This portion of our Web site is currently under construction.
Please check back soon for updated
Resource Library › Travel Resources › Travel Tips for the NIS
Your visit to the New Independent States (NIS) promises to be extremely rewarding. It will in most likelihood also be challenging. To help you prepare, this section offers a compilation of tips from previous partners and from AIHA's cumulative experience over the past five years. Another good source of information is from your colleagues who have recently visited the NIS partner and experienced much of what you will. In reading this document, please note that the NIS region encompasses 14 richly diverse countries and that these guidelines are intended to be general in nature. We suggest that you consult AIHA staff or the World Wide Web for additional information specific to your country/region.
Preparing for Your Trip
While Staying in the NIS
Words of Wisdom from AIHA Participants
Preparing for Your Trip
A good piece of general advice is to travel light. If at all possible, pack everything in a carry-on bag. If this is impractical, pack at least a change of clothes and other essentials in your carry-on bag in case your checked luggage arrives late or is lost. Seasoned NIS visitors advise bringing as little check-on luggage as possible. The reduced weight will prevent a lot of stress and strain. In addition, porters are not readily available in many NIS airports. The following provides information on some recommended items which are recommended.
MEDICATIONS AND VACCINATIONS
In the areas where NIS partner institutions are located, there are currently no formal immunization requirements for travelers. However, certain basic vaccinations are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These include:
- Hepatitis A or immune globulin (IG).
- Hepatitis B, if you might be exposed to blood or be exposed through medical treatment.
- Rabies, if you might be exposed to wild or domestic animals through your work or recreation.
- Typhoid, if you are visiting developing countries in this region.
- As needed, booster doses for tetanus-diphtheria, measles, and a one-time dose of polio vaccine for adults. Hepatitis B vaccine is now recommended for all infants and for 11– to 12-year-olds who did not receive the series as infants.
For maximum effectiveness, these vaccines should be administered 4-6 weeks prior to travel.
Certain basic medications are also strongly recommended. These might include the following: Pepto Bismol, Aspirin orTylenol, Immodium AD, Dramamine, antibiotics and cold medicine. Vitamins are a good precaution, especially for vegetarians and others with special diets. Travelers should bring all prescription medicines required for the duration of the trip.
For the medications that you bring, remember to 1) pack them in your carry-on luggage, 2) keep them in their original, labeled containers, and 3) keep any written prescriptions from your physician with the prescribed medications and 4) make sure they are not expired.
Additional information about travel-related health precautions may be obtained from the Web Site of the Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov), or from your local physician.
- Although you may have working meetings every day and dinner out most nights, your wardrobe need not be extensive. In your NIS partner institutions, dress as you would at your American workplace, keeping the climate in mind. (see Table 4.1 below).
- You may find that your NIS colleagues will dress more formally than you are accustomed to. Men should bring a coat and tie, and women the equivalent for the occasional formal banquet/reception. Bring comfortable clothes and shoes to relax and travel in as well.
- Winter and Spring travelers to Russia, Ukraine and Moldova may also want to bring good snow shoes or boots. The sidewalks are often very slippery and/or slushy.
- Shorts are not accepted in some of the more southern countries.
There are a few other essential items that you should remember to bring:
- Make a copy of your visa and the photo page of your passport to have with you in case your original documents are lost. Keep these copies in your luggage separate from the actual passport.
- Several small packages of Kleenex and/or wet wipes. (Hotels and restaurants usually have toilet paper, but public bathrooms rarely do and it's always a good idea to have something with you.)
- Women should bring their own supply of sanitary napkins and/or tampons.
- Basic toiletries. Pack enough to last the entire trip, since you may not always be able to find the brands you prefer.
- Due to limited laundry and dry cleaning facilities, you may want to bring a small bottle of Woolite. If possible, limit your wardrobe to wash and wear items.
- If you bring a hair dryer or an electric razor, you must bring an adapter and converter for 220v, European outlets.
- A money belt.
Contact Lens Solutions are frequently difficult to find.
- Swiss army knife. Remember to pack it in your luggage and not in your carry on, since airlines have been prohibiting passengers from carrying hazardous items on board.
- It is difficult in most NIS counties to cash travelers checks, and impossible in the Central Asian Republics. Dollars should be brought in small denominations of $50s, $20s and $10s. Bills should be new and with no ink stains or tears. Damaged bills will not be accepted. A supply of 10 or 20 new $1 bills is helpful, especially in transit for tips and souvenir shopping.Small gifts. Take mementos that are unique to the US, your state, city or institution such as calendars, postcards, T-shirts, special foods, etc. In addition small portable medical items such as stethoscopes and lab coats make good gifts, as do any promotional items from your hospital, such as notepads, pens, etc.
