American Express -- The main local office is at 33 Usacheva Ulitsa, building 1 (tel. 495/933-8400). It's open from 9am to 7pm Monday through Friday. The office doesn't sell or cash Amex checks itself, but will tell you which nearby banks cash them. In the U.S., call tel. 800/221-7282.

Business Hours -- Businesses generally operate from 9am until 6pm. A few stores and businesses still take a lunch break around 1 to 2pm. Some shops are closed Sunday, but museums and restaurants are generally open. Many restaurants and bars are open 24 hours.

Convention Centers -- Most of Moscow's big hotels are equipped to accommodate conventions and large conferences. The chief venue is the World Trade Center at Mezhdunarodnaya Hotel, 12 Krasnopresnenskaya Naberezhnaya (tel. 495/258-1212; http://wtcmoscow.ru).

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Currency Exchange -- Exchange booths (obmen valyuty) are found in every hotel, at many restaurants, and near all major metro stations. Many are open 24 hours, and most are well-guarded, reliable places to change cash. Rates are better than in most banks, and they're competitive, so shop around. Most don't charge a commission, and when they do, it's low -- around a dollar. Make sure your U.S. bills or euros are new and untainted; crinkled or pre-1995 bills will be rejected. Exchange booths have signs out front with four figures: the buy and sell rates for U.S. dollars, and the buy and sell rates for euros. To exchange other currencies, try the banks, the underground passage next to Arbatskaya metro station, and the booth on the corner of Pokrovka Ulitsa and Pokrovsky Bulvar. Banks can give cash advances on a credit card in rubles.

Dentists -- For good international-standard dentistry, including emergencies, try US Dental Care, 7/5 Bolshaya Dmitrovka, building 2 (tel. 495/933-8686; www.usdentalcare.com).

Doctors -- The following facilities offer Western-standard medical care and English-speaking staff who can help with everything from a broken limb to a bad flu. They are private clinics whose services are expensive and may not be covered by your insurance company, so be sure to check with your insurer before you go.

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  • American Medical Center Moscow, 26 Prospekt Mira (tel. 495/933-7700; www.amcenter.ru/en).
  • European Medical Center, 5 Spiridonievskiy Pereulok 5, building 1 (tel. 495/933-6655; www.emcmos.ru).
  • International SOS Clinic, 31 Grokholsky Pereulok, 10th floor of Polyclinic no. 1 (tel. 495/937-5760; www.sosclinic.ru).

Electricity -- Russia operates on 220-volt AC, like the rest of Europe. Bring converters if you have electrical equipment from North America, since they're harder to find in Russia. Most modern hotels use plugs with two thick prongs, as in continental Europe; some older hotels will need plugs with two thinner prongs. Small plastic adapters for these old plugs are available in Russian hardware stores, or often from the hotel staff. To guard against electricity surges for items like laptops, bring a stabilizer, too.

Embassies -- All embassies are located in Moscow, the capital, with consulates for several countries in St. Petersburg as well.

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  • United States: 8 Bolshoi Devyatinsky Pereulok; tel. 495/728-5000; emergency after hours 495/728-5025.
  • Britain: 10 Smolenskaya Naberezhnaya; tel. 495/956-7200.
  • Canada: 23 Starokonyushenniy Pereulok; tel. 495/925-6000; night line 495/925-6000.
  • Australia: 10A/2 Podkolokolny Pereulok; tel. 495/956-6070.
  • Ireland: 5 Grokholsky Pereulok; tel. 495/937-5911.

Emergencies -- For fire, dial 01; police, 02; ambulance, 03. For medical emergencies, see the "Doctors" listing, above. In extreme cases, the international clinics will send you to a better-equipped Russian hospital with a translator.

Eyeglass Repair -- Almost any eyeglass store, called optika, will make minor repairs, often for free.

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Holidays -- Moscow's pace slows a bit during holidays, but it doesn't come to a halt. Many museums and restaurants remain open but with limited hours. Check with your hotel concierge or call the establishment you want to visit to make sure it's open.

