Counterfeit and Pirated Goods: In many countries around the world, including Russia, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. In Russia, CD and DVD piracy is an especially serious problem. Transactions involving such products are illegal under Russian law, and the Russian government has increased its enforcement activities against infringement of intellectual property rights. In addition, bringing counterfeit and pirated products back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. The Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Division in the U.S. Department of Justice has more information on this problem.
Teaching in Russia: Some U.S. citizens coming to Russia to teach English have complained about schools' failure to facilitate proper visas and pay agreed salaries. If you are a prospective teacher, ensure that your employer is prepared to comply with Russian laws governing the employment and documentation of foreigners, including proper visa support, registration, and legal salary payments. Ask for references from other foreigners who have taught at the school and consider insisting upon written contracts stipulating the provisions of employment, just as you would in the United States. Warning signs include instructions to arrive in Russia on a tourist visa and "change status" later, payment under the table (in cash with no documentation or tax withholding), and requirements that the school retain a passport for the length of the employment. (Please note that upon arrival, a legal employee must surrender his or her passport for registration by the employer, but this process should take less than three weeks.)
Currency: The Russian ruble is the only legal tender currency. It is illegal to pay for goods and services in U.S. dollars, except at authorized retail establishments. U.S. bills that are worn or marked in any way are often not accepted at banks and exchange offices.
Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are plentiful in major cities. Travelers should follow all normal precautions when using ATMs. In particular, travelers should avoid "stand-alone" machines and opt to use machines at banks or higher-class hotels and stores. Credit cards are not universally accepted, and travelers should check in advance to see if a specific store, restaurant, or hotel accepts credit cards. Outside of major cities, commercial enterprises still operate largely on a cash basis and travelers should plan accordingly.
Customs Information: Passengers must personally escort their luggage through Russian customs. Under a strict interpretation of this law, airline companies may not deliver a lost bag to the traveler's final destination. Moreover, not all airlines will reimburse the traveler for expenses related to retrieving lost luggage.
Rigorous searches of baggage and stricter enforcement of customs regulations against the exportation of items of "cultural value" can occur. U.S. citizens visiting Russia have been arrested for attempting to leave the country with antique items they believed were legally purchased from licensed vendors. Travelers should obtain receipts for all high-value items (including caviar) purchased in Russia. Any article that could appear old or as having cultural value to the Customs Service, including artwork, icons, samovars, rugs, military medals and antiques, must have a certificate indicating that it has no historical or cultural value. Certificates may not be granted for certain articles due to their cultural value or antiquity. Certificates may be obtained from the Russian Ministry of Culture. For further information, please contact the Russian Customs Committee.
The importation and use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and other radio electronic devices are sometimes subject to special rules and regulations in Russia. The Russian Customs Service recently stated that terminal GPS devices may be imported upon their simple declaration on arrival. A special customs permit should be obtained in the case of importation of a GPS to be used as a peripheral device to a separate computer and/or antenna to increase its capability.
In general, mapping and natural resource data collection activities associated with normal commercial and scientific collaboration may result in seizure of the associated equipment and/or arrest. The penalty for using a GPS device in a manner which is determined to compromise Russian national security can result in a prison term of ten to twenty years.
Visitors may bring regular cellular telephones to Russia without restriction. Satellite telephones require advance approval from the Russian authorities. The Russian agency responsible for telecommunications issues and which approves the importation of satellite phones is Roskomnadzor.
There are also no restrictions on bringing laptop computers into the country for personal use. However, the software may be inspected upon departure. Hardware and software found to contain sensitive or encrypted data may be subject to confiscation.
Travelers entering Russia with $10,000 or more in cash may have to explain the money's origin and intended use. Travelers exiting Russia must declare the amount of cash and travelers checks exceeding $10,000 and list the source(s) of the funds on the customs declaration form.
Prescription Medication: Russia also has very strict rules on the importation of medication. Russia prohibits certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs common in the United States. Large quantities of any medicine will receive scrutiny.
The Embassy recommends that all U.S. citizens carry a copy of their valid U.S. prescription(s) when entering Russia with prescription medication(s). There have been instances where U.S. citizens have been detained in Russia because they were not able to prove they lawfully obtained their prescription medication in the United States.