If you are wondering whether Kiev is worth visiting and if the city is safe, the answer to both is yes! I’ve spent considerable time in Kiev and can vouch that Kiev is safe both day and night. You must naturally exercise caution. It is also safe to travel alone in Kiev and if you follow the guidelines I’ve provided, you’ll have a great experience.
The short answer is yes. You are probably in far more danger walking the streets of a US inner city at night than doing the same in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital. Is it wise to walk the streets of Kiev alone at night? Not really. Should you decide to follow my suggestions, however, I can assure you’ll have an unforgettable experience as Ukraine is for many a tourist, a road less traveled.
Travel Safety Tips for Visiting Kiev
Get a Local Sim Card
When you land at the airport, you can find a couple of kiosks selling sim cards after you’ve exited the baggage claim and customs area. If you have trouble finding it, you can ask for help, even in English. It will cost around $5 for enough coverage to last a month, and don’t worry about setting it up, the staff will even help you out here. Just make sure your phone allows for international sim cards as some don’t, this is especially true if you are travelling from the Americas or Asia. For obvious reasons the sim card gives you a life line. It’s a good idea to carry a battery bank for your phone, too and remember they use different charging outlets in Europe than the rest of the world.
Here are the local numbers for emergencies:
Fire – 101
Police – 102
Ambulance – 103
Learn Basic Russian
As you head further East, you’ll run into fewer individuals who have a strong command of English, which is especially the case in Ukraine where both Russian and Ukrainan are spoken. The most common conversational language, though is Russian. Ukrainians will know both but it is generally normal to converse in Russian, especially if you are a foreigner. If you wish to win some points with the locals, it is advantageous to know some Ukrainian, just be careful not to mix it up with Russian or you’ll end up creating confusion. Kiev is safe, even if you are travelling alone,
Use Taxi Sharing Apps
The local cabbies rarely speak English and are notorious for overcharging foreigners. There are several advantages to a taxi sharing app, the first being financial as you’ll always know the price upfront. Secondly, you can get by with less knowledge of the local language since the driver will know where to go. Finally, you’ll have more information about the driver than you would with a random stranger. Yuklon is the Ukrainian taxi sharing app, but is more for locals than foreigners. Both Uber and Taxify are also quite popular.
This is common sense for just about any travel destination, however, if you are overly concerned, stick to the major tourist areas and only go around in the day time. Hotels are quite reasonable when compared to Western Europe and AirBNB is also possible in Ukraine as well. If you have the money, a hotel is recommended for 2 reasons. First, many Air BNB hosts do not speak English, secondly in some cases you must go to a separate destination to collect the keys or cannot collect the keys 24 hours a day.
Exercise Caution in the Metro
You are safe from physical danger in the metro, I’ve ridden it quite frequently and am still here to write this. What is at a greater risk is your wallet or purse. Despite its efficiency, the Kiev metro does very high volumes, especially during peak times. There are many thieves who prowl the metro in the most touristic areas, looking for the opportunity to pick a pocket. Due to large crowds, you can easily be pickpocketed without knowing it. Considering that taxis are inexpensive relative to other regions, if you want to play it safe avoid the metro. I’d also only take buses if you speak Russian well or are with a friend. You can easily get lost or be taken to an area you probably don’t want to be in.
ID & Money
America is one of the few countries in the world where even as an adult you must present identification on a frequent basis, this is not the case in Europe. With the exception of high end casinos, your initial hotel check in and embassys you never need to show ID in most European countries, so it is best to leave it at home. This is just a general travel tip but you should also carry a set amount of cash with you, limit daily withdrawals on your card, and have one backup card at most.
You Are a Guest
What I always remind travelers, especially Americans who tend to have limited travel experience compared to other nations, is to humble yourself and tone down your personality. American tourists tend to be the loudest and dressed the most casually, making them easy to spot as Europeans . I suggest that one should behave as if they were permanently in the home of their boss: be courteous to wait staff, not demanding, learn a couple words in the local language like please and thank you, it goes a long way, if you feel sleighted you must turn the other cheek. If you follow these guidelines you will blend in and be fine.
Aside from someone in physical danger, ie bleeding in front of you, be wary of someone asking for help, it is better that a local assists them as this could be a scam. This may sound obvious but if you are in a nightlife environment, be very cautious about taking a drink from a stranger, as friendly as it may seem. One scam I’ve heard of involves a man standing outside a convenience store who will offer you to take a shot to celebrate his birthday, in reality the drink is spiked. Finally, there is also a scam whereby the scammer places a large sum of money on the ground, waiting for a stranger to pick it up. Once you go to pick it up, you’ll immediately be accosted by several men claiming to be policemen as well as a “victim” who will claim you stole the money from him. It’s simply a ruse to hustle an unsuspecting tourist for money.
Ukraine is known for sex tourism, something I’m not going to help you out with. I will warn you, however, that if you intend on visiting Kiev for this, you should keep your guard up. In the past years the city has been flooded with wealthy and naive tourists looking for a fun time. There are many traps you can fall into as one New Zealand man learned by being helpful.
Just remember that if you show your hand, you will be a target for opportunistic locals who want your money and also the vengeful type who do not enjoy seeing their country exploited due to poor economic circumstances.