I grew up in Austria and have spent the last six years in Moscow.
There is a big difference between real and perceived security. Many Russians perceive Moscow as not secure and will ask you to confirm via SMS that you have arrived safely in your flat. Also, there are always rumors that someone has been mugged nearby. I heard one such rumor from a policeman. All of this makes people feel unsafe. This is the perception side.
The reality is different: In those six years I have been to various places in Moscow, often at night. There wasn’t a single attempt to mug or otherwise harm me. This applies to both “nice” (city center) and “bad” places (outskirts of Moscow).
I knew two Americans who visited Russia (one for a week, another for more than a year). None of them had any problems with security.
If you are African, people may look at you. However, it’s not because they don’t like you, but because there are few Africans in Moscow. Asians and people from Caucasus also look different, but there are many of them, therefore they don’t stand out (hence people don’t look at them).
What you should worry about are
Muscovite drivers are awful (compared to German and Austrian ones). They drive too fast, don’t let the pedestrians pass and believe to be more important than the pedestrians. This applies to most of them, irrespective of gender, race, age etc. You have to look where you go.
In my opinion this (being run over by a car) is the single most important security risk in Moscow.
Depending on your location, weather may be a problem as well. In winter, some places are not cleaned from ice and snow properly (e. g. small side streets). If you don’t watch, it is very easy to trip and fall.
Your hosts could be worried about your personal security due to the nature of your business in Russia.
Example many people recently have been kidnapped/ attacked in Russia and Ukraine who are there related to crypto currency business.
Maybe your business activities in Moscow expose you to a higher level of risk you do not experience in other countries or if your nature of visiting was different.
I’am a Russian and I currently live in Italy.
I should denote that Moscow is a safer city than Rome so you can immagine the level of safety (and St.Petersburg is even safer that Moscow).
Said that here is some advice:
I would like to add my two cents worth to the already existing answers. I am a German who is studying in Russia at the moment and who has traveled to most large cities in Western Russia, including Moscow.
My impression is that Russia is generally a safe country for people who look Western/Eastern European.
As already mentioned, there is a lot of police presence, especially around main sights in larger cities and public transport. Police seem to mostly care about foreigners from Central Asia, which means that they often stop people with a darker skin color and check documents (passport, migration card and registration; all three are essential, don’t lose them!). Since I don’t look much different from an ethnic Russian, I have so far never been stopped and can every day walk right past the police in front of the metro station.
Regarding the interaction with authorities, it can happen that they ask for a bribe. In such situations it is mostly best to say you don’t understand anything and would like a translator from the embassy. If you waste their time, they are likely to just drop it and move on (provided you actually did nothing wrong). However, the general corruption situation has improved drastically in the past ~5 years, so old stereotypes are often not applicable anymore. Police officers, government officials and clerks rarely speak English.
While there is certainly anti-American rhetoric in the media, my impression is that most Russians are able to make a clear distinction between politics and people, i.e. you should have no negative reaction if someone finds out you are American. Quite the contrary; most people are very curious and interested about foreign tourists, like to start conversations and invite you etc. Especially young people find American culture cool and many dream of traveling to the US.
What is a much larger problem than safety is the lack of foreign-language skills. So far only some young people know English to a certain degree, while almost all people over 30 absolutely don’t know a single word. That means that it is quite important to remember a few key phrases (Good day, please, thank you, …) and learn to read the cyrillic alphabet. Many words, especially in written language, sound similar to English/Latin words and can therefore be deduced, if you can read the alphabet.
Renting a car is probably not a good idea, since the traffic in Moscow takes some getting used to and the process of renting again involves a lot of Russian. Taking a taxi is easier (especially with Yandex.Taxi, since it shows the price of the ride beforehand and allows you to pay by card before), but still mostly not necessary.
Moscow especially has an excellent public transport system, you can use the subway to quickly get to most important places. The metro stations are transcribed and spoken in English, but I think the ticket machines are only in Russian again.
Where you can’t get to by metro, minbuses (“marshrutka”) drive nearly everywhere for a fixed price. You find a suitable route (Yandex.Maps or Google Maps to some extent), enter the bus and pay the driver that amount. In some cities you get a small paper ticket back, in some cities (Saint Petersburg for example) you don’t. Those marshrutki follow a specific route and you shout “astanavítye, pazhálusta” (Stop, please) when you want to get out. In Saint Petersburg the price for these is 40 ruble, in Moscow probably a bit more. Also in such buses and in the subway I haven’t experienced any intimidating situations. Pickpocketing is probably prominent, but I have also in this respect been lucky so far.
