There are a lot of misconceptions out there about safety in Russia. In many ways, the country has not been able to shake the ‘wild west’ reputation it got in the 90’s when many criminals and undesirables took advantage of the power vacuum created by the fall of communism. This really isn’t helped by every other blockbuster movie featuring a stereotypical Russian villain!
However, rest assured that if you are coming to Moscow to live or to visit, times have changed. Today, Russia’s major cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg are very modern and safe. In many respects they are as safe as Western European cities, but as you will see below, there are a couple off notable categories that need improving.
Below is a brief run down of the major safety considerations you should keep in mind while you are in Moscow.
Russia’s road safety definitely isn’t the best – in fact it is somewhat infamous. For many years, dash cam compilations such as this one have shown some of the zany and deadly accidents that happen on roads all over Russia every day. If you look at road deaths per 100 000 however, Russia is only slightly above the global average, so it is not as bad as it seems.
In Moscow in particular, the traffic is permanently horrendous and can lead to some very erratic behaviour from irate drivers. Maybe the only good thing about heavy traffic is that it slows people down and many of the accidents are at low speed, damaging only vehicles rather than people.
While you are in Moscow, do not be afraid to tell your driver to slow down (or calm down) if they are getting a bit worked up and if you are driving yourself, keep those defensive driving skills sharp!
You will find dodgy taxis almost anywhere around the world and Moscow is no exception. But do not be alarmed, as the vast majority of taxi drivers in Moscow are honest and decent people. You just need to use some good old common sense when taking a ride.
- You should always take a properly marked taxi whenever possible in Moscow (this can get harder to do in the provinces).
- Phone applications like Gett Taxi or Yandex Taxi are great way to ensure a hassle free ride. Uber is not a widespread choice in Russia.
- If you must hail a cab without the assistance of a phone app, insist on the meter being used, or agree a fixed price in advance.
- At the airport, only book taxis from the official counters and avoid the touts that wander about the arrivals hall.
All around the world in city centres and tourist areas there are issues with petty theft and Moscow is no different. One thing that you need to understand is that even amongst the glitz and glamour of down town Moscow, there are many Russians living on the poverty line who may seek to take advantage of an unsuspecting traveller. Just like other tourist spots around the world, follow these simple guidelines:
- Do not flash large amounts of cash or expensive possessions (such as phones).
- Keep bags close to you, especially on public transport and in cafes.
- Be aware of your surroundings and avoid back alleys and poorly lit areas at night.
Petty crime is not common at all in Moscow, but it is always possible, so just be alert to the possibility.
Moscow is very heavily policed and it would be strange not to see the police multiple times every day when wandering around the centre of the city. While this should make tourists feel safe another leftover perception from the 90’s is a reputation for police corruption. Yes the police can stop you and demand ID at any time, but the reports of them purposely shaking down foreigners or even Russians for profit are pretty much relics of the past. If you are requested to show ID, try offering a photocopy of your passport first, rather than handing over the original document. Often a policeman wont have known you were a foreigner when stopping you and upon realising will wave you on (mostly from a lack of English).
It would be very rare for a policeman to still ask for a bribe in Moscow and under no circumstances should you offer one. Unless you have oligarch levels of cash, you will just get yourself in deeper trouble.
It goes without saying that you should avoid any kind of political protest or rally – this is a sure fire way to get yourself in trouble with the authorities. You do not have to look far to find evidence of political murders and persecution based on political beliefs in Russia. I fully understand why a Russian person would protest, but as a foreigner and a guest there is no need to become involved.
Finally, we get to the big scary T word. Terrorism is unfortunately a consideration wherever we go now, as deadly attacks in Western Europe have shown. Russia also has a number of terrorist attacks in it’s past, primarily liked to the conflict in Chechnya. Even with the high level security in Moscow, it is always possible that an attack could happen. While in Russia and even before your trip, keep abreast of current events and security alerts from both the Russian authorities and your own embassy.
Safety in Russia does not need to be a barrier to you enjoying your stay. While the conditions may be slightly different than what you are used to, Russia and Moscow are no more dangerous than any other major capital city around the world.