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Students frequently ask about cell phones (моби́льный телефо́н) and SIM cards (сим-ка́рта) in Russia: How do they get one? How much do they cost? Is it worth it? Read on to find out.
Do I need a Russian phone number?
NEED one? Maybe not. Most students don’t make many phone calls while they are in Russia, and wifi is quite common in Saint Petersburg – you will have free wifi at Derzhavin Institute, at any of the accommodation booked through the school, and in the majority of cafes and restaurants.
That said, we strongly recommend getting a Russian phone number in case of emergencies, and most of our students find the convenience of having a phone number and internet on their phones to be well worth the small cost.
How do I get a Russian phone number?
During the orientation walk for new students every Monday, we stop by the Megafon (Мегафон) shop to help students buy a Russian SIM card. Remember to bring your passport (original copy) and your local address. It is possible to pay in cash or with a credit card.
If you prefer to go on your own, you can get a prepaid SIM card at any cell phone provider. The three main carriers in Russia are MTS (МТС), Beeline (Била́йн), and Megafon (Мегафо́н). You will need your passport and local address.
Which plan should I choose and how much will it cost?
It is free to receive SMS and calls, and maybe places in the city offer free wifi.
Nearly all of our students choose Megaphone’s cheapest plan Пиши (“write”), and find it quite sufficient for their needs: 50 rubles for a SIM card plus 350 rubles a month for unlimited messaging (WhatsApp, Viber, eMotion), 7Gb of internet, 300 SMS and 300 minutes of calling.
For those who need more internet or who like to listen to music online, there is the plan Слушай (“listen”): 50 rubles for a SIM card plus 450 rubles a month for unlimited messaging, unlimited music (on certain Russian websites such as a VKontakt Music, Yandex Music, or Zvooq), 10Gb of internet and 400 minutes.
Those who plan to make a lot of calls in Russia might consider the plan Говори (“talk”): 50 rubles for a SIM card plus 550 rubles a month for unlimited messaging, 5Gb of internet and 700 minutes.
Megafon also offers more expensive plans for those who need more internet or minutes.
How do I pay for an additional month?
If you are staying more than one month, you will need to pay again for each additional month, but don’t worry, it’s quite easy! Go back to a store of your cellphone provider (the one you got your card at, or any other branch) and ask them to put money on your phone.
Положите, пожалуйста, 350 рублей на мой телефон – Please put 350 rubles on my telephone.
They will then take your money and ask you to confirm your name, and then that’s it!
What if I don’t have a phone?
If you don’t have your own cell phone with you, we recommend you buy a cheap phone (less than 1000 rubles). These phones won’t have internet or apps, but are still useful for for emergencies, calls and texts.
It is of course also possible to buy a smart phone in Russia. You can find prices online and compare with those of your home country before you come.