Phones and Internet in Russia
How to buy a SIM card in Russia
- Step 1: Locate a mobile shop of your choice.
- Step 2: Don’t forget to bring your passport.
- Step 3: Make sure your phone supports SIM cards other than your local provider’s.
- Step 4: Tell the salesperson how long you’re going to stay and that you want the most basic option.
- Step 5: They will immediately set up the new SIM card for you.
Probably the 2 most pressing questions of the 21st century when it comes to traveling to another country are: is there internet? and: do I have phone service? The short answer for Russia is: yes! If you have a Russian SIM card, you’re connected basically everywhere – in the depth of the metro or in cities and towns, mobile internet and service are there for you. Let’s have a closer look at communications in Russia.
First of all, the international Russian country code is +7. However, inside the country they dial 8 instead, which doesn’t work if you’re calling from abroad. Russia uses the usual GSM and LTE Networks. Inside cities such as St. Petersburg and Moscow, you’re guaranteed to have a highspeed LTE internet connection wherever you go. Outside of cities, service can be lost every now and then, but the general coverage is still good.
If you purchased your phone as part of a contract, chances are its SIM is locked. This means you cannot use SIM cards from any other provider. Call your provider to unlock your phone or buy a cheap mobile for as little as ₽1500 ($23) when you get to Russia. You can also ask your provider if they have any inexpensive foreign “add on” plans that work specifically in Russia.
If you’re staying in Russia for more than a few days, it is advisable to buy a Russian SIM card. The three main cellular network providers are MTS, Beeline and Megafon, but cheaper “off-brand” options such as Yota or Tele2 are available as well. Every city has tons of phone shops. You can also buy a card directly at the airport or train station where you can find either have proper shops or little pop up stands. Keep in mind that you need your passport for the purchase.
If you’re traveling between several different cities, you should check in advance if your card works all over Russia, since some SIM cards are restricted to their area code. Currently, you can purchase a prepaid SIM card for around ₽350 ($6). This will give you at least 2 GB of internet for a month, and a number of free calls and messages, depending on your tariff. Again, this is prepaid. You’re not signing up for any long-term contracts. Once your stay in Russia is over, just switch back to your original SIM card. Don’t forget to top it up if you’re in the country for longer than a month.
Most cafés, hotels, airports provide free WiFi access; however, and this is especially true for airports, this service might be restricted to owners of Russian SIM cards only. When signing up for the network, you usually get an SMS or a call. You don’t have to pick it up, just type in the indicated amount of digits from the calling number. A plus: the metro systems in St. Petersburg and Moscow have their own WiFi networks inside the trains.