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How to avoid problems

With a little foresight and common sense, you can stay safe and healthy while traveling in Russia. Read on to learn what you need to know.

The Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens against travel to Chechnya and all areas that border it: North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Stavropol, Karachayevo-Cherkessiya and Kabardino-Balkariya.

Like other European cities, occasionally there are acts of terrorism in large Russian cities. In December 2003, a bomb exploded adjacent to the National Hotel in downtown Moscow, killing six persons. In February of 2004 a bomb exploded in a Moscow subway train killing over 40 people. Travelers should be alert for unusual behavior, unattended luggage in public areas, and other possible indicators that something out of the ordinary is in progress.

The U.S. State Department also has this important information to share: As a visitor to Russia, be alert to your surroundings. In large cities, take the same precautions against assault, robbery, or pickpockets that you would take in any large U.S. city. Be aware that women and small children, as well as men, can be pickpockets or purse-snatchers. Persons carrying valuables in backpacks, in back pockets of pants, and in coat pockets are especially vulnerable to pickpockets. Keep your billfold in an inner front pocket, carry your purse tucked securely under your arm, and wear the shoulder strap of your camera or bag across your chest. Walk away from the curb and carry your purse away from the street. The most vulnerable areas include underground walkways and the subway, overnight trains, train stations, airports, markets, tourist attractions, restaurants, hotel rooms and residences -- even when locked or occupied. Para. Members of religious and missionary groups have been robbed by people pretending to be interested in their beliefs.

Foreigners who have been drinking alcohol are especially vulnerable to assault and robbery in or around nightclubs or bars, or on their way home. Some travelers have been drugged at bars, while others have taken strangers back to their lodgings, where they were drugged and robbed. In many cases in which a credit card was stolen, thieves used them immediately. Victims of credit card or ATM card theft should report the theft to the credit card company or bank without delay.

Robberies may occur in taxis shared with strangers. Travelers have generally found it safer to travel in groups organized by reputable tour agencies. Travelers are advised to be vigilant in bus and train stations and on public transport. Crime aboard overnight trains has occurred. On some trains, thieves have been able to open locked compartment doors. Always watch for pickpockets in these areas.

Never hitchhike or accept rides from strangers. Be wary of persons representing themselves as police or other local officials.

To avoid highway crime, travelers should try not to drive at night. Never drive alone at night. Never sleep in vehicles along the road. Do not, under any circumstances, pick up hitchhikers, who not only pose a threat to your physical safety, but also put you in danger of being arrested for unwittingly transporting narcotics or narcotics traffickers in your vehicle. Your vehicle can be confiscated if you are transporting marijuana or other narcotics.

Violent, racially motivated attacks on people of color and foreigners have become widespread in Russia. Many of these attacks target university students, particularly those of Asian and African origin, but older tourists have also been targeted. Travelers are urged to exercise caution in areas frequented by "skinhead" groups and wherever large groups have gathered. Incidents of violent crime directed against homosexual men have also been reported. Four foreign men reported to have been gay have been murdered since 1999.

It is not uncommon for Americans to become victims of harassment, mistreatment and extortion by law enforcement and other officials. Authorities are concerned about these incidents and have cooperated in investigating such cases. Try to obtain the officer's name, badge number, and patrol car number, and note where it happened, as this information assists local officials in identifying the perpetrators. Report crimes committed against you by persons presenting themselves as police or other governmental authorities to the U.S. embassy or the nearest U.S. consulate.

Thefts of passports can and do occur. The loss or theft abroad of a passport should be reported immediately to the local police and your home country's nearest embassy or consulate. The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Visitors to Russia should have their diptheria immunizations current. Anyone traveling extensively in Russia should also have a typhoid immunization.

To avoid cholera and stomach problems, drink only bottled water. Eat food that is thoroughly cooked.

It's a good idea to have medical insurance that will cover medical treatment in Russia and also medical evacuation to the West. If you need medical help in Russia, there are Western-type clinics (with accompanying high prices) and many tourist hotels have their own doctors. Ask at your hotel's front desk for help.

If you are taking prescription medications, bring enough with you to cover your visit. Although pharmacies in large cities can provide them, it's a good idea to bring medication for headaches, cold symptoms, and upset stomachs.

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