All you need to know about carrying cash to Russia

When you are travelling to a foreign country, one of the first thoughts comes to your mind is “what about local currency?” If you are travelling to a country which has a powerful currency like Dollars, Pounds and Euros things are easier. But while we were preparing for our trip to Russia we realised that money matters are bit different there. We did a quite a bit of research before going on our trip. In this post, we will take you through the things that we found out about Russian currency through our research and what we actually experienced.

About Russian Roubles

Okay first things first. Let’s get some insights into Russian currency first.

  • Rouble is also written as Ruble, Rubel and sometimes Kopecks. In Cyrillic alphabet it’s written as рубль- rubl and plural is рубли́ rubli.
  • The symbols of roubles are RUB, руб and ₽.
  • Rouble is the world’s first decimalised currency. The lower decimals of the currency are called kopeks. 100 kopeks make 1 roubles. Symbol of kopek is коп.
  • Rouble bank notes are 50₽, 100₽, 200₽, 500₽, 1,000₽, 2,000₽, 5,000₽. 5₽ and 10₽ are available but rarely used.
  • Coins of the currency are 1₽, 2₽, 5₽, 10₽. 1 коп, 5 коп, 10 коп, and 50 коп coins are available but are rarely used.

Denominations of Roubles

Now let’s look at what are the options available for carrying roubles to Russia.

How to exchange your own currency for Roubles?

  • Research about the mid-market rate

First and foremost, Research! Like we always say, research will take you a long way. Always find out the mid-market rate before buying roubles or any other currency. Compare and decide who is providing you a better deal. Just keep this in mind. When you sell a currency, you are paid less than mid-market rate and when you buy a currency you pay more than mid-market rate. This is how exchange offices/vendors make the money. To find out the mid-market rate you can just ask to google.

  • Getting Cash in your own country – India for us

This is the old school way. However, many people still use this method. Most banks in India will provide cash exchange service. Honestly, when you have so many other options available, it is not very wise to carry so much cash, that too in a foreign country. Moreover, the conversion rate of exchanging cash from a bank in most countries is exorbitant. We had enquired about the rate at HDFC Bank and the rate they offered us was 1.25 INR for 1 RUB when the mid-market rate was 1.08 INR for 1 RUB. Many banks offer exchange through a third party as cash rouble are not easily available in most countries. In those cases, exchange rates are even worse (up to 1.5 INR for 1 RUB).

  • Exchanging at airport or hotel

Another option is to carry your currency (the more powerful your currency the better) to Russia and exchange it for roubles at the airport or at your hotel. Airport and hotels have usually very high mark up on the rates everywhere in the world. You can think of this you are paying a convenience fee you are paying. This is because the exchange offices pay a huge amount to the airport or hotels to operate in their premises.

Our Suggestion will be to exchange a small amount of your cash if you need urgent cash (Maybe for transport to your accommodation or a quick meal before leaving the airport). Even better, if you exchange that small amount in your own country. You will get a better rate.

  • Pre-order your currency

Sometimes it is just convenient to collect your cash at the airport (at your departure airport). Try to pre-order your currency and collect it before boarding your flight. You are likely to get a better rate than exchanging impromptu.

  • Exchange at Local Exchange offices in Russia

If you at all end up carrying cash for your trip, just ask the locals and find your exchange offices that offer a good deal. Don’t forget to ask the rates at a couple of exchange offices before your bulk exchange your entire cash. You will find  Zero Commission Exchange Offices in all parts of major cities in Russia. They claim to offer you an exchange of currency without charging you any commission. Too good to be true right? They will provide you a very poor conversion rate for compensating the zero commission they are offering.

Just a word of caution!!! You can carry up to 10000 USD or equivalent foreign currency in cash to Russia. You must declare to the customs officer if you have more than 3000 USD or equivalent foreign currency. So, keep that in mind when you carry cash with you.

  • Traveller’s cheque

This is again an old school method of carrying currency abroad. In Russia, most places will not accept traveller’s Cheque. You will have to go the banks to exchange them for cash and they will charge you a high fee. Only major banks in Russia have the option of exchanging cash for traveller’s cheque. There are many other more convenient options available these days.

Which cards to use in Russia?

Forex Cards for Russia

There are multiple options here. When we say “cards” while travelling abroad, the first thing that will come to your mind is probably Forex cards. All major banks in India have their version of these cards. We have personally used Forex cards from two banks namely Axis Bank and HDFC Bank.

Now Forex cards are basically of two types that we know of (there may be more, but we have no knowledge of those).

Multicurrency Forex cards

This card allows you to pre-load the currency of your choice into the card. Both Axis Bank and HDFC Bank multicurrency Cards can be pre-loaded for22 different currency.  Just check the individual website for updated information. You must pay a service charge for putting money into the card, and whatever conversion fees the bank charges. The conversion rates are almost every time better than converting cash. You can do this online or visit the bank to do this. And there are no additional charges for using the card with any merchant who accepts cards. But if you withdraw cash from ATM, you will be charged some money. This amount is fixed and does not vary with the amount of money you withdraw (usually it is 2.5 USD equivalent).

