Last Updated on November 25, 2023 by Irena Domingo
I’ll explain step by step how to open a bank account in Russia. Any foreigner who is legally in Russia for tourism, business, studies, or has a residence permit can open a bank account and have a Russian MIR card. The application can be done online. It’s also possible to open a Russian bank account remotely from some countries without the need to travel to Russia.
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- 1. The MIR payment system in Russia: the alternative to Visa and MasterCard
- 2. Can I open a bank account in Russia if I’m a foreigner?
- 3. Can I open a bank account in Russia online from abroad, or is physical presence mandatory?
- 4. What documentation is required to open a bank account in Russia?
- 5. How to Open a Bank Account in Russia Step by Step
1. The MIR payment system in Russia: the alternative to Visa and MasterCard
Due to international sanctions, Visa, MasterCard, JCB, or American Express cards haven’t been operational in Russia since March 2022.
If you need to make payments in Russia, you’ll need to carry cash or obtain a MIR card in Russia.
Some Chinese UnionPay cards also work in some instances, though their usage is less widespread and may not function in many stores or ATMs. Currently, they operate for cash withdrawals at ATMs in some banks like Gazprombank.
The MIR card is usable everywhere: in stores, the metro, transportation, Russian websites (e.g., Rzd, Ozon, Yandex Travel, Aeroflot, S7 Airlines, etc.). Additionally, the MIR card is accepted in other former Soviet republics (like Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, or Tajikistan) and in countries that have begun to accept them due to the rise in Russian tourists (Turkey, Egypt, Cuba, or Venezuela, among others).
The MIR system (in Russian: МИР) is a Russian payment system created in 2015 by the Central Bank of Russia following Western sanctions after the annexation of Crimea. Following the suspension of Visa and MasterCard operations in Russia in 2022 due to the conflict in Ukraine, MIR has become the primary card payment system in Russia.
If you’re taking a long trip to Russia or planning an extended stay in Russia, you’ll likely want to open a Russian bank account to have an MIR card for convenient payments. Similarly, if you want to shop at Russian online stores, you’ll likely need an MIR card. Even if you’re a tourist, having an MIR card might be beneficial to avoid carrying all your money in cash.
2. Can I open a bank account in Russia if I’m a foreigner?
Any foreigner can open a bank account in Russia; you don’t need Russian citizenship. You just need to be legally in Russia, whether for tourism, business, studies, or with a temporary residence permit.
Moreover, as of October 2023, citizens of some countries can also open a bank account in Russia from their home country.
3. Can I open a bank account in Russia online from abroad, or is physical presence mandatory?
There are two ways to open a bank account anywhere in the world: online or in person, either in your home country or in Russia.
Method 1. Opening a bank account online
Opening an account online is the most convenient and straightforward way. Neobanks were the first to offer online account openings (such as N26 or Revolut). They ask for your details, digital photo, scanned ID or passport, digital signature, and within minutes, you have access to your bank account and an e-card on your mobile for transactions. Later, they send your physical card to your address anywhere in the world.
Currently, opening a bank account online in Russia is not possible.
Method 2. Opening a bank account in person from your home country
To encourage foreign tourism in Russia and foreign investments, in July 2023, the Russian Parliament processed a law that opens the possibility of not requiring the client’s physical presence in Russia to open a bank account if the client has been identified by a foreign financial institution on behalf of a Russian credit institution.
In this regard, in October 2023, the Russian Government approved a list of 25 countries whose banks can identify their citizens and companies to open accounts in Russian banks and conduct transactions in Russia.
This list includes the following “friendly” countries:
- United Arab Emirates
- Saudi Arabia
After completing the identification process in their country, the applicant (whether a tourist or a business person) can remotely open an account in a Russian bank and have a Russian card to make purchases or pay for services upon arrival in Russia.
Method 3. Opening a bank account in person in Russia
If you can’t open a Russian account from your home country because it’s not on the list of authorized countries, you’ll need to choose the third method, which involves doing it in person in Russia (or granting powers to a representative in Russia to do it on your behalf).
