Debit Cards, Credit Cards, and Cash in Russia

If you live in the Western world, especially in North America, chances are you haven’t even seen cash in a while. However, much of Eastern Europe – and Russia – has a lot of tricky rules for using anything other than cash. In which situations is it OK to pull out your credit card? How much cash should you have on you on a typical day in Russia? Here is everything you need to know:
  • 01 of 04

    Credit Cards

    Credit cards are an extremely new concept in Russia, and generally reserved for the nouveau-riches. In other words, almost nobody uses them, and if you do, you will be assumed to be either extremely rich or extremely pretentious. In fact, most places in Russia still do not accept credit card payments – except for very expensive restaurants and retail stores. Large supermarkets such as Lenta do sometimes accept credit cards, but often there is a separate check-out aisle which accepts cards, so watch out. Also, you will always need to have ID with you if you want to use a credit card, as clerks are required to check the ID of everybody paying with one. Of course, you should always have your ID with you anyway if you are traveling in Russia, so this shouldn’t be a problem!

    In general, just as anywhere else, only use a credit card in places that seem safe and trustworthy to you. Credit card scamming, skimming, and identity theft are quite widespread in Russia and as such, always carefully...MORE evaluate the place before you hand over a credit card. Before you even try to use a credit card, make sure there is nobody suspicious-looking around, because as I said, those using credit cards are assumed to be very rich, which is not necessarily a good thing in Russia.

  • 02 of 04

    Debit Cards

    While debit cards are slowly coming into use among regular people in Russia, in general they are still pretty unheard of and more often refused than accepted... and these are Russian-issued debit cards! International debit cards will almost definitely NOT work in any store in which you try to use them. I would recommend using your debit card only to take out cash at ATMs.

    On the plus side, most ATMs accept most international debit cards, so you can get cash almost anywhere in Russia. Don’t be surprised or alarmed if your card is rejected, however, as some do only accept domestic cards. Also, it’s quite common for an ATM machine to be out of money (yes, really) in Russia, so again, don’t panic if your transaction doesn’t go through – that could also be the reason.

  • 03 of 04

    Traveler’s Cheques

    I’m not sure if anyone still uses traveler’s cheques, but if you were thinking of bringing them to Russia... don’t bother. You are much more likely to be scammed or overcharged than you are to get some use out of them, and the hassle you will have to go through to cash them will be much more trouble than it’s worth. Take advantage of the fact that most ATMs accept international cards and avoid the whole process of exchanging currency at a teller entirely – just take money off your debit card as you need it. Bear in mind that your bank will likely charge you a fee, but trust me – it will be worth it to avoid the hassle!

  • 04 of 04

    Cash

    The best way to pay in Russia is in cash! This is the method everyone is used to and comfortable with. However, be careful not to carry too much cash with you all at once – best only take out a bit at a time, or leave some in a safe place (like a safe in your hotel room). In general I would suggest not carrying around more than 3000 Rubles at a time (about US $100) unless you are about to make a large purchase (although if it’s something very expensive then I would consider using a credit card – see above). It’s dangerous to carry around too much cash – or at least to let everyone see that you are carrying around too much cash, because it makes you a prime target for pickpocketing (at best – and mugging at worst). Again, make use of the ATMs that are popping up everywhere in Russia and only carry with you what you need!