This is not a continuation from the series of Trans Siberian posts, but I thought it would be a good tip.
Roubles is a restricted currency and is only available in Russia. If you’re taking a flight to an international airport in Russia, you should be able to withdraw Roubles from the ATMs located there. There are also money changers which accept major currencies such as USD, Canadian Dollars and the Euros at major airports.
If you’re taking the Trans Siberian into Russia, that proves slightly more tricky. For us, a little bit of luck and loose USD bills did the trick.
Loose USD Bills
We arrived at the Irkutsk railway station at 3pm in the afternoon. Most unfortunately, there wasn’t any ATMs located nearby – we tried to use one but it was faulty. It was also in an unguarded location near a restaurant, so it’s generally inadvisable as there have been instances of scammers who set up readers that can capture card details. It’s best to use ATMs that are located in banks. You get that sense of security.
Thankfully, we met a taxi driver who was willing to take us to our accommodation and accepted USD. He actually charged slightly less than expected, USD5 for a 8 minute trip. The hostel said that it would cost at least RUB200, USD6. It’s good that we had come prepared with some loose USD bills.
A tip – it’s always best to ignore taxi touts at the train station, try to flag a taxi from the main road, knowing some Russian words is always a big help.
The lady at our hostel was able to furnish us with details of the nearest bank, which has an ATM facility and a money exchange all under one roof. It was all well guarded by a security guard, and they had thick (bulletproof?) doors. The exchange rates were not the best, but for convenience’s sake we used that facility.
Withdraw cash from your debit, not credit cards
In Moscow, we stayed at Izmailovo Gamma Hotel, which has an ATM facility at the lobby. It’s quite secure and we drew money from the ATM using our debit card to pay for our accommodation in cash.
A tip – always use your debit card/ ATM to withdraw money, NEVER use your credit card. Primarily because interest on the sum of cash you withdraw begins on the day you withdraw the money. It’s different from signing off for purchase of goods and services – you are only charged interest if your payments are overdue. If you don’t have a debit card with you, it’s better to sign off your purchases. You may incur additional bank charges, but it’s not as bad as getting charged interest on a per day basis (especially if you’re on a long trip).
Got this from the Standard Chartered website – think it applies to other banks as well.
If I opt for a cash advance for my credit card, what additional charges will I have to bear?
There is a 6% charge on any cash advance you make, subject to a minimum fee of $15.
In addition to this there is a finance charge of 0.077% per day on the amount withdrawn from the date of the transaction until the date of full payment. Therefore the effective interest rate is 28% per annum (minimum).
The Russian banks do not charge an extra fee for cash withdrawal, but my local bank (DBS) does at SGD5 per transaction. Hence to save on that costs, avoid making multiple small withdrawals each time – go for a lump sum withdrawal but of course, keep it in safe places.
Hope this helps!