Shopping and Prices in Russia
(updated for summer 2013)
When I first came to Russia in 2000 the British pound was worth around 50 roubles. Over the following decade it has varied between 40-55 roubles to the pound.
Today (June 2013) the exchange rate is around 48 roubles to the pound. This long-term stability means that its very easy to calculate exchange rates.
I work prices out like this – 50 roubles = 1 British Pound, so 10 Pounds = 500 roubles, 20 Pounds = 1000 roubles, 100 Pounds = 5000 roubles. Simply put, every 1000 roubles equals 20 British pounds. Once you get used to doing it a few times, its easy to make quick calculations in your head.
Whilst the exchange rates have stayed relatively stable, most prices in Russia have risen dramatically over the last decade.
Food prices have gone up a lot. It’s now quite easy to spend 1-2000 roubles in the supermarket and only get enough food to feed your family for a day or two.
Prices in cafes, bars and clubs have also risen. A decade ago I could have a great night out with friends at a cafe, enjoy lots of beer, vodka and some food and spend less than £10 (500 roubles). Prices now are much closer to western standards.
A monthly combined bus/tram/trolleybus ticket for my city in Russia used to be 400 roubles, it’s nearer to 1600 roubles/month. Single rides are still cheap at about 15 roubles. A typical netbook computer that you can buy in England for around £200 can cost around £230.
In you are staying in Moscow or St Petersburg then your rent, bills, transport costs and almost everything else will be higher than if you lived in the provinces. On the other hand, the increased number of shops and choice means that you can often pay less than in the provinces.
If you are coming to Russia for anything longer than a holiday I would advise you to buy your clothes and electronics at home, you won’t find any bargains here. You will spend enough on food and drink and sightseeing. And also don’t bring too much stuff, Russia isn’t your average package holiday destination, its not easy to carry heavy bags around the metro.
Food and drink prices are reasonable if you stick to locally produced things. If you must drink imported brands then your budget will rocket.
Train travel is much better value than in England, for example an 18 hour ( 1200 km) ride from Moscow to Izhevsk is around 2800 roubles for 3rd class, 5000 roubles for 2nd class and around 8000 for 1st. To fly the same distance costs anywhere from 7-13,000 roubles and takes only 2 hours.
Everything depends on just how you want to live. Are you happy to live as cheaply as a poorly paid local or do you need to live like an oligarch?
Petrol, alcohol, cigarettes, utility bills, public transport, food.
Petrol is around 23-28 roubles a litre depending on the octane, less than half the UK price. Last time I bothered to check 95 octane petrol/gas cost 26.80 roubles a litre. Cigarettes cost from 30-60 roubles for a pack of 20. Russian brands are of course much cheaper than imported brands. A litre of vodka costs from 200 roubles. You can of course buy very small bottles of vodka, almost anything from 100ml upwards. Beer has seen an increase in tax but you can still buy a nice 2 litre plastic bottle of the local brew for less than 100 roubles.
Yearly water bills can be less than 50 pounds! Electricity – again it’s only a fraction of the UK price. Utility bills are slowly rising, but they have a very long way before they reach the same levels as the criminally greedy British utility companies.
I have rented flats in provincial Russia in the past and paid only 2000 roubles a month for my flat. These prices included all utility bills, community taxes and free electricity, hot water and heating(24 hours a day during the winter months). These days flats in my city can be found for 8000 roubles for a single room flat upwards depending on the location and the state of repair. Remember that these prices are for the provinces so won’t be true for Moscow or St Petersburg. In Moscow you can expect to pay at least 20-25000 roubles a month for a cheap crappy flat far from the centre.
Clothes, electronics, rents in some cities such as Moscow and St Petersburg, most foreign imported goods, imported food and drink.
Markets offer the cheapest clothes but the quality can be extremely nasty. Everything is made in the worst possible Chinese factories. I’ve bought cheap shoes from the market and they’ve fallen apart in 2 weeks.
Many Russian clothes shops try to market themselves as designer label boutiques with correspondingly crazy prices, but the clothes are usually still the same cheaply made chinese rubbish that you find in the markets.
Buy your digital camera, notebook, flash memory cards, ipod, ipad at home before you travel. Russian electronics prices can be 10-50% higher for no apparent reason.
Here a list of prices in my typical central Russian city – NOT Moscow (valid March 2013). I saved a few days worth of receipts from my local produkti to get some accurate figures for the site.
If you live in Moscow or St Petersburg then prices will be considerably more!
1 Litre of Milk – 18 roubles.
Small Yoghurt – 32 roubles.
Loaf of Bread – 25 roubles.
1/2 litre can of beer – 28 roubles.
Bottle of Baltika beer 0.5 litre – 38 roubles.
2 litre bottle of mineral water – 18 roubles.
2 litre super size bottle of beer – 100 roubles.
Bottle of wine = 150-300 roubles.
Local newspaper – 9 roubles.
20 cigarettes = 30 roubles for a cheap Russian brand.
Bus/tram/trolleybus ticket (any distance in the city) – 14 roubles.
Litre of Petrol – 26.80 roubles.
Cheap pay as you go mobile phone with Sim card – 1000 roubles.
Washing machine – 8500 roubles.
Cheap digital camera – 3500 roubles.
ADSL Broadband Internet monthly charge (8mb speed – 40Gb download limit) – 550 roubles.
Packet of 10 antibiotic tablets – 50 roubles.
What should you buy ?
You are in Russia so try to sample the local food and drink as much as possible. It will be tastier, fresher and cheaper than anything imported. I rarely miss foreign brands.
For your souvenirs you can buy matryoshka dolls, wooden souvenirs such as handmade painted jewellery boxes, vodka and cigarettes.
Remember that most EU countries will only allow you to import 200 cigarettes and 1 litre of spirits from outside the EU taxfree.
You could try sneaking a few blocks of cigarettes into your suitcase and a few bottles of vodka but be aware of the risks. The EU only allows travellers to bring back 1 litre of spirits and 200 cigarettes from outside the EU.
Music CD’s, MP3 music CD’s and computer software are all available at rock bottom prices so these make great gifts. Russians themselves have largely given up buying CD’s and DVD’s and now prefer to download everything so prices are very low.
Forget about buying souvenirs at the airport or in duty-free, prices are many times higher than elsewhere.
Buy your souvenirs before you reach the airport.
Want to check out exchange rates, then I would recommend xe.com and the excellent exchange calculator.