It’s essential to note that while opening a Russian bank account online is not possible, initiating the account opening process online from abroad is possible by submitting an electronic form (explained below).
However, once the online application is completed, physical presence in Russia is mandatory, either at a bank office or through a visit from a bank representative to your home or hotel.
4. What documentation is required to open a bank account in Russia?
To open a bank account, you’ll need the following documentation:
- Fill out an application form issued by the bank. Some banks allow fill out the form online before arriving in Russia.
- A valid passport with your visa (if your nationality requires a visa).
- Immigration card (the card you receive upon entering Russia).
If you’re in Russia for tourism or business, the application form, your passport, and the immigration card are sufficient.
If you’re a foreigner residing in Russia, you’ll need to provide a valid residence permit and proof of residential address (usually a recent utility bill with your address).
5. How to Open a Bank Account in Russia Step by Step
There are currently various options for bank accounts and cards designed for foreign tourists in Russia. In any of the following three options, you need to provide three documents: passport, visa (if needed), and immigration card.
The three Russian banks I know that allow online application before arriving in Russia are: Tinkoff Bank, Raiffeisen Bank, and Sberbank.
5.1. Tinkoff Bank
Tinkoff is a neobank founded by Oleg Tinkov in 2006 and primarily operates in Russia online, although it has some offices in Moscow.
The Tinkoff card can be ordered from their website and delivered to your residence in Russia, whether a hotel or a private apartment (takes 1-2 days from the date of the request). The card is free but has a monthly fee of 99 rubles.
To fill out the form, you need to follow these steps:
Step 1. Fill out the online form
You can fill out their online form through their website:
I recommend doing this the day before you depart for Russia, as they will call you within 1-2 days.
At times, you may not receive the SMS code to confirm your mobile number, which would prevent you from submitting the form.
If you don’t receive the SMS code on your mobile, you can contact Tinkoff bank via chat or email (they usually respond quickly):
After explaining the issue with SMS reception, they will send you an email to submit documentation via email to begin the manual application process. You’ll need to scan and send your passport and visa, along with your personal information (name, mobile number, and date of birth).
Step 2. Wait for a Bank Representative to Contact You by Phone
The bank will reach out within two business days to schedule a meeting with one of their employees to open the account and hand you the card. The employees usually speak English.
You can meet them in the hotel lobby, your apartment, etc. They’ll take pictures of your documentation, have you sign some documents, and give you an envelope containing your Tinkoff card and your contract.
Step 3. Install the Tinkoff App
The bank representative will assist you in installing the app. Note that due to Western sanctions, the Tinkoff app is not available in the App Store or Google Play. However, this is not an issue as you can access the app via the mobile browser. They’ll explain this on the day of the appointment.
Step 4. Top Up Your Card
You can top up your card at ATMs with cash (dollars, euros, or rubles) or using your own cards. This allows you to convert your dollars, euros, or pounds into rubles.
You can also convert your euros or dollars into rubles at a currency exchange that offers a better exchange rate than Tinkoff and then reload your Tinkoff card at the ATM.
To reload your card, simply hold it against the contactless symbol on the ATM and select “пополнить” (top-up) on the screen. A drawer will open for you to insert your bills. It will then count and close automatically, and your money will be added to your card. Some ATMs allow you to top up euros, dollars, and rubles, while others only allow ruble top-ups.
5.2. Raiffeisen Bank
Raiffeisen Bank is one of the major banks in Russia. Opening an account in Raiffeisen Bank and applying for a card can be done through their website, although the process is in Russian and requires a Russian mobile number.
However, you can also directly open the account in one of their offices. This bank has many branches in major Russian cities. Opening a bank account only requires visiting any of them with your passport, visa, and immigration card.
Sberbank is the largest bank in Russia and Eastern Europe and also the oldest. Its main shareholder is the Central Bank of Russia.
In Sberbank, you can also make the online request. However, similar to Raiffeisen Bank, the form is in Russian and requires a Russian mobile number. Nevertheless, you can visit any of their bank branches to open a bank account.
Have you opened a bank account in Russia? You can share your experience below.