But unfortunately, Rouble is not in the list of those 22 currencies. For travelling to Russia, it is probably not a good idea to get one of these. But if you already have one you can preload it with some Euros. You will get a better conversion rate when you use it with a merchant who accepts Roubles. Multicurrency Forex Card is good to have if you travel abroad frequently. Both Axis and HDFC are good but our preference is HDFC. I will not do a comparison here because it is beyond the scope of this article.  Check the details about the charges, ATM withdraws limits on their respective website. Links

Forex USD Card

This is similar to the Multicurrency forex card with one difference that you can only pre-load USD on it. You can use this card anywhere in the world. When we were preparing for Russia trip, an HDFC bank representative introduced us to one of these cards called the Regalia Forex Plus Card. The highlighting feature is that they claim once the card is loaded with USD there are no Cross-Currency Conversion Charges. Honestly, we do not know how they manage to do it. They also do not charge for any ATM access fee in their network banks’ ATM across the world. Other features include insurance, airport lounge access etc. Sounds extremely good on paper. We are yet to use one of them and will do a detailed review when we do so. This probably a good option in our opinion if you are travelling to Russia. If you end up using this, we would love to know your experience.

Credit cards

Most mid to high restaurants and hotels accepts credit cards. So, you can carry your credit card along with you. From our experience conversion rates are better in debit cards than credit cards. But again, there are other advantages of using a credit card, so it really depends on your priorities.

Debit Cards

Most ATMs in Russia accept International Debit Cards. So, according to us it the best way to get cash in Russia. Your home bank will add a fee per transaction as well as the bank whose ATM you are using. So, it is better to withdraw as much as cash you think you can handle safely.

Visa, Mastercard or American Express

All these three cards are accepted all over the country. You will find arguments all over the internet about which one is cheaper to use in a foreign country. We personally have used both master and visa. We have shared our experience later in this article. However, Discover and Diner’s Club cards are rarely accepted.

ATMs in Russia

Russia has a good network of ATMs. You will find ATMs near shopping malls, banks, and major tourist areas. But the issue could be that mostly operates in the Russian language. ATMs at airports will almost always have options in English. You can use online ATM locators for finding the nearest ATM:

Arindam Withdrawing Money From Alfa Bank ATM at Sheremetyevo Airport

What are the Banks in Russia?

It is good to know about major banks in Russia as they have a much wider network of ATMs. Moreover, chances are that banks will charge you less or no transaction fees. Also, you can find out if these banks have a partnership with your home bank and offer you lower ATM transaction fees.

Five major banks in Russia are:

  • VTB Group
  • Gazprombank
  • Sberbank
  • RSHB (Russian Agricultural Bank)
  • Alfa-Bank

Major Non-Russian banks operating in Russia are:

  • Danske Bank Russia
  • HSBC Russia
  • UniCredit Bank Russia
  • BNP Paribas Russia
  • Raiffeisen Bank Russia

Raiffeisen Bank Moscow

We have used ATMs of both Russian and Non-Russian Banks. We have described our experience in the next section.

What did we do while travelling to Russia?

International Debit Cards

We had two International Debit Cards with us. One from HDFC Bank which was a chip-based VISA card (Arindam’s Card). The other card was from ICICI Bank, it was a chip-based Master Card. We were majorly dependent on these two cards for our entire trip.

Credit Card

We also carried a Credit Card with us. This was purely backup purpose use only. It was a Visa Card from HDFC Bank. We didn’t have to use this one.

Currency

We carried 100 USD in cash. This was again a backup option. We never had to use a single dollar. We highly recommend you carry a small amount of a powerful currency for your trips aboard. Unlike many weak currency-like rupees these currencies are easily exchangeable. If you don’t end up using it, keep it with you and carry it along on your next trip.

That is all we had with us. Some of the accommodations had to be paid while booking, especially the Airbnb booking. So that was already paid online from India. Rest we paid in cash.

Cash Withdrawal from ATM

This is the first thing we did after landing in Moscow (of course we collected our baggage from the belt first :P). Sheremetyevo airport was where we landed, and it had ATM from only one bank that is Alfa Bank (we don’t know if there was more . We have been there twice and saw only this one). We used our HDFC International Debit Card to withdraw 10000 Roubles. The ATM did not charge us anything extra and the home fees were quite reasonable. On that day mid-market rate for roubles was 1 RUB=1.06 INR. The bank deducted 10818 INR. This is probably the best possible rate that we could get.

Next, we withdrew another 10000 RUB from Pulkovo Airport St Petersburg. This time we used the ICICI Bank Debit Card. There 3-4 ATMs in the waiting area of the Airport. We first tried Alfa Bank. They showed a message saying they will charge an extra 150 RUBs for this transaction. So, we switched to another ATM of Raiffeisen Bank. This was free, but the home bank charged 11665 INR from us. The mid-market rate that day was same as before.

Our Cash Withdrawal Receipt From Raiffeisen Bank ATM

There are a couple of factors why we were charged more on the next transaction. We are not sure but one of these could be the reason:

  • The home bank could have charged more transaction fee (it’s hard to say because break down was not provided).
  • Maybe Mastercard transactions are expensive than VISA card in Russia.
  • Maybe we used a foreign bank ATM who charged use some hidden cost.

We are still not sure why Alfa Bank was charging 150 RUBs extra the second time. This could be again because Mastercard-Visa card difference or something to do with the home bank.

You may wonder why we are spending so much time on analysing the difference of only 800 RUBs. But trust us, if you are on a long trip and make multiple transactions like this, the costs can quickly add up.

From what we saw, Russia is still majorly a cash-based economy like India. Most small and mid-range vendors prefer cash transactions. As budget travellers, the above method has worked brilliantly for us. Once you are equipped with all the information above, you can decide what works best for you. If we missed out any point or you have any question do let us know in the comment section below.

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