| Study Abroad
and what to do with your laptop, cell phone, etc.
A semester or year stay in Russia requires considerable planning. If you will be spending winter months in Russia, luggage can quite easily become unwieldy, which can mean airline charges for overweight bags. Planning in advance what you need can help you avoid this (and help you avoid forgetting something important).
Invest in good, expandable luggage. If you plan to pack heavy, you might want a single, rolling utility duffle. Consider as well bringing an extra, collapsible duffle bag in your luggage as well. This will probably come in handy when you are packing to come back home and have souvenirs, books, and other purchases to bring back.
1. Weight Restrictions in Russia (back to top)
Most international flights are restricted to two checked bags (not to exceed 50 lbs in total), one carry on bag, and one "personal item." These restrictions are strictly enforced. Charges for overages vary by airline, but outrageous generally describes them. "Personal items" can be anything small and carryable from a purse to a laptop in its case. This should be obvious, but do not pack your laptop in your check-in luggage!
For those on domestic Russian flights, the limit is 20 kg of checked baggage (44 lbs) and 10 kg of carry on. They will charge per kilogram over this limit. For those who will be switching planes in Moscow (say, to Irkutsk or Valdivostok), you should buy your domestic and international tickets together - preferably from the same airline. If the tickets are unrelated you may be charged for baggage overage as you switch from international to domestic restrictions. Most flights originating from Europe are also applicable to this same restriction.
The train has a theoretical limit of 35 kg, but it is more a question of whether it fits in the compartment. Remember that in 2nd class trains, there are three other people with considerable luggage.
You may want to make a quick list of things you use each day and decide which you can live without. Most things are now available in Russia, but if you are brand-conscious, you may want to bring a good stock with you. Note that many items, like electronics and clothing will be more expensive in Russia. It's also good to have enough necessities that you won’t have to spend for your first week shopping.
We do not recommend shipping yourself things. Shipping to Russia is slow, customs is a nightmare (and there is a four-euro per-kilogram charge on personal items sent to Russia), and often you'll find that to-your-door delivery is not available (ever tried to navigate a cargo terminal at an airport?). If you really need to get lots of stuff in with you, contact us to discuss your options.
2. Electrical Appliances (back to top)
You will need a voltage converter for appliances (e.g., hair dryers, razors, curling irons). The plugs are different, as is the amperage. Check with the manufacturer (often their websites will have the information) to make sure that your device can work with a converter (the converter can catch fire or destroy your device if a non-compatible device is hooked up to it). If you have any doubt, contact the manufacturer and ask what you should do.
3. Laptops, Cameras, Smart Phones, & Other Electronics. (back to top)
A. Voltage issues
Most modern computers, cameras, and smart phones have built-in, automatic converters. If the power block (the little black box that plugs into the wall) indicates it can handle an input of 100-240V, or if the equipment or power block is stamped with the symbol "CCC," then it will work anywhere SRAS offers programs so long as you have a plug adapter (the link provided here is for an adapter with a ground and surge protection - both are highly recommended and make this adapter a great value). If you use another adapter, make sure it indicates that it will work in Central/Eastern European areas and, if it does not feature a ground, make sure it has a fuse, and you should purchase a separate surge protector.
If your electronic device does not indicate this symbol or this input range, you will likely need a full voltage converter (when choosing one, make sure it is 110v to 220v - made for American appliances for use in Europe). However, you should check and double check the device's requirements. Plugging an unequipped device into a foreign power source will damage it, often irreparably. Likewise, plugging a device that is equipped with a voltage converter into another voltage converter creates a fire hazard and can damage your device, sometimes irreparably. If you have any doubt, contact the device manufacturer and ask what you should do.
Memory sticks, flash cards, and digital cameras (with USB cable) can all be used at most Internet cafes, you just have to ask the service desk for assistance and sometimes pay a small fee (usually less than $1). If you need to print something, most places that do passport photos also have general printing capabilities. They are fairly common in the former USSR and are generally marked "фото на документы."
B. Safety with laptops and valuable electronics
Bringing your electronics abroad is generally safe. Many of our students have done so and most of our employees carry laptops around Russia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and Poland regularly. However, always pack valuable electronics in your carry-on luggage. The chance for theft and damage is too high if packed in a checked-in bag. We also recommend that you store your equipment at the dorm or at your homestay in a concealed location (such as a drawer) just to be safe. Be sure to turn the equipment off before storing it so it doesn't overheat. Students may contact us about adding optional property insurance to the standard health and travel insurance included with most of our programs.
