With SIM card purchase in Russia: use WhatsApp, Google Maps and Instagram even on vacation!

by Alexander Popov

Buying a SIM card in Russia: use WhatsApp, Google Maps and Instagram even on vacation!

Who wants to be without a smartphone while on vacation today? You can also be reached abroad, find the hotel with help of Google Maps, check the account balance with the bank app, make calls via WhatsApp, see what friends and family are doing at home and send them holiday snapshots. Nowadays this goes practically without saying – but only with a Russian SIM card when you travel to Russia. To buy a local SIM card is not complicated – all you need is your own passport and a few rubles. Buying a SIM card could be also worthwhile for a short trip to Russia.

Can I still be reached then?

Of course, as long as you are using a different SIM card in your mobile phone, you can no longer be reached on the actual number by call (unless you are the owner of a mobile phone with two SIM card slots). On WhatsApp, however, it is possible to keep your own number and also to make voice calls via this. In return, you can also access your e-mails and messages away from WiFi networks. In addition, if you are traveling to Russia in a group, you should consider having a group member buy a SIM card with data volume and provide your fellow travelers with mobile Internet access via a hotspot. Finally, it is a consideration that you have to make – if you don’t want to do without mobile data on a trip to Russia, you can’t avoid buying a SIM card.

Where can I get a SIM card?

Nothing is more simple than buying a SIM card in Russia. Youi can do it in the classic cell phone shops, which are owned in Russia by the main cell phone providers MTS, Beeline, Tele 2 and Megafon. SIM cards can be bought almost on every corner in Russia: in the supermarket, on popular shopping streets or in shopping malls, or of course at the airport. Have you already bought your SIM card but haven’t got your visa in your pocket? Here’s how to get your Russian visa.

Which provider is the right one?

Among the four big providers – Beeline, MTS, Megafon and Tele 2 – there are no great differences in terms of network coverage, at least in the big cities. So if you have only planned a city trip to Moscow and Saint Petersburg, you can simply take the first provider when you arrive in Russia. Because in the big metropolises of the gigantic empire, coverage with mobile LTE internet is very good with all providers. However, if you want to travel by land and also want to explore the remote regions of Russia, it is worthwhile to compare. According to comparative tests in the Russian media, Beeline and Megafon are mostly considered to be the two better networks, with Beeline having better coverage in the south of Russia down to Sochi, while Megafon is more preferable in the north. MTS and especially Tele 2 often offer poor or no coverage in rural areas. Should you venture into very remote regions, such as the Kamchatka Peninsula or rural Siberia, these providers are not reasonable. In such a case it may be worthwhile to buy two SIM cards as a backup option.

What are the costs of tariffs?

Of course, prices are constantly changing, especially in the mobile communications business. The various providers generally do not take much of the price, but Tele 2 is generally considered to be the cheapest provider. But even with the supposedly most expensive provider Beeline, you can buy 20 gigabytes of data for only 600 rubles (about 8 $). For 900 rubles (just under $ 12) it is even 30 gigabytes and that at speeds of up to 50 MB per second. In addition to 30 GB, Megafon offers its competitors for 1,000 rubles ($ 13), 1,500 minutes of calls within Russia and unlimited domestic SMS. If you can live with a little slower speed and without possibility of giving others or your own laptop, you can get unlimited internet at slightly reduced 4G speed at Beeline for 500 rubles ($ 6.60). Megafon has a similar package on offer, where you can use 30 gigabytes for a month for 500 rubles and then still have unlimited surfing on social networks as a bonus. If you actually manage to use 30 GB of data, Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp will continue to work.

Tip: ignore advertising messages from the network operator!

When you have decided on a provider, it is important to note: Russian providers like to send their customers often annoying advertising messages. This is best to ignore, especially if you don’t speak Russian. Because these messages are often associated with chargeable special services and can possibly melt the acquired credit faster.

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