Is Russia safe to travel?

Considering travel to Russia but wondering if Russia is safe? Here’s my honest advice, based on logic, reason, and weeks of independent solo female travel throughout Russia in 2019.

 

I’ll be honest with ya: I never considered Russia dangerous.

It wasn’t until conversations over beers in a Moscow hostel courtyard, as other backpackers told me of how nervous their family and friends were about their Russian travels, that I realized I underestimated Russia’s international reputation.

(To be fair, my perspectives were a bit skewed after adventures in actually dangerous countries like Afghanistan.)

“Isn’t Russia dangerous?!” “Americans can’t travel in Russia, they’ll die.” “Traveling to Russia… are you crazy?!” The other backpackers’ eyes were wide—and not just from drunken enthusiasm—as they relayed their families’ concern.

In the name of shedding a bit of light on the situation and/or reassuring concerned parents, here’s my perspective as an American solo female backpacker on whether Russia is safe to travel.

Is Russia safe to travel? If you're planning a trip to Russia, it's fair to wonder: is Russia safe? Here are thoughts on safety in Russia from a solo female traveler who traveled in Russia for more than one month. Click through for information on safety in Russia, things to watch out for, and tips for staying safe in Russia. #Russia #Travel #Safety

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Sunset over the Ministry of Agriculture building in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia

Sunset over the Ministry of Agriculture in Kazan, the Republic of Tatarstan

Is traveling Russia safe?

In short: yeah, I’d say so.

There are so many police and security cameras in city centers popular with tourists that you can rest assured your safety is in stable and practiced hands. Moscow even has its own tourist police force!

How do I know? Let’s be real: I don’t.

Nowhere is 100% safe, just as no country is 100% dangerous. Personally, it drives me nutty when people declare a country safe because “they never felt unsafe”. You can walk through Yemen and come out unscathed, just as you could walk through New York and be violently mugged.

I don’t mean to freak you out, I’m just saying everyone’s experience is different. I believe you should consider what’s logically likely when assessing safety, not what your neighbor from down the road says will happen. I’m here to help you sift through the facts and paint a reasonable picture of whether or not Russia is safe for you to travel.

Crime in Russia

No country is totally crime-free; Russia is no different. Major cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg see their fair share of petty crime such as pickpocketing, theft, etc. As in any big city, you should be careful of your belongings when traveling, especially when in crowded places or touristy areas. On the bright side, let it be noted that Moscow saw its lowest crime rates in a decade in 2017.

Homicide rates were high in Russia up into the 1990s, but they have since plummeted. Why? Alcohol once fueled up to two thirds of Russia’s murders and violent crimes, but alcohol consumption in Russia dropped by more than 40% since 2003, and violent crime rates went with it.

Despite notions of Russians downing bottles of vodka as they cross Siberia by bear, according to the WHO Russians actually consume less alcohol than major European countries such as France, Germany, and Switzerland.

TL;DR Russians ain’t crazy drunk all the time, and Russia is safer for it.

Metro station in Moscow

Watch out for pickpockets on the Moscow metro!

Terrorism in Russia

Terrorism is always on the mind when planning travels these days. But are terror attacks common in Russia?

It’s true that Russia has seen a few terrorist attacks in major cities in the last decade. Some of the less-traveled regions along the country’s southern border with Georgia such as Dagestan reportedly see more terrorist activity.

That might sound intimidating, but consider this: plenty of countries considered “safe” such as France and the United Kingdom have also seen terrorist attacks in recent years.

It’s also important to consider the likelihood of a casual tourist being caught in a terrorist attack. Recent terrorist attacks in Russia were not targeted at any specific foreign groups; military and police are often the target. Though nothing is impossible, it’s safe to say it’s highly unlikely you will be hurt in a terrorist attack in Russia.

Is Russia safe for Americans?

Traveler getting eaten by mosquitoes at Lake Baikal, Russia

The only thing that attacked me in Russia: bloodthirsty mosquitoes

Americans are a special breed, I know. I am one. Sometimes.

One of the most common questions I get from people at home is “But how was it to travel as an *AMERICAN* in Country X?”, expecting some kind of horror story involving kidnappings, armed assaults, or something appropriately Homeland-esque.

