This article tries to answer a frequent question that confronts all those who have traveled to Russia: Where is it better to change dollars for rubles? In the airport? At your bank? In a bank in Russia? In an ATM in Russia? Making your purchases on your credit card? Is it better to change your money before you travel or is it better to do it in Russia? I will answer all of these questions.
Article updated August 17, 2019. Published June 24, 2016
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A very common question that arises before traveling to Russia is where to change dollars for rubles. Money exchange is a very lucrative business and all brokers charge a fee for making the change, although some more than others.
Basically, I say that there are two options for paying in rubles: use cash or use a bank card in Russia for all purchases.
Personally, I prefer to change a little cash to rubles before leaving to pay for the essential expenses upon my arrival at the airport (taxi, food, drink, etc.). Once in Russia, I prefer to use my card to make payments both in restaurants and in shops since both Visa and Mastercard often offer a good exchange rate.
- While it is true that in some shops or restaurants they may also accept payment dollars or euros, but usually you have to pay with rubles. That means that it is impossible to avoid the hassle of changing dollars to rubles. When traveling to Russia, you simply have to exchange dollars for rubles.
- Except for small purchases in little shops or kiosks, credit cards are generally accepted in most restaurants and shops in the big cities (it is possible that in more rural, remote areas than the large cities they may not be accepted).
1. Changing your money at an airport in Russia
You can change dollars to rubles in an exchange office at the airport. However, this option is usually the worst since the exchange rate applied by exchange offices in Russian airports are usually the worst by far for the customer.
This is an expensive and very unwise choice. Even changing small quantities. Do not be fooled by the “no commission” since instead of a commission they charge you a very unfavorable exchange rate.
2. Changing your money at your bank before you travel
This means going to your bank and requesting to exchange some dollars to rubles. Most likely you will have to wait a few days for them to get them back to you (assuming that your bank offers this service).
This method is usually quite unfavorable, but usually better than making the change at the airport. Banks also typically charge a fee for currency exchange.
3. Buying currency online
This option is better than the previous ones. It allows you to buy foreign currency online (also rubles) and receive the rubles at your address by postal mail. You also can collect money in a nearby office or at major airports in US.
I use Travelex to take some money (30.000 – 40.000 rubles) and to be able to cope with expenses when arriving in Russia (taxi, food, etc.). Travelex offers much better exchange rate than banks.
4. Changing money at an ATM in Russia
This option involves using your debit card, either Visa or Mastercard, (not credit, which is much more expensive) to get cash from an ATM. You can take out money at an ATM at the airport or in the city center.
While the exchange rate offered by Visa or Mastercard is much more favorable than the previous options, instead, the banks apply a fee for extraction and one for currency exchange. The exchange rate applied by Visa is available at this link and the rate applied by Mastercard is also available on its website.
Normally banks operating entirely online usually offer better conditions. In contrast, traditional banks usually apply a higher fee that can be as high as 5% or more.
It is best to always ask your bank in advance to know what the fee is that they will apply for transactions in Russia.
In any case, this is a good way to exchange your money provided your bank is not charging you high fees. It is also a convenient solution because in Russia you can find ATMs on every corner.
5. Changing your money with a Russian bank
This option entails taking your dollars with you from home and making the exchange in a bank in Russia. The exchange rate applied by Russian banks is much better than you can find in the airport or at your bank.
I always advise asking at your hotel’s reception desk to indicate where there is a nearby bank that offers a good exchange rate and no commission.
Changing your money in a bank in Russia is a more economical way to change dollars for rubles since the exchange rate they apply is a little more favorable than with the previous options but keep in mind that this has three drawbacks:
- You have to waste time going to a bank and perhaps waiting in line in order to perform the transaction (this has happened to me more than once).
- You have to bring your dollars in cash from home (risk of loss or theft).
- Some banks apply a fee (you must ask beforehand).
6. Changing your money through buying with a debit or credit card
For me, this is the best way to change dollars for rubles. Keep in mind that in Russia, bank cards are accepted in most shops and restaurants practically the same as in USA or Canada. It is true that for small purchases and payments in kiosks or in small shops you will need cash, but you can make all the important purchases with a card without a problem.
With a Mastercard or a Visa, you can make purchases with a good exchange rate and only pay a fee for currency exchange that is usually around 3%, although there are banks that do not apply this fee. To make purchases you can use either your debit card or your credit card.
The card I use in Russia is the Revolut card, since it applies the best exchange rate in Russia and without commissions. It is a prepaid card that you can recharge through your bank card, by bank transfer, through Apple Pay, PayPal, etc.
As you have seen, currency exchange can be done in different ways. This is what I usually do when I travel to Russia:
- I take a small amount of rubles that I change at Travelex before I leave home to cover the initial expenses.
- Once in Russia, I use my Revolut card for all purchases except for those places that do not accept them (kiosks, small shops …). It is much easier to use a card than it is to waste time having to go to banks in Moscow to change for rubles. Moreover, the cost is similar.
- Finally, I also take money in dollars. If I need more cash in rubles then I can change them in any bank at a good price, but sometimes I also use my debit card to withdraw cash at ATMs.
What has been your experience changing dollars for rubles? You can leave your comments below.