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For the first time in Russia
It has not been that long since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The current Russian legislation is very young and is still under continuous development. There are loads of documents clarifying and amending the effective laws. It is not easy to grasp all these nuances. This is why we recommend, when sorting out any issues concerning law (customs, drafting contracts, buying assets), to resort to the services of specialized Russian companies. There is a large number of legal, consulting, and brokerage companies working in large Russian cities. By European standards their prices are not that high as a rule. All you need to do is choose carefully.
In companies not involved in production the working day starts at about 9 to 10 AM. In production plants the day starts about an hour earlier. The majority of Russian managers are fairly easy regarding the upper limit of the working hours: if necessary they can stay at work longer, many are prepared to work on weekends. In Russia a business dinner is far wider spread an occurrence than a business lunch.
There is a wide spread opinion that Russians would rather work long hours very hard for a few days than work monotonously every day for the whole year. It is hard to say whether this can be said only about Russians. Although the colossal amounts of work they can turn out "at the last moment" can be really astounding for a newly arrived foreigner...
Foreigners find the Russian holding companies most puzzling. There are vast numbers of them in Russia. Some of them combine companies of similar profile thus forming highly efficient integrated structures. Others may include companies of the most peculiar combination of various industries. Each company seems to have an independent management and the fact that the company belongs to a holding altogether is known to very few people. This may result in rather difficult situations. For example you negotiate, at the production site, the conditions for supplying your product, and at the very last moment it turns out that all the efforts were in vain. The decision regarding the selection of the supplier must be approved by the management of the holding and your yesterday's counteragents do not have the authority even to prepare the draft offer. And - the holding management may be in a city thousands of kilometres away from the production facility itself. This is why prior to negotiations or in the very beginning it would be useful to understand clearly the decision making structure and who are the people you have to negotiate with.
Business and Authorities
Authorities have always had a great influence over business in Russia. Managers of the majority of Russian companies pay attention, to a greater or lesser extent, to the opinion of authorities whose influence on some companies is practically without limits. Do not try to cut down on the time you spend establishing contacts with the representatives of regional authorities and presenting your projects. You can believe that they would gladly hear you out. It is much easier to talk to business people when you have the support of authorities. However, the influence of authorities must not be overestimated either. This applies especially to small townships where leaders of large companies which provide most of the employment locally, hold in their hands almost absolute control of most things.
One of the peculiarities of the Russian business life is that personal contacts are of the greatest importance here. Many issues you could settle over the phone or via mail back home here would demand a meeting in person. These meetings, especially for the first time, often take much longer time than necessary for the solution of the issues in question. This is a Russian peculiarity - people are willing to offer higher levels of trust to those they know personally. Personal connections are highly valued here. Situations happen when people here would prefer less profitable conditions of a contract with long-established partners to more profitable but offered by an unknown company. Establish and maintain as many personal contacts as possible. This is one of the cornerstones of business success in Russia.
All types of communications are rather well developed in Russia. Most of the country's territory is covered by cellular services (GSM 900/1800 is the dominating standard). International roaming is possible virtually anywhere. If you are planning to stay for a long time, it would be advisable to buy a local provider's SIM card - this would make your calls within the country much cheaper. Russia's country code is +7.
Except for the very remote countryside areas, the Internet access is possible everywhere. You may gain access in almost any hotel or an internet cafe. In large cities there are many areas with Wi-Fi internet access coverage. As the last resort you may use GPRS internet access virtually anywhere.
The rouble is the Russian national currency. Any other currency is not accepted anywhere. The exceptions where you can pay dollars or Euros are so few that it is pointless to list them. There are many currency exchange outlets even in towns not frequented by tourists. In large cities the ATM network is very well developed, many ATMs are accessible 24 hours. Visa and Master Card are most commonly acceptable. They are accepted by many retail outlets, cafes, and restaurants. However, we do recommend that you enquire in advance whether credit cards are accepted; warning customers that cards are not acceptable is not usual in Russia.
In this respect Russia has an advantage over other countries. Leaving a tip is not mandatory here. Exceptions include expensive hotels and restaurants where there are a lot of foreigners. In other places it is all up to you. A tip of about three Euro would almost always be enough in a restaurant; any tipping at all would seem excessive in a small street cafe. Tipping taxi drivers is not done.
You can hire a car in an airport or a hotel, but then you should not expect it to come cheap. It is better to employ services of car hire companies. You can hire a car with or without a driver.
In Russia they drive on the right hand side. The speed limits are 60 km/h (about 37 mph) in built up areas, outside the city limits - 90 km/h (about 56 mph). Wearing a seatbelt is mandatory!
