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RUSSIAN VISA SERVICE

MONEY, CUSTOM & COST


CUSTOMS

You may be asked to fill in a deklarafsia upon arrival, which you should keep until departure. If you're bringing in currency and goods valued in excess of US$1500, you must follow this procedure; it's recom­mended even if you have less than that. Sev­eral travelers have told us that all their cash was confiscated by customs officers at the Chinese and Mongolian borders because they didn't have the form; even at other bor­der crossings, it is just not worth the risk of being caught out by light-fingered cus­toms officers.

If you are arriving by air, the airline will probably give you two declaration forms in English - keep one to fill out when you leave, as border posts and airports rarely have them in English. The form asks for various details, including name, citizenship and destination; purpose of visit; declarations of weapons and narcotics; currency brought into the country, and so on. You must also list how many pieces of luggage you've sent separately.

When you leave Russia, you will have to fill out an identical form declaring anything removed from the country. If you have a stamped customs form, your exit customs lbrm cannot show you are leaving with more than you brought in. If you did not get your form stamped on the way in, your exit form cannot show you are taking out items with a total value of more than US$500.

Lost Customs Form

Treat a stamped customs declaration as care­fully as your passport. If you lose it then you'll need to get a police report confirming the loss, to be presented to customs when you leave Russia.

What You Can Bring In

You may bring in modest amounts of any­thing for personal use, except illegal drugs and weapons, and GPS (Global Positioning System) devices. If you're traveling with hypodermic needles, bring a prescription and declare them under `Narcotics and appliances for use thereof'.

Up to 1000 cigarettes and 5L of alcohol are allowed (but bear in mind that prices for such items in Russia will almost certainly be cheaper than abroad) but large amounts of anything saleable are suspect. Food is allowed (except for some fresh fruit and vegetables).

What You Can Take Out

Anything bought from a legitimate shop or department store can be removed from the country, but save your receipts. Leaving with modest amounts of rubles isn't a problem, but change large sums beforehand.

Anything vaguely `arty' - manuscripts, instruments, coins, jewelry, antiques, anti­quarian books (meaning those published before 1975)-must be assessed by the Com­mittee for Culture in Moscow (Tel: 921 32 58; ul Neglinnaya 8/10, room 298) and St Petersburg (St Tel: 311 51 96; Malaya Mor­skaya ul 17). The bureaucrats will issue a receipt for tax paid (usually 100% of the pur­chase price; bring your sales docket), pre­sented to customs on your way out. If you buy something large, a photograph is usually fine for assessment purposes.

Paintings bought at tourist art markets, department stores or commercial galleries should be declared; keep all receipts. Gener­ally, airport customs are much stricter and more thorough than at any border crossing.

MONEY

Since the economic crash in 1998 the rouble has become much more stable. We've listed most prices in this book in roubles (abbrevi­ated to R), with the main exceptions being some (but not all) hotel prices, which are often quoted in US dollars and tied to that currency.

Currency

Russian currency is the rouble. There are 100 kopecks in a rouble and these come in coin denominations of one (rarely seen), five, 10 and 50.

Also issued in coins, roubles come in amounts of one, two and five, with banknotes in values of 10, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 rou­bles. In practice the 500 notes are the easiest to carry, but they will be hard to use for small purchases as the seller may not have change. Finding change can be a real problem - while it's wise to hang on to a stash of smaller notes and coins, be insistent at shops, restaurants and so on if the staff are doubtful about giv­ing change for larger notes.

It's illegal to make purchases in any cur­rency other than roubles. When you run into prices in dollars (or the pseudonym `units', often written as ye - the abbreviation for uslovnve yedenitsy, standard units) in expen­sive restaurants and hotels you will still be presented with a final bill in roubles.

Exchange Rates

The exchange rate used throughout this book is US$1=R30. The exchange rates below were valid at the time of research but are likely to change:

Australia A$ - R18.84

Canada C$ = R21.03

China Y10 = R38.51

Euro zone €1 R34.66

Finland FIM1 = R58.30

Japan ?100 R26.60

New Zealand NZ$1 = R17.52

UK UK1 = R52.53

Ukraine 10 hv = R61.58

USA US$1=R31.85

Exchanging Money

Cash You'll get the best rates for US dollars, which can be exchanged anywhere. Other major currencies, such as the British pound or the euro, can be easily changed in Moscow and St Petersburg, but elsewhere you're likely to run into difficulties.

Any currency you bring should be in pris­tine condition: banks and exchange bureaus do not accept old, tatty bills with rips or tears. For US dollars make certain they are the new design, with the large offset portrait, and are looking and smelling newly minted.

