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Driving and Public Transport for Expats in Russia

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: January 2014

Driving

If you are planning to be in Russia for less than six months, you will generally be allowed to drive with an International Driving Permit or your local licence, though you will need to get a notarised Russian translation. If you plan to stay long-term, your foreign licence will be valid for only 60 days after you have obtained a residence or work permit. Before the expiry date, you will need to take driving lessons, then practical and theory tests. Since lessons and tests are in Russian and translators are not permitted, your Russian will need to be adequate. Once you have passed the driving test, your licence will be issued by the State Road Traffic Safety Inspectorate.

Driving in Russia is not especially safe. Russia is in the upper third of the world’s countries in terms of the rate of road traffic accident fatalities. Some drivers are aggressive, irresponsible or poorly trained, so you will need to take extra care on the road.

The quality of roads outside major cities can be rather poor, and roadside services are sparse or non-existent. Driving in Moscow and St Petersburg is likely to involve being caught in traffic jams. Many drivers in Russia have obtained their licence through irregular channels. Public transport may be a preferable option in these cities.

Street signs are in Russian only, so you will need to learn the Cyrillic script. Speed limits are 60 km/h (37 mph) in built-up areas, 90 km/h (56 mph) elsewhere, and 100 km/h (62 mph) on motorways.  There are very few toll roads in Russia; on those that you may encounter, tolls need to be paid in cash.

Whenever you are driving in Russia, you will need to carry a valid licence, registration documents and car insurance certificate. You will also need to have available:

  • annual technical inspection certificate
  • passport with valid visa
  • first aid kit and fire extinguisher
  • emergency warning triangle
  • reflective jacket.

In Russia, driving is on the right. Driving with any amount of alcohol in your blood is illegal. If you are caught, your driving licence may be suspended and, in serious cases, you may even be arrested and your vehicle impounded. It is also illegal to pick up hitchhikers, allow children under 12 to ride in the front seat, or allow your car to get dirty.

Trains

Taking the train is a popular option, even on long-distance routes, at least for those who have the necessary time on their hands. There are 53,000 miles of train track in Russia, including the famous Trans-Siberian Railway. Trains are run by Russian Railways, the RZD (РЗД), who have an English-language website, here: https://eng.rzd.ru/

The service the RZD provides is generally reliable and inexpensive. As all tickets, even online ones, need to be picked up at a station, it is best to buy tickets there.

There are cheap, efficient metro systems in Moscow, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, St Petersburg, Samara and Yekaterinburg. Some metro stations have some fine architecture, particularly those in the capital. The almost palatial Mayakovskaya station in Moscow is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Buses

Buses in large cities are plentiful and reasonably priced. They provide access to more areas than metros, but can be very crowded. Buses do not always have priority on the roads, meaning that they can be slow. There are coach routes covering more cities than the railway network, and tickets are very cheap. However, many of the coaches are on the old side, and so not very comfortable.

Planes

Unless you have days to spare, flying is the only option to traverse the huge distances within Russia. The two largest carriers are Aeroflot (Аэрофлот) and Transaero (Трансаэро), which have flights that cover the entire country and have excellent safety records.

In contrast, safety standards at some of the 100 or so purely domestic airlines – some of which still use Soviet-era aircraft – are often below par. This has recently resulted in an alarming number of crashes. Though the government is currently taking steps to remedy this, it is best to think carefully before using one of these airlines.

 

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