Last Updated on October 23, 2023 by Irena Domingo
Buying a Russian SIM or eSIM card to connect to the Internet is quite inexpensive. All you have to do is go to one of the many Russian telephone stores with your passport. There is also the possibility of buying an eSIM online before leaving for a trip, thus saving you from having to complete the procedure in Russia.
I'm going to talk about ...
- 0. Do I need a Russian SIM card to travel to Russia?
- 1. Buy a SIM card when you arrive in Russia
- 2. Buy an eSIM with coverage in Russia before traveling
- 3. Internet in Russia. What do you need to know?
0. Do I need a Russian SIM card to travel to Russia?
If you are going to travel to Russia, you have probably considered buying a SIM card with coverage in Russia to have an Internet connection anywhere.
If you use your mobile phone line in Russia to surf the Internet, your bill will be very expensive.
Perhaps, if you are going to make a very short trip to Russia, it is very likely that you will not need a SIM card since hotels usually have Wi-Fi and many cafes, restaurants or public areas also have free Wi-Fi.
However, the normal thing is that you are going to spend a stay of several days in Moscow and St. Petersburg or that you are going to take a longer trip such as the Trans-Siberian Railway. In these cases, it is essential to purchase a SIM card (or eSIM) with coverage in Russia. In addition, they are cheap and easy to purchase.
In this article I explain the two options you have:
- The first option is to buy a physical SIM card when you arrive in Russia with a Russian operator. For about 1000 rubles, it is possible to purchase a Russian SIM with unlimited calls and 30 Gb of Internet connection for 30 days. In addition, they are easy to acquire and you will only need your passport.
- The second option will be to buy online an eSIM card with coverage in Russia before going on a trip. This option is more convenient but more expensive and your mobile phone must be compatible with eSIM cards.
I’ll explain each of these two options to you.
1. Buy a SIM card when you arrive in Russia
What mobile phone companies are there in Russia?
These are the logos of the main Russian mobile phone companies and that you will surely see in many places during your trip to Russia:
Which Russian phone company is the best?
I can’t tell which one is the best and cheapest because their rates are constantly changing. MTS is a bit more expensive and MegaFon is perhaps the most popular. Beeline is usually the cheapest. In any case, the price differences are not very significant.
These three companies offer coverage throughout the Russian territory. I used both Beeline and MegaFon SIM cards in Russia and had no problems.
How much does a Russian phone SIM card cost?
They are cheap. To give you an idea, a Russian prepaid SIM card with one of these companies with 30 Gb of Internet connection can cost about 1,000 rubles, which is about 10 euros/dollars at the current exchange rate.
It is also possible to purchase an eSIM with one of these operators, but you must also go to one of their offices to make the purchase.
Keep in mind that purchasing a SIM or eSIM card on their website or in their mobile application is only possible for the local population, since shipments are made only within Russia.
How to buy a Russian mobile phone SIM card?
It’s easy. Mobile phone companies have an extensive network of offices that are easily recognizable on the street. You can find them at the airport, near metro stations, on shopping streets or in large shopping centers such as the GUM. Choose the first one you see. You can also find them integrated in other stores or even on the street in summer.
Of course, for a short stay buy a prepaid card, since you don’t need to take out any monthly fees
All you need is your passport or registration certificate in Russia. With your passport you should have no problem getting a SIM card.
Finally, you have to consider the size of the SIM you will need (standard, micro or nano for iPhone). I recommend that you ask the seller to be the one to place the SIM in your device and activate it.
If your mobile phone only supports one SIM card, then you’ll need to remove your SIM and put in the Russian SIM. This has a problem: you won’t have your WhatsApp or Telegram contacts on the Russian SIM. With an eSIM this is not a problem because you can continue to use your SIM for calls, WhatsApp or Telegram.
How do I pay for the SIM?
The payment must be made in cash at the same office depending on the package you contract, although you can then recharge it at any office.
Due to international sanctions, it is not possible to pay with foreign Visa, MasterCard, JCB or American Express cards. Instead, it is possible to pay with Russian MIR cards and, in some stores, with Chinese UnionPay cards.
I recommend you read this article: How to pay in Russia: cash, cards and exchange for rubles
2. Buy an eSIM with coverage in Russia before traveling
If you want to buy an eSIM card with coverage in Russia before traveling to Rusia, you have the option of buying it online. It has the advantage that you will arrive in Russia already with the eSIM card installed (without having to search for a store) and the disadvantage that it has a higher price.
The best option that currently exists is HolaFly, a company with which you can buy an eSIM card online with coverage in Russia and with unlimited data.
Please note that your mobile phone must be compatible with the eSIM option.
The cost varies depending on the duration of the eSIM. For example, 7 days with unlimited data in Russia costs 27 euros or dollars. You can check prices on this link.
It has the advantage that with this eSIM you keep your personal number on WhatsApp or Telegram to call and write to all your contacts, friends or family.
It offers stable coverage in cities such as Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan or Vladivostok, among others.
3. Internet in Russia. What do you need to know?
Finally, it is important to know some aspects about Internet access in Russia.
Due to international sanctions, many websites and applications do not work in Russia: Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, among others. To access them, you must do so through a system called VPN (Virtual Private Network). There are free and paid VPNs.
Finding free WiFi hotspots is easy in Russia. Many places in Russia offer free WiFi connections for their customers: hotels, airports, cafes and restaurants offer free WiFi. Personally, I only use these public networks to access news pages, but never to access my online banking or carry out private procedures.
Have you ever purchased a SIM or eSIM card with coverage in Russia? What has been your experience?