Sunday, August 21, 2005

On visas and immigration cards

On keeping track of passports and registrations. When I started this, one purpose was too leave a little more knowledge behind of what to expect over here. We've already covered the economic part - this is no longer the Russia of the Soviet era stereotype. Goods are widely available. Wages are still very low, but there is plenty of business being done. Levis don't sell for 4 times their US value, and a pack of Marlboros won't get you a ride anywhere in town any more. Now on to passports and registrations. You've got to have a visa to get here, and the government takes visas and all very seriously. On the other hand, customs was much less vigilant coming in than I would have expected in the US. Copies of your passport and visa: just have a couple copies available in your luggage, in your purse, etc. If you lose your passport, or have to give to someone to process the various permissions you may need, then you still have some proof of who you are and what you are doing.

You have to have an immigrant registration card in addition to your visa on entering the country, and you keep it with you at all times. It's like the US I-94 (?), but they are more stringent. You also have to register your location at all times. This gets stamped on your registration card, or sometimes your visa. Getting it stamped on your registration card is better, but I wouldn't try to communicate this when I don't speak the language. You have 72 hours in any location grace period. After that you had better be registered. Big fines if somebody requests ID and you're not right. Any time you leave the country, your immigration card and registration are automatically kaput, and you need to start anew on returning. It's really pretty simple once you get the hang of it.

For normal tourists the next won't apply, but if you are here on business, things get stickier. For instance, I need a special ID for the camp I live in, as it is administered or protected by the Russian Fed govt. I also have to have another ID for the office here, because it is in a restricted installation. Always ask. More often than not I haven't been fully updated about what I need to do until after I have already done it. Regular expats take it all for granted, or they forget, etc. etc. blah blah blah. So anyway, I brought extra passport photos, and when those ran out, I got some more extra, just to be helpful if it was required. That may be the smallest thing you could do, but it has come in handy once anyway.

Something not often noted is that you can register your location with the US consular service as well, via an internet site. This may prove helpful in an emergency. It is also a good thing to watch for the traveler's advisories about fraud, etc. You'll get some tips on the types of crimes to be watchful for. You may have read my earlier post about the change bank "quick count". Other visitors have been reporting other types of crimes at various times. There was a lot of credit card ripoffs a couple of years ago. I don't know if they are still happening, but it seemed like the reports I saw were mostly about 2 years old. So maybe that gang moved on or got busted or something. Who knows? I'm still more cautious than in the US about which ATMs I use and how well I hide my PIN input. For anyone who wants to think I'm stereotyping or whitewashing - whichever, I'm more cautious in the US for violent crime. I haven't gotten the vibes for that as much here. But don't take my word for it, just follow the advice travel experts always say - when you don't speak the language or know the customs you are a target for certain types of crime. Anywhere. Cheers!

Chelyabinsk shopping observations

We went to Chelyabinsk shopping today. Nice experience. First thing I will say is that you can smell some air pollution, but it is worse in or near the streets (vehicular pollution). This is one reason why the town smelled to me when I first passed through. When you're driving through town you are always on the street. The air is still not pristine though. On returning to the camp the difference is noticeable to me - although I will admit I think I am sensitive to this.

The city itself is pretty in spots. It doesn't look poor, but it is not in the best of repair either. It seems far more rural than a city of 1 million people would in the US or Canada. In this regard it fits the pattern I have seen here. The affluence is still too new to have acquired the automobile flavor of other cities of the same size in other first world countries. The city fits the pattern of economic growth and activity I saw in Moscow, although slightly more subdued. The economy wasn't just Moscow.

On returning to Chumlak I again notice more details, and the town seems less 3rd world than unindustrialized European. I can see large brick buildings that appear abandoned or disused. They have a similar appearance to farm structures I've seen in the US. I wonder if they were farm structures not so long ago. This would fit with appearances to me. Although I could really be off on this, a scenario where this village is on the upswing, but went through some bad times recently would fit to my way of looking. It could have been that there was a larger farm operation here in the Soviet era, but at some point it shut down. Now changes have grown into place a little, and the economy is swinging up. Everywhere I've been things seem like that. I don't see desperation - not riches either, but not rags.