Moscow - Health & Safety

 

Many of the tips included below, while they may be good advice, are applicable in just about any large city in the world.  In short, use good sense when traveling to strange and unfamiliar cities, including Moscow. (Please note: If you got in trouble you can always call 112 on any mobile phone free of charge.)

  • (1)  Except for real necessities, don't carry things you would feel bad about losing, leave everything else of value in the hotel safe. 
  • (2)  The Russian police have a right to stop anyone for an ID check. Strictly speaking, a photocopy of your passport with visa is not considered a valid ID, but unless you happen to look exactly like someone wanted by the police, the police will not hassle you once they realize you are a foreign tourist. Corruption and money extortion by the police are not unheard of but they have a lot of much easier prey than foreign tourists these days. Under no circumstances give money to the police - it's a much more serious crime than whatever they might be "charging" you with - just call your embassy in a highly unlikely case the things get "hot".
  • (3)  Some people recommend that you carry only one credit card and leave the others in the hotel safe.  This might be good advice, if not for the fact that sometimes, depending upon your credit card company, a credit card won't work in Moscow.  Generally however credit card payments in restaurants, hotels and most retail stores are fine.  American express is accepted in hotels and most restaurants and many stores, but is the least accepted card, so you will also need a Visa or Mastercard as well.  Some stores, expecially smaller ones and markets, will only accept cash, but there are literally thousands of ATM's all over Russia (nearly all being in Russian and English langauge) so there is no great difficulty withdrawing cash.  Not all debit cards will work in all machines - the best networks for foreign debit cards are Citibank, Raiffeisen and Sberbank, but nearly all ATM's will work if you are drawing cash out of a Visa or Mastercard.
  • (4) Keep any money you do need in different places on your person.
  • (5)  As in any city, watch out for pickpockets. Reporting incidents to the police is not easy. Few speak English and they are not interested. Don't bet on getting a written report for your insurance company very easily if you do have things stolen. You will probably have to get your hotel to help you with that.
  • (6) Don't believe all the scary stories you hear about Moscow being crime-riddled and full of corrupt police and gangsters.  Sure it is a big city, and like any big city, there are some bad people there, but some folks would have you believe that it is a lawless hotbed of crime and corruption.  Perhaps during the 90's there was a bit of truth to that, but today, Moscow is a pretty civilized place, where the vast majority of the citizenry and police are just trying to get through their day and do their jobs the best they can.  If someone starts telling you a bunch of "over the top" stories about what a wild and dangerous place Moscow is (even if they are expatriate Russians - maybe especially if they are expatriate Russians), ask them how long it's been since they were there.  Odds are, they haven't been there for a while.  If you look for trouble, you can find it anywhere, but trouble is not a commodity that is unique to Moscow.
  • (7)  Use extreme caution when crossing streets on foot.  While pedestrians may technically have the right of way, many drivers don't seem to recognize that right, and will "challenge" pedestrians with their cars, coming dangerously close to them, sometimes at high speeds.  For all major roads, use the underpasses that are available or cross at traffic lights.
  • (8) Be aware that "western" safety standards and practices are not necessarily widely accepted in Russia.  Unmarked tripping hazards on the sidewalk, or flimsy scaffolding which holds several workers and lots of heavy equipment, erected on a busy sidewalk, or heavy equipment operating in the middle of a street or sidewalk, with no barriers separating it from the hundreds of pedestrians passing by, are all common examples of safety hazards that many people simply aren't accustomed to watching out for, because the safety rules in their home country are so much stricter than those in Russia.  You also need to be especially careful about the slippery paths in winter - when the snow melts and then re-freezes, the paths will be like skating rinks.  In winter, it is best to wear rubber soled shoes for traction and a soft rubber at that.  Wearing leather soled shoes for anything other than small dashes from car to doorway (and even then it is risky) could see you have great difficulty walking in Moscow/Russia.
  • (9)  The general public hospital facilities in Russia generally do not have access to the same quality of equipment and services as most facilities in N. America and Western Europe.  This is true especially outside the large cities, but is also true in Moscow and St. Petersburg.  There are numerous "Western" medical clinics in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and perhaps other larger cities, but they are not always easy to locate, especially in a medical emergency situation.  A good idea would be to do your research before traveling, and find the location and contact information for a modern "Western" medical clinic, such as the European Medical Center, or American Medical Centre and others that operate in Moscow.  Many of the "Western" clinics will operate 24 hours, have a pharmacy and an emergency service.  The facilties available at these clinics may not be dramatically different from any good non-Western Russian clinic, except that you are likely to have better English speaking staff to deal with - although most are still Russian trained and qualified, just with better English than other clinics.  The cost paid at a "Western" clinic will generally be about double the price you pay at a Russian clinic of the same quality.   Another good idea would be to make sure that your medical insurance will cover medical care outside your home country (of course, this is a good idea when traveling anywhere).