This article will explain how a foreigner can open a basic checking account in a Russian bank that includes a debit/ATM card as well as mobile and online banking.
Do you need a Russian bank account?
For long term stays it is highly convenient to have one.
Russians usually send and receive money using a mobile banking app on their phone. My landlord prefers being paid this way, and it saves us from meeting monthly to pay in cash. Same goes for exchanging money between friends.
I use my Russian bank’s mobile app to pay my monthly cellphone and internet bills and I use the debit card (with contact-less payment) to pay fares on the tram and bus.
Finally, it is the only way that you can actually deposit money while in Russia or easily receive money if you are working.
For short stays in Russia, you can get by fine with whatever credit and debit cards you have from your home country.
Almost every business accepts credit cards and there are ATM’s everywhere. I’ve never had a problem using my cards from America to purchase things or withdraw cash.
Requirements for opening an account:
You don’t need to be a citizen or have residency. You simply need to be in the country legally and open the account in person.
The documents you will need:
- Registration document (shows where you live)
What bank should you choose?
Sberbank (Сбербанк) is the overwhelmingly most prevalent bank in Russia. It has many more branches and ATM’s than any other bank.
For simple use cases, I see no need to comparison shop.
My Sberbank account lets me send and receive money, and provides a debit card with contact-less payment, online banking, and mobile banking. Everything I need, nothing I don’t.
The cost for maintaining this account is reasonable at 750 rubles ($11) per year.
How to open an account
You will need to visit a branch in person to set up an account.
Unless you get lucky, there won’t be any English speaking staff. I brought a Russian friend with me when I setup my account to help with translating.
The process is straightforward. You provide your passport, visa, and registration document and they will give you a form to fill out. During this time you will set your debit card pin code, mobile app code, and secret word for verifying your identity with customer service. The entire process takes about 15 minutes.
It takes 2-3 days for the bank to process your documents and make your card. When your card is ready they send you a text message. Return to the branch with your passport to pick up your card and you are finished.
You can fund your account with cash at one of the ADM machines in the branch.
International wire transfers are also possible, but I have not done one.