- Photos of your family, friends, workplace, home etc. Your NIS partners will want to get to know you not just as a professional colleague but as a friend. An excellent means of getting t
- Bottled water is always best, even when the locals tell you otherwise. However, if you do choose to drink the water make sure it has been boiled for at least 10 minutes. A small heating coil comes in handy. Remember that any electrical appliances will require an adapter and a converter.
- Small camera with film. Film is cheaper in the NIS, but you may not always have the time to pick up a couple of rolls.
- A good supply of business cards (with Russian text if at all possible).
- A small flashlight. Many cities are not well lit at night, and you will find it useful walking around.
- Small bottle of antibacterial hand jelly, for the occasions when you may not have a chance to wash your hands.
- A towel. If you are not staying in an expensive hotel, you may only be provided with hand towels.
Generally, you may check up to two bags for international travel. Checked baggage may not exceed 70 pounds or 62 inches in total dimension. A third item can be carried on the plane with you. Carry-on items must fit either below the seat or in an overhead compartment. Frequently, partners exceed the weight/size requirements because they are hand-carrying items for donation to their NIS partners. Contact your partnership representative if you anticipate having excess baggage so that it may be pre-paid for your convennience.
- Plan to arrive at the airport two hours before your flight, three hours if you have excess baggage.
- Legible address labels should be included on the inside and outside of all luggage and boxes to help prevent them getting lost.
- Since lost luggage is not uncommon, you should carry all essential items and a change of clothes with you. This would include important medications and/or any instruments you require for the clinical work you will do while in the NIS.
- Once in the NIS airport, you will go through passport control and then to a baggage claim area. If needed, you should look for a baggage cart as soon as you get out of passport control since they are often hard to find.
- If you are carrying medical supplies or drugs for donation, you should keep an itemized list of what you are bringing. Pharmaceuticals with an expiration date of 6 months or less will be confiscated. Each NIS country has specific customs requirements regarding donated materials. Contact a Program Analyst at AlHA at least one month before you travel in order to determine the requirements for anything you plan to carry.
- Upon return to the US, you should report to the airport two hours before your flight to clear customs, and fill out any necessary paper work.
While Staying in the NIS
FOOD AND DRINK
The type, quality and availability of food varies greatly from country to country and region to region. These may be affected by the local habits, season, and general socio-economic/trade conditions of the area in question. Your hotel and NIS hosts are the best sources of information on meals. In fact, your hosts will likely arrange many of your meals, including glorious banquets that will last for hours. Here are some additional hints:
- Do not drink untreated tap water, including ice. Bottled water is available in most stores or street-side stands. Travelers with sensitive stomachs are even advised not to use tap water to brush their teeth. Travel with one or two bottles from the US.
- Bring one or two bottles of water with you. This will enable you to brush your teeth and have a drink of water after you've arrived in the NIS and before you've had a chance to go to a store.
- The local bottled mineral water is safe to drink, although you should be wary of 'counterfeit' bottles. It also has a distinct taste, due to its very high salt and mineral content. It is believed to have medicinal qualities. You may want to give it a try.
- Fruits and vegetables that will be peeled, with the exception of bananas, should first be washed in soapy, treated water. Other fruits and vegetables should be soaked in a chlorine or iodine solution for 15 minutes. (one iodine tablet per quart of water or one teaspoon of chlorine per gallon of water.) Iodine tablets can be found in most camping or general stores.
- Travelers should be cautious of dairy products which are not pasteurized. Consult with your NIS partners to determine if this is the case in your locality. In the summer months spoilage is quite common due to improper refrigeration.
- Much of the food you will be served will be high in salt and cholesterol. There is no non-fat milk. If you anticipate a problem, you may wish to bring more snacks and supplementary food.
- If you enjoy eating out, have someone you trust, preferably a local resident, take you to a local restaurant. There are excellent places to eat, but they can be difficult to find.
- The NIS region is famous for its production of alcoholic beverages such as vodka, wine, brandy, and sparkling wine. Your NIS hosts will undoubtedly encourage you to try them. If you do plan to drink at a dinner or celebration, start slowly! Many in the NIS are proud of their tradition of toasts, as a means of facilitating good will between the diners. Usually, every 15-20 minutes they offer a toast, and one dinner may easily have as many as 7 to 15.
- If you choose not to drink during your visit decide this beforehand, and make no exceptions to your rule. Informing your hosts early of an allergy or religious objections to drinking or eating meat wil help avoid awkwardness later.
