With the instigation of Euro, interrogations on change rates, bank commission and how much money to withdraw to go abroad… are not anymore necessary in a large part of Europe! But if you need to go to Russia it’s not as easy.
The launch of Euro still made things lots easier, I remember the first time I came in Russia, I was 13, and I (my parents!) had to go to my bank to change francs into Dollars, since in Russia you couldn’t change directly your francs. Now with Euro it’s not a problem anymore, we can change it into Rubles or every other money in the world! But the question that raises when you go in Russia is where and how to convert your Euros (or Dollars)?
In Moscow it’s very easy, there are lots of currency exchange offices everywhere in the city and you can pay in most shops with your credit card (which wasn’t true 5 years ago). Cash withdrawal machine are also at your disposal, it allows you to withdraw rubles of course (!) and in some Dollars and Euros as well. It can be interesting to do so in order to avoid change commission that your bank might charge, they differ slightly from one bank to another, so you should check before leaving. The change rate is also (according to my personal experience) more interesting in a “good” currency exchange office than the one applied by banks. When you withdraw money remember that there are bank commissions, it’s usually less expensive to withdraw a big amount once than several times small ones. Indeed there is in most cases a percentage fee + a commission each time you withdraw money.
If you don’t want to use your credit card, you can still come with cash, but you can do so only as a tourist! For expats, you need to find a bank with an international option (few or no commission) or you can open an account in Russia.
Previously talking about currency exchange offices, I said it was very easy, it’s true but you need to watch out for rip off! There are high variations between change rates offered, here are my advices to get the “right” price.
First of all avoid all currency exchange that take a percentage fee, even if they offer the best change rate, it will cost you more than in other offices. Mostly banks and hotels do that, and few other places. For security reasons avoid as well all currency exchange that is open on the street, even tough Moscow is quite safe on this matter.
Then I consider that there are three categories of currency exchange offices. A first one, the more common and the one I use the most, where the change rate difference is 30 or 40 kopecks between selling and buying Rubles. For example if you change Euros for Rubles, you’ll have a rate of 40.10 Rubles for one Euro, and if you sell Rubles to buy Euros, the rate will be 40.40 for one Euro.
A second category, without percentage fee but to absolutely ban is when there are different rates depending on the amount of money you want to change, more or less than 10 000… Euros of course, not Rubles! If you want to change more than 10 000 Euros, in that case feel free to go there, but I don’t do that often! In these places the variation between selling and buying is usually between one and two Rubles. With the previous example, it would be respectively 39.10 and 41.40 (at the airport notably).
The last category is the hardest to classify, it pertains currency exchange where the change rate difference when selling and buying is only 5 kopecks, for example respectively 40.15 and 40.20. They are not that frequent but they are the most favourable, if you are careful. Indeed some offices are reliable and in that case you should convert your money there. But other places make profit only by ripping off people since you can’t really make money with a 5 kopeck difference. I have no idea of all the ways they might use but I can describe at least one of them! The most common is that there is a slit that you can’t see in the part where you put you bills. The person behind the counter recounts the money in front of you and then gives it to you, but when you take it one or two bills disappeared! It’s hard to prove especially if you don’t check straight away. This is usually done with big amounts, so if you want to change 100 Euros it’s quite safe! For fake bills, I don’t think there are many risks in Russia.
Concerning other places in Russia, in big cities it’s still easy to find a place to change money, but as soon as you are in small places, you need to have Rubles with you.
If you have anecdotes or advices, do not hesitate to share them in the comments!