Last Updated on November 25, 2023 by Irena Domingo
In this post I will explain the different options you have to pay in Russia today, after payment systems such as Visa, MasterCard, JCB, Maestro or American Express have suspended their operations in Russia. Cash, Chinese UnionPay cards or Russian MIR cards are the existing options.
I'm going to talk about ...
- 1. In Russia it is mandatory to pay in rubles
- 2. How to pay in Russia today
- 3. How do I send money to Russia?
1. In Russia it is mandatory to pay in rubles
The first thing to say is that, whether you pay in cash or by card, in Russia you must pay for products or services in rubles. Neither dollars nor euros nor any other currency are accepted as a legal payment method. It is mandatory to pay in rubles. This means exchanging your euros, dollars, or pounds into rubles, which involves fees.
The good news is that the Russian currency has recently experienced a sharp devaluation. If in October 2022 the exchange rate stood at approximately 60 rubles per euro/dollar, today this rate is around 100 rubles. This means that traveling to Russia is now much cheaper.
The bad news is that after international sanctions due to the conflict in Ukraine, Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, JCB or American Express cards issued abroad do not work in Russia. On the other hand, Visa or MasterCard cards issued by Russian banks work only in Russia.
2. How to pay in Russia today
Before the sanctions, everything was simpler: you could pay with any bank card in Russia and services such as PayPal, Revolut or Wise also worked.
Despite this, there are still alternatives for foreigners to pay by card in Russia.
There are three options for paying in Russia by foreigners: carrying cash, buying a Chinese UnionPay card before going on a trip, or buying a bank card from a Russian bank when you arrive in Moscow, St. Petersburg or any other Russian city.
In any case, I recommend paying the main expenses before leaving on a trip and not in Russia: accommodation, train tickets, guided tours, etc.
Let’s look at each of these possibilities.
Option 1. Take cash
Take cash (euros or dollars) and once in Russia, exchange it for rubles at a bank in Moscow, St. Petersburg or any other Russian city. This is a good choice for short sightseeing trips.
Of course, you can also exchange rubles before leaving for a trip, but keep in mind that the exchange rate will be worse and that many exchange offices no longer exchange for rubles due to international sanctions. If you exchange rubles before leaving for a trip, I recommend doing it for a small amount to cover the initial expenses when you arrive in Russia (taxi, restaurants, airport shops, etc.).
When exchanging rubles in Russia, consider the following aspects:
- You can carry a maximum of 10,000 euros or dollars without having to declare them. Of course, you can carry more money, but in this case, you will have to declare them by filling out a form at customs. The maximum amount of 10,000 euros or undeclared dollars is per person. In any case, enough money for a tourist trip to Russia.
- Bring banknotes without scratches or defects, since they may not be accepted by Russian banks when exchanging currency.
- Choose a financial institution that offers a good exchange rate. Smaller banks usually offer a better exchange rate. Also, in shopping centers you can find exchange offices that offer a good exchange rate. Some websites publish official exchange rates, allowing you to choose the banks that apply the best exchange rate.
- Avoid making the change at the airport. If you buy rubles at the airport, change only the approximate amount you need.
Advantages of carrying cash: you only pay for the commission to exchange rubles.
Drawbacks of carrying cash: risk of theft and risk of running out of money.
Option 2. Get a UnionPay card before you go on a trip
The second option is to purchase a UnionPay bank card, a Chinese card that is not subject to sanctions in Russia and that currently allows payments to be made at Russian merchants that accept this card and to withdraw money at some ATMs in Russia (such as those of Gazprombank, for example).
UnionPay cards aren’t as widely deployed in Russia as Visa or MasterCard, but they can get you out of a hurry.
The problem is that UnionPay cards are harder to get hold of. You have two ways to acquire them:
Go to a bank that issues UnionPay cards
Some European, American and Australian banks issue UnionPay cards. To find out which entities offer this card, you can check the UnionPay website, select your country and then select the “Local Card Application” icon. If this icon doesn’t appear, it’s because UnionPay cards are not sold in your country.
Buy the UnionPay card online
If there are no banks in your country that offer UnionPay cards, there may be a company that sells the card online. I know three, I’m sure there are more:
- YianPay (only for Spain). It is possible to get a UnionPay euro card through the company Yianpay, by downloading a mobile application. In this link you can find the fees that apply. It costs about 10 euros to issue the card and 3 euros per month for maintenance fees.
- Ecard (for USA only). Until recently, they issued UnionPay cards, but their issuance is currently suspended. I don’t know when they will be reissued.
- Advcash (Global). In many other countries it is possible to get a UnionPay dollar card with Advcash, although you should keep in mind that it costs 95 dollars and a maintenance fee of 2.5 dollars per month applies.
If you know of any other options besides the above, let me know in the comment area and I’ll include it in this article.
Keep in mind that you must purchase a physical card, not a virtual one. Always carry the card with you, because in Russia, Apple Pay and Google Pay have suspended their operations and are not working.
Advantages of the UnionPay card: you don’t have to carry all your cash with you.
Drawbacks of the UnionPay card: in addition to the commission for exchanging rubles, transaction fees may also apply.
Option 3. Get a card from a Russian bank when you arrive at your destination
For longer trips or if you travel to Russia frequently, the best option is to purchase a bank card in Russia attached to the MIR system (in Russian: МИР).
MIR is a Russian payment system created in 2015 by the Central Bank of Russia following Western sanctions for the annexation of Crimea. After the suspension of operations by Visa and MasterCard in Russia in 2022 due to the conflict in Ukraine, MIR has become the main card payment system in Russia.
There are currently several card options focused on foreigners in Russia. In any of the three options that I explain below, you must provide 3 documents: passport, visa (if you need it) and immigration card.
Tinkoff is a neobank founded by Oleg Tinkov in 2006 and that operates mainly online in Russia, although it has some offices in Moscow.
The Tinkoff card can be ordered from their website and they take it to your place of residence in Russia, either a hotel or a private apartment (it takes 1-2 days from the date of the application). This card is associated with a mobile application (like Revolut) and can be recharged for free with your personal cards.
Raiffeisen Bank Card
Raiffeisen Bank is one of the main banks in Russia, although it was founded in Austria.
The Raiffeisen Bank card can be ordered from their website, although the process is in Russian and a Russian mobile number is required. You can get this card in Russia by presenting the required documentation (passport, visa and immigration card).
However, you can also request it directly at one of their offices. This bank has a multitude of offices in major Russian cities.
Tarjeta de Sberbank
Sberbank is the largest bank in Russia and Eastern Europe. Its main shareholder is the Central Bank of Russia.
The Sberbank MIR card can be ordered online, although as with the Raiffeisen Bank card, the form is in Russian and a Russian mobile number is required. However, you can also request it directly at any of their bank branches.
Advantages of MIR cards: you can pay in Russia and withdraw money at cash machines with no fees (or low fees)
Drawbacks of MIR cards: during your trip, you’ll have to spend time completing the procedure.
3. How do I send money to Russia?
Finally, if you want to send money to Russia, most companies have suspended their services with Russia (Wise, Azimo, PayPal, etc.).
For this reason, you have to use operators such as Profee or Advcash. I’ll tell you everything in this article: How to send money to Russia (my personal experience)
And you? What payment methods did you use on your trip to Russia? What has been your experience?