Is it safe to live in New York or London? Moscow and St. Petersburg are neither safer nor more dangerous than any other large city, although there is admittedly a higher than an average risk of icicles falling off high buildings and hitting you on the head during the spring thaw. The mafia will take no notice of you whatsoever. Recent events have obviously made terrorism a concern, but sadly, no city in the world is immune to that threat these days. Smaller cities may be considered slightly quieter, and thus safer, but the following advice applies to any of them.
Russian cities are much safer than they were in the wild days of the 1990s, but it’s still a good idea to be aware of your surroundings and avoid bad neighbourhoods in your city. It would be absolutely foolhardy to go out alone at 2 a.m. in any Russian city.
You would have to be extremely unlucky to get robbed or attacked in broad daylight but then if you look like you are going to get mugged, you probably will. Be on guard and don’t walk around like a scared puppy and you should be fine. Russia may not be as safe as Switzerland, but it’s definitely not like a Latin American country.
The Russian authorities have taken a hard line against skinhead activities and the danger of getting attacked by a xenophobic gang is less likely than it was in the early 2000s. That doesn’t mean you should be taking the Moscow metro alone late at night or roaming around by yourself on the streets of St Petersburg at 1 a.m. in the autumn.
It’s important to carry some identification with you at all times. A copy of the passport, visa and registration papers is a must. Identity checks by policemen are not uncommon in Russia, but again, it’s unlikely that you will be stopped by a policeman unless you give him a reason to be suspicious. Having identity papers on hand is also essential for any kind of emergency.
It’s all just a question of common sense: you should be careful when going out late at night, and try not to draw attention to yourself, i.e. don’t talk loudly in English or flash money/valuables around. If you go out for the evening, stay in a group, and plan it so that you accompany each other home right up to the front door.
Women are strongly recommended not to walk home alone after 11 p.m. and they should be prepared to put up with occasional verbal harassment late at night, as Russian males who have had too much to drink might well shout things at girls on the street. It’s irritating and impolite, but if you ignore them they almost always stop bothering you. Guys should also be careful when out late at night in large English-speaking groups, as nationalism is on the rise in Russia as a whole. People of dark skin tones will be more at risk of abuse than others, and may be discriminated against by the police (i.e. stopped more often for ID checks). Smaller streets can be badly lit, so try and keep to the main streets if possible when it’s dark.
Avoid carrying with you more cash than you need – pick-pocketing is a problem in the metro, particularly in Petersburg. None of this advice is intended to scare you, and in any case, most of us applied elsewhere in the world. With luck, your stay here should pass off without you being hassled in any way, but you should know the risks in order to avoid them.