Depending on at which airport you arrive, it is more or less difficult to get to the city on your own. Vnukovo and Sheremetovo have regular bus lines to a metro station, while Domodedovo has the above-mentioned marshrutki. As LLlAMnYP has correctly pointed out, the AeroExpress train connects the city center to all airports and is advised, since it is more comfortable and much easier than to find the correct minibus.
Of course a normal amount of attention is required, just like in any touristic city. Pickpockets, street scams and theft exist and unsuspecting tourists are an easy target. Keeping an eye on valuables and avoiding suspicious people is not a bad advice.
Finally I would like to say that I have brought my family to Russia for a week last year and showed them Saint Petersburg. They speak no Russian at all and were quite skeptical about the idea of traveling to Russia as foreigners, but very much liked their stay. They were surprised by the level of security, cleanliness and hospitality, but also the poverty and confusion that is experienced without Russian knowledge.
Moscow certainly has a huge amount of sights to offer and you should definitely explore the city. Have fun!
“Keep the phone numbers of the embassy and your hosts at hand for the
unlikely cases of emergency.”
Yes definitely do this on paper and in your phone. I have been to Russia 7 times over the last decade, and the only things I have noticed is that there are pick pockets on the metro and once had an official asking for a bribe, if this happens threaten to call your embassy or your hosts or simply say you don’t understand. It worked on the rare occasion I needed to and I didn’t pay any bribes.
Despite what’s portrayed in the media and in the movies, people are the same everywhere you get all types but 99% do the right thing.
Do make sure you keep your passport on you at all times, police are allowed to ask for it, if they have a reason of course.
If can learn these phrases Sorry, Excuse me, I don’t understand. The alphabet is very useful if you want to explore it takes about a week.
Curious: Are you of African decent or lineage?
Having experienced Moscow as a black male, I received stares and generally uncomfortable attention while I was there. Arrived in the city at 4 am, the strangest thing was there were packs of stray dogs roaming the streets. Later that night at Red Square, some teens and passersby wanted to give me special unwanted attention which led me to not going out at night again.
Since you asked for fellow travelers’ opinions, I thought I’d give my experiences. I travelled solo to Moscow at 18 as part of a gap year trip and spent several days wandering around on my own just exploring. I must say I didn’t experience any problems during my time in Moscow, but some other travellers I met while on the trip had some negative experiences. One group of British travellers told me that they had their bags stolen and were laughed at when they attempted to report it to the police and a Dutch individual told me how he got kicked out of a nightclub for being a foreigner.
Bear in mind these are all nothing more than anecdotal experiences, but that is what you asked for. Honestly I did not feel like Moscow was particularly more dangerous than any other major city; simply keep your wits about you, keep an eye on your possessions and you should be fine.
All your friend make it seems way worse than it really is.
I went to Moscow as an European foreigner for 10 days and did not have any safety issue. Moscow is safe, police is everywhere and i don’t understand how you could have any problems just by walking in the street.
Be careful thought, most of the people in Russia don’t speak english, even in the airport/coffee/restaurant. I think the main concern your friends should have advise you is the language barrier you will face.
Concerning the taxis i was also told that they like to scam foreigners, taxi are very cheap in Russia but they will try to rip you off by making you pay 10 times the price. If you don’t feel like arguing do not take the taxi.
Otherwise Moscow is not more unsafe than any other big cities
In my opinion, Moscow is one of the safest cities in Russia.
I’m German and only know a few words of Russian. I’ve been there 3 times now, first with Russian friends and later by myself. I usually took Yandex taxi whenever possible (there’s an App for that), because the rate is fixed before you even enter the car. Alternatively you can settle a price for the ride beforehand, but first, you should look it up and compare.
I usually mentioned that I “only have XY Rubels, is it okay?” so the Taxi driver can’t charge you more than that.
I still felt safer over there than wandering around in some areas in German cities.
Like other answers mentioned, don’t wave around expensive stuff, be friendly and open-hearted.
Update: as of March 2022, travel to Russia is unsafe for anyone.
The country is not even safe for its own citizens.
Anyone — regardless of whether you’re a Russian national or not, no matter what ethnicity you are — may face harassment, death threats and legal action (up to 15 years in jail) for opposing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, or expressing any anti-war sentiment. These are very tangible threats which I have witnessed first hand.
Additionally, various payment services, flights and apps are getting blocked or canceled, some by the Russian government, some by the foreign businesses themselves. That may leave you stranded, without money and reliable means of communication or even access to independent news sources.
