Staying Safe While Visiting St. Petersburg, Russia

by Elena on February 18, 2014

safety in st petersburg russia policeThere’s been a lot in the news recently about the safety of Russia for visitors and residents alike and while certain groups of people may have a difficult time of things it is considered pretty safe for the majority of tourists. The important things are knowing how to reduce your risk of attracting unwanted attention, including having an experienced tour guide, and how to summon help should it be needed.

Some basics:

If you need to call for emergency help dial 112 for all services or 01 for fire, 02 for police, or 03 for ambulance. If you don’t speak Russian then call 164-9787 for police service in English or ask a Russian speaker in your group to call for you.

Health Care in Russia

In theory, most foreigners are entitled to free emergency care in Russian hospitals but it is advisable to have travel insurance and understand the limitations of your policy. The healthcare system in Russia is chronically underfunded and so some services may be rudimentary compared to back home and you will likely be charged for medications and care even if not for admission to hospital. There have been some reports of paramedics demanding cash before transporting a patient to hospital.

Services in big cities like St. Petersburg are usually fine but if you head out of the city and are taken ill be prepared with emergency contact details for your insurer and consulate, and consider getting an early flight home. Ensure that you have a health insurance policy that covers private medical transportation home or repatriation fees in an emergency.

Police and Crime in St. Petersburg

Always carry your original passport, Russian visa, hotel registration and migration cards (issued at the airport upon entry into Russia) with you at all times as Russian police officers are legally allowed to (and do) stop people and request identity and travel documents at any time and without cause. There are some reports of police corruption and so it is often a good idea to carry limited cash on you and instead use a credit card with low foreign transaction charges.

The police in St. Petersburg have a habit of stopping people who are trying to take pictures in the metro stations, as well as those who walk on the grass in public parks. You may be fined, even though it does not actually appear to be illegal to do either of these things. So, be circumspect about taking snapshots and keep off the grass. It is also advisable to take taxis rather than walking alone late at night, especially in neighborhoods outside the city center, where it is more likely that you will be stopped by police.

However, avoid taking unlicenced taxis that tend to linger outside bars popular with expats and tourists, and try to negotiate the cost of your journey in advance. Take down the cab’s licence number and driver’s name and send it to a friend if possible, just to have a record. If possible, travel with a friend and avoid being in suburbs such as Kupchino, Veteranov Ligovo and Sennaya in the centre late at night.

If you do have items stolen you will usually need a police report in order to enter an insurance claim. It is best to take a Russian-speaking friend or guide with you to make such a claim at the police station and to factor in a decent amount of time to account for bureaucracy.

Special Considerations

If you decide to go to a soccer game while in St. Petersburg then make sure to get tickets in central seating to minimize the likelihood of becoming involved in a brawl with the Zenit Saint Petersburg hooligans who sometimes cause violence at these games. Be extra careful on the street on days/evenings that these games occur as they can, like in many cities, bring out those intent on causing trouble, including neo-Nazis.

It’s also best to avoid big crowds in general as these are rife with pickpockets. Keep all money, documents and valuables secure using a zipped inner pocket, money belt or other hard to reach hiding place. It is common for thefts to occur on the metro and around landmarks where people are packed in tightly and may not feel a roving hand pulling a wallet from a back pocket or even cutting the strap of a camera case. It is always a good idea to avoid any shows of wealth so don’t wear flashy jewelry or watches, tape over the brand on photography equipment, and don’t pull out rolls of cash at any time.

Don’t accept offers from strangers to take your picture. This is one of the most common ways of having your camera stolen. Instead, ask your driver or tour guide or make friends with fellow tourists on a guided tour and take each others’ pictures.

If anyone approaches you and attempts to distract you by mumbling gibberish and even touching you and pointing and/or bumping into you then be on your guard and walk away if it seems safe to do so. Thieves often operate in pairs or groups and may take it in turns to bump into you while the other feels in your pockets. Hiring a driver through a trusted tour company like Ulko Tours can cut your risk of street robbery by minimizing use of transit and sidewalks.

Driving in the city can be erratic and so one of the biggest threats to safety when visiting St. Petersburg is simply crossing the street. Drivers will not always give way to pedestrians and jay walking is almost always a bad idea. Use crosswalks and watch out for cars and errant cyclists and public transit.

Register with STEP

American citizens traveling to Russia are advised to enroll in the Department of State‚Äôs Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at https://step.state.gov/step. You will then receive safety and security updates and it is easier for the consulate or embassy to contact you in an emergency. You can also enroll once you’re in St. Petersburg by going to the nearest embassy or consulate.

The British Consulate in St. Petersburg can be found at 5 Pl. Proletarskoy Diktatury (Phone: +7 (812) 320-3200).

The American Consulate in St. Petersburg can be found at 15 Furshtadtskaya Ulitsa (Phone: +7 (812) 275-1701).

And the Canadian Consulate in St. Petersburg can be found at 32 Malodetskoselsky Prospekt (Phone: +7 (812) 325-8448).

If you have any concerns about safety and health before or during your trip to St. Petersburg then get in touch with Ulko Tours’ friendly guides and put those worries to rest so you can concentrate on enjoying your stay in this fabulously historical and cultural city.

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