Ukraine is different from the United States, and we believe you should be well informed about the Ukrainian culture, politics and policies before traveling to Ukraine. Sometimes the simplest things that we all take for granted in our own culture, could be quite puzzling to a traveler in another country or city.
Often tourists have questions about currency exchange, lodging or food arrangement. Therefore, we would like for you to read some brief information about some key points of your stay in Ukraine.
In this article, you will learn about what types of transportation are available in Ukraine, what languages are spoken and where, what currency is in circulation, what behavior is culturally accepted and what is not considered a cultural norm.
You need a valid passport to enter Ukraine. If you are a U.S. citizen, you do not need to have a Ukrainian visa as long as you will be in Ukraine for less than 90 days within a 180-day period for tourism. This means you can come for 90 days in one trip and then remain outside the country for 90 days, or that you can make multiple shorter trips to Ukraine totaling no more than 90 days in a 180 day period starting with the date of your first entry. You need a visa or valid Ukrainian residency permit for all stays longer than 90 days. As of September 10, 2011, all foreigners who plan to stay in Ukraine for more than 90 days are subject to new visa and residency permit rules. You cannot get a Ukrainian visa at the airport or at the border. If you need a visa, please get it in advance at the Ukrainian embassy or consulate.
Check your visa carefully so that you know the validity period. You are responsible for knowing the rules for the type of visa you have. Sometimes U.S. citizens try to come to Ukraine before their visa allows. Remember, in Ukraine the date is written day-month-year. A visa issued on 01/05/13 is good from May 1, 2013, NOT from January 5, 2013. If you come to Ukraine before your visa allows, you can be stopped at the border, not allowed to enter Ukraine, and required to return to your point of origin at your own expense. The U.S. Embassy in Kiev cannot stop this from happening.
If you enter Ukraine without needing a visa (meaning you will be in Ukraine for fewer than 90 days within a 180-day period), you are automatically registered at the border for 90 days. Extensions of stay beyond 90 days are rarely authorized. To apply for an extension, talk to your local office of the Ukrainian State Department of Citizenship, Immigration, and Registration (officially VGIFRO, but still referred to almost universally by its old acronym, “OVIR”) at least three work days before your initial registration expires. Although three days is a minimum, it is in your interest to contact OVIR earlier. Most cities will have several OVIR offices. If you are given an extension, you will be allowed to stay in Ukraine until your new registration expires; however, if you leave Ukraine, you may have to wait 180 days to come back without a visa. If you do not get an extension, you must leave the country and cannot come back until 180 days after your initial entry into Ukraine.
If you enter Ukraine on a long-term (“D”) visa, you must apply with OVIR for a residency permit within 45 days from your entry date. Once you have the residency permit you can reside in Ukraine for as long as it remains valid. To enter and exit the country, you will need your un-expired residency permit and a valid passport.
The national currency in Ukraine is Hryvnia (UAH). The banknotes are broken down into several bills which are the 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 UAH bills. There are two types of banknotes being circulated in Ukraine; and both the new and old standard notes are accepted. 1 hryvnia consists of 100 kopeykas. Denominations are as follows: 1, 2, 5, 10, 25 and 50 kopeyka. Ukraine is still mostly a cash economy. Credit and debit cards are common, but traveler’s checks are very difficult to cash. Even in the larger cities, acceptance of credit cards is not as widespread as in the U.S. or in Western European countries. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted credit cards; it can be difficult to use American Express, Diners Club, or other credit cards. Transferring funds from the United States, replacing stolen traveler’s checks or airline tickets, and canceling credit cards can be difficult and time consuming. There are few safe low-cost lodgings, such as youth hostels.
Exchanging U.S. dollars into Ukrainian hryvnya is simple; licensed exchange booths are widespread, and exchange rates are normally clearly advertised. Currency exchange is only legal at such licensed exchange booths, banks, and currency exchange desks at hotels; anyone caught dealing on the black market can expect to be detained by the local police and may face criminal prosecution. You will need to show your passport when exchanging money. Be aware that you will be unable to exchange Ukrainian hryvnya back to U.S. dollars or other foreign currency if you are unable to show where you got this amount of hryvnya from. Keep receipts that you get from exchange booths to be able to show them later if you need to exchange the local currency back to U.S. dollars when leaving the country.
There are many banks and licensed currency exchange booths located in major cities. ATMs (known locally as “bankomats”) are common throughout the country, even in the smaller cities and towns. All ATMs dispense cash only in hryvnya. You should think about bringing enough hard currency with you if you need dollars or euros during your trip. Credit card and ATM card fraud is a major concern, so you should use credit cards only at reputable businesses and ATMs located inside bank branches.