Hospitals -- Some doctors speak English, but most of the Russian hospital staff is unlikely to, so get a translator if you need hospitalization. Ask your hotel for translator suggestions. These are some of the biggest and (relatively) good hospitals:

  • Botkin City Hospital, 5 Second Botkinsky Proyezd; tel. 495/252-9488.
  • City Hospital No. 1 (Pirogovksy), 8 Leninsky Prospekt; tel. 499/764-5022.
  • Morozovskaya Children's Hospital, 1/9 4 Dobryninskiy Pereulok; tel. 495/959-8904.
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Internet Access -- Though most Russians don't have computers, much less online access, Internet cafes are increasingly available in downtown Moscow. Most hotel business centers also offer Wi-Fi or online access, though at steeper rates. Try 24-hour Time Online on the bottom floor of the Okhotny Ryad shopping center next to the Kremlin (1 Manezhnaya Ploshchad; www.timeonline.ru). Or try CafeMax, a chain of cafes around town. Two convenient ones are at 25 Pyatnitskaya, building 1, near Novokuznetskaya metro station; and at 3 Novoslobodskaya Ulitsa, near Novoslobodskaya metro station. See www.cafemax.ru for other locations.

Language -- Russian is the principal language, a Slavic tongue that uses the Cyrillic alphabet. English is becoming more common but is not as widespread as in western Europe. In most hotels, at tourist sites, and in central Moscow, visitors should have no trouble communicating in English. Younger people are far more likely to speak it well than their elders. The main challenge is the Russian alphabet. Despite efforts to print signs in the Latin alphabet (the one used for western European languages), most streets and metro stations are labeled in Cyrillic. It is well worth it to learn the 33-letter alphabet, which is very phonetic and shares many letters with English. When buying a phrase book, make sure it has good phonetic transliterations of Russian words ("spa-see-ba" is "thank you," for example).

Liquor Laws -- The official drinking age in Russia is 18, but it is almost never enforced. Drinking in public is acceptable (despite a recent law against it), and seeing teenagers clutching beers on their way home from school is common. Beer, wine, and liquor -- primarily vodka, but also such cocktails as gin and tonic in a can -- are available at all supermarkets and most street kiosks. Beware of cheap vodka from kiosks, since it's often watered down or of stomach-wrenching quality. Bars with special licenses can serve alcohol all night, and many do. Some stores are closed on Sunday, but those that are open sell liquor then as well as every other day.

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Mail -- Russia's postal service is underfunded and unreliable. Postcards are a safe bet, though they may not arrive until you're back home. Postcards and letters to western Europe and North America cost about 26 rubles ($1/50p); letters cost 16 rubles (70ยข/35p). Both should be addressed Russian-style; see examples posted up in the post office. Shipping packages through the regular post is not recommended, because there's nothing you can do if it gets lost or damaged, and because of the complex Customs rules. Several international shipping companies serve Russia, such as FedEx (tel. 495/788-8881), DHL (tel. 495/956-1000), and UPS (tel. 495/961-2211), though their services are not cheap.

Newspapers & Magazines -- The International Herald Tribune, Financial Times, and other English-language publications are on sale at the chain hotels and some of the larger Russian hotels, but they're not available at newsstands around the city. The English-language daily The Moscow Times (www.themoscowtimes.com) is the most comprehensive and even-handed reference for news and entertainment listings in English. The Russia Journal (www.russiajournal.com) offers more politicized coverage in English, while the eXile (www.exileonline.com) is known for its raunchy commentary and detailed bar, restaurant, and club listings. These three publications are free and available at many hotels and restaurants, though not at newsstands. For Russian speakers, Vedomosti, Kommersant, and Izvestia newspapers are the most respected; Afisha is the weekly magazine of note for entertainment, dining, and shopping advice.

Pharmacies -- The number of pharmacies, called apteka and marked by a blue cross, is growing rapidly in Russia's cities. One good chain is called 36.6 (www.366.ru), with branches all over Moscow; another is Dr. Stoletov (www.stoletov.ru). Check with your hotel concierge for the all-night pharmacy nearest you.

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Police -- Call tel. 02.

Post Office -- The main international post office is at 26 Myasnitskaya (tel. 495/628-6311). It's open daily 8am to 7:45pm. Letters and postcards are mailed from the first floor in the main building; packages go through the annex, reached through the arch to the right of the main entrance.

Salons -- Salons are ubiquitous in Moscow, one of the most image-conscious world capitals. The simpler parikmakherskaya salons tucked on side streets are cheaper, while the salon krasoty on the chic shopping streets can cost a fortune and offer a range of beauty treatments. Most cut both men's and women's hair. For a big night out, you'll find English-speaking staff at chain Yves Rocher, whose main salon is at 4 Tverskaya (tel. 495/923-5885), or at Gerlen at Hotel National 15/1 Mokhovaya Ulitsa (tel. 495/258-7179).

