1st time I visited Chisinau was around 2006 to watch an international football match. I was a relatively late arrival to the city, maybe the day before the game. Other people who had traveled for the game told me how the police were on a feeding frenzy of stopping people and asking to see a passport. If the subject in question didn't have a passport on them, the police would say that you have to pay them a fine. If a passport was handed across, the police would say that you had to pay them a fine for the photo not looking enough like the owner of the passport.
I was in Chisinau a couple of weeks back. It was late in the evening and I was walking back from a bar. Just before I reached the main drag a police car passed by and stopped in front of me. Straight away I knew what to expect and after I passed where they had stopped, they shouted me back to talk to them. One of them got out the car and asked where I was from. When I told him, he even made reference to the football match in question, no doubt euphoric at the nostalgia of the feeding frenzy that he and his henchman had of the time in question.
He next predictably asked to see my passport. I told him that I didn't have it on me. And so the dialog proceeded. I continually presented a confident and personable manner, even he was talking about a present for the police and playing with his gun ('like you are going to shoot me for not giving you a bribe, yeah right').
I didn't pay them anything but the episode leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
May be it is not a big problem, but if you want to discover Chisinau, uderstand what is this city all about - one simple way to do it is to buy "TENDDIS set" in the airport or you hotel. At least you will save money and be guaranteed from going to unknown or strange places in the city. Detail you will find at www.tenddis.com
Your chances of being robbed by the police are much greater than any fear of a mugger. Every visitor soon becomes aquainted with the 'tourist tax', which is anywhere from 25 - 100 lei.
It is always best to avoid eye contact with a policeman, and if you see a pair (they tend to run in packs of two or three), try to avoid getting too close - either wander to the other side of the sidewalk or change your pace.
They will stop foreigners for anything and everything - jaywalking even if you had a green light, dropping a cigarette butt on the ground even if you don't smoke, or whatever they can come up with.
If you are stopped, you will be asked for your passport. You are required to have your passport in your possession at all times, but also keep a photocopy with you. Present the copy to the police. They don't want your passport, they just want to talk with you and if you give them your passport, you will just give them another ten minutes to try to shake you down.
As always, be polite to a cop. If they want you to go with them, ask if you are being detained, and if so, tell them they must contact your embassy. Probably they don't have to, but it does get their attention.
Since you are being stopped for some minor infraction, ask them to issue you a ticket and ask where you can pay it. They have no intention of issuing a ticket.
Finally get down to the bargining table. Imply you think they can accept funds for the ticket and that you think the ticket will be some nominal amount. They will want more. Tell them you do not have what they want. From there on, just work out the best arrangement you can.
I've had cops want 50 Euros and accept 25 lei. If you are in a hurry, just pull out a 100 lei note and hold in your hand (do not offer it directly).
Roadside stops are a bit more problematic. They will ask for your driver's license, your passport, and documents on your vehicle. Once they have them in hand, you are theirs. They will go off and pow-wow about it while you sit in the car. If you get out to negotiate with them they may, or may not, be in a good humor, so best to sit for ten minutes and give them time to decide how much they want. Again, 100 lei will set you free.
I'm an ex-patriot American living in Kishinev and just joined VT. Let me try to address some of the things mentioned in comments below.
Never use a street ATM. Every bank will have one just inside the door and they are the only ones I trust. Otherwise, no problem. You will get the prevailing exchange rate.
Yes, the 10 and 100 notes are very similar. I've made the mistake of offering a 100 before. What I find annoying is Lei are small notes, usually ones that have been wadded up in someone's pocket, and thus are very difficult to keep neat and sorted. I tend to carry notes up to 50 in one pocket and larger notes in another. However, the wise traveler will establish and maintain a supply of small bills. Having a 1000 Lei note is often just as useless as having Yen in you pocket.
Now there is no requirement to make declaration on less than $10000 in cash and equipment (cameras, laptops) when you enter the country. I've never had a problem of any kind on entry or exit in the last 3 years.
I walk anywhere in town, any time of the day or night, and don't feel a bit more apprehensive than in any large city. Sure, there is petty crime, but it is not really a problem. Just keep a low profile and don't flash valuables or cash, or wear expensive jewelry.
I noticed someone else mention that gratings can be damaged or that there are holes in the street, but I was taking a photo of my friend and the cascading fountain by the lake; while I was backing up to get a good photo I stepped into an open manhole. My camera ended up breaking my fall. It was a very expensive accident, but lucky when considering I have heard of people dying from falling down manholes, so seriously, watch your step. I can't post a picture to show you the open manhole for obvious reasons.
I rent a car with Hertz. I was surprised when in the agency they asked me if I wanted to check the car first...I was stupidly thinking it would be like in western europe, a reasonable car...In fact, it seems that some local rent their car to Hertz, and they rent it again...when I gave back the car I had the owner waiting for it...The problem I had, was the car had damaged front lighting, and so at night, I had light only 3 meters in front of the car...when you know that there is no public lighting in city, and on the road there is no nice painted white lines and many holes...driving at night was a scareful experience for me. So check the car before renting it !
Be careful when declaring goods and foreign currency when leaving the country.
Be as pecise a possible since officers seem to use any deviations as pretext to bother you. Ideclared 50 USD and I had 70...at the end I came through but these guys seem to be bribe hungry so be prepared.
But all this depends on their mood of course, the second time, I had 6 female officers in their 25-30 years standing around me and there was no problem ;).
There is no (recent) history of terrorism in Moldova. But you should be aware of the risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, in all countries of the world, against civilian targets in public places, including tourist sites.
You should be alert to the risk of street crime and petty theft, particularly in Chisinau, and for pickpockets and bag snatchers in crowded areas. Try not to draw attention to yourself on the streets by speaking English. You should keep your valuables and passport secure in hotel safes and make sure that you carry a copy of your passport with you. It is useful to carry a small torch after dark, as street lighting is poor.
Okay, the Elevators are very nasty. That is a general rule. The only places that are clean are in government buildings (usually) and places (like hotels) that foreigners frequent. It is imparative that you do not touch while in the "lift" as the rest of the world calls it (clue in America!). The old women will yell at you if you are seen leaning on the walls of the dirty lift. They will also yell if you are blocking the miniscule area from their entering or exiting.
My expirience telling me that if you have 60 U$ you wouldn't have visa problem. Greatest problem in Chisinau is a great number of local criminals. When night has come its realy danger to go out, especialy in dark parts of town (parks, dark streets etc). Also if you are travelling by train you must take care, because on custom thay can 'lose' your pasport.