This is usually the first question travelers ask about the capital of Russia.
The short answer is, yes, Moscow is safe.
Despite all of the risks and considering Moscow’s size, it is surprisingly safe in terms of crime. It is highly unlikely that you will become a victim of a crime while in Moscow and the overall rate of crime is no different than that of other major cities in the world. On many accounts, Moscow is safer than most major U.S. cities.
As with any city as large as Moscow, however, there are some caveats. For example, Moscow is a city of 16 million people, therefore, there are areas to avoid, drug abuse, petty theft, corruption, and potential environmental hazards. The good news is that as a tourist or an expat, you will not be exposed to the majority of these problems and overall, Moscow, and especially the center, is relatively safe.
With that said, Moscow happens to be a fantastic historical and multicultural city that lends itself to being a perfect tourist destination. It has witnessed plenty of changes over the years. Present-day, between the West’s sanctions, and the several active conflicts that Russia is involved in, tourism is struggling as is the perception of personal safety.
However, the U.S Department of State issued a report last year that assessed Russia generally as a level 2 travel advisory. This means that there is potential to encounter acts of terror, harassment, and arbitrary enforcement of local laws (corruption). This may sound off-putting, but keep in mind that countries such as the UK, France, and Italy also fall into level 2 travel advisories by the U.S. Department of State.
Terrorism in Moscow
Moscow is an enormous world city and is not immune to terrorism. Thankfully, Moscow has amped up its security efforts to foil terror plots before they are executed. However, the potential for terrorism remains as was the case in December 2019, when a lone gunman opened fire on the FSB headquarters in the center of Moscow. Luckily, no civilians were injured or killed. On top of this, ISIS and other high-profile terrorist organizations aspire to attack Russia for its part in the ongoing conflict in Syria.
In general, most of the terrorist activity in Russia occurs in the Northern Caucasus region where Islamic terror groups target government officials, law enforcement officials, and security personnel. The most recent high-profile attack happened in 2017 in St. Petersburg, where 15 people were killed in the city metro system by a suicide bomber. However, the Russian government has dealt with this issue effectively, and there have been no major terror attacks in the country since.
The Russian government has placed an emphasis on counter-terrorism measures prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. There have been no major incidents in Russia since. Keep in mind that this can change – and nowhere is truly safe from terror.
Crime in Moscow
As you should already know, no place is immune to crime, and Moscow is no exception. However, in 2018, crime reported in Moscow declined by 9%. More importantly, the homicide rate in Moscow has dropped by three times in the last 10 years.
The most reported types of crime include fraud, robbery, embezzlement. Another important fact to remember is that a third of reported crime in Moscow involved intoxicated persons. Reports also note that intoxicated foreigners are more vulnerable to robbery and assault around nightclubs. To keep safe, stay in well-lit areas of the city, and avoid walking around alone at night, especially if you are intoxicated. This is common advice that applies anywhere in the world though.
Pickpocketing in Moscow is also relatively common in crowded areas and on the Moscow Metro. Avoid dressing like you have money, and keep close watch over your things. In general, be vigilant of your surroundings.
The riskiest places regarding theft are train stations, the metro, underground walkways, restaurants, and airport markets. Incidents of smash-and-grab are common in parking lots, and criminals will take anything valuable left in plain sight.
Bomb threats made in 2018 were a nuisance in Moscow that led to thousands of Moscow residents evacuating. Those issuing the threats targeted train stations, government buildings, shopping malls, hotels, airports, and entertainment venues. Keep in mind that these were only threats. There were no actual attacks.
Another thing to note is the amped-up security in Moscow during and since the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It was held in Moscow and attracted millions of tourists into the city. The football fans and corporate soccer sponsors spent the month in the Capital without a hitch. It was one of the most incident-free events that have happened in Moscow, and it serves as a great accomplishment to the Russian security officials.
Environmental Hazards in Moscow
The safety impact of environmental hazards is often overlooked. The most relevant being groundwater contamination. In general, it is often said that you CAN drink the tap water in Moscow, but you really shouldn’t. Be sure to boil your water before you drink or brush your teeth with it.
Another that you should be aware of is air pollution. A recent study has revealed that the air condition in Moscow is comparable to that of other major industrial cities in the world.
There have even been cases of hydrogen sulfide emissions, which are due to dense industry in Moscow. However, there are no reports on long-term illnesses arising from these emissions.
Both of these issues can be attributed to lax environmental laws that can be attributed back to the soviet era.
Road Safety in Moscow
Probably the biggest safety problem that expats or tourists in Russia will encounter is road safety. Fortunately, the roads in Moscow and the surrounding region are highly developed, but caution should still be exercised. In 2017, there were close to 20 thousand traffic fatalities in Russia. Russia’s driver safety record and road conditions differ significantly from those in the US and other western countries. Road safety can be especially bad outside of major cities. Not all expats decide to drive while in Moscow. If you decide to or want to drive during your time in Russia, drive with caution. Be defensive, not aggressive, and be mindful of your surroundings.
Another contributing factor to road safety in Russia is the winter weather. Winter can last 6 months or more and usually makes roads highly unpredictable, especially outside of Moscow. This usually leads to dangerous driving conditions. For the winter season, get a good set of winter tires, maintain good defensive driving, and keep up proper maintenance of your vehicle.
General Safety Tips For Moscow
- Always avoid contact with rowdy, aggressive groups at night and in sparsely populated residential streets.
- Have a map of the city that will work if you lose access to the internet.
- Have numbers to call in case of an emergency such as your hotel, a taxi service, of the consulate.
- Always use a licensed taxi. They are easily recognizable with an orange light on the top and a yellow registration plate.
- Always have copies of your documents on hand, and leave the originals at home.
- Be cautious of casual relationships.
- Watch out for the pickpockets. Never leave your bag or valuables unattended to or in your car at the parking lot. Smash-and-grab theft cases are common in Moscow.
- Drinking alcohol on the streets is against the law.
- It is an offense to smoke in public places, this includes near subway exits, in parks, at a bus stop, or any other public place.
- There is a police station at every metro station.
- You do not need national health insurance or Russian citizenship to access emergency health care.
- Dial 101 for the fire department.
- Dial 102 for police assistance such as assault, robbery, or any other danger.
- Dial 103 for emergency medical care.
Moscow is one of the largest capital cities in the world. In general, you can feel safe knowing that the authorities are doing their best to keep the city safe from terror attacks. The environmental issues are easily avoided with bottled water. Remember to use common sense. Avoid being alone and intoxicated around clubs at night, and be sure to always be aware of your surroundings.
Get ready for a fantastic experience in Moscow. The architecture, art, and culture will fascinate you. Just remember to pay attention to the safety tips, and have the emergency service lines at your fingertips. You never know when you may need them.