How to Travel To Russia As A U.S. Citizen
1. What documentation does a U.S citizen need to travel to Russia?
While obtaining a Russian visa is not difficult, the application process is quite bureaucratic and can be confusing to the uninitiated. Understanding what you need to provide in order to complete the form is imperative. Hiring a visa service to ensure a seamless process can be worth every penny. Exeter International offer a White-Glove visa service that assists with every aspect of the visa application process from completing the form on your behalf and supplying all relevant documentation. If you are traveling on a cruise, we can handle aspects of your Russian Shore Visa if you are taking a private shore excursion with us. Get in touch to find out more.
2. How do I deal with currency exchange?
While USD can be easily exchanged at either the airport or at a local bank, we encourage guests to withdraw local currency from a local cash machine. Hotel receptions are usually unable to exchange USD to local currency, and withdrawing from a cash machine using your US Debit Card will give you the best possible exchange rate. Most hotels have an ATM/Cash Machine in the lobby, if not very close by. It is important to notify your bank prior to departure of where and when you will be traveling, and also so they can advise you of any foreign withdrawal fee associated with Cash Machine withdrawals overseas. Credit cards (mainly Visa/Mastercard) are widely accepted. It is important to check whether or not your credit card has any foreign transaction fees associated with it, the best cards do not. We always suggest carrying a small amount of local currency for small transactions or in case of a minor emergency.
3. How should I plan when to go to Russia?
Identifying your priorities is key, prior to starting the planning process before traveling to Russia. Do you prioritize maximum value and avoiding the crowds, more than weather and temperature? If weather and temperature are more important, than the summer months are the time to visit. It is important to note that the soccer Confederation Cup will be taking place in summer 2017, and the World Cup itself in summer of 2018. Both events will have an impact on availability from mid-May through mid-July in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. If weather and temperatures are less of a priority, late September through April are the best to avoid crowds, have the museums to yourself and enjoy the very best of ballet, opera and symphony.
4. Should I go with a group, or is it OK to go independently?
Both independent travel and groups have their advantages when traveling in Russia. Booking an independent land program gives one the ultimate flexibility and choice of taste and pace. For many, Russia is a once in a lifetime destination and having the option to see and do exactly what one wants is favorable. Independent travel allows one to indulge in specific interests, whilst saving time and seeing more.
On the contrary, many guests prefer the organization and structure of a group itinerary. While independent itineraries can be just as structured as a group itinerary (should the guests want), group itineraries are often able to include experiences that would otherwise be out of reach for individual travelers. Traveling with like-minded individuals also offers a wonderful social aspect, often resulting in lifetime friendships.
5. How friendly are the locals to Americans? (and is it safe?)
Without a shadow of doubt, we feel you will be pleasantly surprised by the friendliness and openness of the Russian people. Sadly, there are many misconceptions and stereotypes about Russia and Russians. As with any country in the world, the views of the government are not always representative of its people. You will find that Russians, in general, like America and American culture and that many are eager to engage, practice their English and learn from American guests.
In terms of crime, Russia is extremely safe. Incidents of crime to visitors is extremely low.
6. Should I splurge on a Five-Star Hotel ?
As in any destination, location is key, but perhaps even more so in Moscow and St. Petersburg. It is essential to be well located and in the center of everything. While the most centrally located hotels often come with a higher price tag, you will save on car services, especially in the evenings when going to dinner or a theater performance. While Uber has begun to take root in both cities, some prior knowledge of the city and a level of conversational Russian, is essential as the majority of drivers do not speak any English.
7. Is having a private guide worthwhile?
Visiting Russia is not quite like visiting London or Paris. Every museum and palace has different operating hours, including different days of the week when they are closed. After researching and timing each museum visit, working out how to buy tickets, only to find yourself standing in a long line, can really ruin your experience, not to mention eat into your day. Hiring a private guide, who speaks excellent English, is really one of the bests investments you can make to ensure your trip is stress-free and your time is maximized. Your experience will be enriched at the sites and museums that you are visiting, but your expert guide will help to contextualize the history you’re learning and how much of it has and continues to translate into life in Russia today.
8. What about food? What should I avoid and what should I look out for?
Like the friendliness of Russians, you will also be surprised by the gastronomic scene that has emerged in Russia in the past 5 years. There are now world-class restaurants in both Moscow and St. Petersburg, many of which have received international awards for their cuisine and unique culinary experience.
What is really stands out are the ethnic Georgian and Azeri restaurants, specializing in food from the former Soviet Republics. While there isn’t much to avoid, you may want to skip on caviar, as it is now extremely expensive since the sturgeon became a protected species!
9. There are so many palaces, do I have to visit all of them?
While there are many churches in Russia, there are perhaps even more palaces scattered throughout the country! These are largely concentrated in and around St. Petersburg, and it is important to be mindful of just how many you plan to visit. Otherwise you will what we call, “palace overload” and find yourself wondering why you are going through another gilded opulent ballroom!
If you are to skip one of the major palaces, our advise would be to skip Peterhof. While the palace gardens and fountains are not to be missed, the Palace interior is not nearly as spectacular as some of the others. We suggest visiting the Chinese Palace (very near to Peterhof), as it was the only Russian summer palace that was not completely destroyed during World War II.
10. How do I make the most of my budget?
Our top tips to economize a trip to Russia include:
Traveling to Moscow at the weekend. As a commercial center, Moscow hotels are often around 40% less expensive than during the week.
Take advantage of public transport, or walk! As with any destination, vehicles can often be the most expensive component. Both Moscow and St. Petersburg are very walk-able cities and have great public transit metro systems.
Avoid travelling to Russia in June and early July. Hotel rates are often double what they are at other times of the year.
We are experts in sending Americans to Russia. Contact us for a consultation!