travel tips ► MONEY AND CURRENCY EXCHANGE
Russians use roubles, a currency that is virtually unconvertible outside of Russia. Currently, the rouble dollar exchange rate is approximately 26 roubles to the USD and 33 roubles to the EURO.
Officially, you must pay for all goods and services in roubles while in Russia. In many places such as restaurants, bars and hotels, you will see prices listed in y.e. which stands for uslovnaya edinitsa or equivalent units. These are usually equivalent to either dollars or euros or somewhere in between. So, if you are charged 10 y.e. for a hamburger, and the rate is 31 roubles per each y.e., you will end up paying 310 y.e. for the hamburger…
In most Russian cities, it is quite easy to exchange hard currency for roubles. Visitors can use practically all banks or exchange posts. Be aware that rates can differ substantially - this is especially important if you plan to exchange large sums of money. You wouldn't want to lose $3 for every $100 exchanged due to a poor rate would you? So, check around. Usually exchange points in airports, train stations and hotels will give visitors the worst rates. If you desperately need roubles on arrival, just change enough to pay for the transportation to your hotel or use an ATM machine. The best exchange places are the ones most heavily used. Also, be aware that some exchange rates may charge up to a 25 rouble transaction fee for every exchange. Ask the advice of your tour guide or hotel concierge about where they think you can get the best rate.
There is absolutely no reason to exchange money with black marketers. While in Soviet times, the young guys that hung around the exchange booths could give you an excellent, black market rate - much higher than the official rate, today, there is NO black market and it is always much better and safer to exchange at an official exchange shop or bank. Also, dealing with blackmarketeers can be dangerous - you can easily end up losing your money. So, our persistent advice is not to deal with the strangers, and go directly to the exchange office and be careful.
ATMS, called bankomats in Russia, are becoming more and more popular here as more Russians receive debit and credit cards. As anywhere in the world, the ATM owner will take a commission, usually equal to $3 for each transaction, therefore, it is best to take out larger amounts all at one time rather than always pay the $3. The exchange rates at ATMs are usually quite good - it is the commissions that you have to worry about. It is best to use ATM machines inside of banks or hotels vs. ones that are just on the street. This is because there have been a number of scams involving PIN number theft from street ATMs.
Banks in major hotels in St. Petersburg and Moscow and the main branches of the largest Russian banks will accept traveler's checks - however only the most popular brands (American Express, Cook, etc.). Traveler's checks are ok, but it is best to bring some cash, and for additional funds use a bank card to get money from an ATM machine. This is my advice anyway.