- Don't let this section discourage you from trying many of the local specialities. The national dishes of each of the NIS countries are unique and delicious.
It is difficult to generalize about language skills in the NIS, with these exceptions:
- Russian is understood throughout the NIS; however, in some countries other languages have been designated as the official, and therefore preferred, language.
- English is not widely spoken (AIHA and your hosts will arrange interpreters). Communication may be less difficult than you anticipate: you will likely discover universal "languages" based on your common mission as health-care professionals.
Should you get the chance to do any shopping, please keep in mind the following:
- In some stores, you must first get in a line to order what you want and they will tell you how much it costs or give you a ticket. Then, you must get in the cashier line to pay for it and get a receipt. Finally, you must go back to the first line and pick up what youtve paid for. NIS citizens have learned to shorten the tedious process of shopping by getting into several lines at once. Therefore, you may be asked to hold someone else's place in line.
- Many of the larger hotels in the major capitals will have shops where Western goods are available, although, their prices are generally higher than other local shops. These might include items such as snacks, toiletries, and bottled water. Some stores accept American credit cards, although you shouldn't rely on them. There are geographical variances of which cards are accepted (e.g. Visa, Master Charge, American Express, Diners).
- The central squares in big cities usually have department stores.
- Many NIS countries have regulations as to what may leave the country. Russia for example prohibits export of items such as old books, samovars and icons. If you wish to purchase any valuable items such as rugs, artwork, or expensive jewelry you will have to obtain clearance and pay duty to customs officials. Some items for export must be registered in the Ministry of Culture several days in advance.
MAKING A PHONE CALL
- It is difficult to use phones in the NIS, and it is even more difficult to place international calls. Pay phones often do not work and the majority do not provide international service. In Russia, a metro token or special ticket is required, and these are only available in metro stations and kiosks in some cities.
- AT&T offers international access lines in most counties (See Box 4.3). These lines are considerably cheaper than those provided by local phone companies, and the transmission quality is often better.
Box 4.3 ATT Direct Access Codes
|Russia, St. Petersburg
- Most hotels also allow guests to buy time for international calls, and there are stores that specialize in phone calls. Be cautious of using hotel telephones for international calls, however, as these can often be extremely expensive.
- To travel around the city, a wide variety of public transportation is available. Most cities have a system of buses, trolleybuses, and electric rails that you can use.
- Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tashkent, Kiev, Almaty, Minsk, Bishkek, Tbilisi and Yerevan have subway systems.
- Cabs are also available. When hailing a cab, you may receive ride offers from locals trying to earn extra money. This can be dangerous and is strongly discouraged. Before getting into a cab it is always wiser to agree on the destination and the price. If you do not the fare may be considerably higher.
- American women should not be surprised if they are treated differently than their male counterparts. Many citizens of the NIS follow the same cultural protocols as do other Europeans. For example, male NIS colleagues may offer to carry heavy bags for a women, help her getting out of a bus or car, as well as assisting her to put on her coat. Also, in mixed groups, NIS men will typically address the males in the group with a handshake. In many countries it is not traditional to shake hands with women, though there are sometimes different standards for foreign women.
- Smoking is quite prevalent in the NIS. Non-smoking sections are rarely available.
- One of the greatest extensions of hospitality is when someone invites you into their home. Guests have a special status in the NIS. There is a saying in Turkmenistan for example that a guest is more honored than a grandfather. So don't be surprised if you receive the red carpet treatment. Expect to sit and do nothing while you're there. You should sit next to the host. Your host will probably put out enough food for twenty people and continually ask you to eat all of it. This isn't a serious request of course, it's just an attempt to be as hospitable as possible.
- Don't feel you have to eat something if you don't like it. Your hosts will understand.
- Before you enter most homes you should take off your shoes in the entryway, especially if your shoes are dirty. Be sure to place them pointing inward, especially if you are in Central Asia. It is considered bad form to do otherwise. Your host will then offer you tapochki or slippers.
- It is traditional (though not mandatory) to give small gifts the first time you come to someone's house. Again if you are in Central Asia try not to give a knife or spicy food, as they are considered offensive. Good small gifts are electronic things, toiletries, picture books, clothing or American liquor. You usually can't go wrong with a present that you bought in the States.
- If you bring flowers buy an odd number. Even numbers of roses for example are considered bad luck.
