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Travel Tips • General Information
How to Survive

Visas

Any foreigner does require a valid visa to enter Russia or any of the former USSR republics. To obtain Russian visa you would need a letter of invitation from an authorized Russian company or personally from a Russian citizen. There are a number of travel agencies offering visa support for a reasonable surcharge. Note that you CANNOT get visa on arrival; it must be obtained in advance from a Russian embassy or consulate abroad.

Similar story is for the Central Asia countries, like Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan. Some nationalities, though, can obtain visa on arrival to the capital’s airport, but a letter of invitation from an authorized local travel agency may be still required.

Permits

There are usually nothing like trekking or rafting permits anywhere in Russia or Central Asia. The most common are so-called “borderland permit” required to enter virtually any area adjacent to virtually any border. These permits have to be obtained in advance from appropriate local border guarding forces, but doing so without assistance is practically impossible. Local travel agencies can typically handle this on your behalf. Note that for some areas permits can take up to two months to proceed.

There are quite a number of various national parks and nature reserves around. Some of them require entry permit but in most cases this is a straightforward procedure done on the spot for a reasonable fee. Some reserves are, though, strictly secured nature conservation zones and no strangers are ever allowed in.

Time

Russia is an extremely large country and spreads across as many as nine (!) time zones. Most common areas are

Moscow, St.Petersburg, Karelia, Caucasus GMT+3
Urals, Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, …) GMT+5
Altai, Putorana GMT+7
Sayan, Baikal GMT+8
Yakutia GMT+9
Chukotka, Kamchatka, Far East GMT+10..12

Daylight savings time is in effect from last Sunday of March till last Sunday of October and adds yet +1 hour. Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, though, do not change time so they are only one hour ahead of Moscow during the summer.

Electricity

Electricity is 220 volts / 50 cycles. The plug resembles European without ground terminal, but has thinner pins and so Euro plug will not fit directly (Euro adapters are widely available). Voltage is quite stable and most places almost never sustain blackouts. Nevertheless, do not rely too much on electricity in remote mountain villages.

Language

Official language is Russian, as it was once for the entire USSR. It is therefore still widely spoken and understood all across now independent countries like Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Ukraine, and so on. All of them, though, do have their own language or languages, as well as many minor nationalities in Russia do.

Although English was taught in almost every school across the USSR, there were no real contacts with foreigners until 1990-s and so few people were actually interested in the language. You therefore should be prepared to discover English almost of no use; it will be difficult to find anyone who knows more than an "OK", especially in the countryside.

Money

Official currency is Ruble, which you most likely won’t be able to obtain outside Russia. The rate has been kept quite stable during last few years (1 USD = 28...30 Rub; 1 EUR = 34...36 Rub). You can check official rate of the Central Bank of Russia - all exchange offices vary no more than +/- 1% from these numbers.

All former USSR republics now have their own currencies, which may vary a bit more. While it is possible to get these currencies in Russia, the rates are much better in their home countries.

If you intend to spend most of the time in the countryside, then the best way to bring money to Russia is cash, preferably in US dollars. The second best way is also cash, and the third best is cash again. Travelers’ cheques can be exchanged and credit cards can be used for payment in large cities, but once you’re outdoors, forget it. US dollars can be changed easily in even smaller towns and often can be used (and even asked) as a payment for long taxi rides, private transport or accommodation and other non-official services.

Prices are typically significantly lower than in the west, especially for public transport and food (this does not apply to 5-star hotels and limo rentals in Moscow though). A day train or bus ride would cost in a range of $5-10 and the daily food allowance would be no more than $5-7. A private vehicle (that comes with driver) can be typically found for $30-50 per day.

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