Telecom Operators
One of the excellent advantages in Russia is that phone and internet costs are extremely affordable. Even if you’re only in Russia for a week, it’s worth getting a sim card. The teleoperator services in Russia are cheap and easy to use, and there are many operators to choose from. Here are the biggest operators: Beeline, MTS, Megafon and Tele2.

Buying a sim card
The different operators shown above have small shops around the city selling phones, sim cards and all kinds of related accessories like memory cards and headphones. There is a store called “Svyaznoy” (Связной) which sells sim cards from all the different operators. Dropping into any store and getting a sim card takes usually less than 10 minutes if there is no queue. Just make sure that you have your passport with you, it will be needed for getting a sim. You will have to sign a contract of which you will also get a copy. You can ask the assistant to change your sim card in your phone or do it by yourself. Don’t buy sim cards from random stalls on the street that are selling them. If you are not required to show ID when getting the sim card, it’s most likely dodgy.

Which operator to choose?
The operators have various tariffs. It might be useful to think if you will need mainly data or more calls and text messages before going to get your sim card, because this is one factor you can base your decision on. Also the operators usually have very cheap calls and text messages to other numbers of the same operator. If you have some friends that you will be calling a lot, it might be a good idea to get a sim from the same operator as theirs.

The operators are constantly in competition, and neither of them is significantly cheaper than the others. The prices change quite often. Generally you can get a basic tariff with around 400 minutes of calls, 400 sms and 10-12 GB of internet for about 350 rubles. The sim card itself is free. Usually when getting the sim card, you will pay for the first month right away. If you’re staying for just a week or two, you can pay 200 rubles at Beeline and get enough data and calls for your time in the city.

Russia is such a big country that the telecom companies operate regionally. When you travel to another city you will be on roaming and the calls, messages and internet will be more expensive. Some of the tariffs are designed for those who need to travel inside the country with smaller payments for roaming. So when choosing your tariff, ask about this. In some cases there are plans where you don’t have to pay anything extra for roaming.

How to upload money on the sim card?
You can pay for your phone in a couple of ways:

  1. Using a terminal. Around the city there are lots of terminals that people use to pay for different things like electricity, internet and phone. There is always at least one terminal in the teleoperator shops, but you can find them also in grocery stores, shopping centers, in underpasses and in metro or train stations. They might look a little different everywhere, but if you can find the logo of your operator on the screen, you will be able to pay for your phone. Most of the terminals work in English as well and take both cash and cards as payment methods. The terminal might take a small commission for the service if not operated by your provider. The only information you need to upload money on the phone is the phone number. This way you can upload money for someone else’s phone as well if you know their number.
  2. By bank transfer from your web bank or mobile bank. You can setup a monthly transfer if you just want to forget about it.
  3. On the website of your operator or on the operator’s phone application. You can use your bank card or credit card to pay for the phone on the websites or application of the operators, but this might be challenging if you don’t know Russian. Only MTC has a complete English version of their site.

You will get reminders on your phone usually when your money is running out, and you can usually check your balance on the mobile operator’s app. There are also special codes you can call and you get an update of your balance. Check about this numbers when you buy your sim card.

Changing your operator
It is possible to change your operator without changing your phone number. Here are the steps to do this.

  1. Go to one of the shops of the operator you want to change to. Remember to take your passport with you.
  2. Get a new sim card and a new contract as well as a date and time when your operator will change.
  3. When the time of the change comes, install the new sim card.
  4. Wait for 1 to 6 hours for the new sim to start working.

International Editorial Office