- Migration card
Migration card is a small piece of paper you get free of charge when you cross the Russian border on arrival. Do not forget to take it and take care of it - its absence on departure might cost you 200 USD (or less or nothing - depending on the mood of customs officer and your talent to deal with the officials).
Within first 72 hours after arrival you have to register your visa. In hotel it will be done automatically. If you stay in the apartment check by the person who issued your invitation how to register it. Registration is a stamp on the back of your migration card.
- Documents check
The documents check is a rare thing in Russia unless you look like a Muslim terrorist. Most probably you will need your papers twice during your visit - on the Russian boarder on arrival and on departure.
When you walk during your stay in Russia - DO NOT TAKE your passport with. Make a xerocopy at home and keep it just in case in your pocket. Hotel or apartment - both will be a safe place for your documents. Carring them around is risky because of the pickpockets. For any documents check copy will be enough and if stolen it will create you no problem.
Russia is a country of cash. So it is wise to have at least some amount of it on arrival.
Remember 3 golden rules for cash in Russia:
- Your USD or Euro or any other currency banknotes must be clean and preferably new. Otherwise most exchange offices will simply refuse to change them. If your banknote has an ink stain in the best case you will be offered a 20% cheaper rate than the standard one. It is a ripping off but so it works. Small banknotes (1, 5, 10 or 20 USD for example) are also out of favor. If you will change many of them you will be offered the lower rate than the one officially announced.
- If you pay to the individuals for any kind of service they will take both USD, Euro or rubles. But in cafe, museums, inexpensive small restaurants and local shops you will have to pay in rubles.
- If you are going to pay somebody better prepare the big banknotes (i.e. 100 USD or 100 Euro). Russians use the currency either for savings or for such payments as for a new car, apartment etc i.e. in the situations when they need to pay more than 10000 USD at the same time. That is why 5 or 10 or 20 USD banknotes are so unpopular.
- Credit cards and ATMs
There are 3 places where you will be able to pay with credit card:
- expensive restaurants,
- souvenir shops.
But ATMs are everywhere in the city center. There is an ATM in EVERY METRO STATION as well. So getting cash will be no problem 24 hours. ATMs with USD are rare but they exist.
- Travellers checks
Although there are few banks which accept them, changing travellers checks into cash is a trouble and almost nobody accept them as means of payment. To put it simple it is the worst you can have.
Don't plan to lose weight in Russia counting on bad food. Russian cuisine is tasty. The other question is that places which are both inexpensive and good are not numerous and most of them do not have menu in English. Your local friend or private guide will show you them but to find them on your own might be a problem (no big signs, tricky address, unnoticeable entrance etc). Still here are some tips:
911 and emergency situations
- Avoid places situated very close to the famous sites. Usually they are both pricey and the food quality is poor. The same is fair for the places which ads you will find in free of charge magazines for tourists which lay in hotels and other public places.
- In St. Petersburg posh appearance of the place does not obligatory mean high prices. Check menu before running away.
- Remember that even in the most expensive place such things as a plate of soup and pancakes do not cost much.
- If you do not like the place from the first sight, just go away. There will be other one in the next building.
- If you manage to communicate with the waiter, ask for his advice. As the waiters are generally paid very poorly they do not consider it necessary to lie in favor of the owner: you may get a valuable advice.
If you want to get a support in any emergency situation the only institute which can really help is a local Russian friend. Neither Russian police nor Russian hospital workers will not help, firstly because they do not speak English and secondly because your problem in 99% cases will be out of their responsibility. American (or any other) Embassy is not much better because:
- their working hours are limited and troubles happen any time;
- many and often best solutions are simply impossible for them. For example: if you need a doctor they will send you to the American clinic which is very nice but also VERY EXPENSIVE. You can get the same quality treatment 10 times cheaper if you manage to contact local hospital doctor and pay directly to him. But Embassy workers simply can not give you such advice and certainly they will not find such doctor for you.
That is why my only advice is: keep my mobile number always with you. If anything - call me. I will charge you for my time, but I will help. Consider me in St. Petersburg as your tourist life-buoy.