After decades of being closed to many international visitors, Russia’s tourist industry has recently blossomed. In fact, Russia is one of the top ten most...
Maybe you’re stopping by St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum as part of a Baltic cruise, or perhaps you’re making the leap and moving to Moscow full time for work. Whether you’re only planning on being in Russia for a few hours - or you’re making it your permanent home for work or study - you’re going to need some cash.
Using local ATMs is a convenient option, for many expats and travellers who want simple access to their cash, with rates and fees that don’t cost the earth. Here’s all you need to know about using ATMs in Russia.
Russia has a developed banking system. ATMs are no problem in the towns and cities Alfa-Bank even offers a map of their ATMs based on the Moscow metro system, so you can find an ATM that’s inside or close to the metro station you’re headed to. Convenient, huh?
However, in the countryside, cash is still king. If you’re heading somewhere off the beaten track you should grab the cash you need before you leave the city, just in case.
Find the most convenient ATM, using one of the following ATM locators from large national and international banks:
- Alfa-Bank ATM locator
- RSHB ATM locator
- Gazprom Bank ATM locator
- Raiffeisen ATM locator
- Unicredit ATM locator
Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in Russia. Discover cards are not commonly used. You should be able to withdraw cash at an ATM run by Citibank or Russia Standard bank, but merchants usually do not allow payments using the Discover card.
Amex cards are not very common but can be used in ATMs run by a handful of local banks, including Russia Standard bank.
If you’re planning on relying on your Amex or Discover card, then use the locators below to find the nearest convenient ATM for your network, but remember that you might need a backup plan in case you can’t find a merchant or ATM which suits you.
Find a handy ATM to suit your needs using one of the following locators:
- Maestro ATM locator
- Mastercard and Cirrus ATM locator
- Visa, Plus, and Plus Alliance ATM locator
- Discover ATM locator
- American Express ATM locator
To use a Russian ATM you’ll need a PIN. If you don’t usually use one - because you use an American-issued magnetic stripe card for example - then you can ask your home bank to have one issued for the card before you travel.
If you have a chip and PIN card with a 4 digit PIN - like those regularly issued in other countries in Europe, the UK or Australia, for example - it should work in Russia just like it does at home.
Check with your home bank before you travel, whether there’s already a limit on cash withdrawals from your card. There may be a daily or weekly limit set by your home bank, which applies automatically unless you change it yourself - this will still apply if you’re travelling, so it’s good to know before you go.
If you don’t have a home bank limit in place, then the ATM provider’s own rules will be used. Different banks and ATM operators set their own withdrawal limits, with some as low as RUB7,500 - and the limits rarely reach over EUR100. If necessary, though, you can probably use the same ATM for multiple transactions if you have to - but the fees will be higher this way.
In the past, Russia has been on hotspot lists used by banks when monitoring credit and debit card transactions. That’s because of scams and fraud which have been found to originate there and means that your bank’s fraud department might worry if they see a sudden spike in spending in Russia.
To make sure you can continue to use your bank card as normal during your trip, you’ll have to tell your bank in advance that you plan on travelling to Russia. If you don’t, the fraud department can block or limit spending if they think there’s something suspicious going on, and you’ll be unable to get your hands on your cash.
A reasonable number of international banks have branches and ATMs in Russia, such as Raiffeisen and Unicredit. If your regular account is held with one of these banks, you might get free or cheap cash withdrawals if you stick to their ATMs during your travels.
ATMs are great for travellers - as long as you look out for the scams. And dynamic currency conversion (also known as DCC for short) is one of the most common rip-offs for foreign ATM customers.
DCC is where you’re asked if you’d like your transaction to be processed in your home currency instead of the local currency. It sounds like a great idea because it means you don’t have to try to do the mental math to convert from rubles to your home currency on the spot.
But here’s the thing. It’s not a good deal for travellers because although you can see what a transaction will cost you in your home currency, you never get to check the exchange rate used is fair. DCC usually means that the exchange rate you’re handed is not the real, mid-market rate which you’d find on Google.
That’s because - knowing that you can’t see the exchange rate applied - the ATM provider or merchant can wrap their margin into the rate and pocket the difference. That’s a bad deal for the customer. You’ll get a better price if you always choose to pay in the local currency instead.
Unfortunately, even when you avoid DCC, you will often find that you’re charged by your very own bank for using an ATM overseas.
Find out in advance what your own bank will charge you to access your cash abroad - the details for your specific account should be available online, or on the back of a bank account statement.
Banks can decide for themselves whether or not they’ll add a fee to foreign card users making a withdrawal from their ATMs. And in Russia, some do charge and some don’t.
If you have a choice of ATMs, it’s worth finding one which works in English, so you can follow the transaction, and see what fees if any are being added. If the fee is unacceptable then you can shop around because not all ATMs add their own charge.
To increase your chances of finding free cash withdrawals in Russia, check out whether your own bank has a local presence or partner there. Many banks work together in international networks, to offer reduced fee cash withdrawals from specific ATMs while travelling. If your bank has a relationship with an institution based in Russia you could strike lucky and get free cash withdrawals.
Many travellers can reduce ATM fees in Russia with a few simple tricks.
Each bank account will have its own set of charges for international card usage. You could save yourself some cash if you check where you can get the best deal for overseas cash withdrawals.
There are bank accounts on the market which are specifically aimed at frequent travellers and promise free - or cheap - withdrawals wherever you are. It might even work out that it’s worth opening an account just for when you travel if your usual bank account adds high fees to cover international ATM use.
At the very least, if you have a couple of active bank accounts, check which is cheaper for ATM use, and stick with that one.
If you do nothing else, avoid DCC. It just lines the pockets of banks and ATM operators, at your expense. Pay in the local currency whenever you use your card abroad, to make sure you dodge DCC’s high fees and poor exchange rates.
If you want a convenient - and great value - alternative, check out Wise.
If you, or someone you’re visiting, has a local bank account in Russia, you can transfer money between accounts with Wise before your trip. That means that you can just withdraw cash from the local account using fee-free ATMs, once you arrive.
You dodge international ATM fees, and Wise could be cheaper than withdrawing directly from your home account because all transfers use the real, mid-market exchange rate for transfers, with just a small fee per transaction.
ATMs are convenient if you’re travelling, and they can offer a good deal, as long as you’re careful about DCC and know the other fees your bank might add to your withdrawals. However, if you want a cheap and simple alternative, why not give Wise a try. Send money to a local account, and avoid international ATM fees altogether.
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