Russia Cellphone Guide

Russia Cellphone Guide


If you are visiting Russia then I highly recommend taking a mobile phone/cellphone.  Cellphones can be useful for emergencies, such as if you fall on the ice and break your leg, if you are lost or need help with translation, problems with police, calls to your embassy/consulate in Russia and also for calling back home to your family and friends.

 

 

If you are a businessman and can reply on lavish corporate expenses then you might consider using your existing sim card, but be warned it will cost a lot.  UK phone companies for instance charge up to 5 pounds a minute to call back to the UK.  It is much better to buy a local sim that will only cost a few roubles a minute to local landlines/mobiles, and also offers the opportunity to call home in an emergency.

 

Russian Phone Companies

 

MTS cellphone sim - sovietcity.com

MTS cellphone sim – sovietcity.com

 

There are three companies that offer Russia wide cellphone coverage.  MTC, Beeline and Megafone.  There are also a number of regional and small operators that have more limited coverage, such as a couple of cities or regions.

Beeline and MTC are the oldest Russian cellphone companies and as such, probably have the best coverage. I personally prefer MTC for coverage although I’m sure that Beeline is just as good. Megafone is the newest  of the big three companies so I cant comment on their performance.  You can always ask the locals in your Russian city which company has the best coverage in their particular area.

 

Beeline - SovietCity.com

Beeline – SovietCity.com

 

 

Mobile phone evolution
Image via Wikipedia

 

Sim Cards

Sim cards only cost around 100-200 roubles each and usually come loaded with a small amount of credit, so you may want to buy a couple of cards from different companies to ensure that you get the best possible coverage. I would suggest buying an MTC and Beeline SIM card as then you have the best chance of comprehensive coverage.  These two operators SIM cards will work in numerous cities across Russia.

Take care though, on long train rides across Russia you will find that there is no signal whatsoever once you get out of the major cities and into the countryside.  Why? There are simply no people living there, so that companies aren’t going to erect cell towers/phone masts that will only get limited use.  Like most things in Russia, cell phone coverage isn’t always guaranteed.

How to call a Russian cellphone from abroad

Your Russian sim will have a number such as 8 (9xx xxxxxxxxx).   To call your mobile from outside russia, drop the 8 and put +7 instead.  For example to call a Russian cell number  – 8 912 123456 you would ring +7 912 123456.

Calling abroad from Russia

To call abroad from inside Russia you need to call 8 (to get a line out of the city), then 10 ( for international calls) then your country code, then your local number minus the leading zero.

For instance, if my English phone number is  (+44 ) 020 323 4567, from Russia you would call –  8, 10, 44 20 323 4567.

If you are calling from a Russian land line you need to wait a few seconds after dialing 8, until you hear a new dial tone, before dialing the rest of the number.

If calling abroad from a Russian mobile its sometimes possible to just use standard international dialing, eg +44 121 123 4567. Other times you will need to use  8 10 44 121 123 4567.  Russian mobile networks vary and don’t always allow international calling by default.

Calling inside Russia

To call another Russian city from within Russia you need to dial 8, then wait for the new dial tone before dialing the city code, then the local number.

Using a mobile you can just put 8, then the city code, then the local number.

Choosing A Russian cell tariff.

The variety of mobile phone tariffs available in Russia is bewildering, and unless you speak perfect Russian will be almost incomprehensible.

As a foreigner it won’t make much difference whichever tariff you choose.  You will still be saving a lot of money compared to using a UK, European or US roaming phone tariff.

Just ask for a simple classic tariff, and you will usually only pay a few roubles a minute to local numbers, and also just a few roubles to any phone within Russia.  Compare this with the £1.50-5 pounds a minute charged by UK mobile companies for any calls made in Russia on your UK SIM.

Internet access on your Russian cellphone.

One thing that has greatly improved over the last few years in Russia is mobile internet.

On my smartphone I use MTS and an internet add-on which costs only 299 roubles (about $9.50) a month.

This gives 100mb of data a day, enough for casual browsing, twitter, Facebook, skype and most other things. Surprisingly, most internet services work well. I can use skype video calling, VOIP with Voipcheap to call back home to the UK and get access to Google maps and Yandex navigator.

How to active mobile internet on your MTS sim?

Just press *111*628# and hit send.

You can’t go wrong.


How to Buy

The major drawback with buying mobile phones or sim cards in Russia is that in the past you needed to show a Russian passport, British or other foreign passports are usually not accepted.  This has changed now and many places will sell you a sim card without any document checks at all.