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Smoking -- Russians smoke heavily, and nonsmokers are rarely catered to. Expensive hotels and an increasing number of restaurants offer nonsmoking options, so don't be afraid to ask. Bars are universally smoky. Smoking is forbidden on public transport and in museums. Crude Russian cigarettes cost about 40 rubles a pack, while Russian-made Marlboros, available at any street kiosk, cost slightly more. Imported brands cost 90 rubles and up.

Taxes -- VAT (value-added tax) of up to 18% is always included in the list price of store items and restaurant bills, though not always in hotel rates. It's a good idea to ask if you're unsure. The VAT cannot be refunded upon departure as it is in European cities. There is no sales tax in Moscow.

Telephone -- While cellphone service is quite advanced, Russia's traditional phone service remains so basic that many of those cell owners are still on waiting lists for land lines. Just a few years ago you had to order all international calls in advance. Today you can dial directly, but poor connections and disconnections are common on land lines.

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To call Russia: If you're calling Russia from the United States:

1. Dial the international access code 011.

2. Dial the country code 7.

3. Dial the city code (495 for Moscow, 812 for St. Petersburg) and then the seven-digit number. So the whole number you'd dial would be 011-7-495-000-0000.

Calling from Russia: To make any long-distance call from within Russia, international or domestic, you must dial 8 first, then wait for a tone.

To make international calls: To make international calls from Russia, first dial 8, then wait for a tone, then dial 10, then dial the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, New Zealand, 64). Next, dial the area code and number. For example, if you want to call the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., you would dial 8 (tone) 10-1-202-298-5700. If you are calling from a hotel, you may have to dial 9 before dialing the 8, depending on hotel policy.

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To call from city to city within Russia: First dial 8, then wait for a tone, then dial the city code and the number. For example, calling St. Petersburg from Moscow would look like this: 8 (tone) 812-777-1000.

To call within Russian cities: Just dial the five- to seven-digit number. Local calls are free.

For directory assistance: Dial 07 if you're looking for a number inside Russia, but only if you speak Russian.

For operator assistance: If you need operator assistance in making an international call, dial 8, then wait for a tone, then dial 194. You can also try 077. If you need help calling a number in Russia, dial 08, but few operators speak English.

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Toll-free numbers: You cannot phone a 1-800 number in the United States from Russia, so be sure to have standard toll numbers for all your credit card companies and travel agencies before you leave.

Pay phones: Russia has largely phased out its coin-operated phones for card-operated ones. The coin-run ones rarely work and should be avoided. If you get stuck with one, they accept 1-, 2-, and 5-ruble coins. Cards for the other phones can be purchased at most metro stations and at many hotel kiosks in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Not all phones accept all kinds of phone cards, and not all phone cards allow international calls. The most common is Moscow City Telephone Service, known as MGTS by its Russian initials. Most cards provide instructions in English, though the phones use only Russian and internationally recognizable symbols.

International calling cards: Direct access numbers for AT&T in Moscow are tel. 755-5042 and 325-5042; MCI is tel. 747-3322; BT Direct is tel. 10-80-01-10-1044 (dial 8 first and wait for the tone); Canada Direct is tel. 755-5045 or 747-3325.

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Time Zone -- Moscow is 3 hours ahead of GMT from October to March, and 4 hours ahead during daylight saving time. That means it's usually 3 hours ahead of London, 8 hours ahead of New York, and 11 hours ahead of San Francisco. Russia switches to daylight saving time a week earlier than Europe and North America, and reverts to standard time a week earlier, too. To check the current time from any fixed-line phone, dial 065 (Russian only).

Tipping -- Restaurants generally include service charges in the bill, though small tips are welcome. Taxis usually set the rate before you head out, so no tip is expected. Baggage handlers and coat-check staffers should be tipped the equivalent of a dollar or so.

Useful Phone Numbers -- U.S. Dept. of State Travel Advisory: tel. 202/647-5225 (staffed 24 hr.)

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U.S. Passport Agency: tel. 202/647-0518

U.S. Centers for Disease Control International Traveler's Hotline: tel. 404/332-4559.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.