Customs regulations prohibit sending cash, traveler’s checks, personal checks, credit cards, passports, or other forms of identification through the international mail system, as well as via courier mail (FedEx, DHL, etc.). Customs authorities regularly confiscate these items as contraband. Ukrainian customs authorities may also enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Ukraine of items such as firearms, antiquities, prescription medications (in particular narcotic pain relievers), and currency.
Travelers arriving in Ukraine should pay close attention to the customs declaration requirements. Failure to declare cash, valuables, and certain goods in accordance with Ukrainian requirements can result in fines and the seizure of the goods. You may also have to attend a court hearing, usually scheduled several weeks after the offence, before you can depart Ukraine.
You may take up to EUR 10,000 or its equivalent into or out of Ukraine under oral declaration to Ukrainian customs authorities, if asked. To transport a greater amount, you must declare the total amount, in writing, by filling out the Customs Declaration Form before checking in at airports and presenting proof of the source of the money (a bank reference) to customs officials, or you may face forfeiture of the money to Ukrainian customs as well as a court appearance.
Ukraine has strict limitations on the export of antiques and other goods and artifacts deemed to be of particularly important historical or cultural value. These include, but are not limited to, any items produced before 1950 regardless of the country of production. United States citizens must adhere to these restrictions as a matter of law. Please contact the Kyiv Department of Culture, Expertise Section, at (38-044) 279-6109 or (38-044) 279-5647, if you have any questions regarding items you own, wish to purchase, and/or plan to export.
Ukraine is a cash economy. Traveler's checks and credit cards are gaining wider acceptance in larger cities. Use of credit cards is limited to the better hotels, Western-style restaurants, international airlines and select stores. American Express, MasterCard, and Visa are commonly accepted. A passport or diplomatic card may be required whenever a credit card is used. Customs regulations prohibit sending cash, traveler's checks, personal checks, credit cards or passports through the international mail system to Ukraine. These items are regularly confiscated as contraband by customs authorities.
The climate in Ukraine is mostly temperate continental. It is mainly characterized by significant precipitation and cloudiness in winter and fall. Subtropical Mediterranean climate prevails on the southern coast of the Crimean Peninsula.
Winters are usually long and cold. The average temperature during winter is -8° to +1° C. Summers are typically warm. The average temperature during summer is + 17° to + 27° C.
Summer in Ukraine starts around the beginning of May and lasts until the end of September. Due to its proximity to the Black Sea, average daytime temperature of air in the summer in Odessa is above 30°C. Summer in Kiev, due to its northern geographic location, is not as hot as it is in the south of the country.
We strongly advise against drinking tap water in Ukraine. The tap water is cleaned with chloride and other strong chemicals. The only acceptable way of drinking water is boiling it first. The good news is that bottled water is sold just about everywhere and it is very cheap. You can buy high quality drinking water for about 80 cents for every 2 liters. There are many varieties of drinking water sold. We recommend Bon Aqua, and “Morshinskaya” bottled water.
Ukraine boasts plenty of cultural centers, museums, and theaters. Ukrainian people like outdoor activities and you will find many events held right in the streets or in public squares; they are free of charge. If you’re planning a night out, in most nightclubs you will be able to order drinks in English. There are so many things to see and do; and, at one third of the price you would normally pay in the United States, you can have a whole lot more fun in Ukraine!
In Ukraine, other than in public transportation and a handful of restaurants, smoking is allowed everywhere. Cafes and restaurants have designated sections for smokers, whereas in bars there are no such restrictions.
Kiev metro is open from 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. daily. The fare is 2 UAH (about 25 cents). Sometimes working hours are extended when major sporting, cultural, religious events or festivals take place in the city. Fixed route taxi, buses, tramways and trolleybuses are also popular in Ukraine. Ukraine has a well-developed system of mini bus routes. The mini buses are called “marshrutkas” and pick up and drop off people at designated stops. Be aware of the fact that these mini buses do not always make stops, so you have to tell the driver when to stop. These mini buses can get pretty packed, so an alternative way of getting around in the city would be traveling by taxi. Cars from taxi services can be ordered over the phone, or they can be picked up on streets next to bus stops and busy location. Please keep in mind that many taxi drivers in Ukraine do not use the meter, so it would be prudent to agree on a price beforehand. In other Ukrainian cities taxi cab fares are a little less expensive than in Kiev.
Ukraine has a great variety of traditional and international cuisine. The core of the Ukrainian cuisine originates in the peasant dishes based on grains and staple vegetables like potatoes, cabbage, beets and mushrooms. The most popular Ukrainian dish is borsch, followed by holubtsi or stuffed cabbage, as well as vareniky filled with potatoes, meat, cheese, sauerkraut, or berries.
