With the demise of the Soviet police state crime has been rising throughout Russia, however, it is still safer here than in many American cities. Precautions include not flaunting valuables, or walking alone at night through city streets or parks.
Q: Is Moscow / St. Petersburg a safe city?
Moscow is as safe as any other large European city. As any tourist in any city of the world, you should observe elementary safety rules: keep your money and documents in a belt bag, not take night walks alone. Visiting Moscow as a tourist can still be considered safer than visiting New York even though business and Mafia related crime has reached unprecedented highs. Beggars, especially gypsy children, will occasionally bother tourists. You should ignore them and walk away. Robberies and thefts have been reported at airports and train stations. So, watch out carefully for your luggage. Metro stations are safe even if you might find some drunken people returning home late at night. It is always best to be in a group of 2 or more. Official taxis are safe to ride, though expensive. A money-belt is essential to safeguard your documents and cash.
Q: IS IT SAFE TO WALK ALONE?
Like in many places, when darkness comes, weird people start to be met and it's advisable not to hang around in the parks or in the suburbs. If some drunk guys start bothering you at night, calling you, putting themselves on your way, by experience, I think it is good to look down avoiding any eyes contact. Just continue your way with a firm step, stay quite, look as if you know where you're going and you don't see them. Often they'll continue to call you and comment on you until you're out of sight and they won't piss off more. Engaging into conversation can keep them glued to you until your door step.
In the day time, it's completely safe to walk alone, even in the residential suburbs as there are many families with children. However, pickpockets are also in Russia and it is safer to keep your money bag tucked under your clothes, that it doesn't stand out too much.
Q: Got into custody... What to do?
Normally, you won't get into trouble with the police unless you commited a small infringement or a crime. You should know your rights and calmly show the policemen that you know them. Be polite and try to explain that you would like to resovle the situation to everybody's satisfaction. Unfortunately, policemen often accept bribes. If you want to show to police that you know the laws, you may refer to them directly, so it's better to know at least the reference number. According to Russian laws, the police might take somebody to a police station for not longer than 3 hours in case they suspect that this person committed a crime or an infringement and would like to check his personality or/and to give this person a fine. The police do not have a right to detain somebody for longer than 3 hours, unless there's a difficulty in learning who the detained person is (for example, he doesn't have a passport and doesn't answer any questions) or in case it is proved that he committed a crime for which he should be detained. In that case the person can be detained for not longer than 1 day. A person can be arrested (detained for a long period, but not longer than 15 days) in extreme cases, but only after the judge's decree.
Q: How to Keep Your Money - Cash, Travelers Cheques, Credit Cards in Russia?
It's better to have some cash ($150-200 US - just enough for initial expenses - transport, accommodation, food)
when you come to Russia and the rest in the traveler's cheques and cards. If you're going to small towns, cruises, tours or to the countryside, it's better to take cash only, because you might have problems cashing the cards or travelers' cheques. Cash is used much more often than the cards, and if you're outside of the big cities, take cash only because it will be hard to cash the cards or cheques. It's better if the cash is in US dollars or Euros, because that's the currency you'll be able to change everywhere in Russia. Also Euro is strong at the moment, and many Russians are transferring their savings from Dollars to Euro, so you're likely to get a better exchange rate (see the current exchange rates in the right column of this page). If you have any other currency, then it might be hard to find an exchange office, and the rate won't be in your favor. Better change your money in US dollars or Euro beforehand. It's better to divide the amount you have in three parts and store them separately. It's better if the three parts you have are all different: one-third of cash, one-third in travelers' cheques, one-third in travelers' cards. If everything you had is stolen you can ask somebody to make a money transfer for you (through Western Union for example) to the bank you choose. Otherwise you can go to your country's embassy and maybe they will help you. In case your credit card or traveler's cheques are stolen or lost you should call the issuer of the card or cheque to block it. Below we provide emergency phone numbers in Moscow.
If everything you had is stolen you can ask somebody to make a money transfer for you (through Western Union for example) to the bank you choose. Otherwise you can go to your country's embassy and maybe they will help you. Anyway, not to get in big trouble try to store some amounts in cheques and cards and put them all in different places, so that if something is stolen you still have a backup.
Lost & Stolen Credit Cards Emergency Numbers are: AMEX offices in Moscow (095) 933-6636 (from 9.00 to 17.00), in St. Petersburg (812) 329-6060 (from 9.00 till 17.00). Amex, Visa, MasterCard, Diners', JCB cards center in Moscow: (095) 956-3556 (24 hours a day).
Q: I have lost a credit card. What to do?
Contact the company -- issuer of your card to put it into stop list and contact your bank to ask them to issue a new card. Important telephone numbers:AMEX offices in Moscow: (095) 933-6636 (from 9.00 to 17.00), and in St. Petersburg (812) 329-6060 (from 9.00 till 17.00). Amex, Visa, MasterCard, Diners', JCB cards center in Moscow: (095) 956-3556 (24 hours a day), and 755-9001.