SIM Card in Russia

Buying a SIM Card Abroad: Free Russian Lesson

Published: March 31, 2021

This free Russian MiniLesson will help you learn the vocabulary need to get a SIM card in Russia. If you are on a regular SRAS study abroad program, SRAS will help you to obtain a local SIM card. In many locations, SRAS can also supply you with a “burner” phone for use while on the program if needed. See the individual program pages for details.

(Note: you can hover over the bold Russian to reveal its English translation)

Why get a SIM card in Russia?

Зачем покупать сим-карту в России?

Getting a local number during your study abroad experience is настоятельно рекомендуется. While you may have an international phone plan that will allow you to use your phone while abroad, the local friends you make while abroad probably не смогут позвонить на ваш американский номер without incurring substantial charges.

A local number also makes it easier to stay in contact with your teachers and program coordinator. In short, a local number can help обезопасить вас and лучше интегрировать вас в местное общество.

When planning to purchase a SIM card abroad, there are три главные вещи, которые нужно учитывать.


What Phone Should You Use Abroad?

Каким телефоном вы должны пользоваться?

Some students prefer to carry two phones – keeping their American phone and using a second phone for the Russian number. Other students prefer to put a Russian SIM into their regular phone.

SIM Card in Russia
INOI is a Russian cell phone brand. They are usually relatively inexpensive to buy locally.

If you would like to use your own phone for the Russian number, first, you should убедиться, что ваш телефон разблокирован. This should be done before you come abroad. Check first to make sure that your phone can be opened and новую сим-карту можно установить. You should also проверить настройки своего телефона and your тариф to make sure that your phone can accept a new SIM. You can usually confirm this with the shop where you bought the phone and activated the plan.

If your phone is locked – or if you just want to keep both your American number while using a local number as well, you can купить недорогой телефон за границей.

There are numerous phone brands in Russia, where nearly everyone today carries a mobile or smart phone. While major brands like iPhone and Samsung are widely available and popular, you will likely захотите что-то подешевле. Such locally available brands (generally of Russian or Chinese manufacture) are Fly, BQ, and Inoi, which have одноразовые телефоны that cost less than $10. Even the better known Nokia has a model that can be purchased for about $15 (without a charger). These brands also offer cheap smart phones that can be purchased for about $50.


What Local Plan Should You Get?

Какой местный тариф выбрать?

Generally, reasonable ежемесячная абонентская плата can be found in Russia for as little as about $6 with high-end packages running about $30 per month. The cost is most dependent on the size of the internet packages and roaming services included. For the very price-conscious, оплата за услуги, которые были оказаны по факту are also available if you plan to only use the phone for very limited local calls and texts. Thus, a local number is not likely to break your budget.

When you approach a clerk in a mobile phone shop, the clerk is likely to ask you two questions: ““Что для вас важно – много интернета или много минут звонков”?  and ““Какую сумму готовы потратить?”

To buy a SIM card, you will need to show your passport (containing your Russian visa) and your migration card (which you get at the airport upon arrival). There is a бланк/договор to sign as well. It should not be big, as these usually just specify the customer’s identity and the payment plan.

Будьте осторожны! One should not take the “free” SIMs you may see being handed out on the street. According to the law, a SIM card must be registered under someone’s name. If your SIM is not registered under your name, it’s registered under someone else’s. The real owner can withdraw the money from the SIM at any time and can monitor your traffic and calls.

In Russia, there are three main мобильные операторы: MegaFon, Beeline, and MTS. Most of these operate in most other SRAS locations as well. There are also smaller providers like Tele2. If you are on a regular SRAS study abroad program, your SRAS coordinator may advise you to take one of these based on local service experience, current pricing, and/or keeping all students on the same carrier (often calling someone who uses the same carrier is cheaper than calling someone on a different carrier).

When selecting a specific cellular plan, one has to consider сколько минут входящих и исходящих звонков требуется and сколько гигабайт трафика требуется for your individual needs.

Having a SIM card in Russia can also get you mobile internet, which is advisable. This can allow you to получить доступ к картам на телефоне, вызвать такси через приложение, and to использовать голосовую связь через интернет и мессенджеры like WhatsApp. Most locals in SRAS locations use WhatsApp and do not send many regular text messages anymore (although the service still works and is generally very cheap). WhatsApp is also a good option for staying in contact with folks back home – never dial an international number direct from your Russian number (as this is usually very expensive).

Mobile internet speeds and coverage are quite good across the major providers and in most places in major cities. One quirk in choosing an internet plan in Russia is that many тарифы will offer “безлимитный интернет”. However, nearly all тарифы actually do have traffic limitations, after which the service will будет регулироваться to usually annoyingly slow speeds unless you purchase more traffic. So, you should make sure to check what the actual ограничения are and уточнить, сколько будет стоить дополнительный трафик and как его приобрести. This can often be done через ввод кода в телефоне.


Before You Leave the Shop

Перед тем, как уйти из магазина

The clerk may ask you “Вам установить карту?” However, even if the clerk doesn’t ask, you should ask the clerk “Пожалуйста, установите мне карту в телефон”.

Especially if you are trying to use your own phone, activating your SIM might mean checking the settings. Otherwise, the phone может не увидеть сим-карту. Some phones have particularly “tight” SIM slots as well… in short, the clerk should be able to install the card quickly where you might have some trouble.

You might also ask if there are any подписки на новости или рекламу already activated on the card. These are often active on new SIMs even без согласия абонента and will push notices or SMS messages to you. These can usually be turned off by entering a simple code on the phone.

Lastly, always ask how to проверять состояние счета on your card. You should always keep some money on your SIM card in Russia in case you need to call in an emergency or, if you are on a study abroad program, so that your program coordinator can contact you in case of an emergency.

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About the author

Josh Wilson

Josh Wilson is the Assistant Director for SRAS. He has been managing publications and informative websites covering geopolitics, history, business, economy, and politics in Eurasia since 2003.

Program attended: All Programs

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Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov has reported on political and social issues for the Russian press as well as American outlets such as Russian Life,, and Triangle Free Press. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the "real Russia" which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and went on to study TESOL and teach Russian at West Virginia University. He is currently working on an PhD from West Virginia University in Political Science. Andrei contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS site, and is an overall linguistics and research resource.

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