My answer usually disappoints. Traveling as an American doesn’t make much of a difference… if anything, people are sometimes excited to speak candidly with an actual American!

But I admit, despite having traveled through countries where you’d expect some America bashing like Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, I would venture to say Russia is where I encountered the most anti-American sentiment in my travels.

Don’t go cancel your dreams of Russian adventures just yet! It’s true that Russians as a whole don’t think much of Americans or our government; the feeling is, statistically, mutual. Anti-American sentiment stems from the Cold War era when the US and Russia were enemies. Some has continued into the modern era thanks to negative portrayals of the United States in Russian media… not that the US media’s portrayal of Russia is any better.

Does that mean Russians are going to be mean to you or resent you for being American?

No. It’s far more likely they won’t care much at all.

Short of getting into a fight with wrong drunken Russian nationalist at a bar, being American isn’t an actual threat to your safety. Sure, I encountered some wrinkled noses when I said I had a US passport, and plenty of people I spoke with dislike Trump (yo, same), but it’s one thing to think poorly of a country, and another thing to harm someone because of it.

To summarize: Americans, y’all gonna be fine.

Bauman street in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia

Kazan’s famous Bauman Street

Are parts of Russia dangerous to travel to?

Though I would not advise against visiting any of the following areas, they have more turbulent recent histories than other parts of Russia. Do your research before visiting so you know what you’re getting into; I link to several sources you can get firsthand information from at the end of this blog post.

Along the Ukrainian border and Donestk and Luhansk

An active conflict area for several years, Ukraine and Russia are now having peace talks. Nevertheless, you should do your research and read up on the latest news if hoping to visit the border area.

Russia technically controls Donestk and Luhansk, but entering those areas means officially leaving Russia. You can travel to the territories, but if you don’t speak Russian and don’t have a double entry visa for Russia it’s not recommended, as you’re technically crossing into Ukraine illegally.

The North Caucasus region including Dagestan and Chechnya

Many view the Caucasus region in the south of Russia as a hotbed of terrorism to be avoided at all costs… but plenty of travelers with a passion for off the beaten track places visit this Muslim-majority area near the Georgian border every year, and many have raved to me about the region.

Abkhazia

Though Abkhazia declared independence—and is officially still part of Georgia—Russia still exerts control over the state. You can travel there if you manage to get an Abkhazia visa, but let it be known that it counts as exiting Russia. If you want to enter Abkhazia from Russia then return you’ll need a multi-entry Russian visa. You cannot enter Abkhazia from Russia and exit to Georgia; Georgia considers entering Abkhazia from Russia an illegal border crossing.

Craft beer bar in Moscow, Russia

A craft beer bar in Moscow. Dangerous? Nah.

Actual dangers of travel in Russia

Getting hacked/having your information stolen over WiFi

Russian hackers are one stereotype with a lot of truth.

Staying secure is important everywhere, but you should be extra careful when connecting to WiFi networks in Russia. Public WiFi networks—wifi networks with no password—are extra risky; there’s a good chance someone is using it as bait. WiFi is easier to hack than phones or computers themselves, and important information like your banking login details can easily be stolen this way. Ain’t nobody likes their bank account getting hacked on their vacation.

To protect your devices and your information, always, always use a VPN when connecting to WiFi networks in Russia. If you don’t know already, VPNs are a kind of program/app that you can run on your phones and computers to protect them when you connect to WiFi. They also prevent people from being able to track your activity; good if you’re concerned about your online privacy.

I personally use and recommend Express VPN for travelers– you can buy Express VPN here.

Still don’t understand what a VPN is? Here’s a post explaining what VPNs are and why all travelers should use them.

Driving

Driving in Altai, Russia

Bumpy but blissfully empty roads in the southern Altai region

Caution is not common on Russian roads. Russian drivers combine driving at high speeds, bold attitudes, and aggressive last-minute maneuvers; a dangerous combination. Add to the mix a large number of drivers from neighboring Central Asian and Caucasian countries with very relaxed road rules, and you can begin to understand why driving in Russia can be a hair-raising experience. I never felt as threatened in Russia as I did driving down the single-lane sans-barrier Chuysky Tract in Altai. Sweaty armpits for days, y’all.

