A guide to help you compare Russian mobile phone operators and get a Russian SIM card, plus how to dial a Russian phone number, area codes, and Russian smartphone brands.
Whether travelling or relocating to Russia, it is handy to know how you can connect with Russian mobile phone operators, whether you can use a Russian SIM card in your current mobile phone or if you are eligible to take out a mobile plan in Russia. You will also need to understand how to use Russian country and area codes when dialling a mobile number in Russia.
This guide explains how to choose a Russian mobile phone company and get a Russian mobile number:
- Using your mobile in Russia
- Russian mobile networks: Will my mobile work in Russia?
- Comparing Russian mobile operators
- Requirements to get a Russian SIM card
- Call charges in Russia
- Pre-paid SIM cards in Russia
- Russian mobile phone plans
- Dialling Russian mobile phone numbers
- Russian country and area codes
- Russian smartphones
- Lost or stolen mobile mobile phones in Russia
Using your mobile in Russia
Once you arrive in Russia it’s important to be aware of roaming charges. In Russia each city works on a different network, therefore, if you travel from say, Moscow to St Petersburg, your Russian mobile phone network may switch to different roaming charges.
If your existing service provider can connect with a Russian mobile network, the roaming fees are typically expensive and charged on incoming and outgoing calls, similiar to elsewhere. Keep in mind to ask your service provider about international roaming rates before you go.
Whether you are visiting Russia on a vacation, business trip or long-term basis, in some cases the cheapest option is to buy a Russian SIM card. You can get a pay-as-you-go, prepaid SIM card in Russia for around USD 10.
Russian mobile networks: Will my mobile work in Russia?
Russian mobile operators use GSM and CDMA standards. This means travellers from around the world will not have to buy a new mobile phone, since their handset will generally be compatible with Russian mobile operators.
GSM is the most popular network in the country, and all the leading Russian mobile companies are GSM-enabled. CDMA networks are also available but used only by a couple of local providers, mainly in Moscow and St Petersburg. Therefore, if your mobile phone is operating on CDMA, it won’t work outside these areas.
You will not be able to use a Russian SIM card, however, if your existing mobile phone company has locked your mobile phone. This is usually the case if you are on a contract with a mobile phone company for 12–24 months.
Should this be the case, you will not be able to connect to a Russian mobile company right away. You should, however, check if your existing mobile network has an unlocking policy. Some firms charge a small fee, while others make you pay out your full contract.
Comparing Russian mobile phone operators
The biggest mobile operators in Russia are Mobile TeleSystems (MTS), MegaFon, BeeLine, and Tele2Russia (owned by state provider Rostelecom), which also opened an economy package under the brand name Skylink.
The services and prices are very competitive in major cities but do change according to the region. Some of the smaller regions are not as well serviced by some Russian mobile companies, so check out the provider’s website first to make sure they have coverage where you will be staying.
However, most Russian cities and rural areas, together with the major Siberian cities, are covered so it is doubtful you will fall off the radar. However, there are several ‘blank’ spots throughout the country that are not covered by any network provider. Those are mainly small villages and remote countryside areas.
Russian mobile operators that have nationwide networks include Megafon, MTS and Beeline. Tele2Russia is expanding but its services are available in fewer regions, including Leningrad and the Black Sea areas. The websites of most Russian mobile companies are in English, so you shouldn’t have any problem finding relevant information.
Some virtual operators (MVNO) offer reduced packages at discounted prices, operating off the main Russian mobile networks. Yota, for example, is a subsidiary of MegaFon, and a major MVNO player in the market.
Getting a Russian phone number and call costs
Buying a Russian SIM card is considerably easier than many other European countries – even for new arrivals. Providing you have an unlocked phone that works on a GSM network, you will not have any problems.
You will be asked for a valid ID for registration purposes and the address of wherever you are staying. You do not need to provide proof of a permanent address and there are no limitations if you are a non-resident or resident of Russia.
The cost of the phone calls depends on the region you are in and where you are calling. The rate for local calls, for instance in Moscow, has a standard but if you want to call from the capital to another city, it cost will increase per minute.
Calls cost approximately USD 0.20 a minute, and per SMS costs around USD 0.06. The price of WAP ranges from USD 0.05–0.15 per minute, while GPRS costs around USD 0.25 per megabyte. The voice mail price is either USD 0.10 per message, or priced on minutes costing USD 0.20 per minute.