Ukraine has many bistros and cafes which are very cheap to eat at and are a good option when you are in a hurry. There are also many types of restaurants and diners. Choices vary from simple meals to the most elite five star meals; you don't have to look too far to get exactly what you want. Kiev is also hosting many American restaurants ranging from MacDonalds to T.G.I. Fridays.
There is no common rule in Ukraine about tips, but the suggested amount is usually 5-10%. Some restaurants include tip in the bill. You can also tip a guide or driver at your own discretion.
The voltage in Ukraine is 220 V (50Hz). The sockets are European, so we suggest buying European plug adapters.
The official language is Ukrainian, although Russian is also widespread. Other languages spoken in Ukraine are Romanian, Polish, and Hungarian. Young people in Ukraine can also speak English fairly well. You will notice many signs written in English as well. Most large commercial businesses will have labels written in English. Also, many restaurants and cafes have menus written in English. While in Ukraine, expect to pick up a few phrases and words in Ukrainian. Foreigners usually have an easier time learning Ukrainian than Russian, since it has fewer "soft" consonants and fewer difficult consonant clusters. Ukrainian and Russian share much of their vocabulary but have different pronunciation paradigms. Nonetheless, if you know basic Russian, learning Ukrainian is much easier than mastering a new language from scratch (this also works vice versa).
People in Ukraine are hospitable, well-educated, kind-hearted and hard-working individuals. They are very friendly to guests. If you are invited by a Ukrainian family, you will receive lots of attention as long as your stay in the house of your host. If you are lost on the streets in Ukraine, a total stranger will be happy to help you with directions. Ukrainians can even recommend something in a store or restaurant that they feel is a better choice for you.
Every country has its own distinctive characteristics and it is a good idea to be aware of cultural differences when you go abroad. For example, closer personal space distance is something Ukrainians do not care so much about. Therefore, do not be surprised to find yourself speaking to someone who gets too close to you during your conversation.
Another cultural peculiarity you should probably be aware of is that Ukrainians enjoy a good debate, and sometimes a very heated argument can arise due to cultural differences and beliefs. Do not be alarmed if this happens hence Ukrainians like to argue just for fun and things usually never escalate.
You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
- Does my policy apply when I’m out of the United States?
- Will it cover emergencies like a trip to a foreign hospital or a medical evacuation?
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors’ and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy cannot be used outside the United States, it’s a very good idea to take out another one for your trip.
Medical facilities and health information
If you are ill or infirm, we strongly recommend that you do not travel to Ukraine. Ukraine is not a disabled-friendly environment, with little or no accommodations to ease access. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. State ambulance service is inadequate and it can take hours to get a response even in an emergency. Ambulance crews have asked for bribes before agreeing to transport critically ill patients to the hospital. A few facilities have only limited English speakers, and most have none at all. No hospitals in Ukraine accept U.S. health insurance plans for payment, and the level of medical care is not equal to that found in U.S. hospitals. (Some facilities are adequate for basic services.) If you are hospitalized, you or someone acting on your behalf must supply bandages, medication, and food. The U.S. Embassy also recommends that you obtain private medical evacuation insurance prior to traveling to Ukraine. If you do not have Ukrainian medical insurance, you may be asked to pay in cash for medical services and hospitalization before you are treated. Many private insurance companies in Ukraine offer short-term medical coverage for visitors.
Traffic safety and road conditions
While in Ukraine, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Generally, roads in Ukraine outside major urban areas are in poor condition and are poorly lighted. U.S. citizen visitors to Ukraine can drive using their U.S. driving licenses for up to 60 days after entering the country; those planning to stay longer need to obtain a Ukrainian driving license. You should drive defensively at all times, since local drivers often disregard traffic rules. Drivers are often poorly trained; many drive without a valid driver's license. Drivers can also be dangerously aggressive and normally do not respect the rights of pedestrians, even at clearly marked pedestrian crossings, and regularly drive on the sidewalks. Pedestrians should also be aware of cars driving or attempting to park on sidewalks. Many cars, including some taxis, do not meet the safety standards common in the United States. There is no tolerance for driving under the influence, and penalties can be steep. Fines are associated with driving while talking on a cell phone.
Due to heavy traffic and congested roads, vehicle accidents happen often in larger Ukrainian cities, especially in Kiev. If you are involved in an accident in Ukraine, do not move the vehicle from the site of the accident unless it presents a clear safety concern (causing a traffic jam is not considered a safety concern). In practice, this means that even moving a vehicle to the side of the road after an accident may be considered a criminal offense. Local police must be notified and will report to the scene to conduct an investigation. You must wait until the police arrive and complete their report, no matter how long it takes; often this can take several hours. When police arrive, they will decide responsibility, take the drivers’ personal information, and file an accident report. In the vast majority of cases, the police reporting to the scene of an accident will not speak English.
