With more than a million fans expected in Moscow alone, this summer’s 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia is shaping up to be one of the biggest travel events of the year. National and local security efforts are expected to be just as massive and effective as they were during the Sochi Olympics back in 2014. Still, we encourage travelers to read our list of do’s and don’ts.
Where and when
The 2018 World Cup in Russia, taking place between the 14th of June and the 15th of July, is shaping up to be an exceptional event for multiple reasons. The first, and perhaps most evident one, is the fact that Russia is the largest country on Earth. Although the 2014 World Cup in Brazil came with its own set of travel-related worries, the scope of the 2018 event looks even more daunting. Spread between 11 host cities and 12 venues, travelers hoping to attend events in all cities will have to navigate an area roughly the size of Western Europe and with its unique set of challenges.
Here is the list of host cities, stadiums, and their respective capacities:
- Petersburg: Krestovsky Stadium, capacity 68,134
- Luzhniki Stadium, capacity 81,000
- Otkritie Arena (Spartak Stadium) capacity 45,360
- Kazan: Kazan Arena, capacity 45,379
- Samara: Cosmos Arena, capacity 44,918
- Saransk: Mordovia Arena, capacity 44,442
- Rostov-on-Don: Rostov Arena, capacity 45,000
- Sochi: Fisht Olympic Stadium, capacity 47,659
- Yekaterinburg: Central Stadium, capacity 35,696
- Volgograd: Volgograd Arena, capacity 45,568
- Nizhny Novgorod: Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, capacity 44,899
- Kaliningrad: Kaliningrad Stadium, capacity 35,312
Another prestige project for Putin
As always, the Russian government has invested heavily in security. More than 11,000 police officers will deployed in Saint Petersburg alone, ordered to ensure guests and athletes a safe World Cup. Putin’s government has a reputation for cracking down on any terror attempts, and you can rest assured that his administration will do its best to make your trip to Russia as pleasantly memorable as possible. We’ve already seen it happen in 2014: despite a certain number of fears at the time, the Sochi Olympics showed that Russia is perfectly capable of hosting a major sporting event with little-to-no trouble.
However, you can and should make your own safety precautions. Past events may be a good sign that things will go smoothly, but they’re far from being a guarantee. If you intend to travel to Russia, be sure to read through the do’s and don’ts below.
Traffic: Probably your biggest risk
Traffic in Russia is not for the light-hearted. With potholes that can challenge the best of drivers and a carpool that counts both warn-out Soviet Union Lada’s and new fast-driving Mercedes Benz, we cannot recommend any attempts of driving on your own during the World Cup.
The stats speak for themselves. The latest available WHO Report shows traffic fatalities per 100,000 per year at 18.9 for Russia. By comparison, the U.S. is at 10.6, Germany at 4.3, and the U.K. at 2.9. Granted, those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Russia is a huge country, and driving through Moscow is unlikely to be dangerous as driving through the country’s more remote eastern areas. Still, on average, Russia has as many road casualties as Guatemala, Kuwait, and Tajikistan.
If you are a corporate client, we would highly suggest reaching out to your security provider and booking security drivers for the trip. If you’re going there on your own, here are some things to keep in mind.
- Do use the excellent train services when traveling between World Cup venues. Russia has provided over 500 free “fan trains” that will make the journey between host cities. Yes, free All you need is your FAN-ID for the games and to sign up ahead of time at https://tickets.transport2018.com
- Do book official taxis. It can be tempting to accept one of the so-called “private taxis”—meaning, unlicensed taxis—that are easily available, but there have been several cases of tourists being cheated or even robbed. You can always call the national call center on 8-800-550-86-42 to hire a taxi, get train schedules, or directions for pretty much anything. They will also help with translations and contact emergency services.
- Don’t miss out on the excellent metro systems in many of the host cities. Moscow’s public transport system is considered one of the most beautiful in the world, and safe to boot.
- Don’t even think about biking. Although most cities do provide rental bike services, bike lanes are a rarity and Russians are simply not used to bikes in traffic.
