Ukrainian—a Cyrillic (Slavic) tongue—is the official language, which sounds similar to Russian for non-speakers of either. Most people speak Russian, though not many speak English, aside from youngsters and people in the tourist industry. Taxi drivers in Kiev typically know a few words, which is even more than the police. Interpreters can be hired in main cities. The Kyiv Tour Guide is also useful in the capital.
The hryvnya (UAH) is the local currency, with notes from UAH1 to UAH500 and kopiyok coins from 1 kopiyka to UAH1. Exchange money at the airport, banks or main streets, as opposed to backstreet traders. Credit cards are not readily accepted in the Ukraine and credit card fraud is a problem, although ATMs will tender hryvnya to major debit cards. Traveler’s checks in USD are more readily accepted than others.
Ukraine is on EEST (Eastern European Summer Time), which is UTC+3 during summer. This becomes UTC+2 when the clocks go back one hour for the end of daylight saving from late October.
The power supply is the standard throughout much of Europe, 220V, 50Hz. Plug sockets are of the round, two-pin variety with an earth tag at the top and bottom. It is best to bring along an adaptor/converter for hairdryers and other electronic equipment, though bear in mind that newer laptops (and also iPhone) power supply units will usually accept both voltages.
The Ukraine country code is +380, while Kiev’s area code is 44. Prefix North America numbers with +1 when calling home. The bigger hotels have IDD connectivity, while main streets have public payphones—prepaid phone cards are sold at post offices. Local cell networks (on GSM 900/1800) roam with international mobile phone operators, and Kyivstar and UMC are popular local SIM cards. The better hotels and guesthouses offer WiFi or ethernet in rooms and/or internet terminals. Freshtel provides mobile internet access and Lucky Card is good for those with laptops.
Visitors over 20 years of age can bring in the standard 200 cigarettes/50 cigars, one liter of spirits, and two liters of wine. Gifts can also be purchased to the equivalent of 200 euros. The Ukraine is not in the EU, so visitors can buy duty-free if departing from within the euro-zone. If heading directly back to the USA, the duty-free limits are similar.
Ukraine is thin on official tourist offices, though Kiev has the Tourist Information Center at the Business Center Khreschatyk Plaza, 19А Khreschatyk St.: +380-66-8518-558. It is near the main metro station on Khreschatyk.
Consulates in the Ukraine
US Embassy, Kiev: +380-44-490-4000 Canadian Embassy, Kiev: +380-44-590-3100 British Embassy, Kiev: +380-44-490-3660 Australian Consulate, Kiev: +380-44-246-4223 Chinese Embassy, Kiev: +380-44-253-3154 French Embassy, Kiev: +380-44-590-3600 German Embassy, Kiev: +380-44-247-6800 Irish Consulate, Kiev: +380-44-285-5902
Emergency services: 102