 The easiest places to buy sims without a passport might be the local market or the underground passageways that link major roads in large cities and are usually full of small kiosks.  Most Russian sims cards cost around 100-150 roubles.  If you are visiting Russia from the USA and don’t have a compatible or unlocked GSM phone then don’t worry.

You can buy a simple but still useful phone, such as a basic Nokia or Samsung complete with Russian sim card and a small amount of credit for around 1000 roubles ( £21 / 25 euros / $32 US dollars). These simple phone usually have amazing battery life and only require charging about once a week, so are perfect for travel.

 

Topping up Credit

Russian Sim cards are pay as you go, and should last for at least 6 months without topping up.

In the past you needed to buy vouchers to topup, which meant speaking Russian!  Now almost every decent supermarket in Russia has a couple of electronic payment terminals.

These resemble ATM’s and have a large touch screen display.  You can topup a large variety of bills there, ie internet, cable tv, home utilities, and of course mobile phones.

To topup simply find your operators logo on the touchscreen, touch it to select, enter your mobile number, then insert some rouble notes and keep pressing next or yes.  You can usually print a receipt at the end to confirm your topup.  Beware! It’s not usually possible to get any change from these machines, so only put your 500 or 1000 rouble note if you really want to top up by this amount.

 

Soviet City advice – ALWAYS buy a local sim !!!!!!

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Comments

  1. mokran2011 says:

    Hi,
    I have a megafon sim with 8 digit start and a mts sim wiht +7.
    would you let me know how to make a call from megafon to mts in russia and vise versa

  2. Hi Mokran, +7 is the international country dialling code for Russia.
    8 is the number used in Russia to get a non-local line ( a different city, country or mobile no).

    Russian mobile number are usually in this format +7 9xx xxxxxxx.
    They can also be written as: 8 9xx xxxxxxx. The +7 uses the international dialling code and drops the ‘8’. The second format is local to Russia and drops the ‘+7’ but adds an ‘8’

    If you are inside Russia and want to call a Russian mobile then you can usually dial either: +7, drop(dont dial) the 8, then 9xx xxxxxxx, or you can simply call 8 9xx xxxxxxx.
    Both should work fine, depending on your network.

  3. Last time I visited Moscow, MTS were selling SIM cards at Leningradskiy vokzal, no passports needed. There was a choice between Russian or Moscow Oblast cards, but that was about the biggest challenge I faced.

  4. Hi,
    I was in Russia last week and had horrible difficulties calling local landline and mobile numbers from my UK registered mobile phone. Most of the times it did not work. Could anyone explain how to call Russian numbers from a UK mobile whilst in Russia. Thank you.
    Marina

  5. Hi, what company offer the best coverage (signal) over Izhevsk? and how I can buy a phone from America and had my friend pick it up at the store.
    Thank you in advance for your help.

  6. In my opinion, the best company for signal coverage over most of Russia is MTC.

    I don’t know about buying a phone in America. Just take an unlocked GSM phone with you and buy a MTC sim card when you arrive at the airport in Russia.

  7. I want to purchase an American cell phone & send it to my grandparents in Russia so they can use it over there & so they can connect it with a Russian cell phone company. Which phones will work in Russia ? how do I know for which one to purchase in U.S ?

  8. Russian cellphones mostly use GSM 900/1800Mhz. Any unlocked GSM cellphone should work fine.

  9. Hello I am looking to buy Russian cellphone but can’t find any sites that actually have the mobile phones. Can you tell me some great sites to buy Russian Phone?

  10. A couple of the biggest mobile phone stores in Russia are: http://euroset.ru/ and
    http://www.svyaznoy.ru/

  11. MSG pour puce du 06/01/13 :
    J’ai acheté il y a 1 mois environ un téléphone portable (i9100) à un monsieur par petite annonce, il m’a affirmé que c’est un téléphone acheté en Russie (j’ai vu la facture). Le problème est que je ne sais pas m’en servir, il a l’air d’être complet mais je n’arrive pas à me connecter sur internet (avec opera mini). Je ne m’y connais pas si quelqu’un peut m’aider ce serait magnifique, sinon je le revend, il est quasi-neuf.
    Merci de me répondre, à qui saura le faire

  12. MSG chip 06/01/13:
    I bought it about 1 month ago mobile phones (i9100) to a gentleman by ad, he told me that this is a phone bought in Russia (I saw the invoice). The problem is that I do not know how to use it, it seems to be complete but I can not connect to internet (with opera mini). I did not know if anyone can help me that would be great, if I sold it, it is almost new.
    Thank you to answer me, who will do

    Read more about russian phone by null

  13. What’s the cell phone frequency adopted in Russia?
    3G and/or 4G?
    Tks

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