Authors: Betsy Perry and Ray Lyngdoh
The Russia World Cup 2018 will take place amongst increasing diplomatic tensions, causing some additional safety and security concerns for visitors. However, if travelers take the right precautions, a safe and enjoyable experience is possible. Read on for safety tips and recommendations for those traveling to the Russia World Cup 2018.
The Russian government has taken great steps to ensure the games run smoothly and visitors are safe, including steps to ease visa regulations prior to the event. Russia is allowing visa-free entry to all travelers with a valid passport and FAN ID. This FAN ID is valid until the end of the Russia World Cup 2018.
The U.S. Department of State currently rates Russia a level 3, “reconsider travel due to terrorism and harassment.” Travelers should expect heightened security around the cities and main event venues that will be hosting the Russia World Cup 2018 tournament. The Russian government has designated a special tourist police section to monitor the events and interact with foreigners. These police have varying language capabilities and are expected to oversee local police personnel in order to ensure there are no untoward incidents between the authorities and visitors. However, if stopped by police, travelers should ask for an identity card and immediately report any abuse of authority to U.S. consular authorities. In addition, travelers must carry hard copies of passports at all times. Police can ask for identification for any reason, and copies of identification documents are not considered sufficient. Passports should be secured with the traveler at all times, and travelers should email copies of their passports to themselves and trusted contacts at home.
There is a moderate rate of petty crime in Russia. This risk is heightened in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Travelers should leave valuables locked in a hotel safe and avoid displaying obvious signs of wealth. Particular caution should be taken in transportation venues including airports, train and metro stations, and around event venues. Violent crimes are rare but have been known to occur. Travelers should avoid areas such as Southeast Moscow and avoid resisting the attacker if mugged.
Intoxicated foreigners are particularly susceptible to crimes. Travelers should avoid drinking in excess, (Russian alcohol can be stronger than they are used to), and avoid going out alone whenever possible. There have been reports of females drugging men in nightclubs in order to steal wallets and other valuables. Some of these incidents have also resulted in allegations of sexual assault; visitors are advised to only consume alcohol at reputable businesses. All travelers should watch out for each other while drinking and report any suspicious individuals to the police.
The presence or occurrence of hooliganism is a significant concern for this tournament. Boisterous fans usually gather in large groups, around popular bars, and attempt to harass or attack rival fans. Russia, Germany, and England have been particularly highlighted as susceptible to having fans that will indulge in hooligan activities. Russian fans have directly threatened English fans with a declaration that they should “be prepared to die,” and German fans have threatened Russian fans with “an invasion.” Russian authorities are well aware of the hooliganism threat and will attempt to mitigate incidents in order to avoid international embarrassment. Russian authorities have vowed to implement jail sentences for those who engage in violent hooliganism. Nevertheless, travelers should avoid congregating in areas with boisterous fans, as violence could potentially erupt without warning.
The safest and most efficient method of transportation between venues is by rail or air. Spectators can travel for free on designated trains between host cities. These services are provided on a first come, first serve basis. Travelers are advised to watch belongings, as overnight trains can be targeted for pickpocketing. All eleven host cities have airports. The metro systems in St. Petersburg and Moscow are well-run and efficient. However, the metro is a target for pickpocketing and other petty crimes. Travelers should practice situational awareness when on the metro and avoid carrying valuables.
Russia’s roads are not on par with Western standards. Roads in cities are heavily congested, and road rules are not often followed. Outside major cities, roads are often in poor condition, and heavy traffic is expected to significantly slow travel. Self-driving is not recommended. If necessary to travel by car, travelers should book transportation in advance with a vetted, local driver. Travelers could also book taxis in advance through their hotels and not ride in any unauthorized taxis. Rideshare options including Uber and Yandex are available and follow international standards. On foot, travelers should also take care when crossing intersections, as Russian drivers do not always yield to pedestrians.
Administrators should make sure constituents have travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of emergencies that could occur abroad, including medical evacuation by air ambulance. In addition, travelers should be educated on safety and security measures relevant to their individual risk profiles. Medical facilities in Russia usually fall below Western standards, but it is possible to find reputable private and non-governmental hospitals in urban centers. However, it must be noted that these facilities are likely to require cash or credit payment prior to providing any assistance. Travelers should contact their travel risk management provider and/or the U.S. State Department to ascertain adequate hospitals prior to treatment.
Consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for Russia prior to departure. In addition, travelers should drink bottled water only and avoid drinks with ice. Some prescriptions common in the United States are not allowed into Russia, so travelers should check regulations prior to bringing medications into the country. If necessary, carry the original prescription and obtain a Russian translated version of the prescription to avoid any untoward questions by the authorities.
The communication infrastructure in the Russia World Cup 2018 host cities is considered reliable, including mobile and Internet connectivity. Visitors can also look into activating international travel plans on their personal devices prior to travel, through their service providers in the U.S.
As a general rule, travelers should be reminded to assume that all correspondence is being monitored, both in person and online. As such, travelers should refrain from transmitting any messages that could be deemed politically sensitive or raise suspicions of the authorities.
Diplomatic tensions between the United States and Russia are the worst they have been since the end of the Cold War. In response to an alleged chemical agent attack in March 2018 on a former Russian spy in the U.K., and Russian interference in the U.S. election, President Donald J. Trump expelled 60 diplomats and closed the Russian Consulate in Seattle, Washington, in March 2018. The Russians retaliated by expelling 60 U.S. diplomats and closing the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg. Tensions have been further heightened by U.S. missile strikes in response to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian/Russian governments. Diplomatic tit for tat is a common mechanism of soft power, and imminent violence between the two countries is not expected. However, travelers should stay up-to-date with news reports and avoid commenting on the political tensions.
It is possible that travelers could experience increased anti-Western sentiments from citizens, local police, and border police. Right-wing, nationalist groups have been known to harass American consulate employees and citizens in the past. American citizenship should not be advertised. If in need of consular assistance, travelers should contact the U.S. Embassy in Moscow or the nearest U.S. Consulate.
Russia is at high risk for terrorism during the event. ISIS has demonstrated the willingness and capability to attack event targets. The German Federal Intelligence Service has recently warned about unearthed plots. In addition, ISIS has released propaganda posters with depictions of Lionel Messi and other football stars about to be beheaded, as well as operatives armed with explosives and guns outside of a football stadium. The terrorist threat has been further heightened by the return en masse of foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria. These fighters are ideologically hardened and well-trained. In addition to continuing to inspire attacks of the lone wolf variety, these fighters could organize or contribute to more sophisticated attacks.
Travelers should practice situational awareness at all times and take particular care when in metro stations, transportation hubs, and around event venues. Any suspicious activity should be immediately reported to authorities. Although the threat of a major attack on such a high profile event is possible, it is important to emphasize that the security and intelligence forces in Russia are professional, well-trained, and well-funded. The police force and security apparatus in Russia have the capability to investigate reports of terrorist/criminal activity, and in some instances, these officials have shown the ability to thwart attacks before they come to fruition. Travelers should expect heightened security throughout Russia and cooperate with authorities at all times.
Visitors should be aware that they could be unfairly discriminated against or targeted based on their ethnic background. Russia has one of the highest rates of hate crimes in the world, and racist attitudes towards travelers of Asian/African descent are common. These attitudes are particularly likely to be expressed by hooligans.
Russia recognizes four official religions: Judaism, Russian Orthodox Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. Other faiths can be discriminated against, and missionary activity and preaching activity is illegal. Individuals should avoid discussing religious matters.
Sexual harassment is rare in Russia, but cases have been reported. If a traveler is the victim of sexual assault or harassment, they should contact the U.S. State Department in conjunction with local authorities. Drink spiking is also of concern. Female travelers should never leave drinks unattended and should travel in groups.
LGBTQ individuals are not widely accepted in Russia, and travelers have been targeted by violent individuals and gangs. Hooligans are particularly likely to express homophobic sentiments. Russian law considers the “promotion of homosexual propaganda” illegal. The specifics of this law are unclear and subject to interpretation. LGBTQ travelers should avoid public displays of affection or advertisements of sexuality while in Russia.
If necessary precautions are taken, travelers can have an enjoyable and safe experience at the Russia World Cup 2018. Want to learn more? View our infographic, Russia World Cup 2018: Safety Tips and Recommendations for Your Travelers by clicking on the graphic below. You can also contact us anytime if you have any additional questions on traveler safety and holistic risk management.