Cross-country travel at night and in winter can be particularly dangerous. The Embassy strongly recommends that visitors and permanent residents of Ukraine refrain from driving after dark outside of major cities. Roadside services such as gas stations and repair facilities are becoming more common, but are far from U.S. standards; travelers should plan accordingly. Western-made or foreign-registered cars have been carjacked.
Threats to safety and security
For the most part, Ukraine is a safe country to visit, with little anti-U.S. sentiment. Large demonstrations occasionally occur in the bigger cities, such as Kyiv, and are usually sponsored by political organizations. Most protests are peaceful but you should avoid them if at all possible. Even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can become violent and unpredictable. Be alert and aware of your surroundings and pay attention to what the local news media report.
Street crime remains a serious problem in Ukraine. The country continues to undergo significant economic, political, and social transformation, and income differences have grown accordingly. As a result, you and other foreign visitors may be perceived as wealthy and become easy targets for criminals. United States citizens often stand out in Ukraine, and are therefore more likely to be targeted than in Western European countries, where incomes are higher and U.S. citizens may blend in better. The police are poorly paid, motivated, trained, and equipped, and also are considered to be one of the most corrupt organizations in Ukraine. Ukrainian police and emergency services remain generally below Western European and U.S. standards in terms of training, responsiveness, and effectiveness. Ukrainian law enforcement and emergency officials rarely speak English and interpreters are not readily available.
Most street crimes reported to the Embassy are non-violent and non-confrontational, and range from various scams to simple pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, and theft of personal items from parked cars. Many of these crimes occur in downtown Kyiv or on the public transport system, including the subway (metro). Muggings, armed robberies, harassment, or the drugging of unsuspecting victims at nightspots and bars (where they are then robbed) have been reported, but less frequently. Cases of assaults in apartment building corridors, elevators, and stairwells, as well as armed break-ins and crimes involving small-caliber firearms have also been reported, but are rare; most criminals do not carry guns, but may have other weapons. When violent assaults do occur, they usually involve punches and kicks, with an occasional bottle or similar item used as a club.
A commonly reported scam in Kiev is the “wallet scam,” which involves a person dropping a wallet or a packet of money near you. After you pick up the wallet/packet and attempt to give it back to the individual who dropped it, the scam artist claims that the wallet is missing money and accuses you of stealing it. The individual either threatens to call the police if you don’t pay or asks you to show your wallet to prove that you did not take any money. When you show your wallet, the thief grabs your money and flees. A very common variant involves a second person who intercedes and claims to be a police officer, often flashing a badge. The second person also asks to see your wallet, grabbing the money and fleeing or, through sleight of hand, stealing your money. Many variants exist: two wallets; three or more thieves; etc. All variants involve the victim picking up something and returning it to the person who dropped it. U.S. citizens have reported being robbed by people posing as police officers. Police officers in Ukraine, including plain clothes officers, routinely stop people on the street to check identity documents and U.S. citizens are required to carry their passports and produce them on request. However, if you have doubts about the legitimacy of a police officer, you can ask to see their photo ID.
The U.S. Embassy also hears from people who have had large amounts of money stolen by Internet contacts they thought were their friends, loved ones, or romantic interests. These Internet scams include lotteries, on-line dating or introduction services, and even requests from a “friend” in trouble. In many cases, scammers troll the Internet for victims and spend weeks or months building a relationship and credibility. Once they have gained their victim’s trust, they create a false situation and ask for money. Once money has been sent, there is next to no chance it will be recovered.
Credit card and ATM fraud are wide-spread. Ukraine generally operates as a cash economy, and money scams are common. Although credit card and ATM use among Ukrainians is increasing, the Embassy strongly recommends that you exercise caution and use credit cards only at reputable businesses. You should avoid using ATMs on the street or in public places whenever possible. Machines located inside bank branches are generally safer.
Burglaries of apartments and vehicles represent a common threat to long-term residents. Although few cars are actually stolen, primarily because of increased use of alarm systems and security wheel locks, vehicular break-ins, and vehicular vandalism are frequent.
Do not wire money to Ukraine unless the recipient is well-known to you and the purpose of business is clear. United States citizens have reported transferring money to Ukraine to pay for goods purchased from residents of Ukraine via online auction sites, but never receiving the goods in return. The Embassy has received reports of harassment and intimidation directed against foreign businesspersons and interests. Reported incidents include:
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal to bring back into the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
Accessibility is an issue in Ukraine. Public facilities in Ukraine generally are not equipped to accommodate persons with physical disabilities. Public transport systems are not fully accessible to individuals with disabilities. Some newer buildings feature ramps and elevators, but older buildings do not. You should check ahead with your hotel/destination to learn more about options to accommodate disabled traveler needs before visiting Ukraine. (c) US Department of State