When visiting Russia it is always a good idea to bring some cash money with you. Since at most foreign exchange offices outside Russia they either don’t have rubles or, if they do, the exchange rate is very unfavourable, it is preferable to bring foreign currency with you and exchange them for rubles once you are already inside Russia. But where in Saint Petersburg and Moscow should you exchange your foreign currency for rubles?
The best place to exchange foreign currency in Russia is at a bank. There are also many exchange offices scattered all over the city centre of both Saint Petersburg and Moscow. But most of them don’t offer good rates and they are generally considered less reliable than a bank.
Why you should bring some cash when visiting Russia
Foreign banks often see Russia as a risky environment. That’s why with a western bank card you can’t take out money in Russia, because it’s blocked. The bank requires you to unblock the card before you are able to use it in Russia. Sometimes this unblocking causes some confusion and people are unable to use their card in Russia, even though they have money on their account. This is of course very frustrating. Having a bit of cash at hand, so you will be able to pay for your food and accommodation while solving the problem with your bank is therefore the smart thing to do.
How much should you bring
I recommend you bring enough cash to pay for accommodation and food for a week. Any problem you may have with your bank should be solvable within this time period.
Please be aware that if you take more than $10,000 dollars per person or the equivalent of that amount in another currency with you across the Russian border, you have to declare it it at the customs. Anyhow, a fraction of this amount will be more than enough to pay for the essentials for most people.
What is a good exchange rate of the ruble?
Ok, so you have your cash and you want to exchange it. What is a good rate? The exchange rate of the ruble constantly changes, so it doesn’t make sense to write a number here. If you want to have good idea of what a reasonable exchange rate is, you should have a look at the website of the Russian Central Bank (external link). This is the exchange rate that Russia’s central bank has established for a certain date. Now, you can’t directly deal with the Central Bank of Russia yourself and during the course of a day the exchange rate will fluctuate, according to the laws of demand and supply. But it’s still a good indication. The price of your foreign currency should not be much lower than indicated on the Central Bank’s website.
When exchanging your foreign currency for rubles you should pay attention to the size of the of the difference between the price for which the bank is willing to buy the currency you are holding and the price for which they are himself selling it. This difference is called the spread. In general you can say that, the smaller the size of the spread, the more advantageous it’ll be for you, provided the correct exchange rate is used of course.
So what is a good spread? Like I said, the smaller the better. But for me personally a spread of around 1 ruble per dollar is acceptable. But in the centre of Saint Petersburg many exchange offices have a spread of around 5 rubles per dollar. That means that if you exchange $100 dollars with them, you basically loose around $7,55 dollars just on the spread. That’s a bit steep in my opinion.
Which foreign currency should you bring
The easiest currencies to exchange in Russia are the most popular ones: the dollar and the euro. While it is certainly also possible to exchange other currencies like the British Pound or the Chinese Yuan in Russia, it might be harder to find a place that accepts this currency.
The safest way to exchange your foreign currency in Russia is at a bank. Chances you will be shortchanged at a bank are nihil and rates are decent.
The disadvantage about exchanging your money at a bank is that banks in the city center of big cities are often quite busy, which means you will have to wait in line. Another disadvantage of exchanging your money at a bank is that they tend to close earlier than the exchange offices. So, if you need rubles in the evening, you might not be able to find a bank that is open.
Which bank should you change your money at?
The difference in exchange rates between banks is far not as bad as the different in rates between exchange offices. But if you need to exchange a large amount of money it still is wise to check at which bank they offer the best exchange rate. On sites like this you can find an overview of which bank offers which rates. The site is in Russian only though.
You also have many tiny exchange offices spread across the cities of Saint Petersburg and Moscow.
In Saint Petersburg this exchange office has a good reputation:
Name: Centr Obemena Ligovsky (Ligovsky Exchange Center)
Address: Ligovsky Pereulok 2 (Лиговский переулок, 2, google maps)
Well, at least it used to have a good reputation. Recently they have a lot of bad reviews on google.Where not to exchange money
Don’t exchange money at the airport. Just don’t. The rates are very unfavorable.
Where not to exchange money
At the airport
Don’t exchange money at the airport. Just don’t. The rates are very unfavourable.
On the black market
This is illegal and Russialounge doesn’t want you to break any Russian laws. But exchange offices and banks close at night and what if you you arrive then and have no money? Especially in places where there are many tourists around, like airports or railway stations . The chance that you will be shortchanged when changing money on the black market is significantly higher though. So we advice you not to risk it. If you absolutely need cash urgently you could change a minimal amount until a bank or an exchange office opens.
How much are you allowed to exchange?
You are allowed to exchange any amount of money in Russia, but if the amount you want to exchange exceeds 40,000 rubles (around €533 Euros or $602,80 USD) the place where you exchange your money is obliged to ask for your passport.
If the amount you wish to exchange exceeds 100,000 rubles ( about€1327,10 euro $1507 USD , according to the current exchange rate), you will have to answer questions about the source of your income and also they will want to know your Personal Tax Identification Number. Of course, if you don’t permanently live in Russia, you probably don’t have such a Russian number to begin with. Therefore I would not recommend foreigners to exchange amounts larger than (the equivalent of) 100,000 rubles at once.
Like I said, bringing some cash with you when visiting Russia is recommended, but you should definitely pay close attention to where you want to exchange this cash for rubles. If you have the possibility to change your money at a bank, do that.