If you are in Russia:
That all said, I will maintain that I don’t think that being a foreign citizen would put you in a much greater risk category. I still think most people don’t care about that stuff or may even express some interest and a degree of respect. But you must understand that right now it is dangerous for anyone who is not a Putin supporter.
As long as Putin’s presidency subsists, the safety risks will most likely continue increasing. The answer will need to be revised once more when the presidency changes.
For the historical purposes, I’ll leave the original answer below.
I’m a Moscovite, so this answer is bound to be biased.
Safety is a very relative notion, I perceive Moscow safer than quite a few cities I’ve been to in Western Europe and the US (or at least some of their neighborhoods). Anecdotally, I’ve once been detained by the US police for several hours out of the blue, so… yes, unexpected things happen everywhere.
“I’ll get a rental car, take a taxi or hop on a train if necessary.”
That concern was somewhat reasonable, as you could come across a dishonest taxi driver who would want to exploit you asking for a much greater fare than necessary. I knew a person from the US who paid almost $100 (20 times more than the norm!) for a trip from the airport. [note: As pointed out in the comments, The fair rate for getting to and from the airport as of 2018 should be approximately $10-20 depending on the airport and the taxi company]
The aeroexpress trains are a great option if you don’t have a car, they’re extremely safe, reliable and quick.
The cheapest way to get to the city would be buses and regular suburban trains (look up the directions on the airport’s website). In all my life I’ve never had issues with either of those, but they may be slow (depending on the traffic conditions) and not as comfy.
All in all, all of the public transport (metro, buses, trolleybuses, streetcars and suburban trains) in Moscow is very safe and cheap, though not always as fast and convenient as one could wish for, and may get very jam-packed during rush hours. (Most of its shortcomings may be mitigated by using Google Maps or Yandex Maps for finding an optimal route, in conjunction with Yandex Transport which lets you see all public transport vehicles directly on the map in real time.)
Finally, avoid relying on jitney(marshrutki) minibuses ran by small local companies, because the level of their service varies wildly, similarly to taxi cabs. Cases when the driver flat out refuses to get you to your destination because the cab is not "full enough" have not been unheard of. (Anecdotally, I’ve had exactly that happen on my road to the airport with a route 948 minibus. Nearly missed a flight… not fun.)
Has the security level for Americans truly degraded to the point that I shouldn’t be taking in the beauty of Moscow on my own, as I try to do in every city I visit, whether traveling on vacation or on business?
I consider it mostly nonsense. That said, you should adhere to the basic tourist wisdom, which is not to let others see you as a confused and helpless foreigner who could easily be taken advantage of. If you’re Caucasian and don’t wear a striped red, white and blue baseball cap with some stars in the middle, or a t-shirt with the Liberty statue imprinted on it, few people would suspect you to be a tourist from the US.
In conclusion, my advice to anyone visiting Moscow is simple: do not be afraid and visit whatever place you wanted to visit, as long as it’s not a military base or something. If you fear the wolves, you’ll never get to see the forest, as the old saying goes.
Use the public transport to get to places (and watch some ordinary people in their daily commute!), visit the museums and theatres, try some of the local food, go for a stroll in one of the nearest forests and parks, or leave the hustle and bustle of the city and explore the suburbs and nearby cities.
Update: After reading all other comments and answers, I feel a disclaimer is in order.
My answer applies if you are an "ordinary" person (e.g. a student, a retail worker, a researcher, an engineer, an artist, a small business owner) visiting Moscow for "ordinary" affairs which are of no concern to the corrupt officials or the mafia. Examples of such "sensitive" circumstances may include, but are not limited to, things like investigating corruption or money laundering, inquiries into the foreign policies and the military affairs of the country, defense of political prisoners and convicts, meeting with the leaders of the political opposition, LGBT rights activism, or you being a well-known multimillionaire. If you think there is at least one powerful and dishonest person in Russia who would benefit from having you(personally) suffer any harm, please exert caution and follow the safety guidelines given by your hosts.
Russia is perfectly safe for tourists. I’ve travelled across the country over several years and never had a problem.
I think the fear is still greater than the reality.
I have spent a few days in a cell (wrongfully detained) in Russia, but I’d still not be concerned about safety. Admittedly I’m not American, but just having the basics of being slightly street-smart, you’d be fine.
Mostly though, if you’re wandering around the sights of Moscow, you’ll have a ball. Do it and don’t regret not getting out and seeing what it has got to offer.
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