Get to grips with banking in Russia and discover how to open a Russian bank account of your own with this guide which includes information on related topics such as opening a Russian savings account and the Russian exchange rate.
Expats should find out how the banking system works in Russia and what you need to do to open a bank account, either before you move or once you’re living in Russia, whether it be for work, to study, or during your retirement.
Banking in Russia
The banking system in Russia isn’t generally up to the technological levels of some of its Western counterparts. There is a central bank and a range of commercial banks, with most offering credit, exchange and investment services. Account management is straightforward in major cities such as Moscow. However, it can be more troublesome in rural areas, where branches are few and far between. With parts of Russia primarily operating a cash-based lifestyle, many Russian citizens don’t have a bank account.
Choosing a bank in Moscow
Banks in Moscow offer a range of accounts suitable for expats, from everyday current accounts to regular savings accounts. While many ATMs in cities offer 24-hour services, branch-opening hours vary, and most banks are closed on a Sunday. If you bank with a larger company, opening hours tend to be around 9pm–5/6pm on a weekday and from 9pm until around 3pm on a Saturday.
You’ll usually be sent your account statements by post, although most banks will allow you to download them online instead. While statements are available for free, some banks charge extra to sign up to an account alert service. Many large banks also offer translation services into English for online and telephone banking.
Bank charges and fees for opening a Russian bank account
Some larger banks in Russia offer a wide range of current accounts. For example, Sberbank boasts everything from standard debit card accounts to gold accounts that can be opened in different currencies. Account fees vary from around 900 roubles to several thousand roubles a year.
You might have to pay a fee when withdrawing cash at an ATM in Russia. Charges can be higher if you use an ATM run by a bank other than your own. The amount you’ll pay varies, but it can be more prudent to occasionally withdraw larger amounts instead.
If you lose your Russian debit card
If you lose your debit card, you should be able to find details of your bank’s call center on its website. Depending on the terms of your account, you might be charged a fee to have the card reissued. If you bank with CitiBank and have a standard account, you will be charged a fee if you have the card reissued in branch, but you can have it done for free over the phone or online.
It’s possible to open a bank account in branch, or in some cases online. Some employers automatically open a bank account to pay your salary into when you start your job. Speak with them to see if this is the case and if you have other options. Regardless, you can of course open other accounts and transfer money between them.
Current accounts and savings accounts are the most common types in Russia. It’s possible to have different accounts in different currencies – for example you could have a current account in roubles for everyday expenditure and withdrawing cash at ATMs, and a second account in euros, dollars or pounds if you need to transfer money home.
To open an account, you’ll usually need to be a citizen of Russia with permanent resident status. Some banks allow non-residents or those with temporary residence to apply for certain accounts. They review applications on a case-by-case basis.
Some services at Russian banks can only be supplied at your designated branch. Sign up at a branch that is close to your home or office.
Documents you’ll need to open a Russian bank account
- A Russian passport
- Completed application form
- Proof of address
- Proof of employment
Paying bills with your Russian bank account
Direct debit payments are relatively common in Russia. Some people set up a special account to pay their monthly household bills. By setting up an automatic payment from your bank account for your utility bills, you can sometimes benefit from lower transaction fees. Alternatively, most banks allow you to pay your bills by bank transfer through their online banking services or using their ATMs.
Cash, checks, and card: how do you pay in Russia?
Only Visa cards can be used for online transactions on overseas websites. They’re not always automatically provided with your account, however. Some Russian banks will instead provide Maestro cards, so you may need to specifically request a Visa card.
Credit cards aren’t as common in Russia as in other European countries. You’ll generally receive a debit card for your everyday spending. Checks, meanwhile, are rare as they take a long time to clear.
Transferring money abroad from Russia
Most banks in Russia offer their own wire-transfer services. If you make an international wire transfer, your recipient usually receives the funds within a couple of business days. You may need to pay a fee of between 1% and 2% of the amount you’re transferring. With some banks, international transfers can’t be made online; you need to go to a branch with proof of identity and the recipient’s details.
If you’re thinking of transferring money to your home country on a regular basis, open an account in that currency alongside your Russian bank account. This could be done via the Russian or Moscow International Bank or one of the alternatives. Not only will this cut down on fees, it also means you can avoid the bad exchange rates.
For international money transfers, there are alternative solutions to banks which could prove cheaper and more convenient, such as:
You can also use Monito’s online comparison tool to save on fees, obtain the best exchange rates and find the cheapest option for your international money transfers. See our guide to international money transfers for more information.
Offshore banking in Russia
Expats living in Russia may find that opening an international offshore account is the best way to manage their finances. There are various benefits of offshore banking including high levels of customer protection and a range of different investment funds. If you’re considering banking offshore, seek the advice of a financial adviser as to the best investment options.
Offshore savings accounts are available in a range of currencies and are usually geographically portable. Some savings accounts, however, require large deposits upon opening. Russian investors typically based their offshore accounts in Cyprus until 2013, when its financial system crashed and hit Russian investors. Now, popular offshore investment locations include Luxembourg, Singapore, and the British Virgin Islands. Read more in our detailed guide.