If you have the opportunity to give a presentation or lead an informative session in the NIS, Dr. Dharmapuri Vidyasagar of the University of Illinois at Chicago offers the following tips:
- Physicians and nurses from the NIS countries are very eager to learn. Allowing for limitations in understanding English, our colleagues have excellent capabilities to understand and assimilate our lectures. Every effort should be made to provide information in a simple format, and/or translated into the local language.
- Generally you will be assisted by a translator. The translators are very good, but may not have the medical vocabulary needed for some of the lecture material. Therefore, every effort should be made to use concise sentences in simple language. Avoid technical terms, and give the translator a list of more complicated medical terminology to be used beforehand if possible. Also avoid jargon.
- Also make sure to discuss with the translator ahead of time if they will do simultaneous or consecutive translation, and give them copies of any transparencies you will use.
- Keep the lecture length to 45 minutes or less, allowing adequate time for questions and answers, explanation of details and discussion.
- Provide hand outs whenever possible, in local language.
- Include audiovisuals, slides and overheads, keeping the visuals clear and simple.
- Videotapes are best for practical material in small groups. Incorporate small breaks at critical points to review the material presented through translation. It will be much appreciated if the videos are left behind. [Bear in mind that if you are using videotapes in a presentation, that the NIS uses a different standard (PAL/SECAM). With at least two weeks' notice, AIHA's Washington, DC office can convert video recordings to the standard NIS format if necessary.]
- Keep in mind the potentially limited technical capabilities of NIS institutions.
- It will be much appreciated if the videos are left behind.
- Speak slowly and clearly. Remember it will take twice as long to deliver your lecture when translated. Also, speak in short phrases--translators have only so much memory.
- Ask your listeners frequently for feedback or comprehension. Talk with your colleagues during breaks.
- Respect cultural and religious beliefs of that country. Be sensitive in using examples.
- Understand the local concerns of the institution/city/country.
- Do not impose upon the audience your knowledge and research, but provide the needed information.
- Limit the use of technical terms, acronyms, and slang.
Crime in the NIS has been on the rise in recent years. You should follow the same general rules as you would in any major American metropolitan center. Keep in mind that you will probably stand out as an American, which in the minds of many NIS citizens is equated with having a lot of money. While most of these tips are commonsense, a few are worth emphasizing.
- In the evenings travelers should be wary of walking alone in the city.
- Don't wear expensive jewelry. Most valuables, with the exception of your camera should be left in the States. Not only will it help you keep from becoming a target, but will also avoid any complications in customs declaration forms.
- Pickpockets are not uncommon. Protect purses and bags when walking in crowded public areas. If you experience a theft or other crime, please remember to file a report with the local police so that insurance coverage will be in effect.
- In a medical emergency, you should contact the closest AIHA regional office as soon as possible. The emergency contact list will be provided to you with your airlines ticket.
- You are covered during your travel by American International Assistance Services, Inc. (AIAS) for health and evacuation assistance which can be contacted in a medical emergency at the following numbers:
Inside US: 1-800-626-2427
Outside US: 0-713-267-2525 (collect)
The Group is: American International Health Alliance, Inc.
Policy # 9020060/AIAS#1550
- AIHA provides each traveler with this information on an identification card, included with his or her tickets. Prior to calling, be sure to get the number of the hotel where you are staying.
In the case of an emergency, your colleagues/family may contact AIHA in Washington, DC (202-789-1136). After hours, the AIHA beeper number is 1-800-SKY-PAGE, ID Number: 1089405. When calling the beeper, enter your telephone number with the area code after you hear the beep.
Words of Wisdom from AIHA Participants
Knowing what to pack and what to eat can help to make a more comfortable journey. Here are some additional hints from AIHA participants to further enhance your experience:
"Be patient with the bureaucracy. There is always a system for doing things (whether it makes sense to you or not), and it is usually better to 'cooperate with the inevitable than to try to buck the system and force them to do things the 'good old American way.'
"Be Cautious. Not everything is as it appears. You need to know a lot about the culture before making judgments about things that trouble you. Ask lots of questions." --James Jennings, University of Illinois at Chicago
"I would tell every AIHA participant to have an open mind and a sense of humor. To get interested in the people and their culture and their history and find out what it is that enables them to function during great adversity. When we start looking, we find much to learn." --Louise Redford, University of Kansas Medical Center
And finally, a quick "packing" list, compiled from other participants:
Bring a sense of humor.
Don't bring preconceptions about the New Independent States.
We congratulate you on your decision to visit and work in the New Independent States. These are beautiful, diverse, and fascinating countries. Although you may be leaving behind some conveniences and comforts, we are confident that your exploration of different cultures will be challenging and rewarding.
« Go Back