Russia is a fascinating and friendly country, and the World Cup should prove a welcome window into the biggest nation on the planet. However, they do things differently there, and every fan should arrive with some legal and cultural awareness.
Around 170,000 British people visited Russia in 2016, and not all of them stayed out of trouble. With many more visitors expected during the football tournament from 14 June to 15 July, The Independent has assembled official government advice from the official briefings of Australia, Canada, Ireland, the UK (including specific World Cup advice) and the US. Here’s what you need to know.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of six months after the expiry date of your visa or your Fan-ID – the special permit available to holders of World Cup tickets.
Your Fan-ID will act as a multi-entry and exit visa to and from Russia. You may enter Russia using your Fan-ID from 4 June until 15 July. You must leave by 25 July.
On entering Russia, you must sign a migration card, which is produced electronically at passport control. The card is in two identical parts. One part will be retained by the immigration officer on arrival. You should keep the other part with your passport as you’ll need this when you leave Russia.
You must make sure that you’ve signed your passport before you travel. Some British nationals who haven’t signed their new passports have been denied entry into Russia in the past.
Remember to register in every host city you visit within 24 hours of arrival. The registration is normally done by your hotel or guest house, but it’s your responsibility to make sure that this has been done. Note that the normal “seven working days” rule does not apply to football fans.
There are no legal grounds for foreigners (including British nationals) to cross the land border between Russia and Belarus. If you’re planning on entering Russia by road, you’ll need to take an alternative route through a different country. (UK)
Carry your passport with you at all times. Russian police have the authority to stop people and request identity and travel documents at any time. (US)
Anything to declare?
There are no restrictions on bringing laptop computers for personal use into Russia. However, Russian border officials can demand to inspect any electronic device (including installed software) on departure. (UK)
If your medicines contain barbiturate, codeine, sibutramine, anabolic steroids, androgens and other sex hormones, analgesic (tramadol), psychostimulants or other restricted substances, you must present a doctor’s letter confirming the need for each medication to authorities when you arrive in Russia. A notarised translation into Russian is also required. (Australia)
You can be arrested for attempting to leave the country with antiques, even if they were legally purchased from licensed vendors. Items like artwork, icons, samovars, rugs, military medals and antiques, must have certificates indicating they do not have historical or cultural value. You may obtain certificates from the Russian Ministry of Culture. (US)
The best way to stay out of trouble is, as anywhere, to behave respectfully towards the nation and its people. Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, national lead for football policing, says: “We wouldn’t expect people to come across to this country, get drunk and drape flags on the Cenotaph so we need to extend the same courtesy when we go abroad and treat places with due reverence.“
In Volgograd, where England play their opening game against Tunisia on 18 June at 7pm, there are many memorials to the Second World War (known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War), which must be treated with respect.
The British Embassy will have a presence on match days in all of the cities that England play a game in. British nationals needing help or advice will be able to contact consular officers by telephone at all hours of the day on any day of the week. (UK)
Frequently, criminal gangs collude with the local police and operate with near impunity. Foreigners have become victims of harassment, mistreatment, and extortion by law-enforcement and other officials. Police do not need to show probable cause in order to stop, question, or detain individuals.
Do not pick up hitchhikers, as you may be assaulted or arrested for unwittingly transporting narcotics. (US)
Traffic police may stop motorists to collect fraudulent cash fines on the spot. (Canada)
Never agree to go to a bar or club with someone you have just met on the street. Criminals have drugged some travellers at bars, while others have taken strangers back to their lodgings, where they drugged, robbed and/or assaulted them. (US)
Take care if you are using a dating service. A number of British nationals have been the victims of fraud when doing so.
Due to heightened political tensions between the UK and Russia, you should be aware of the possibility of anti-British sentiment or harassment. (UK)
Petty crime, pick-pocketing and mugging (sometimes committed by groups of children) is common, especially around tourist attractions such as Red Square, the Ismailovsky tourist market and the Moscow or St Petersburg Metros.
If you lose your original passport during the World Cup, this will affect your ability to use your match ticket and Fan-ID as your passport details are interlinked. Photographing any military establishment or site of strategic importance (including airports) is banned. You are likely to be detained for questioning or arrested if you are caught. (UK)
Keep your passport in a safe place on your person, and not in jacket pockets or in handbags and/or backpacks in case of theft. You should also leave a copy of your passport, visa, and travel and insurance documents with family or friends at home.
