If your smartphone does not support GSM, then we advise to buy a cheap smartphone in Russia. In electronic stores in Russia you can find a fully functional Android device at a moderate charge; it can be 2500 Russian rubles (50 US dollars) or even cheaper. Of course, this phone is not a high quality, but it is enough for working with the Internet (see photo).
Russian mobile providers
There are the three biggest operators in Russia; they are called as “The Big Three”. They are MTS, BeeLine and Megafon companies.
The other company is called Skylink uses CDMA connection standards. You should forget about this provider, because it is almost impossible to buy their contract nowadays.
There is no any significant objective difference between the services of “The Big Three” companies. The quality of sound and internet connection is the same, and the cost is also similar.
If you ask Russians about the difference, then every person will tell you one of the operators is better than other two. You should know these opinions are subjective.
The quality of service depends on a region. For example, MTS can work better on one street in Moscow, and Megafon can work better on another street. You cannot presage it. So, we advise to choose based on prices, discounts, and terms of agreement.
The signal quality is also depends on your location; how far you stand from the antenna. It is hard for the providers find a place for equipment, and they install it on any square they can rent. To show you a good example, we made a few photos of equipment installed on the roof of a restaurant in the Moscow centre. If you see such situation, do not be surprised.
Where to buy a local SIM in Russian cities
We Russians sometimes wonder why we have so many cell communication sale offices in our cities. You can find at least three of them near every subway station in Moscow and tens at airports.
These offices sell not only mobile phones and SIM-cards. You will also find notebooks, tablet PCs, web-cameras, chargers, flash storage cards, different cords and even air tickets inside. They try to survive using all opportunities they can invent, because the competition is very strong.
There are hundreds of networks of mobile communication stores in Moscow. The most widespread of them is called “Svyaznoy”. This name translates as “Messenger”. Its logo is easy to remember; it has a grey colour background and an orange colour digit “3”. Look for the photo at the right.
You can also purchase aircraft and railroad tickets, book a hotel, order a taxi or purchase an insurance inside. This group of companies holds their own bank, and you can issue documents for Visa or MasterCard.
“The Big Three” companies have their own sales networks. These offices are commonly used not only for sales, but also for a customer support. Some tourists search for these company stores first of all, because they think to have a cheaper service there. In fact, prices are the same, and no matter where you buy a contract.
Comparing MTS, BeeLine, and Megafon, we can claim MTS company offices are mostly spread in Moscow. MTS logo is an egg on a red background. You should remember, you can buy MTS contracts only inside. See our small gallery of photos below.
A great problem
According to “The Big Three” companies` rules, every foreigner can buy any contract using his/her passport. In fact, not every salesman knows these rules. A bad situation can happen when you visit a cell sales office, when you ask a salesman for a SIM-card, but he will reject you.
In this case, you better turn around and visit any other mobile communication store. A competence of the staff is rather low, and you should not believe them if they tell you cannot buy a SIM as foreigner in Russia. Sometimes they tell like that because they do not know how to issue the documents.
The most interesting contracts and prices
Unfortunately, there are no any special contracts or tariffs for tourists. “The Big Three” consider tourists are not interesting customers for them. From the other side, some common contracts are attractive for tourists. Almost all tariffs are prepaid, so you no need to worry about possible depts.
MTS has a line of tariffs called “Smart”. We advise them first of others because of the name with Latin letters makes them easy to buy for tourist.
The “Smart” tariff includes 3Gb of the Internet traffic, 500 minutes of local calls and 500 SMS. The price is 450 rubles.
The “Smart+” tariff includes 5Gb of the Internet traffic, 1100 minutes of local calls and 1100 SMS. The price is 900 rubles.
The “Smart Top” tariff includes 10Gb of the Internet traffic, 2000 minutes of local calls and 2000 SMS. The price is 1500 rubles.
MTS company has hired the famous comic team “Quartet E” for advertising this tariff, and the result is good.
Megafon has a line called “Vse vklucheno”, translates as “All included”. This company is always distinguishing itself from others by cheapest prices.
The “Vse vklucheno S” tariff includes 3Gb the Internet traffic, 400 minutes of local calls and 100 SMS. The price is 390 rubles.
The “Vse vklucheno M” tariff includes 4Gb the Internet traffic, 600 minutes of local calls and 600 SMS. The price is 500 rubles.
The “Vse vklucheno L” tariff includes 8Gb the Internet traffic, 1800 minutes of local calls and 1800 SMS. The price is 1290 rubles.
BeeLine has a line called “Vse za”, translates as “All for”. BeeLine introduces an enormous quantity of tariffs, and customers are usually at a loss. The company has hired a famous comic Sergey Svetlakov for its advertisement, but the effectiveness is poor.
The “Vse za 600” contains 5Gb of the Internet traffic, 600 minutes of local calls and 300 SMS. The price is 600 rubles.
The “Vse za 900” contains 6Gb of the Internet traffic, 1000 minutes of local calls and 500 SMS. The price is 900 rubles.
The “Vse za 1500” contains 10Gb of the Internet traffic, 2000 minutes of local calls and 1000 SMS. The price is 1500 rubles.
These tariffs are hard to buy for tourists, and we recommend them as the last thing.
As you see, there is no large difference in price, so, we recommend purchasing MTS Smart contract. It is easy to find because its name in English.
After you got a SIM-card
You can insert it into your smart phone and start using the mobile internet access. No any activation is needed. The last our advice is to check the SIM card type you need; it can be casual, micro, and nano. Ask the salesman to insert the SIM into your device to sure everything is ok and work properly.