The currency in Russia is the Rouble which is made up of one hundred kopeks. Notes come in denominations of Rbl10, 50, 100 and 500 and the coins in use are Rbl1, 2 and 5. In January of 1998 the Rouble was devalued by a factor of 1,000 so while old coins and notes remain legal tender until 2002, they are worth one thousandth of their face value.
You should also be aware that the government has decreed that all transactions are to be carried out in roubles. Only the most inexpensive restaurants still list their prices in U.S. dollars, but you must actually pay in roubles. (You may sometimes see prices listed in units, a euphemism for U.S. dollars.)
Some expensive hotels, restaurants and shops that cater to tourists may accept dollars, but don't count on it. Taxi drivers, however, prefer dollars. Also, be aware that foreigners must often pay several times more than Russians do for admission to museums and other attractions, as well as for hotel rooms.
While Russian is the country’s official language, most people speak at least a little English, particularly in the bigger cities and tourist area. In more rural parts of the country, however, it might be useful to have a phrase book in case of emergency.
Northern and Central Russia have the most varied climate with nine hours of sunshine per day in summer but with extremely cold weather in winter. Winter in the south is shorter than it is in the north but it can also be very cold and summer can be very hot and dry in some parts, particularly around the Steppes in the southeast. Finally, Siberia has very cold winters but summers can be quite pleasant. Despite this they are very short and rainfall is heavy. On the whole July and August are the main holiday season but we recommend May and June or September and October where crowds are not as big and the weather is drier.
Both Moscow and St. Petersburg are three hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time while the rest of western Russia is two hours ahead.
Shops in Russia generally between 9.00am and 5.00pm from Monday to Saturday and many also open on Sundays. There are also numerous twenty four hour stores. And, while most of the bigger department stores now open during lunchtime, when it comes to smaller businesses or more rural areas, a one hour closing time for lunch is still the norm as is closing for one day during the week.
Electricity throughout the country is 220Volts, 50Hz.
The Russian government currently imposes a 20% Value Added Tax on all goods and services. This tax is supposed to be included in all stated prices but it is a good idea to confirm this before making a purchase to avoid any hassle when it comes to payment.
Australian, Canadian, EU, New Zealand, South African and US citizens require a visa to visit Russia. Visas require an invitation stating the traveller’s itinerary and it is worth noting that these can be difficult to get without a Russian connection although some travel agencies do provide visas. Once you have an invitation, contact the Russian Embassy in your home country.
In general, the main purpose of Russia’s tourist offices is to act as tour operators but you should still risk asking for information. If you talk nicely, you may get some details. More of ten than not, however, it is well worth having a good guidebook in your possession at all times.
When converting foreign currency in Russia it is recommended that you stick to the larger banks. This is usually where you will find the cheapest rates of commission and the best exchange rates. Also remember that you are charged every time you carry out a transaction.
All major credit cards are accepted in the bigger hotels, restaurants and shops but in some smaller businesses or in rural areas you may have difficulty using this facility. It is recommended, therefore, that you ensure you have enough cash to see you through the weekend when heading to more remote areas - just in case. You can also use bankcards which are members of the bigger international networks such as Plus or Cirrus in the larger towns and cities where the ATM states that they are acceptable.
The international calling code for Russia is 7. To dial from abroad you dial 00, followed by 7, the local area code and the local number. If you wish to call abroad from Russia, you dial 810, followed by the international calling code for your particular country, the local area code and then the local number. It is worth noting that you also need to drop the first zero from the local area code for both types of call.
There are two different types of public telephone throughout the country – those that take tokens and the newer kiosks take telephone cards. In order to get the best value for money, however, you should use a phonecard. Also remember to press the otvet button when the person on the other end of the line answers or they will not be able to hear you.
Tipping in Russia is entirely at your discretion but if you feel that the service you have received merits a tip, then between 10% and 15% is sufficient.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In Russia they take place on January 1st, 2nd and 7th, March 8th, May 1st, 2nd and 9th, June 12th, November 7th and December 12th. It is a good idea to check the particular region too as certain towns and areas also shut down during special events.