Luckily, most tourists visiting Russia will have all their needs met by Russia’s extensive rail, metro, bus, and marshrutka minibus networks. No need to get behind the wheel unless you’re heading out to more remote areas and/or like living on the edge (… like me!). Just make sure to be careful and expect the unexpected when crossing the street.

Drunk driving in Russia: The Russian government is cracking down on drunk driving in Russia with more strict police checks and breathalyzer tests. Nevertheless, drunk driving still happens, especially in more rural areas where there’s less accountability. Be wary of cars driving strangely, and be careful when driving or walking around roads at night.

Pickpockets

Like every major city, Russia has its share of pickpockets roaming about the centers. Watch your belongings, especially in busy touristy areas like Red Square where someone could poke into your pocket while you’re preoccupied with taking pictures.

Acting like a spy

No, I don’t just mean looking really shifty in a trench coat and sunglasses.

When traveling in Russia, avoid taking photos of anything related to the active military, power plants and big industry, or sensitive areas such as borders. Authorities are very concerned about potential spies; an innocent vacation photo could land you in an interrogation room for questioning. It’s best to avoid photographing anything potentially sensitive.

Criticizing the government

Is speaking out against the Russian government going to get you thrown in jail? As a tourist, probably not. Still, people have been jailed for criticizing the current government, and Putin’s followers can be passionate. By all means discuss politics with interested parties, but it’s always prudent to be careful with what you say when.

Is it safe to drink tap water in Russia?

Volga river lake in Tatarstan, Russia

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink!

The consensus is that it is not safe to drink tap water in Russia. Most Russians do not drink tap water straight. Those who do boil water from the tap when they use it.

Opinions on whether or not you can officially drink tap water in Russia vary from place to place. St. Petersburg’s water is officially not drinkable, and Moscow’s water is reportedly polluted with metals and other substances. I drank the tap water without filtering for a time because #rebel… and often had stomach cramps. Once locals convinced me I was an idiot, I started filtering my water and the cramps went away.

To stay safe, it’s best to only drink filtered water in Russia. Bottled water is the easiest solution, but single use plastic ain’t cool! I highly recommend bringing a LifeStraw water bottle (or LifeStraw filter with a normal bottle) to Russia; it will filter any and all water so that it’s safe to drink, even if it’s from the tap. Buy a LifeStraw bottle on Amazon now.

Is it safe to travel in Russia? As an American solo female traveler who spent weeks in Russia, I think Russia is safe enough for traveling. Read on for more safety information about Russia, safety tips for Russia travel, and more resources to plan a safe vacation in Russia. #Safety #Russia #Travel

Is Russia safe for LGBTQ+ travelers?

Though homosexuality is officially legal in Russia, Russians as a whole are very intolerant of LGBTQs. As of 2020, Putin is hoping to enact a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

It’s best to exercise caution if you’re an LGBTQ traveler. As with everywhere in the world, people in bigger cities will generally be more progressive in their perspectives than people in more rural/remote areas.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t travel to Russia! For more firsthand information on gay travel in Russia, check out this awesome gay travel guide to Russia from Nomadic Boys.

Siberian village in summer in Altai, Russia

A little village in the Altai region of Siberia

Safety tips for traveling in Russia

USE. A. VPN.

I already explained this earlier in the post, but in case you were spacing, are skimming, or just didn’t give [email protected] earlier on: VPNS ARE EVERYTHING, especially in Russia. If you want to protect your devices and your private information, get a VPN to use in Russia. I use and highly recommend Express VPN to all travelers. Get Express VPN now, unless you really like it when your bank account is hacked on vacation.

Carry your passport with you at all times.

You never know when you’ll be asked for it by officials. I personally use and swear by money belts for carrying your money, cards, and important documents in a secret and secure way. Get a money belt on Amazon now.

Get a local SIM card.

It’s always wise to stay in touch with people and let them know where you’re going and that you’re okay. MTS (МТС on signs using the Cyrillic alphabet) has the best coverage in big cities, while Megafon and BeeLine have the most widespread coverage across the country. I used both MTS and Megafon SIM cards while traveling in Russia.

Call 112 if there’s an emergency.

