Is It Safe For Foreigners In Russia?

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This is the very awkward moment, where as an American living in Russia I have to strongly disagree with the US State Department and agree with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The question “Will it be safe for me as a foreigner in Russia?” is the first that any newcomer to Russia will have, and is always among the top questions to be asked on Russia online travel forums.

Yes, bad things happen to some foreigners who come to Russia.  Also, bad things happen to some foreigners who go to Mexico, Brazil, Germany, or the United Kingdom.  There are only four countries that are 100% guaranteed to be safe as a foreigner:  Iceland, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Bhutan.  Just joking, there are ZERO countries that are 100% safe for travel.

As a matter of fact, the conundrum is that it’s not always safe to remain in your own hometown.

Because whether you are in Russia or Hoboken, New Jersey it’s never wise to walk around drunk in the middle of the night with Ben Franklins falling out of your back pocket.

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But assuming you have a reasonable level of street smarts AND you don’t want to just sit on your couch (which is also dangerous – just laying there will cause your cholesterol levels to skyrocket) in Iowa, Saskatchewan, or High Wycombe, but are thinking about where to travel to- the US State Department has taken the trouble to divide the nations of the world into Danger Levels.

Level 4 is a DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT IT level.  Level 1 is safe for hobbits, even if not escorted by elves.  State Department Danger Level 3 is sort of a “you had better think about this long and hard before going”.

US State Department Level 3 nations include:  Sudan, Pakistan, Niger… and Russia.  By the way, I do encourage you to read the linked statement as I do believe it provides some helpful insight as to the thought processes that led to this decision, BUT again, I strongly disagree with categorizing Russia, a nation of 9 time zones as unsafe.  That is incredibly misleading.

And with no disrespect to these three nations that I have never been to: Sudan, Pakistan, and Niger (I am sure they are lovely this time of year), I would love to visit, but probably wouldn’t take my kids.  If you know what I mean.  But I live here in Moscow with my kids and am quite unconcerned about my family’s safety.

As a matter of fact, I have traveled all over Russia and there is barely a place that I was even a little concerned about my or my family’s safety.  And what might be even more surprising to Westerners- in Russia’s major cities there are no bad neighborhoods.

Quite frankly, putting Russia as a Level 3 travel advisory seems more political than practical.  And as the Moscow Times quoted the Russia Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative, Maria Zakharova:  “If U.S. citizens massively come to Russia then they’ll see with their own eyes that nothing that American public officials are scaring them with is actually true.”

Sorry Mr. Tillerson & Co., but I’m going to need to go with the Russia Ministry of Foreign Affairs on this one.

The sad part about this is that I have talked with some folks about coming to Russia for some fantastic tourist trips- truly unforgettable experiences.  And I have learned that they are afraid to come.  It’s too bad for them because they are missing out, and it’s also bad for Russia’s small businesses that rely on tourism.

Yes, it seems sometimes that even Russia loves its tough guy persona that includes wolves, bears, mafia, nuclear warheads, and Siberian blizzards, but if that is all you see, you are most certainly missing out on the real beauty of the nation and its people.

A people that are not known for smiling on the streets, but have always been very open and ready to help whenever I have had real need.

So, come on over.  The Russian people will be happy to meet you and help, and you won’t have missed out on perhaps one of the richest and most unforgettable experiences of your life.

 

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12 comments

  1. That certainly seems ridiculous.

    Chechnya, ok, probably best avoided. Maybe Dagestan too, although my wife is suggesting that we motorcycle there (from Moscow) with her friends in May.

    I was in Stavropol Krai (at least the parts near Pyatigorsk) in December and it seemed perfectly normal. We drove to Dombay ski resort (in Karachayevo-Cherkessiya, and near Elbrus). *Maybe* I’d stick with a tour group or with locals there, especially if I didn’t have any Russian at all.

    Everywhere else I’ve been in Russia … absolutely no problems as a white English-speaking foreigner. There have been quite a few places that people have been surprised to see me travelling alone (even in such tame places as Kazan, or on a slow train from SPB to Moscow), but absolutely everyone has been welcoming, patient with my nearly non-existent Russian language, and eager to give a good impression of their place.

    It might well be different if you are not white. It might also be different if you attract attention to yourself by being a stereotypical loud obnoxious American in a Hawaiian shirt. I don’t know. I suspect I pretty much blend in until I open my mouth.

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      1. A very refreshing article about safety in Russia.
        I have used the taxi system (flaf down a random car and negotiate a fare) with no threat to my safety.
        I’ve travelled all over Russia and Kazakhstan on trains and met amazing people who just want to meet a foreigner and so helpful. What an amazing place to live.
        If you think you will get mugged there, it’s a good chance you’ll be mugged where you are!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Andy, good stuff man. 15 years in Moscow, wife, kids, teaching English.., usual stuff. Just back to USA summer home in Maine. I may as well been coming home from Mars. Moscow is “difficult” to describe…, where do you start? You know. A true love/hate thing. Was back over New Years, our apt. is on Tverskaya, across from Ritz…, Moscow was “incredible” even for ME. Got to Moscow in 2003…., a newbie.., you should hear the stories of the “old USA guys” in the 90’s. True Wild West stuff. Been to 28 countries, Putin spent his stolen BILLIONS in Moscow.., it shows.

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