Keep your vehicle doors locked and your bags out of sight to prevent opportunistic bag-snatching if you’re stopped at traffic lights. (Ireland)
Avoid carrying large sums of cash. High-profile armed robberies are an almost daily occurrence. The attacks usually take place while the victims are either entering or exiting banks. These attacks occur throughout Moscow, including in the city centre and near the US embassy. Travellers have also had cash stolen from hotel safes. (US)
Preferred targets for criminals include underground walkways, public transportation and transportation hubs, tourist sites, restaurants and markets, hotel rooms and residences (even when occupied and locked). (Canada)
“Turkey Drop” Scam: An individual “accidentally” drops money on the ground in front of an intended victim, while an accomplice either waits for the money to be picked up, or picks up the money him/herself and offers to split it with the pedestrian. Then the victim is accused of stealing the money. Do not pick up the money. Walk quickly away from the scene.
Airport Scam: A con artist asks you to watch his bag, then extorts money or other valuables to avoid hassle with the police. Never agree to watch a bag that belongs to a stranger. (US)
Exercise extreme caution in crowds and open markets. Criminals use various techniques to distract the victims, including by distracting their victims with requests for help. In such situations, walk away quickly. (UK)
Alcohol won’t be available at stadium during matches. The sale and consumption of alcohol in glass containers will be banned on the evening and day of matches in certain locations in host cities. The sale of alcohol from shops is restricted, typically from 11pm to 8am. (UK)
You can be jailed immediately for driving under the influence of alcohol. (US)
It is illegal to pay directly for general transactions with dollars or euros. (UK)
Only change money at banks, hotels and recognised exchange kiosks. You will need to show your passport and visa to change money. It is an offence to change money from street traders. (Ireland)
Health and safety
Road safety is poor. According to statistics published by the Directorate for Road Traffic Safety there were over 169,000 road traffic accidents in Russia in 2017, causing over 19,000 deaths and over 215,000 injuries.
The European Health Insurance card (EHIC) isn’t valid in Russia, so travel insurance is essential. (UK)
In the summer months, there is a risk of forest fires that could affect the Moscow region. The air quality in areas near active fires may deteriorate due to heavy smoke and affect travellers with respiratory ailments. (Canada)
Do not visit tattoo parlours or piercing services as you could be at risk of HIV and hepatitis infection. (US)
Tap water is not drinkable throughout the Russian Federation but bottled mineral water is widely available. (Ireland)
Getting around in Russia is often difficult for persons with mobility issues. Many sidewalks are narrow and uneven. Crossing streets in large cities can be difficult, since it usually requires the use of a pedestrian underpass which includes stairs, steep ramps, and no elevators.
Mobility is usually easier in major cities such as Moscow and St Petersburg [but the] Metro is generally not accessible to persons with disabilities. Public transportation is not accommodating to people with disabilities. (US)
Homosexuality is not illegal in Russia. However, in 2012, Moscow Pride was banned for 100 years. In June 2013, a law banning the promotion of ‘non-traditional sexual relations’ towards under 18s (the “gay propaganda” law) entered into force.
There have been reports that instances of harassment, threats, and acts of violence towards the LGBT+ community have increased following the introduction of this law but no foreign nationals have been charged or convicted under it (it theoretically includes arrest and detention, fines and/or deportation). (UK)
Violence against the LGBT+ community has increased sharply since the law banning propaganda was passed, including entrapment and torture of young gay men by neo-Nazi gangs and the murder of multiple individuals due to their sexual orientation. (US)
Harassment and assaults are prevalent, particularly against foreigners of Asian and African descent. Some victims have died. (Canada)
Racially motivated assaults occur throughout Russia. Attacks are often perpetrated by skinhead groups or ultra-nationalists. There have been several large rallies by nationalists and neo-Nazis to protest against the presence of foreigners (particularly people from Africa, Central Asia and the Caucasus region) in Russia. Take extra care if you or your travel partner(s) are of Asian or African descent. (Australia)
Tickets bought through any unofficial means may not be valid. Furthermore, tickets in themselves aren’t sufficient to enter a stadium. A Fan-ID will be linked to the each ticket.
In addition to items which would normally be prohibited in the UK, the following restrictions may apply at stadium: large amounts of loose change and lighters may be confiscated and are unlikely to be returned; no bottles or cans are allowed in the ground.
In order to access any of the stadiums during the Fifa World Cup, you’ll need to have a valid match ticket, Fan-ID, and your passport. You should take steps to keep all of these documents safe.
If your Fan-ID is lost or stolen, you can get a duplicate from one of the Fan-ID distribution centres. (UK)
Keeping in touch
Restrictions have been placed on some social media platforms, such as LinkedIn and Telegram, and access to other internet sites can be unreliable. (UK)
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