Russia is a huge country, almost twice the landmass of the USA, and covering nine different time zones. Among its population of 142 million people, there are a large number of expats, mainly centred around the larger cities of Moscow and St Petersburg.
Russia is well set up to accommodate international arrivals, with a large network of international schools and facilities designed to make expats feel at home. With a vibrant cultural life and the possibility of a very high standard of living, many foreigners have fallen in love with expat life in Russia.
One of the first things you’ll need to do, if you’re planning a move to Russia, is open a local bank account. Here’s how.
There are many different types of accounts available through Russian banks. For the most simple accounts (with no credit facilities), you may be able to apply with only your passport as proof of identification. However, if you want a bank account with additional services, you’ll be asked for the following:
- Photo ID (ideally a passport)
- Valid residence permit
- Proof of address in Russia (a recent utility bill is usually acceptable)
- For some accounts you may need a reference from your employer
Although you can start the process of opening a bank account from abroad, most banks will require you to visit a branch and provide a signature sample to activate your account.
Once you have chosen your bank, you’ll be able to find out details of the relevant process. In many cases, you can start to complete the application online before attending a bank in person once you arrive in Russia.
Whichever branch you apply to will be where your account details are held permanently. If you ever need to make changes to the account, you would need to visit that particular branch again, so choose a convenient location.
You can open a non-resident bank account with either an international bank based in Russia or one of the larger national banks. However, you would need to attend a bank branch in person to give a signature sample.
Russia has a sophisticated banking network with an easy availability of ATMs. There are many large international banks operating within Russia, so it’s worth checking if your home bank has branches there. If they do, it might be easiest to transfer to a local branch rather than starting again with a new bank.
If you have the time and patience, opening a bank account in one of the larger cities should not be too difficult. Below is an overview of four of the major national banks in Russia, to start you on your search.
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| Sberbank | Sberbank are Russia’s largest bank network, making it easy to find a branch. You can open an account, get a payment card or access other products like loans and investments. Telephone and Internet banking are available. Some services also come with perks and a loyalty card. |
| Rosbank | As part of the Société Générale Group, Rosbank are well placed to offer services to international clients. You can make an appointment with an international client manager to find the right product for you. Mobile banking is offered in English and French, as well as Russian. |
| Raiffeisen | Raiffeisen offer all you would expect from a large, international banking group. There are products to suit everyone, including a premium service specifically designed for international clients. As their ATM and branch network cover the entire region, this is a good choice for those who plan to travel outside of Russia frequently. |
| Gazprom | Gazprom offer personal banking alongside specialist corporate and investment banking services. They are one of the largest banks in Russia, with over 2.8 million private customers, and offer a full range of products and services. |
When you open a bank account in Russia, it's important to read the terms and conditions carefully. Look especially at the banking fees and charges, which might be quite different to what is standard in your home country.
Check, for example, if there are regular charges levied to keep your account open or use a credit or debit card. Although usually relatively small, these account handling fees mount up over time. It’s also normal to be charged a fee for withdrawing cash from an ATM operated by a different bank.
Another unusual aspect of Russian banking is that not all payment cards can be used to make web payments to foreign firms. Visa cards should be fine when used internationally, but check with your bank so you understand the functionality of the cards you’re issued.
An additional challenge for expats is that fees can be particularly steep, if you need to move money between accounts which use different currencies.
When you’re making an international money transfer, your bank might not be the best deal available. As well as a charge for processing the transaction, banks will commonly make their profit by using an exchange rate which is far from favourable.
Instead, use Transferwise when you need to move money between accounts held in different currencies.
With Transferwise you can transfer money using the real exchange rate. There is no mark up, and no hidden fees, just a clear upfront charge for your transfer. Check out our website to find out more about simple and fair international money transfers with Transferwise.
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