112 is Russia’s national emergency number. You should be able to call the number at any time of day and speak to someone in Russian or English, even if your phone doesn’t have a working SIM card or you’re out of balance.

Download the offline version of Russian Google Translate.

It’ll help you in a pinch if you need to ask a question or explain something to someone who doesn’t speak English.

Subway metro station in Moscow, Russia

One of many epic stations in the Moscow metro

Useful resources for planning safe travels in Russia 

The following websites are handy for trip planning and getting recent information about how safe Russia is:

Have more questions about safety and traveling in Russia? Ask them in the comments!

 

Is Russia safe to travel? If you're planning a trip to Russia, it's fair to wonder: is Russia safe? Here are thoughts on safety in Russia from a solo female traveler who traveled in Russia for more than one month. Click through for information on safety in Russia, things to watch out for, and tips for staying safe in Russia. #RussiaTravel #SafetyTips

 

Yay transparency! There are a few affiliate links in this post. If you buy something using one of my links, I’ll make a bit of money at no extra cost to you. Don’t worry, I only recommend things I use myself.

Alex Reynolds

American by birth, British by passport, Filipina by appearance. Addicted to ice cream. Enjoys climbing trees, dislikes falling out. Has great fondness for goats which is usually not reciprocated.

More about Alex

14 thoughts on “Is Russia safe to travel?

    Isaiah Bassey says:

    Awesome

    Charles says:

    Interesting. My wife and I drove from Rome, through Hungary and the Ukraine to Moscow and then on to St Petersburg and back again. Had no problems and found everyone we met kind and helpful.

    That sounds like an epic road trip! I’m glad to hear it all went well. How long did you take to drive all that way?

    Lea says:

    When is the best time to travel to russia?

    Lea says:

    When is the best time to travel to russia? Wat are the interesting places for tourist to visit? Any interesting beaches in russia?

    The best time to visit is between spring and fall. Russia has a decent coastline along the black sea, so if you’re looking for beaches I suggest you check out that area.

    hugh townsend says:

    can you use your own car from England in order to drive all the way to Russia?

    You can, but you need several documents, including a carnet de passage. There are several overlanding groups in Facebook, which I sugget you check out.

    Stan says:

    Overall the review of your travels in Russia was close to reality but still continued some myths that do get passed on.
    Hacking and Russia are two US obsessions but it is much rarer in Russia than in the US. After all, all US connected systems have backdoors for entry by law, the NSA captures all data that way so hackers do also. I have lived in Russia 20 years and never heard of a verified hack.
    The water you claim is officially undrinkable in St Petersburg is simply untrue. You should have had it tested before making that claim, or visited the modern and interesting Water Museum on the grounds of the municipal water district. The water treatment and purity systems were contracted from Sweden and the old days of 150-year-old pipes having metals and such are talking about but that was many decades ago before the massive infrastructure improvements that have been carried out.
    I live in the city center of St Petersburg and have had the water tested by a lab because I heard the same stories, many still believed by old people here however.
    The gay issue is often exaggerated by Americans, because of all the false media claims about a law passed a decade ago that banned promotion of gay sex to children. Another law had already been in place from 30 years ago banning any promotion of sex to children. The new law was specific because gay advocacy groups from outside the country used the lack of mentioning gay specifically claimed it did not apply to gays. The new law as copies almost word for word from existing laws in Switzerland and the UK which were not the subject of outrage in the US. But advocacy groups there started a campaign to vilify Russia as being hostile to gays. That was nonsense like almost everything published in the US about Russia
    Your advise to not criticize the government or Putin was funny, considering how open and free speech is here, no one cares or gets upset or triggered if someone says anything another person does not agree with. People do not take opinions as indicators of their character, after all, it is only opinion and ones character is based on actions. If someone disagrees with you it does not start an argument or end a friendship, it is just an opinion, and no one is triggered by someone having a different view. Close friends can have opposing views and never have problem with it, they judge others on their character, not views, religion, race, nationality, politics, social or economic class, but they do judge on character. I never realized how little free speech and how much racism there was in the US until I moved out of it and found how little such variables influence Russians. Russia did not need special laws for rights for protected classes, it is assumed that all rights are conveyed to all humans, and mean it, not even questioned. So there are no rules for the number of minorities or women on boards of directors or in political positions. That is only needed in countries who do not ignore differences. As it turns out Russia and female rights is a nonissue and more woman have university degrees, head businesses, agencies and universities, doctors etc than men and no one thinks it is unusual. In the US when a woman is named to a high position there is always an assumption it was via extra credit or pressure to have a quota. In Russia, when a woman rises to the top it is just assumed she was the best candidate. There is no pay gap or access to education, everyone goes to and graduates from college. It is free, as is health care.
    When you consider that 65% of the press and media is anti-Russian government or Putin but the people have a 65-76% approval to both, you have to assume there is a pretty open freedom of speech. The US has far more restrictions on speech and access to audience than in Russia.
    Safety. Street crime is very low compared to major tourist destinations around the world. Crime if there is any is pickpockets around densely packed tourist sites but even that is rare. I own two incoming tour companies which gives tours primarily in St Petersburg in the summers and host thousands of people, and had 2 incidents in 18 years. One a Canadian man reported his passport stolen years ago and we had to send an escort and driver to Moscow for him to apply for a new Canadian passport, which took 12 days. I covered all that, because the elderly man refused to pay for all that time and sending a private car and driver with an English speaking guide 600 miles. After he was gone, and his passport had been canceled, the hotel he was staying at turned it into police as it was lost in his bedding apparently when housekeeping cleaned his room. The second time was a woman lost a camera and assumed it was stolen. That was never recovered and she could not identify what kind it was in the police report. That is it in 18 years. Both times the visitor claimed Russia did it to them. Back in about 2001 a kid tried to steal my laptop on a bus but I caught him and I got it back as he ran away. The crime that people are more afraid of, personal threats of harm are VERY rare so overall, living in a big city I am much less concerned about walking home from a dance club at 5am here than just walking down the street in any city in the US. Every US city has areas visitors are warned not to visit, usually poor neighborhoods with very desperate people but there is no neighborhood in this city of 7 million(5mil officially registered and 2mil unofficial, having their official residence in some other region) there in no neighborhood I need to war visitors about. It is definitely safer from loss or violence than any region of the US, mostly due to the extreme differences in wealth in cities in the US. The richest and about the poorest people anywhere are in US cities. The cost of living and number of services that are very expensive means being poor in the US is a very constrained difficult life with almost no economic mobility. Here, any money at all is enough to get by. I know street musicians who only work 2 days a week for tips who own their apartments, are debt free and take regular foreign vacations, have college degrees, no need for a car and work on their personal music the rest of the time for no income. The cost of living is low enough to allow that any income or savings goes a long way which is why many retired Americans living on SS have moved here for a better quality of life and access to culture than is even possible back home in the US.

    ALLEN says:

    I agree with the young ladies comments in general. I avoided all the big tourist cities on my trip and made my base Rostov on Don. The concierge at the hotel connected me with a local that took me all over the area. It was just totally awesome. I was able to take a train from Rostov to Sochi/Adler on the black sea! Adler is the best. No American’s really visit there that I saw. Met so many great people and found while most Russians dislike our government they sure want take a huge interest in American people. Planning is important when traveling alone. Take time to learn some language as locals appreciate that a lot. Most of all, don’t be the ugly American! We’ve all seen and heard them. I went in August and spent 30 days.

    Z says:

    Do you think Russia is safe for Black Americans? I want to visit this summer because my girlfriend is Russian and we’re finally 18 and have the power to see each other, but my parents are against it with the fear of racism and anti-American hate.

    Alexandr says:

    Do not worry.
    I am from Moscow. Accidentally came across this page and read with interest what they write about Russia.
    The problem of racism does not exist in Russia. Representatives of different peoples have lived here for centuries and there is no enmity between them. But we never had blacks before the collapse of the USSR (And we never enslaved them, unlike many …). There are more and more blacks in Moscow, they live in permanent residence and work.
    Therefore, the only thing you may not like is the curious looks of the children.

    Mary says:

    Hi! Is a train trip to Siberia safe fir a single older lady?
    Thanks

    Neti says:

    Awesome. Thank you Alex!

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