C. Mobile Phones, Blackberries, iPhones, smartphones, tablets, etc.: Preparations for Russia
Your communications devices should work in Russia if they have international roaming activated. Many devices will need to be "unlocked" if you would like to use a local carrier while abroad. You should check with your service provider to see what needs to be done. Many carriers, such as T-Mobile and Verizon now offer fairly equitable roaming plans that can help you stay in contact with loved ones back home. For local calls, however, you will likely be better off buying a cheap mobile phone while abroad (SRAS supplies each student with a local phone for most programs) rather than use roaming for several months for all needs. See our Guide to Internet, Phones, & Post for more information.
A trip to your local cell phone store or Apple outlet can before you leave home also be helpful in configuring the appropriate settings on your device to be international. Depending on the model of iPad or iPhone you have, you may be able to swap the mini-SIM for one purchased abroad. Make sure you tell the store employee that you'll need a plan for an iPhone - one with a data package.
If you have Blackberry service in the US (for example) you can use it in Russia (quite extensively actually). When you arrive in Russia you will need to switch your network selection (under "Options") to "Manual" and then do a network scan. Depending on your provider in the US (T-Mobile used here as an example) you will probably want to select either Beeline or MTS-RUS. Select, save, and check to make sure that it does eventually switch from GSM to GPRS on your network bar. Occasionally one of the providers might have a temporary problem, in which case go back into the network and switch over to the other option. See our Guide to Internet, Phones, & Post for more information.
D. Repair Services and Servicing
You should check your warranties before you go abroad. Warranties are not always serviceable in foreign countries. Repair services in Russia, like those in the US, can be hit-or-miss; you might get your device back quickly and in good repair, or not. Always try to find a repair service that is recommended by your device's manufacturer (or at least recommended by locals).
Owners of Apple products should be aware that while iPhones, iPads, and Macs are popular in Russia, most general computer repair services and some Internet service providers are often at loss on how to repair them or connect them to the Internet. If you get a "dongle" (a flash-drive modem that provides mobile Internet service), make sure you specify it's for a Mac. Your best recourse for anything concerning a Mac is one of the licensed Apple resellers (which usually charge even for helping with your settings).
See our city guides for the location you intended to visit; these now often have information about the specific situation on the ground there.
E. Buying Electronics in Russia
Students have often asked us if they should just buy electronics (computers, etc.) when they get to Russia to avoid any problems with amperage, etc. Electronics in Russia cost just as much, if not considerably more, than they do in the US. Also, if you take the computer back, you will have the same problems with amperage, warranties (see above), etc. We do not recommend buying electronics abroad.
F. Accessing Media from Russia
Note that most of your services like Pandora and Hulu are blocked in Russia. Netflix has only recently become available but the shows you can access will probably be much more limited than you are used to. You might look into VPN services to get around some restrictions.
4. Personal Care Items (back to top)
Toothbrush and toothpaste, floss
Soap, deodorant, shampoo/conditioner, feminine products
Comb/brush, razor, nail clippers
Hair dryer and/or curling iron (220 Volt European adapter required – you can find travel dryers in most pharmacies)
A bath towel (dormitory issue bath towels resemble the placemats in truck stops) and washcloth*
Insect repellent (such as OFF!)
Contact lens solution and cleansers
Note: We recommend bringing the above products not because they are impossible to get in Russia, but because after the flight they are simply nice to have with you, hassle free. So don't stockpile them, just bring enough to last you a couple of weeks while you get settled.
Note: We recommend you carry a toothbrush, toothpaste, and anything else you must have on a daily basis, in your carry on. Bags are often delayed on international flights (sometimes by a few days) due to the complex logistics of international travel. Make sure that everything is in "travel size" containers (100ml or less) to avoid confiscation by airport security.
5. Medications (back to top)
SRAS recommends bringing vitamins, which are helpful in overcoming jet lag and helpful in getting through the long, wet, dark winters that are common in the former Soviet space. Stomach and headache medication is also strongly recommended, as an upset stomach and headaches are common symptoms of jet lag and are commonly experienced by students acclimating to a new climate and diet, particularly for the first week.
Medication for personal use, including prescription medication, may be brought with you in almost all cases to Russia, Ukraine, or Kyrgyzstan. If you will be bringing large quantities of any drug for personal use (which can happen especially for students studying a full semester or year), bring a prescription or doctor's note confirming that the medication is for personal use.
Many - but not all - medications are available in Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Kyrgyzstan, but often are called by different names and can be difficult to track down.
Note that medications for many mental and psychological disorders, such as ADD, ADHD, and depression are not available in most of these countries. Many of these drugs have no analogues available either and, as the drugs are not generally recognized by the Ministries of Health in these countries, shipping is usually restricted. You may check with SRAS on specific medications, but for these countries, you will usually have to bring a doctor-documented supply with you to last the duration of your stay.