Every town of any size will have at least one bank or exchange office - be prepared to till out a lengthy form and show your pass­port. Your receipt is for your own records as customs officials no longer require docu­mentation of your currency transactions. As anywhere, rates can vary from one establish­ment to the next so it's always worth shop­ping around.

Travellers Cheques It can be difficult to exchange travellers cheques outside the largest cities and the process can be lengthy, involving trips to numerous different cashiers in the bank, each responsible for a different part of the transaction. Expect to pay 1% to 2% commission. Unless you spend all your time in Moscow and St Petersburg, it is not a good idea to carry your fortune in travelle cheques - you might not be able to use them.

Not all travellers cheques are treated equal by Russian establishments willin to handle them. In descending order of a ceptance are American Express (AmEx Thomas Cook and Visa; you'll have little no luck with other brands.

ATMs Automated teller machines (ATMs) linked to international networks such a AmEx, Cirrus, Eurocard, MasterCard an Visa, are now quite common across Russia look for signs that say bankomat (F lI1Ks OM VF). Using a credit card or the card you use in ATMs at home, you can obtain cash as you need it - usually in roubles, but some­times in dollars, too.

If you are going to rely on ATMs, make certain you have a few days' supply of cash at hand in case you can't find a machine to ac­cept your card. Memorise PINs for all cards you intend to carry and check Dangers & An­noyances later in this chapter for ATM scams.

Credit Cards In Moscow and St Petersburg­Credit cards are becoming more accepted. Elsewhere, don't rely on them. Most sizable cities have banks or exchange bureaus that will give you a cash advance on your credit card, but be prepared for a tangle of paperwork.

International Transfers Larger cities will have at least one bank that can handle West­ern Union money wires. Ask at any bank for this information they will be happy to steer you to a bank in town that can handle wire transfers.

Black Market Don't risk changing money on the street - there are plenty of exchange bureaus and banks where you'll get a decent rate. Should some shadowy character offer to exchange money for you, remember that they can't give you a substantially better rate than banks and still make a profit.

Security

Don't leave money lying around your room - ­keep it in several different places about your person and baggage. When you go out, carry what you'll need in your pockets (but avoid eye-catching wallet bulges) and tuck any extra away under your clothing (use a money belt, shoulder wallet or ankle pouch). Or wrap the cash carefully in plastic and tuck it under the insole of your shoe.

Costs

Although it's possible to travel in Russia on very little (see the boxed text 'Traveling the Scientific Way' in the Getting Around chap­ter), for most visitors a reasonable budget is around US$50 a day.

Moscow and St Petersburg are the two most expensive cities. With serious economising you could scrape by on US$30 a day in Moscow, but if you visit museums, take excursions and indulge in the nightlife you're heading towards US$ 100 a day; prices are marginally lower in St Petersburg. The only bargain you'll share with the locals in either city is riding the metro for R6. The cheapest accommodation in either city won't be much under US$20 a day.

Prices drop away from the metropolises, hut not significantly: you can still be up for US$50 a night or more at a decent hotel in major cities, including Yekaterinburg, Nizhny and Novgorod. It's possible to dine out at under US$5 per head, but then your choices will be more limited than in the big cities.

Dual-Pricing System Although dual pric­ing for airplane and train tickets has ended, as a foreigner you'll still find yourself paying more than a Russian. Hotels (except the most expensive Western-style ones) and museums all frequently have two-tier pricing systems, with foreigners paying more. In hotels the difference can be as much as 50%, although if the nom costs only US$ 10 to begin with that's not too had. Often, the only rooms available to foreigners will be the better-appointed ones.

It's often fair game for taxi drivers and sometimes market sellers to think they can charge foreigners more -check with locals for prices, but don't expect that knowledge to be much use unless you can bargain in Russian.

Museums have the highest mark-up, percentage wise - it's not unusual for it to be 10 times what Russians pay. There's a certain fairness here, given the vast disparity between Western and Russian incomes. Take heart that your extra money is desperately needed to protect the very works of art and artefacts you've come to see.

Tipping & Bargaining

Tipping is standard in the better restaurants, about 10%; elsewhere, 5% to 10% is fine. It's accepted practice to tip your guide, if you have one, at around US$5 to US$ 10 a day; a small gift (skin cream, imported chocolates, CDs) is appropriate if service is high.

Prices in stores are usually firm; for goods at markets and souvenir stalls, make a counter bid somewhat lower than the merchant's price. But remember: Russia is not really the place for protracted haggling.

Taxes

The Value Added Tax (VAT, or NDS in Rus­sia ) is 20% and is usually included in the listed price for purchases-ask to make sure. In Moscow and St Petersburg there's also a 5% sales tax, usually only encountered in top hotels.