Russian bribe culture
When talking about any Russian authority – be it customs, police, any other kind of bureaucratic institutions, or even hospitals, the topic of bribes arises almost immediately. Unfortunate, but true: Russian society is based on bribing, the tradition of which goes far back into history. Somehow, the culture of honesty in business and especially in the public sector never took root in Russia, and thus, very many Russians live according to the principle that a little money discreetly inserted into the paperwork you’re submitting will achieve much better results than the honest procedure. You were supposed to get your documents back in 2 weeks, and now, they’ll be ready in 2 days, isn’t it grand?
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Bribes are not cool
No, it isn’t. Bribery represents a huge part of the shadow economy in Russia, and undermines the principles of fairness. The one who pays or pays more gets the service that another person should’ve gotten, by law, for free. Fair play, law and order – you can forget about it. So don’t feed the looters and don’t try to use bribery in Russia. It is illegal, by the way, and very much so.
And customs officials are not easy to bribe anyway. They are subject to strict regulations and stick to them, maybe, because it’s even more fun to harass people with silly rules than to squeeze money out of them. That’s why, upon arriving in or departing from Russia, you’ve got to take measures. Check the regulations online, before you pack. Don’t risk packing any kind of questionable stuff or too much booze and such like. When leaving Russia, don’t attempt to take antique knick-knacks with you: You have to get a permit to export old pieces of art and any kind of original paintings (even new) at the Ministry of Culture in advance. Do get one, if needed. The officials there work pretty well even without bribes – they’re cultural, after all.
An article about Russian customs regulations
For those fluent in Russian: “All Moscow Bribes” – an illuminating research article with actual charges and rates (from kindergarten to funeral services).