6. Clothing (back to top)
Fall and winter weather in most SRAS locations range from Boston-like coastal damp cold to northern Minnesota-like deep-freeze cold, depending on the year. While Siberia is more extreme in temperature, it is a dry cold, making it quite tolerable with proper clothing. Weather is very unpredictable anywhere, and for your comfort you should be prepared. Note that clothing in Russia is just as expensive, if not more expensive, than in the US; do not plan to buy something you will need (like a winter coat) while abroad. Bring one with you.
3 sweaters or sweatshirts
2 or 3 pairs of jeans or other casual slacks. Dark colors as streets get very dirty with snow/mud/salt/oil mixture in winter.
1 nicer outfit—need not be suit or dress, unless you are interviewing
4+ short sleeve tops (T-shirts are very acceptable)
Underwear to suit your personal needs for the length of your stay
Long underwear (can also be used as pajamas)
At least one pair thermal or wool socks
Rain poncho and/or umbrella
Comfortable walking shoes (You will be doing a lot or walking, so make sure your shoes are broken in and comfortable.)
Winter boots** (with good traction – insulated hiking boots are great even for city use)
Winter coat, gloves, hat, scarf
Additional winter wear
Pajamas / Bathrobe
Shower shoes/sandals - these are essential if you are staying in the dorms.
Note: The numbers of each item are only suggestions; use your own discretion in deciding what and how many of an item to bring. For some internships, you may need to shift towards slightly more formal attire.
Note: We generally recommend Columbia or Timberland layered parkas. These allow you to remove or add layers to accommodate changing conditions in Russia. Internship students will likely want a longer, heavy wool dress coat. Also, you will want a coat that covers you lower than the waist-line. Otherwise, you don't get the insulation you need to stay warm.
7. Other items (back to top)
Notebooks, pens, pencils
Small Russian/English dictionary
Paperbacks for your own enjoyment (crossword puzzle books, etc., whatever you enjoy)
Small calculator; Travel alarm; Stereo/CD player
Extra eyeglasses (especially if you wear contact lenses, knowing your prescription will be handy too)
2 or 3 photocopies of the photo page of your passport
Note: We recommend bringing the above products not because they are impossible to get in Russia, but because after the flight they are simply nice to have with you, hassle free. So don't stock pile them, just bring enough to last you a couple of weeks while you get settled.
Note: This list is made up of suggestions provided by people on previous trips. Use your own discretion in deciding what to bring. Many things are now available in Russia, particularly in Moscow, but usually at higher prices for similar quality. If you think of something, and are not sure, contact us for advice.
8. Gifts (back to top)
In general, wait until you have an established relationship with someone before giving gifts. Over the course of a semester you will have ample opportunity, from birthdays to Russian holidays to use up those gifts. If you would like to present a gift right away, bring small regional perishables (see below), as these can make great conversation starters. This can be exceptionally nice for introducing yourself to your host family if you will be staying in a homestay while in Russia. In choosing gifts, we recommend the following:
Keep the price low, or at least well hidden. You don't want to put new friends in the position of feeling the need to reciprocate at a level that may be out of their budget.
Do not bring things like trinkets, bubble gum, common candy bars, etc. These were the penultimate of cool in the 1990s, when nothing was available in Russia and most Russians were quite poor. Such gifts will likely insult the recipient at this point in history.
Think of yourself as representing America. Many Russians believe that the quality of goods made in America or Europe is far better. Don't let them down.
Regional goods are highly recommended. For example, maple syrup from New England, wine from California, wild rice from Minnesota, some of the exotic potato products from Idaho, photobooks from your area, postcards, regional art or jewelry from the SW (again, tasteful but inexpensive), sports team stuff for young men and boys.
You can always get flowers in Russia (always an odd number of stems; even are given only at funerals!) or chocolates of course, but if you know you will be in Russia for a holiday, you might want to get a few interesting items. Acknowledging Russian holidays is a big way to score points!
Tips: Gift giving can feel like a solemn event. Many Russians are not apt to fawn over gifts, so don't be surprised if yours is accepted with a simple "thank you," briefly inspected, and set to the side. Never preface your gift with the words "I don't need this anymore." Your host may take this as an insult, like you are giving them garbage - always give a gift saying that it is something you thought they might like, or something you thought to give them as a show of thanks. This is usually better in any culture.
Find Out More!
History of Russian Holidays
Internships in Russia
Health and Safety in Russia
The SRAS Newsletter
The SRAS Library on Russia
Journal for Students
More Free Resources!
Questions or comments?
Contact the editor.