Terror: Always a possibility – even if remote
At the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014, Russian intelligence agencies proved that they could deal with terror threats, successfully cracking down on several concrete plans to carry out jihadi attacks.
However, we are now talking about 11 host cities and large groups of fans traveling between cities following their teams. Even for a highly-trained and on-edge Russian police force, it is impossible to secure everything.
- Do remain aware of your surroundings. Respect your own intuition, keep your wits about you and if something doesn’t seem right—consider changing your location.
- Do check up on the terror-threat level and check your government’s travel alerts page daily. Two links you should consult frequently: the United Kingdom’s foreign travel advice page, and the U.S. Department of State’s page.
- Don’t always seek the crowded areas. Stadiums and fan zones should be safe, but there is no reason for you to hang out at the local train station unless you have an errand there.
- Don’t panic. In case of a terror situation, consider that you are more likely to get injured in a panicked stampede out of the stadium than by any bomb within the stadium
Hooliganism: Stay clear, stay safe
The Russian football (soccer) scene is notorious for its hooliganism and violence. Russian hooligans are considered the most organized and ruthless in the world – as they proved at the UEFA European Championships in Marseilles in 2016. With occasional links to neo-Nazi groups and organized crime, these young men are to be taken seriously.
- Do show appreciation for the Russian team. Wear a Russian team jersey if you need to blend in, or simply don’t wear your own team’s colors outside of the stadiums. No reason to invite conflict when it can be avoided.
- Do stay in designated fan areas. Police will be present and will strike down on any hooliganism in these areas.
- Don’t provoke or be provoked. Some guys will be looking for a fight and may not limit themselves to their bare hands.
- Don’t seek the Russian home games if possible. The national team’s performances have not been strong lately, and an early exit from the World Cup could ignite an outburst of violence.
Street violence: Use your street smarts
Combining the fourth-highest alcohol consumption in the World with a macho don’t-get-in-my-way culture, Russia has a reputation for violence. Such stereotypes are far from being universal truths—most Russians are friendly and only wish you the best of World Cups—but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful when walking around.
- Do respect that you are a visitor in Russia. Follow local etiquette and treat the old babushka as you would your own grandma. Also, learn a few phrases in Russian. Basic politeness goes a long way, and it will be appreciated.
- Do always respect authority. Russian police will be at their best behavior, but they will not shy away from enforcing their authority if you try to argue too much with them.
- Do be extra cautious if you are a person of color. Sad but true, racism remains a major issue in Russian society.
- Don’t seek dodgy parts of town. You will probably be presented with your fair share of strip clubs and establishments that offer more than a dance. Often, these “clubs” will be on the outskirts of town. In addition to topless dancers, these places are known for crazy expensive prices as well as a good beating if you are not able to pay.
- Don’t consider public displays of homosexuality. These are not socially tolerated, and hate crimes are common.
General travel info and regional differences
Russia is a huge country, and there are regional differences that should be considered when attending the World Cup. Cities are different, stadiums are different, and so is local culture.
- Do take extra caution when traveling to the Caucasus region. The ongoing trouble in Chechnya and neighboring republics present a very real risk. Amongst the World Cup host cities, Sochi is the most likely to experience trouble, should it arise.
- Do consider that Rostov has a reputation of being one of Europe’s most violent cities, where 2015 saw a rise of crime with a staggering 21.5 per cent.
- Do memorize important phone numbers. “112” is the general emergency number, and “102” specifically for the police. Also, know the number for your country’s embassy (or consulate).
- Do use local pharmacies (“Aptekas”). Any painkillers and over-the-counter medicine you need should be easily available.
- Don’t underestimate the Russian summer. Many of the stadiums (e.g., Yekaterinburg’s) are exposed to the blistering sun. Drink plenty of water, use sunscreen, and remember to bring a hat.
- Don’t eat food from dubious places. Food poisoning is all too common, so learn to rely on bottled water, and skip late-night hot dogs from low-traffic street vendors.
- Don’t forget to enjoy these cultural differences as well. Saint Petersburg has stunning architecture. Kazan is over 150 years older than Moscow and famous for its multi-colored domes and minarets of the churches and mosques.