Credit/Debit Cards vs. Cash. Traveling To Russia
Traveling to Russia is not always as convenient as traveling, for example, to Europe or the US. But if you strongly decided for yourself to explore Russia, then I have to share some important information that will make your trip as smooth as possible. It is not a secret that paying with credit cards is of a great convenience and truly can be acknowledged as a valuable achievement of the 21stcentury. However, in Russia people have not arrived to the same conclusion yet. Thus, paying for different things can become a real challenge for those who expect it to be as easy as in the West. Living in Israel for a few years and having got used to paying with credit or debit cards made me realize that Russian banks and shops are at least 5 years behind from making use of credit/debit cards as a conveinient way of paying.
So where can you pay with the credit/debit cards in Russia? About four years ago, while shopping with my mom in one of the biggest malls of our city, I noticed that in the end she paid with a card. The whole operation went quite fast and in approximately a minute she was signing the bill. I was surprised and asked her how she was able to obtain a credit card. Due to the high interest rate (usually over 10% p/y), people cannot afford such a luxury as getting a credit card. Her response was that it was not a credit card but a debit card, which only contains the money she receives as her salary. Nevertheless, going out I saw a sticker on the glass door of the shop, which specified with what exactly cards you could pay. It included not only financial services of NCC and Maestro, the ones that are exclusively Russian, but also international ones such as Visa (Electron) and MasterCard. Furthermore, I noticed that almost every shop in the mall offered such services as paying with credit or debit cards. But don’t worry! You don’t have to now buy your groceries in malls. Almost every town and city in Russian Federation has a couple of supermarket chains that also accept credit or debit cards. The most popular supermarkets in Moscow are Azbuka Vkusa (trans. ABC of taste), Paterson, Perekryostok (trans. Crossroads), and Real. Also paying with a credit/debit card will not be a problem in travel agencies, in case you and your Russian lady decided to take a trip together. Expensive boutiques allow you to pay with credit/debit cards as well. However, not all debit cards are accepted. Moreover, Visa Electron can sometimes create problems with your payments. Thus, it is better to have usual Visa or MasterCard. They always work without difficulties. In any case, no matter where you go, there will be a sign specifying with what cards you can pay in a certain place.
Where is it better to pay with cash? First of all, it is very important to have cash everywhere with you in Russia as a back up. Since Russia does not only include Moscow, but also consists of multiple smaller towns, paying with cards there can be much harder. Therefore, having at least a couple of thousand rubles (about $60) in your wallet at all time will rid you of such a pain in the neck as running to the ATM machine while trying to shop in a smaller market or a merchant shop. There are plenty ATM machines in every town in Russia, so to withdraw money from a card will not be so challenging. And as you probably know it is always better to withdraw money from a debit card rather then credit card. Your bank will not charge you that much if you take money from your debit card. Not all of the ATM machines have foreign languages for convenience. Also there are certain ATM machines that do not belong to any of the Russian banks and their fees are much higher. However, such ATM machines usually have at least English.
In spite of being a major developing economy, Russia still relies heavily on physical cash. Therefore, in case you have nothing but a credit card, make sure you show your ID, because for Russians it is quite hard to comprehend that money can be invisible.
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