Driving in Russia is not the simplest of tasks. Large cities have very intense traffic, you can be stuck in a traffic jam for hours, and there are serious parking problems. The road surface quality often leaves much to be desired. Different cities have different driving styles. It may seem somewhat aggressive to a European. We do recommend you hire a car with a driver.
Customs Rules for Individual Persons
You can bring into or out of Russia foreign and (or) Russian cash as well as travellers cheques, foreign and (or) domestic securities in physical certificated form in the sum of up to the equivalent of 3000 US dollars. When the amount is in excess of this sum, the money must be declared to the customs office by submitting a TD-6 customs declaration stating the sum total of money carried.
One of the most widespread stereotypes is the Russian colds. First of all - it is not always cold. Secondly, even though there is this stereotype, the Russian cold is often underestimated. The fact that Russian territory is so huge makes it virtually impossible to assert anything regarding "Russian climate". The same day may see +20 Celsius (+68.00 Fahrenheit) in Sochi and -20 Celsius (-4.00 Fahrenheit) in the northern regions. In the South the summer heat may exceed +40 Celsius (+104.00 Fahrenheit) while even -50 Celsius (-58.00 Fahrenheit) is usual for the winter in the North. The only thing to advise is watching the weather forecast and not the one for Moscow, but for the city or the region you are planning to visit. The weather there may differ from that in Moscow by 30 degrees. Either up or down.
You may encounter language problems. There are not a lot of people who know English, not even enough for everyday simple communications. Amongst middle-aged and older people - virtually none. This includes those serving you - waiters (with the exception of expensive hotels), taxi drivers, and security guards. The situation is better amongst young people. If you want to find out something - do try asking young people. In every three to four people there would be someone who would understand you. We do strongly advise to spend some money on a professional interpreter.
On the other hand be prepared for a keen interest in your person. Russia is not a country used to a big tourist influx. With the exception of Moscow and St. Petersburg, foreigners are perceived as something exotic here.
They do not wear valenki, touloups, and sarafans in Russia and have not been for some time. These exotic things you may find in a remote village and not that often either. The style in clothing of the urban population does not differ from clothes Europeans wear. If you work in a bank, a large company, or an office of authority, it is customary to wear suit. If you do not want to appear strange, dress as you would back home or smarter. The latter is especially true for women - being too casual in clothes and total lack of makeup in Russia might be perceived as being unkempt and not looking after yourself.
Another one of widespread misbeliefs is that Russians drink vodka all the time. Maybe it was so once upon a time, but now vodka is not the most popular drink in Russia by far. Beer is more popular today. The choice is huge - from very cheap to elite international brands. In business circles cognac is much favoured traditionally, and in recent years - whisky. You may encounter large quantities of vodka during certain parties or celebrations. If you are not experienced in consuming ample amounts of this drink, it would be wiser to abstain. Those around you would understand.
Leisure and Entertainment
Entertainment industry is well developed in large Russian cities. Any taste is catered for. There are many cafes with ethnic cuisines - from Japanese to French, a multitude of entertainment centres, dance clubs, casinos, and cinemas. In any city large or not so large you find theatres, often rather good. In regional centres you easily find a typical English pub and a Mediterranean cuisine restaurant. The difference between high and low prices may be very dramatic, especially in large cities. Even if you order roughly the same food, a dinner (including drinks) may cost you both under 20 Euro and over 500. The service changes accordingly. This is why we strongly recommend that you seek advice in the hotel. Another peculiarity is the age group composition of the customers. People you see in many respectable places are quite young; appearance of a middle age person on a dance floor of the majority of clubs might be perceived as rather odd.
The situation in large Russian cities is not much different from that in a European megapolis - there are "good" and "bad" areas. It is not advisable to walk around at night in the outskirts, talk to strangers, or go to dubious establishments. Money and valuables in the hotel room are best locked in the safe. If you left something in a taxi, most likely you can think of it as gone. On the whole, adhering to common safe behaviour standards you have been used to in your country would be enough.
Water mains water in different cities is different quality - from fully compliant to the European standards to totally unfit for drinking. Good bottled drinking water may be purchased in any shop or a street stall/kiosk - there are very tough government regulations for drinking water manufacturers.
Food is best purchased in a large supermarket. The choice is not that much different from European. You will find goods of all best known brands on the shelves. Local products (primarily meat and dairy products, bread) differ considerably from what you would be used to - flavour and fat content are totally different. Convenience stores are open very late - at least until 8 PM, some even later. There are shops which stay open around the clock.
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