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Note: Some of this information may no longer be valid. Before making any trip decisions, refer to the latest U.S. State Department information for the independent country of the former Soviet Union of interest.
YOUR U.S. PASSPORT
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
AIR TRAVEL WITHIN RUSSIA
REGISTRATION WITH U.S. CONSULATE OR EMBASSY
SAFETY TIPS AGAINST CRIME
RUSSIAN LAW: HOW TO AVOID LEGAL PROBLEMS
Document Index (Top)
In December 1991, the Soviet Union was dissolved. In its place emerged 12 independent countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
Russia is the largest country that emerged from the former U.S.S.R. It stretches from the Baltic Sea, across the northern Eurasian landmass, to the Bering Strait where the Russian island lies only three (3) miles from an island that is part of Alaska. Russia and the other republics of the former Soviet Union are going through profound political and economic changes. At present, the tourism industry, like other industries that were strictly regulated in the former USSR, is undergoing a transformation that can be confusing to customers as well as to the industry itself. Throughout the entire former Soviet region, major structures of civil authority and service organizations are either being replaced by new bodies or are withering away without replacement.
A U.S. citizen must have a valid U.S. passport and a visa to travel to any country of the former USSR. At present, only Russia and Ukraine are issuing visas. At the time of publication, the other countries of the former USSR had either not established embassies in the United States or, in the case of Armenia and Belarus, had opened embassies but were not yet issuing visas. To travel to a country of the former USSR that is not yet issuing visas, a Russian visa is still required, and it is valid for all such countries. At present, travel between countries that require a Russian visa is still considered internal travel by local authorities, and passports are not normally checked upon arrival or departure.
You may obtain a visa for Ukraine from the Ukrainian Embassy. All of the following visa information pertains to Russian visas. Travelers arriving without a visa in a country that requires a Russian visa cannot register at a hotel and must leave the country immediately by the same route they entered. Even for a brief transit, you must have a visa. If possible, obtain your Russian visa in the United States, because a Russian visa can be difficult and time-consuming to obtain abroad. In some countries like Ukraine, Estonia, and Lithuania, you cannot obtain a Russian visa.
Most travelers to Russia and the other countries of the former USSR arrange for their visas and accomodations through an American travel agent. A business visa requires a letter of invitation from your foreign business contact. A transit visa requires a copy of your confirmed ticket and visa (if required) to your onward destination.
Theft of U.S. passports continues to increase rapidly. Stolen passports are reportedly sold for large sums of hard currency. The theft or loss of a passport, particularly when the nearest U.S. consular office is hundreds or thousands of miles away, is a major source of inconvenience and expense to travelers in Russia and the other countries of the former USSR. Before starting your trip, make a record or photocopy of the data from your passport's identification page and from your visa(s). Also make a copy of the addresses and telephone numbers of the U.S. embassies and consulates in the countries you will visit. Put this information along with two passport photos in a place separate from your passport to be available in case of loss or theft.
Many geographic names throughout the region are being changed. Try to obtain maps before your trip, but keep in mind that some names of places may be out of date. You may need to correct city names and even some street names. In these countries, if your street sign does not agree with your map, you may not be lost, you may just be dealing with a new name.
Previously, in the former Soviet Union, departure and arrival times for planes, trains, and boats were quoted in Moscow time. In the post-Soviet period, that practice has changed, and timetables for travel in and between former Soviet countries usually use local time. Within Russia itself, however, you may still find Moscow time in use -- regardless of which of the eleven (11) time zones you are in. Whenever you make reservations or purchase tickets, learn which time zones the schedule refers to and, as you travel, confirm all departure and arrival times.
Aeroflot still dominates air travel in Russia and the region. Although many international airlines have flights to Russia and the other former Soviet republics, and some, like Turkish Airlines, even have flights between a few of the countries, the domestic service of Aeroflot is still the major carrier in and between the countries of the former USSR. Since late 1991, domestic Aeroflot flights have been delayed for hours or days and sometimes cancelled because of jet fuel shortages. Travelers should be prepared for long waits or for the possibility that their itineraries will have to be changed with little or no advance notice.
In the United States, booking domestic Aeroflot flights can be difficult. You may discover, once you are in Russia or another country of the former USSR, that a domestic Aeroflot flight you booked does not exist, or at least does not exist on the day you are confirmed to go. Or, before you leave the U.S., you may be told flights do not exist to a certain city, when in fact they do. Because of the difficulty in using Aeroflot's domestic service, it is advisable to use international carriers, including Aeroflot, wherever possible when planning your itinerary. While Aeroflot is in transition to meet international standards, flexibility and patience are the keys to successful air travel in Russia and all countries of the former USSR.
