Money in Russia
Throughout its history, Russia has had different versions of the rouble (рубль), which is divided into 100 kopecks (копеек). The latest manifestation, the rouble (replacing the rouble), was introduced in 1998 (although all banknotes and the first coin issues bear the date 1997). All currencies before 1998 are obsolete. The rouble is sometimes symbolised with ₽.
Coins are issued in denominations of 1, 5, 10 and 50 kopecks and in RUB1, RUB2, RUB5 and RUB10. Banknotes are in RUB10, RUB50, RUB100, RUB500, RUB1000 and RUB5000. The 5-ruble banknote is no longer issued and is no longer in circulation. The 10-ruble banknote has not been printed since 2010 and will suffer the same fate. Both are still legal tender. The kopecks are generally useless, as most prices are charged to the nearest rouble. Especially useless are 1- and 5-kopeck coins: even places that quote prices in non-whole roubles round up to the nearest 10 kopecks. The rouble has been quite stable in recent years (at least until the Ukraine crisis in August 2014), hovering around 38 for the US dollar and around 49 for the euro.
All banknotes have special markings (raised dots and lines) to help blind people distinguish denominations.
Russian law prohibits payments other than in roubles.
Travellers’ cheques are generally impractical (only some banks, such as Sberbank, even cash American Express – but without commission). So make sure you have enough cash on hand for a few days, or rely on ATMs and credit card transactions.
Exchange offices (called bureaux de change in St Petersburg) are common throughout Russia in banks and, in large cities, in small exchange offices. Banks tend to offer slightly lower rates, but are more reliable. Hotels tend to offer much lower rates, but can be useful in emergencies. You will need to show your passport to change money at a bank and fill in many time-consuming forms.
Take the time to count how much money you have received. Sometimes different methods are used to deceive the customer, e.g. better rates prominently displayed for large transactions and worse rates that are hard to find for small transactions.
Branches of the big banks are located in all major towns. Sberbank is present even in surprisingly small villages.
It is generally preferable to buy dollars and euros outside Russia and then exchange them for roubles in Russia, as it is possible to exchange them for other currencies but not at high rates. You can check online the rates that are exchanged in Moscow.
It will be easier for you to change new, clean banknotes. The US dollar should be the last issue, although it should not be impossible to change old versions.
Do not change money on the street. Unlike in Soviet times, there is no advantage to dealing with an unofficial seller. There are several advanced street currency exchange scams – it is best not to give them a chance.
ATMs, called bank machines, are common in big cities and usually not found in small towns. Although some do not accept foreign cards. An English interface is available. Some can also dispense U.S. dollars. Russian ATMs often limit withdrawals to about US$1,000 per day. Large hotels are good places to find them.
In Moscow and St. Petersburg, more and more shops, restaurants and services accept credit cards. Visa/MasterCard is more commonly accepted than American Express; Discover, Diners Club and other cards are rarely accepted. Most upscale establishments accept credit cards, but beyond that it is pure chance.
Museums and sights take cash only, no credit cards. Keep enough cash on hand each day to pay for entrance fees, photography (museums charge for cameras and VCRs), guided tours, souvenirs, meals and transport.
Stations may accept plastic, even outside the big cities, so don’t hesitate to ask, as it won’t always be easy. Otherwise, take plenty of cash with you. ATMs in train stations are very common and often run out of cash, so stock up before you go to the station.
Like anywhere else in the world, it is best to avoid ATMs on the street (or at least be very careful) as it is possible for crooks to attach spy devices to them to get your PIN and card details; it is safest to use ATMs in hotels, banks or large shopping centres.
While the switch was traditionally frowned upon in Russia, it caught on after the fall of communism. Tipping is not necessary, except in the fanciest restaurants (especially in Moscow). In this case, a tip of more than 10% would be unusual. In some restaurants, service is included in the amount, but this is very rare; if service is included, no tip is expected. If service is included, there is no tip. If you round up when paying the bill in the restaurant, especially if the amount is more or less 10% more than the total amount, this is considered a tip. If the service was particularly bad and you do not want to tip, ask for your change.
The amount of tips may vary as many establishments do not accept credit cards. Don’t be surprised if your bill is rounded up to the nearest whole number.
Tipping is not considered customary for taxis. Rather, you must negotiate and pay the fare before getting into the taxi. It is also customary to tip hotel staff, cloakrooms, drivers and hotel staff generously. Drivers and tour guides are usually tipped up to $10 (about £6.37) and maintenance staff about $1 (about 63 pence) to $2 (about £1.27) per day, which is usually left on the bedside table or in the ashtray.
Shopping in Russia
In general, Russian-made products are cheap, but products imported from the West are often expensive.
- MatRyoshka (матрёшка) – a collection of traditionally painted wooden dolls, each carefully stacked in a different
- USHANka (ушанка) – a hot hat with ears (ushi)
- SamoVAR (самовар) – an indigenous design for brewing tea. Note that when buying valuable samovars (historical, precious stones or metals, etc.) it is advisable to check with customs before leaving the country.
- Chocolate (шоколад) – Russian chocolate is very good
- Ice cream (мороженое) – Russian ice cream is also particularly good. Try dairy products in general, you might like them.
- Winter coats in department stores are well-made, elegant and of excellent quality.
- Large military coats (sheeNEL) available in hard-to-find military shops
- There are down pillows of very high quality.
- HalVA (халва) – it differs from the Turkish kind (in that it is made from sunflower seeds rather than sesame), but the Red Front products are really good.
- Honey (мёд) – is produced throughout the country; varieties and quality vary considerably, but the superior quality is worth seeking out. In Moscow, a honey market is held in Kolomenskoe for part of the year. There are a number of honey shops open all year round on the grounds of the VDNKh/VVT.
- Red caviar (красная икра) – Check or ask if it is “salmon caviar” before buying, as there is a risk of “fakes” due to the 30 or so species of fish from which red caviar is made. And this “imitation” caviar often tastes bad.
- Black caviar (черная икра) – is always available for purchase. High risk of counterfeiting. But it is considered a delicacy and is expensive.
- Sturgeon meat (осетр, белуга) and the meat of other fish from the sturgeon family. Considered one of the most refined dishes in Russia. Very expensive, but very tasty.
- Hard cheese – mainly produced in the Altai; occasionally available in Moscow department stores.
- Sparkling wine (шампанское) – The sparkling wine, “Russian Champagne”, is surprisingly good (Abrau-Durso is considered the best brand, but there are other good ones). Be sure to order it “suKHOye” (dry) or Brut. Many restaurants serve it at room temperature, but if you ask for “cold” they can usually rustle up a semi-chilled bottle. The cost is also surprisingly low, around 10 USD.
- Skin care products. While in make-up you can find the same products that are popular in the West, many people prefer locally made skincare products because of their better value for money. Brands to check: Nevskaya cosmetica (Невская косметика) [www] and Greenmama [www].
- Gjel’ (Гжель) – porcelain with fresh and authentic Russian ornaments.
- Khokhloma (Хохлома) – wooden dishes with flower-shaped paintings, colours red, gold, black.
There are a number of cheap food and commodity chains.
- Billa. A little more expensive than the others.
- Perekrestok (Перекресток). Also one of the most expensive.
- Carousel (Карусель).
- Auchan (Ашан) and Atack (Атак) are the same brand, small convenience stores are called Atack, while hypermarkets – Auchan. This is one of the cheapest, known to occasionally sell expired food, so check the expiry dates, but most of the time it is good.
- Magnite (Магнит).
- Pyatyorochka (Пятёрочка).
- Lenta. (Лента)
- Diksi. (Дикси)
- O’Kay. (О ‘Кей)