Traveling with Money
Managing your money for a trip to Russia begins before you leave. You need to plan on how much money to bring and in what form. How much to bring will depend on the duration of your stay and what you plan to do once you are there.
The form of money is most critical. The Russian society is primarily a cash economy. Certainly you could bring lots of cash and pay for everything in this way. Personally I prefer to protect myself from theft or loss and not rely exclusively on any one form of money. I prefer to minimize the amount of cash I carry and have at least 3 ways to pay for things or access funds while traveling so that if one fails I have at least two alternatives. Here is a list of the various forms of money you can consider for your trip.
Major credit cards are extremely convenient to use. I prefer to use a credit card for payment because it is easy and the conversion to Rubles will occur automatically. Unfortunately many Russian establishments may not accept your credit card as a form of payment so using cash will be necessary. If your hotel will accept your credit card then this is one major expense you can pay for without cash. Your credit card will be a useful tool to use for any purchases you make in the airports during your flight to Russia.
Most credit cards offer you the ability to get a cash advance from an ATM machine, bank or service office. Make sure you know the special code number issued to you to obtain a cash advance. Remember that a cash advance is treated like an instant loan. You will pay a percentage fee and ongoing interest as soon as you take a cash advance. Consider making a payment to your credit card as soon as you return home to minimize the interest you pay.
Some cards also offer you travel emergency benefits. Review your credit cards benefits to see what services they may offer you while in Russia. If you have multiple credit cards of different brands then bring each brand with you just incase one brand is not accepted but another is. If you have concerns about the security of using your credit card while in Russia you can request that a new card number be issued once you return home. This will invalidate your previous card number incase someone else tries to use it. Generally you are protected from unauthorized use but this technique protects you even better.
Traveler Checks may not be of much use while in Russia especially outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Some banks and money exchange offices will accept them for conversion to Rubles but donít rely on them as your primary form of currency. Bring some as an emergency back up. What you donít use in Russia or in the airports you can always use back home or deposit into your bank account.
ATM (Automatic Teller Machine) Card
If you are traveling to a city that has ATM machines that will accept your card then this can be a convenient and cost effective way to get Rubles using a plastic card. You will pay a fee for making a withdrawal using your ATM card outside your existing bankís network. Usually this fee is small but will add up quickly if you make many small withdrawals during your visit. This fee is less than the fee and interest you will pay for a cash advance using your Credit Card. You can find available machines on line if your card is a part of the Mastercard/Cirrus or Visa/Plus networks. Bring a list of the locations of these ATM so that you can find them once you are in Russia or any country you are traveling to. Only use machines found on your list or located in or outside a legitimate Bank . . . an ATM machine located outside on the street may not be a real ATM machine. It could be a ruse to steal your account number and identification code . . . donít use it! Consider opening up a separate account for this purpose. This will enable you to limit the amount of funds available in the account and if you intend to leave your ATM card with your lady.
By all means bring cash! You will probably need it as soon as you arrive. Western currency is easily exchanged for Rubles but many establishments or individuals will accept Dollars. Bring crisp clean bills for easy exchange, old torn bills may not be accepted. If you are bringing Dollars make sure they are all the new high security bills and not the older bills.
Be knowledgeable about the current exchange rate. It varies daily and from place to place, city by city. As you travel around your Russian city you will see numerous exchange offices and banks with their exchange rate posted. Sometimes a better exchange rate may be offered on exchanges of larger amounts ($100 or more) and occasionally traveler checks. Usually exchange offices located farther away from tourist locations offer more favorable exchange rates. The locals exchange currency frequently so they know the best rates available. Donít exchange with a stranger on the street . . . you could be conned. Donít exchange more than you think you will need in a few days. It is always easy to exchange for more Rubles later if you are in a major city. Exchange your excess Rubles back to your local currency or give away your excess change unless you want some souvenir money when you get back home.
When you arrive in Russia you are required to declare the amount of money you are bringing into the country. Declare your cash and any traveler checks. You may be requested to show the money if the amount is substantial. When you leave Russia you will be required to declare how much money you are taking out of the country. You are not allowed to leave with more than you came in with. Any excess amount could be confiscated. An honest and accurate declaration will prevent any problems. Chances are you will be leaving with less than you came in with unless you make a large cash advance or ATM withdrawal and take the balance home with you. It is better to limit these withdrawals to an amount that you expect to spend while in Russia.
Forget about your check book. Leave it at home. Payment by check is not done in Russia. Even the utility bills are paid by cash.