Travel in the former USSR can be strenuous, particularly for the elderly and individuals with special health problems. When you plan your trip, be careful not to overschedule; leave time for rest and relaxation. Tourists in frail health are strongly advised not to visit.
No immunizations are required for travelers to the former Soviet Union. However, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, typhoid, and gamma globulin are recommended for the region and in particular for the Central Asian countries.
The U.S. Public Health Service warns that many U.S. visitors to Russia, particularly to St. Petersburg, have returned to the United States infected with the intestinal parasite Giardia lamblia. This infection is probably contracted by drinking tap water. Some travelers to Russia and surrounding countries bring drinking water with them in their luggage. If you cannot import your drinking water, drink only bottled carbonated drinks or beverages that have been boiled for at least five minutes. Avoid ice cubes, use bottled water for brushing teeth, and avoid salads and uncooked vegetables and fruits which cannot be peeled. In addition, carry iodine tablets to disinfect drinking water. Travelers returning from the region who develop a diarrheal illness lasting more than five days should consult a physician and have a stool specimen examined for parasites.
Russia, like the other 11 countries of the former Soviet Union, has a cash-only economy. During periodic cash shortages, it can be difficult to impossible to cash travelers checks for dollars, for other convertible (hard) currency, or even for rubles. The fee to cash travelers checks may be high (for example, 5%). In Moscow, cash may be available at Dialogbank or American Express. In St. Petersburg, rubles may be available but not hard currency. In Kiev, cash may be available at the Agroprombank, Export/Import Bank, or Bank Ukraina.
Customs and currency laws are strict. When you arrive, make an accurate and complete customs declaration of all money, travelers checks, and valuables in your possession. Include all personal jewelry, such as wedding rings and watches. Have your customs declaration stamped by the authorities and keep it with you until you leave the country. Keep your exchange receipts in order to account for your expenditures. Without these records, customs officials could confiscate your cash and valuables upon departure.
The Russian ruble is still the currency of the 12 former Soviet republics. In Ukraine, 'coupons' have been introduced in preparation for issuing a national currency. The coupons are used in Ukraine along with the Russian ruble, but cannot be used outside of the country.
All U.S. citizens who visit Russia or any of the other countries of the former Soviet Union are encouraged to register in writing or in person at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Registration is especially important if you are in an area experiencing civil unrest or a natural disaster, if you are going to a place where communications are poor, or if you plan to stay for any length of time. Registration takes only a few moments, and it may be invaluable in case of an emergency. If your passport is lost or stolen, having previously registered at an embassy or consulate can make it easier to issue you a new passport without a delay.
In Russia and much of the rest of the former USSR, crimes suchas robbery, mugging, and pickpocketing are an increasing problem for tourists, particularly in cities and around major tourist sites. Crimes are perpetuated not only by adults, but also by adolescents or even children, often operating in groups.
Crime aboard trains has also increased. For example, travelers have been drugged without their knowledge and robbed on the train from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Crime is also a problem on trains between Moscow and Warsaw and armed robberies have occurred on the trains between Moscow and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. On some trains, thieves have been able to open locked compartment doors.
To reduce the risk of becoming a victim of crime, exercise the same precautions that you would in any large city and follow these tips:
Safety begins when you pack. Leave expensive jewelry, unnecessary credit cards, and anything you would hate to lose at home.
Never display large sums of money when paying a bill. Conceal
your passport, cash, and other valuables on your person. Do not trust waist packs or fanny packs because pickpockets have learned that is where the valuables are.
Do not leave valuables in your hotel room, have them locked in the hotel safe.
Even slight intoxication is noted by professional thieves. Therefore, if you drink in a public place, do so only with a trusted friend who has agreed to remain sober.
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to its laws and regulations. Laws in the countries of the former Soviet Union can differ significantly from those in the United States and do not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Exercise caution and carefully obey local laws. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating the law, even unknowingly, may have difficulties with the authorities and may be expelled and forced to forfeit the unused part of a prepurchased tour. Serious transgressions of the law can lead to arrest and imprisonment.
Avoid breaking the law. Never take 'souvenirs' from local hotels, no matter how insignificant in value they may appear. Pay for your souvenirs, handicrafts, or artwork in local currency, because most vendors do not have permission to accept dollars or other hard currency. Travelers have been arrested by plainclothes police after paying for a souvenir with hard currency. The traveler is usually released after several hours of detention, but both the hard currency and the item purchased are usually confiscated. Only special tourist stores, usually found in large hotels, are permitted to accept hard currency.
Excerpted from:U. S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs. Department of State Publication 9971. September, 1992.
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