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 are advised to find out how the banking system works in Moscow 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, but 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 and loans. 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 provided for free, some banks will charge you extra to sign up to an account alert service which allows you to keep track of your balance and payments. 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 Moscow offer a wide range of current accounts, with Sberbank boasting 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 Moscow, and 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 than regularly withdrawing smaller ones.
If you lose your Russian debit card
If you lose your debit card, you should be able to find details of your bank’s 24/7 call centre 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 will automatically open a bank account to pay your salary into when you start your job, so it might be worth speaking to 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 will allow non-residents or those with temporary residence to apply for certain accounts, and will review applications on a case-by-case business.
Some services at Russian banks can only be supplied at your designated branch, so it’s important to sign up at a branch that is close to your home or place of work.
Documents you’ll need to open a Russian bank account
- A Russian passport
- Completed application form
- Proof of address
- Proof of employment (not always required)
Paying bills with your Russian bank account
Direct debit payments are relatively common in Russia, and some people choose to have 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 will allow you to pay your bills by bank transfer through their online banking services or using their ATMs.
Cash, cheques and card: how do you pay in Russia?
Only Visa cards can be used for online transactions on overseas websites, and they’re not always automatically provided with your account. 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, and you’ll generally be given a debit card for your everyday spending. Cheques, meanwhile, are rarely used as they take a long time to clear.
Transferring money abroad from Russia
While most banks in Russia offer their own wire-transfer services, Western Union and MoneyGram are the most popular money transfer options. While you can receive funds for free, you will usually need to pay a commission when sending money abroad.
If you choose to make an international wire transfer from your bank, your recipient will usually receive the funds within a couple of business days, but 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, and you’ll need to go to a branch with a proof of identity and your recipient’s details.
If you’re thinking of transferring money to your home country on a regular basis, it makes sense to 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 help you cut down on fees, it also means you can avoid the poor Russian exchange rates that sometimes come with international bank transfers.
For more information about banking in Russia, including how to open a savings account and the Russian exchange rate click here.
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