Pre-paid SIM cards in Russia
If you are a frequent traveler between two or more cities, it is sometimes advised to subscribe to prepaid mobile SIM cards in each town, as call charges can add up to about USD 0.3–0.7 per minute outside your region. The cost of mobile SIM cards in Russia is not expensive, around RUB 150 at the time of writing.
To apply for a pay-as-you-go service, all you need to do is register for a Russian prepaid SIM card either at the shop of the service provider or online. Bring a signed application form, together with a passport and certificate of registration in Russia (entry migration card).
You can top up your Russian prepaid SIM card in several ways: at the office or shop of a Russian mobile phone operator; buying a top-up card from mobile shops, supermarkets, subway stations, petrol stations; online using a credit card or debit card; or at any of the 10 major airports.
Russian mobile phone plans
When choosing a Russian mobile plan, you should consider from which city you will be making most of the calls. For instance, if you buy a prepaid SIM in St Petersburg, but expect to use your phone in Moscow as well, the rates will be higher in Moscow.
To better understand the price packages of the leading mobile phone companies in Russia, there is a comparison website that lists up-to-date packages. The text is in Russian, but you can work out the cost and company easily enough.
One of the main distinctions between Russian mobile services and other European countries or North American is that you pay for incoming calls. Thus, some companies have special plans and services that allow free incoming calls for members on their network. Others charges apply only after the first minute of the call.
Dialing a Russian phone number
There are two types of Russian phone numbers: city and federal. The first one refers to the ‘normal’ Russian mobile number based on the city you live (for example, 555-5555 in Moscow, similar to a landline number). The city numbers are easier to remember. However, they are more expensive as you are required to pay a fixed monthly fee on top of your calls (around USD 20–30 per month). With the federal number, you won’t be charged extra and can use a pay-as-you-go Russian SIM.
The federal Russian mobile number cannot be accessed directly. You need to dial the Russian mobile phone number as if you were calling to another city: dial ‘8’, wait for the tone, and then dial the Russian network code, for example ‘902’, followed by a 7-digit Russian mobile number. It applies even if you are calling from Moscow to a federal number in Moscow. However, some Russian mobile companies offer systems that allow you to dial a federal number for the same conditions as a city number (usually by switching to a tone regime by pressing *).
Russian country codes
If calling a Russian phone number from abroad, you will need to use the Russian country code: 007 or +7.
You will then need to dial the area code in front of a Russian phone number, depending on where the number is from. You can see a list of area codes in Russia below.
Russian toll free codes
- Toll free numbers: +7 108
- Toll free numbers for mobiles: +7 800
Russia area codes by city
- Belgorod: +7 472
- Bryansk: +7 483
- Ivanovo: +7 493
- Kaliningrad: +7 401
- Kaluga: +7 484
- Kostroma: +7 494
- Kursk: +7 471
- Lipetsk: +7 474
- Moscow (municipal): +7 495
- Moscow (regional): +7 496
- Oryol: +7 486
- Ryazan: +7 491
- Smolensk: +7 481
- Tambov: +7 475
- Tula: +7 487
- Tver: +7 482
- Vladimir: +7 492
- Voronezh: +7 473
- Yaroslavl: +7 485
Expats or travellers coming to the country can rent Russian smartphones online through Cellhire or CelloMobile. For buying a smartphone in Russia, you can visit any well-known telecom shop chain, such as Svyaznoy or Euroset, where you can find the usual stock the smartphones in Russia.
The main makers of Russian smartphones include Beeline, Explay (subsidiary of Fly), Gresso, Highscreen, Megafon, MTS, RoverPC, teXet, Sitronics and Yotaphone. Yotaphone also released the world’s first dual-screen, always-on Russian smartphone.
Lost or stolen mobile phones in Russia
In case your mobile phone is lost or stolen, you should firstly contact the service provider to block the SIM card. The only exception to this rule is if you purchase a Russian SIM card from a tube station, as this is technically illegal even though many people still do it.
Afterwards, you will need to contact the police and report that your mobile phone is stolen or lost; see a list of Russian emergency numbers. Make sure you know the IMEI, a unique identification number of your phone that is located on the box. The service provider can replace the SIM card free of charge at any branch.