An unfortunately true stereotype, and major annoyance, of Russia is that the police & other officials can be quite difficult to work with. It’s entirely likely that you might end up getting stopped for a random police check or get in trouble with a traffic cop if you rent a car. If you don’t know how to deal with the Russian police properly, the situation can get very sticky quickly. Of course, you shouldn’t let this deter you from going to wonderful Russia, but you should be prepared to deal with such a situation confidently. Find out what your rights and your options are if you run into trouble with the police in Russia:
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Most of the details below will end in “you will be given the option to pay a fine”. This means that you will be quoted a fine, the process of documenting which will be highly official, on-the-record, and scary. You will also be quoted, usually, a higher price that you can pay to “deal with it right now”, i.e. a bribe. This is Russia’s famous corruption and it is extremely common. Russian people are divided on whether or not to pay bribes; some do because it’s a lot easier than having to deal with tickets & fines on your record; others refuse to out of principle. It’s going to be your choice if you are faced with such a situation.
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What to do if you’re stopped on the street
Police in Russia have the right to stop anyone on the street and ask them for their I.D., proof of a valid visa (if you’re a tourist) or residence permit (if you’re a Russian citizen), and/or ticket back to their hometown. If you don’t have these things with you, you will usually be given the option to pay a fine. Take note: If you show resistance to the police in this situation, like showing force, refusing to show your documents, running away, and so on, they will most likely detain you. Police in Russia have been known to be rather violent so cooperate with them the best you can.
Always make sure to carry a valid visa and form of identification with you, ideally your passport. To be safe it’s also a good idea to carry with you a return ticket out of Russia, or a ticket to your next destination. Russian police do tend to be gentler to foreigners than to Russian citizens so having these things on you will usually mean you can get away fairly easily. If you don’t have a valid I.D. or... visa on you and you are stopped, pretend that you forgot them at home and act clueless (& pretend that you don’t speak Russian). If you are for any reason taken in to the police station, cooperate with the officers the best way that you can and make a call to your country’s embassy in Russia as soon as you are able. (Be sure to keep this phone number on you at all times).
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What to do if you’re pulled over in trafficIf you are caught breaking a traffic rule and are pulled over on the street, you will likely not get away with out a fine (or another form of payment). In any case, but especially if you are convinced that you didn’t break any rules, demand to receive an officially reported & filed fine. Sometimes, if you were stopped wrongly (on purpose), the police will hope that you’re a foreigner with a lot of money & will pay them a large bribe. If you insist on an official fine, they may let you off knowing that you’re a foreigner and it would be a bureaucratic hell to file one for you. Even if they go through with it, once it’s filed, you can always deal with it better once you’re off the road and can get in contact with your embassy and your lawyers.
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What to do if you have to go to the police to report somethingIf you are mugged, robbed, or for some other reason have to go into the police station to report something, always get in touch with your embassy first and ask for their advice. Then head into the police station, allowing yourself a lot of time for the process – this will be just as slow as any other Russian paperwork procedure.