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Russia - Banking


The official currency of Russia is the ruble, or rouble, which can be subdivided into 100 kopeks. You’ll often see the shorthand sign for Ruble displayed as RUB or rub.

Russian cash includes:

• Banknotes of five, 10, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000 rubles.
• Coins of one, five, 10 and 50 kopeks plus one, two, five and 10 rubles.

All Russian banknotes in legal circulation were issued in 1997 or later. Any notes you are given which were printed before that date cannot be used as legal tender. With money production technology continuing to improve, new versions of notes are released most years in an attempt to stop forgeries.

Finding ATMs And Cash In Russia

At one stage, US dollars were accepted as an alternative to the ruble, especially when the Russian currency was facing periods of uncertainty. Despite this now being illegal, many tourists are still able to shop with dollars in Moscow. A high exchange rate is often applied but visitors find this simpler than obtaining rubles and trying to understand their true comparative worth. As an expat, always pay in rubles.

If you’re out in the middle of the countryside you will struggle to find an ATM outside a market town. However, they are easily found in cities and can be used 24 hours a day. After all, more than 90 of Russia’s cities have populations of more than 200,000, and 13 are home to at least a million people. Moscow alone has more than 12 million residents, and those people need access to their money.

As long as you have a four-digit PIN, your debit or credit card will typically be accepted in an ATM. This is because the CIRRUS and PLUS (Visa) systems are used across the globe. There may be some exceptions, so check with your bank before you leave home. Remember that each card has a daily withdrawal limit - be aware of yours.

You’ll generally pay a small fee to use an ATM in Russia unless it has been provided by the bank where your account is held. The amount should be shown on the screen before you confirm the transaction. If you don’t have a Russian bank account, you’ll also be charged a foreign exchange fee and have to accept the exchange rate applied. Foreign credit card companies will apply immediate interest to your cash withdrawals in Russia.

You can also obtain rubles at currency exchange booths if you want to legally exchange clean dollar or euro notes. These booths usually offer better exchange rates than hotels, so you’ll get more rubles for your dollar.

Do be aware of your safety when carrying and handling cash. Avoid dark alleyways and keep your wallet secure and away from thieves. Keeping a wallet or purse in the pocket of your shorts is no deterrent to a well-practised pickpocket. Don’t stand in shops, cafes or the street with a wallet open, showing a pile of money. Get used to the notes so you don’t have to look at them all to find the right one for the payment. Better still, keep the larger notes in a separate part of your wallet so people nearby aren’t aware of how much you are carrying.

Using Debit And Credit Cards In Russia

Some items in Russia are much cheaper to buy than you may expect, including groceries, caviar, petrol, books and symphony tickets. However, other things are outrageously expensive. Eating out or staying in a hotel will cost enough to give you pause for thought, and housing in Moscow uses up a significant part of most people’s income.

Luckily, most retailers and facilities accept card payments, with only small businesses still insisting on cash. You’ll be asked for a four-digit PIN, which some US citizens may struggle with, but signatures will often be accepted as a substitute. Taxi drivers usually get summoned and paid through an app which requires card payments.

Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted cards, followed by American Express and Eurocard. A few venues will accept Diners Club cards but this is not common.

If you use a debit or credit card issued outside Russia, your card provider will probably charge you a currency exchange transaction fee for every purchase and may also apply an unattractive rate of exchange. You can avoid many of these fees by acquiring a card from a Russian bank or credit card provider once you’ve arrived in your new home. This usually means opening a bank account first.

Reasons To Open A Bank Account In Russia

If you’re just in Russia for the short term, you may be happy to get by with your existing bank account and credit cards. The currency exchange fee will be an added cost to be aware of, but it shouldn’t make a significant difference to your budget.

However, for medium to long term moves, a local bank account is highly recommended. Over the years, foreign transaction fees and exchange rates will take their toll. If you are likely to want a Russian mortgage or loan in the future, your good credit history needs to be established in the country. This increases your chances of credit acceptance and makes you eligible for lower interest rates.

You won’t have problems accessing the rubles in your bank account when you go abroad either, so if you have to return home suddenly you can take comfort that your money is not trapped in Russia.

Choosing A Bank Account In Russia

Although Russian banks have moved on from their periods of deep uncertainty and instability, the industry is riddled with allegations of deep-rooted corruption, money-laundering, personal shareholder enrichment and a lack of transparency.

More than 350 Russian banks, roughly a third of the total in existence, have lost their licenses in recent years. The Russian state has moved to rehabilitate others, firstly through the State Deposit Insurance Agency (DIA) and then by the Central Bank Consolidation Fund. Some people have criticised the government for wanting to seize control of the banks in order to raise funds for expansion of state power at a time when the country is subject to US and EU sanctions.

Whatever the reality, Russian bank leaders are aware that the industry is expected to clean itself up or suffer the consequences.

Four of the largest banks in Russia which offer a large branch and ATM network are:

• Sberbank
• Rosbank
• Raiffeisen
• Gazprombank

You might want to consider how close the bank branches and ATM machines are to where you live and work. In addition, look carefully at the terms and conditions to see which level of account charges work best for the way you use your bank account.

The majority of bank branches in Russia are open Monday to Friday 9.30 am to 5.30 pm.

Documents Needed To Open A Bank Account In Russia

You can open a Russian bank account online, by post or in a branch. However, to meet international fraud prevention banking controls, you will be asked to supply a number of original documents for inspection and scanning. Some banks will ask you to bring your documents in person to the branch. All requested documents must be valid and recent. These include:

• Passport
• Residency visa
• Proof of address

The bank should also confirm the level of your income and its source, both for their credit checks and to identify possible money laundering attempts. You may be asked for recent payslips or a reference from your employer.

Non-residents are permitted to open accounts with some Russian banks. However, you will typically be expected to complete the application by personally attending a designated branch.


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