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Is it Safe to Travel to Russia for the 2018 World Cup?

It is impossible to deny (without sounding like Kremlin propaganda) the widespread disapproval voiced in reaction to the announcement that Russia would host the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Given the Kremlin’s involvement in conflicts in Ukraine and Syria and, more recently, the violence displayed by Russian hooligans attending the Euros in France during the summer of 2016, Russia is without a doubt a hugely controversial and politically-charged host for this prestigious international sporting event. And with the added fact that FIFA itself is currently under investigation for allegations of corruption, the 2018 World Cup seems to be marred by scandal at every turn.

Church of Christ the Savior Moscow

The Church of Christ the Savior, one of Moscow’s most iconic cathedrals.

General political turbulence around the globe has been enough to give many Westerners pause about any international travel at all. Certainly, we live in times when much of the world is on guard. Those who plan on traveling to Russia, especially for a huge international event, should be asking questions about safety in light of the current political climate. And while there are undoubtedly many factors that travelers should consider if they plan to attend the World Cup in 2018, traveling in Russia should not require much more vigilance than is advisable when traveling in any other non-Western country.

In spite of the many global turmoils in which the Russian Federation is involved, Russia remains a vast, diverse, and fascinating country with much to offer visitors. With gorgeous scenery, unique and highly varying architecture, and a long history of artistic talent, there is no shortage of things to do and see in world’s geographically largest country. The 2018 World Cup is an incredibly unique travel opportunity where visa restrictions will be lifted, the transportation infrastructure will be at its best, and English-language resources will be more plentiful than ever.

For some travelers, Russia’s recent political interferences and human rights abuses are enough to keep them out of the country on principal alone. That is something that we understand and won’t argue against. But for those of you who have always wanted to visit Russia and are eager to seize the 2018 World Cup as your opportunity, the following information is meant to help you understand the political and social climate in Russia so that you are prepared to use your best judgement when traveling.

Lake Assykul Bashkhortostan Russia

Beautiful scenery along the banks of Lake Assykul, Bashkhortostan’s largest body of water.


You will be leaving the “First World”

Travel in any second- or third-world nation always demands a high degree of self-awareness and a willingness to tolerate things that are utterly foreign to you. Cultural relativism may be a deeply flawed lens for thinking about global politics, but it is incredibly important when you are a visitor in another land. The culture shock that comes to many westerners visiting Russia runs much deeper than that of say, an American in France for the first time.

While Russia is a developed, free-market nation with plenty of communications infrastructure and high-brow culture (especially in the areas where World Cup matches will be held), its recent Soviet history is still very much a part of daily life: Lenin iconography and socialist architecture feature heavily in most every public space; the Russian contribution to WWII is perhaps still the nation’s proudest and most emotional memory; the Kremlin maintains a rigid grip over the media and state-sponsored propaganda is ubiquitous; the Russian people have suffered famines, wars, economic depressions, and revolutions pretty much constantly over the last century. The world history books that American children read in school are very different from those read by Russian children, producing a public consciousness distinct from a western point of view.

These distinctions and rich history make Russia a fascinating place to visit. But it is important to have an open mind and a willingness to leave your prejudices, historical or otherwise, at home. You needn’t agree with the Russian understanding of the world, but when you’re in Russia, you should be willing to accept it.

Magnitogorsk Monument

A Stalinst-era monument on the banks of the Ural River in Magnitogorsk.


Do not engage in hooliganism.

Most of the recent outcry against Russia as the host country for the 2018 World Cup has centered around the violence that broke out between Russian and English fans at the Euros in 2016 in Marseilles. The circumstances surrounding the attacks were certainly suspicious. According to several reports, the Russian hooligans seemed to be organized, wearing masks and gloves and appearing to be trained in street fighting. Certain Russian streetfighting gang leaders claimed that they are “Kremlin foot soldiers” sent directly by Putin and that English fans would “100% be targeted” during the Russian World Cup.

While direct ties to the Kremlin are merely unsubstantiated rumors and there is certainly blame to be had on the part of many English hooligans in this ordeal as well, the threat of football hooliganism in Russia is something that every traveler to the 2018 World Cup needs to be vigilant about.

Fans within the stadiums can rest assured that the security is state of the art, but that’s not really the problem. Hooligans are not actual football fans. In fact, the vast majority of the hooligans involved in the fighting in Marseilles did not even attend the game and were instead trolling the streets looking for trouble. Because of this, it is important for visitors to ensure that they are not inviting the attention of hooligans. Of course, people get worked up over football, especially when there is drinking and national pride involved. But visitors to the 2018 World Cup in Russia need to do all they can not to engage.

