travel tips ► CELL PHONES
Russia uses the GSM network so it is compatible for all of Europe but incompatible for cell phones from the USA. This makes communicating by cell phones for Europeans quite easy and communication by cell phones for Americans impossible! However, it is quite easy to purchase a cell phone at a reasonable price from one of the millions of mobile phone stores and payment centers that you can see all over the centers of any Russian city. Currently, you can buy a decent cell phone for the equivalent of $80 USD including a SIM card and connection to a local network. It is also possible to rent cell phones from City Realty, please give us a call for more information.
For longer stays in Russia, it may be convenient for you to temporarily replace your home SIM card with a local one. This will save you lots of money if you plan on making a lot of local calls. Just go into any of the mobile phone stores and ask to buy a local SIM and get connected to a network. You will need your passport.
Most people in Russia use prepaid cellular services, in other words, they purchase prepaid phone cards. These cards usually come in $5, $10 or $50 equivalent unit denominations. They are quite easy to use. Scratch off the code on the back of the card (like a lottery ticket) and follow the instructions of how to enter the card number into the system to add more money to your account. If you have trouble, you can always ask the attendant in the shop where you bought the card to help you.
Russia has 3 main cellular telephone networks - MTS, Beeline and Megafon. MTS is the largest, with Beeline in second place and Megafon in 3rd. Most cities usually have a local provider as well that usually has worse service than the top 3 but competes on price. In St. Petersburg, the provider with the best coverage is Megafon and the least expensive is Beeline. In Moscow, MTS probably has the best coverage but Beeline may have the best service. Cell phone usage in Russia is growing quickly. In St. Petersburg and Moscow it is already at or above the levels in many cities in the West - you can see old ladies and little kids talking on cell phones. It is quite amazing.
2 types of cell phone numbers exist. A federal number is a 9 digit number that is dialed using the long distance prefix +8 (or +7) before the 9 digits. This is the cheaper kind of connection but can sometimes be a bit of a bother to call if you are not using another cell phone. The other type of number is a local, direct 7 digit number - just like a regular telephone number.