Generally, the most convenient way to use a mobile in Russia is simply to take your usual cell phone. Whatever operator you are with, you will need to make sure that international roaming is available on your package, and that Russia is covered within this package. It is usually wise to confirm these details a few weeks in advance of your departure date, giving you time to deal with any potential problems.
International mobile phone usage can be expensive – contract customers may want to check their account during their stay or arrange a warning text message if their monthly fee goes above a set level, and pay as you go users should make sure their account is adequately topped up before they leave. It is also worth taking contact details for your mobile service provider, just in case you arrive in Russia to find that there is some unexpected problem with your phone.
Finally, if you’re bringing your own cell phone then you should make sure you have a suitable charger or adaptor. Russia uses a 2 pin 220V system. If you forget to bring an adaptor or charger then it’s easy to buy one in St Petersburg by taking your mobile phone with you to a dealer, but you’d probably rather spend your time seeing the sights than buying mobile phone accessories!
Making local calls is easy as you just dial the number when calling a number that’s within the same area code. For calling outside the area you are in, you have to dial '8' first, then the area code, then the number to get through. If you are trying to call the US from Russia then you need to dial '8**10', then dial '1' (the US international dialing code), followed by the area code and phone number. The UK international dialing code is '44'.
If you are planning on spending some time in St Petersburg, or do not want to use your own mobile account, then you may want to buy or rent a Russian sim card. This can be more cost efficient than using international roaming. However, you will need to make sure that your phone is unlocked for use with at least one of the major Russian networks before you go – these include Beeline, Megafon, MTs and Tele2.
If you are from North America you will need to take extra care to make sure your mobile phone works. The cell phones in Russia, as well as in the rest of Europe, use GSM network. American mobile phones utilize CDMA. You can read about the technical details and compare the advantages and disadvantages of both systems elsewhere, but you should double check with your operator that your cellphone will work in Russia.
Nowadays, that the cell phones are so popular and inexpensive in Russia, it is easier to buy a local one and use it widely both for local calls, internet access or international calls, including through Skype. If you are using a St Petersburg private tour, then let your guide know in advance that you need to rent or buy a cellphone, and they will be able to help you to arrange this with a minimum of fuss.
You might be visiting St Petersburg as a prelude to a longer trip across the Russian hinterland. If you are planning on spending a lot of time outside major centers of population and still want to keep in touch, then bear in mind that some small towns and villages have no cellphone coverage, although mobile phone coverage is improving quickly, and it’s always worth trying your usual mobile. However, if you’re heading off the beaten track and absolutely have to stay in touch, then your best option is to rent a satellite phone. These are the only reliable way to stay in contact with the outside world in remote areas of Russia.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact Guide-Guru.