as-you-go deals.
- Beeline (http://moskva.beeline.ru)
- Megafon (http://moscow.megafon.ru)
- MTS (www.mts.ru)
- Tele2 (https://msk.tele2.ru)
SIMs and phone-call-credit top-up cards, available at mobile phone shops and kiosks across the city (you’ll usually find them in the airport arrival areas and train stations) and costing as little as R300, can be slotted into your regular (unlocked) mobile phone handset during your stay. Call prices are very low within local networks, but charges for roaming larger regions can mount up; cost-conscious locals switch SIM cards when crossing regional boundaries.
Topping up your credit can be done either via prepaid credit cards bought from kiosks or mobile phone shops or, more commonly, via paypoint machines found in shopping centres, underground passes, and at metro and train stations. Choose your network, input your telephone number and the amount of credit you’d like, insert the cash and it’s done, minus a 3% to 10% fee for the transaction. Confirmation of the top-up comes via a text message (in Russian) to your phone. You can also use the websites of mobile phone companies to top up your phone with a credit card.
Moscow time is GMT/UTC plus three hours. Daylight Savings Time is no longer observed in Moscow.
Pay toilets are identified by the words платный туалет (platny tualet). In any toilet Женский or Ж stands for women’s (zhensky), while Мужской or М stands for men’s (muzhskoy).
Plastic-cabin portable loos have become more common in public places. Toilets in hotels, restaurants and cafes are usually modern and clean, so public toilets need only be used for emergencies.
Discover Moscow (https://um.mos.ru/en/discover-moscow) A comprehensive site organised by the City of Moscow.
Tourist Hotline (8-800-220 0001, 8-800-220 0002, 495-663 1393)
Travel with Children
Filled with icons and onion domes, the Russian capital might not seem like an appealing destination for kids, but you’d be surprised. In Moscow, little people will find museums, parks, theatres and even restaurants that cater especially to them.
Most sights and museums offer reduced-rate tickets for children up to 12 or 18 years of age. Kids younger than five are often free of charge. Look out for family tickets.
- Art Museums
The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Decorative & Folk Art both have educational centres that allow kids aged five to 13 years to create their own art. Garage Museum of Contemporary Art also has programs for kids.
- Moscow Planetarium
The planetarium has interactive exhibits that allow kids to perform science experiments, taste freeze-dried space food and run around on the surface of the moon.
- Central Museum of the Armed Forces
You might not let your children play with guns, but how about tanks, trucks and missiles at this museum?
A place for children to discover for themselves the answer to the endless 'Why?'
- Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines
Find out what it was like to be a kid in the Soviet Union.
This Soviet relic contains countless kid-friendly exhibits, including special sites dedicated to sea creatures, space travel and robots.
Even in winter, there are plenty of chances to get outside for fresh air and exercise.
With over 100 parks and gardens, Moscow has plenty of space for kids to let off steam – many parks include playgrounds. Larger spaces such as Gorky Park and Vorobyovy Gory Nature Preserve rent bicycles, paddle boats and such. The new Park Zaryadye will have plenty of interactive exhibits to capture kids' attention.
- River Cruises
Most little ones love a boat ride. It's the perfect way for kids to see the historic sights, as there’s no need to fight the crowds or linger too long in one place.
- Moscow Zoo
Even toddlers will get a kick out of the Moscow Zoo, with close-up encounters with their favourite animals.
Many restaurants host 'children’s parties' on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, offering toys, games, entertainment and supervision for kids while their parents eat.
Self-service places such as Grably are family favourites, as children can see and choose what looks good to them. The dessert selection is also a draw.
Pizza guarantees good reception, but several outlets of Akademiya also offer children's programming on weekends.
- Play Areas
Little ones have never had such a range of entertainment choices.
- Musical Theatre
Local legend Natalya Sats founded the Moscow Children's Musical Theatre to entertain and educate kids with song and dance.
- Puppet Theatre
Kids will see hundreds of puppets at the Obraztsov Puppet Museum, then see them come to life at the attached theatre.
- Animal Theatre
The acrobatics will astound and amaze, while clowns and animal tricks will leave them laughing. Choose between two acclaimed circuses: Bolshoi Circus on Vernadskogo and Nikulin Circus on Tsvetnoy Bulvar.
Some basic Russian skills will be helpful for these volunteer opportunities.
Action for Russian Children (www.actionarc.org) Projects that help underprivileged, disabled or homeless children.
Dimina Mechta (www.ddfrussia.ru) Provides financial and educational support to children with disabilities. Volunteers are always needed.
Downside Up (www.downsideup.org) Volunteers can participate in fundraising events and work with people who have Down syndrome.
Maria's Children (http://mariaschildren.ru) Volunteering with orphaned children: tutoring, doing art projects, teaching them to cook or working on other skills.
Taganka Children's Fund (www.charity-tcf.ru) Volunteers needed to organise activities, events and excursions for disadvantaged families.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Moscow uses the metric system.
- Solo female travellers are unlikely to face any special challenges in Moscow, though they may attract extra friendly interest at the local bars.
- Although sexual harassment on the streets is rare, it is common in the workplace, in the home and in personal relations. Discrimination and domestic violence are hard facts of life for many Russian women. Alcoholism and unemployment are related problems.
- Activists ridicule as hypocritical the Women’s Day celebrations (8 March) in Russia while such problems continue. Others say it is the one day in the year that men have to be nice to their mates.
- Russian women dress up on nights out. If you are wearing casual gear, you might feel uncomfortable in an upmarket restaurant, club or theatre (or you may not be allowed to enter).
- The International Women’s Club (www.iwcmoscow.ru) is an active group of expat women. It is involved in organising social and charity events.