While initial responses from within the Kremlin to the violence at the Euros ranged from blasé to encouraging, both Russia and FIFA know that violence is not a good look, especially not at the world’s largest international football event. To prepare for the event, Russia is currently passing legislation that criminalizes the activities of these organized street gangs and promises to prosecute fans that display violence. Furthermore, the event and surrounding areas will be heavily policed. Russia demonstrated in the Sochi Winter Olympics that they are capable of running a smooth security operation, and all signs point to authorities being highly prepared to handle crowds at the World Cup.

St Petersburg Panorama

St. Petersburg from above.


Terrorism is more likely in Western Europe than in Russia.

Though Russia has battled with violent religious extremism over the past few decades as part of the ongoing conflict in the Caucasuses, Russia has suffered a relatively low number of terrorist attacks in the past few years. Most recently, attacks in Germany, France, and the U.K. seem to suggest that Western Europe is a more vulnerable target for islamic extremists than Russia. This is in part due to repression, and partly due to granting militants permission to leave Chechnya to fight in Syria. Regardless, security forces will be on high alert for the World Cup.

*Since this post was originally published, a terrorist attack was carried out in the St. Petersburg Metro on April 3, 2017. The attack killed 15 people, including the attacker himself. 

Moscow Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Ministry of the Foreign Affairs, one of seven gothic-style sky scrapers built during the Stalin era in Moscow.


The average Russian thinks favorably of American culture.

Americans traveling abroad have one advantage they can always fall back on: the fact that American media is consumed and adored worldwide. This fact is no exception in Russia, and when any political bends are removed from the equation, most Russians hold American culture in high esteem. Especially outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, many locals will be enamored by the novelty of American visitors and eager to show off what English they’ve learned from movies. Big city folks are likely to be totally unimpressed by any American presence, but this kind of passive disdain for tourists on the part of city dwellers is hardly a Russian phenomenon.

Russian Dacha Food

Typical Russian Dacha fare – Russians live for summers in the countryside, when they can grill, drink, swim, and sing the whole day.


Discrimination is real and visible.

While few countries around the globe can claim to be free of issues of discrimination against racial or sexual minorities, Russia is notorious among human rights organizations in this regard. LGBT persons in Russia are provided no legal protections against discrimination and are actively prosecuted for promoting “homosexual propaganda” among minors.

In addition to a long history of anti-semitism and widespread hate crimes against peoples from the Caucasuses and Central Asia, many football players of African origins have been the targets of racist chants by Russian fans over the past few years. In a troubling move, FIFA decided to disband their Anti-Racism Task Force for the 2018 World Cup early, claiming that the initiative had “completely fulfilled its temporary mission.”

Racism and sexual discrimination are far more visible and outspoken in Russia than in the Western world. Racial and sexual minorities in Russia are certainly encouraged to keep their wits about them, but such threats of violence and psychological degradation are more of an ever-present reality for those actually living under the Russian regime. Visitors who are clearly tourists and surrounded by supportive peers are very unlikely to be targeted during their travels, especially during a time when the country is expecting such an influx of foreigners.

Moskva River Moscow

The Moskva River near the Red Square in Moscow.


Traveling with experienced guides is always your safest option.

If you are at all worried about safety traveling in Russia, keep in mind that Bucket List Events has years of experience leading groups to events all over the world. This includes past World Cups and the Winter Olympics in Russia in 2014. Our experienced tour guides have intimate knowledge of the country, so you can trust that all hotel, transportation, and event arrangements are safe, legitimate, and stress free. We always encourage our travelers to stay safe and engage in best practices, regardless of the destination. The Russian locale gives rise to some specific safety concerns, but these worries are minimized when traveling with a well-organized group lead by experienced guides. While the 2018 World Cup may have more than its fair share of political scandals tied to its name, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness a world-class sporting event in one of the world’s most colorful and fascinating countries.


For a safe and unforgettable trip to Russia in 2018, inquire about our FIFA World Cup 2018 Travel Packages today.

Alex North, the author of this piece, is an American who studied Russian language and literature in Ufa and Moscow, Russia during 2011. In her time in Russia, she traveled extensively throughout the Ural and Western regions of the country.

World Cup Russia 2018

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