Money & costs
Experts estimate that the average Muscovite earns about R30,500 a month, far in excess of the average of R13,800 earned elsewhere in the country. However, this figure is misleading, as about 70% of the population earns less than the average. The average pension is only R2700 a month and 13% of the population lives below the poverty level.
Moscow is one of the most expensive cities in the world, up there with London and Tokyo. Expect to pay at least R600 a head for a meal in a restaurant. If you self-cater or dine at cafeterias, you can probably get by on R1000 a day for meals.
Prices for lodging are also high, as the city has a shortage of comfortable, affordable, mid-range hotels. Budget accommodation – usually dorm-style – starts at R700 per person. Expect to pay at least R5000 for a double room in a decent three-star hotel. Prices for top-end hotels start at R10,000 and go all the way up.
Although dual pricing for hotels and transport tickets no longer exits, as a foreigner in Russia you'll still often find yourself paying more than a Russian for museums. The mark-up for foreigners is extreme - often as much as 10 times the price that Russians pay (although you may be able to avoid it if you have student identification). Some major attractions, such as the Kremlin, State History Museum and St Basil’s, have ditched foreigner prices. All adults pay whatever the foreigners’ price used to be; all students, children and pensioners pay the low price.
Russian currency is the rouble, written as рубль or abbreviated as руб. There are 100 kopecks (копеек or коп) in the rouble, and these come in small coins that are worth one, 10 and 50 kopecks. Roubles are issued in coins in amounts of one, two and five roubles. Banknotes come in values of 10, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 roubles. Small stores, kiosks and many other vendors have difficulty changing large notes, so save those scrappy little ones.
The rouble has been relatively stable since it was revalued in 1998. See www.oanda.com/convert/classic for more up-to-date rates.
Alfa Bank (8.30am-8pm Mon-Sat) has many branches around Moscow that usually change travellers cheques. ATMs at the branches listed dispense either roubles or US dollars. You will also see branches of the affiliated Alfa-Express, which have ATMs:
Arbat District (ul Arbat 4/1; Arbatskaya)
Kitay Gorod (ul Varvarka 3; Kitay-Gorod)
Krasnoselsky & Meshchansky (Kuznetsky most 9/10; Kuznetsky Most)
Zamoskvorechie (ul Bolshaya Ordynka 21; Tretyakovskaya)
Automatic teller machines (ATMs), linked to international networks such as AmEx, Cirrus, Eurocard, MasterCard and Visa, are now common throughout Moscow. Look for signs that say bankomat (Банкомат). Using a credit or debit card, you can always obtain roubles and often US dollars.
US dollars and euros are now widely accepted at exchange bureaus around Moscow. Other currencies will undoubtedly cause more hassle than they are worth. Whatever currency you bring should be in pristine condition. Banks and exchanges do not accept old, tatty bills with rips or tears. For US dollars make certain that besides looking and smelling newly minted, they are of the new design, with the large off-set portrait.
When you visit the exchange office, be prepared to fill out a lengthy form and show your passport. Your receipt is for your own records, as customs officials no longer require documentation of your currency transactions. As anywhere, it's always worth shopping around for the best rates.
Credit cards, especially Visa and MasterCard, are becoming more widely accepted, not only at upmarket hotels, restaurants and stores. You can also use your credit card to get a cash advance at most major banks in Moscow.
Travellers cheques are still relatively difficult to change. The process can be lengthy, involving trips to numerous different cashiers in the bank, each responsible for a different part of the transaction. Expect to pay 1% to 2% commission.
Not all travellers cheques are treated as equal by Russian establishments willing to handle them. You'll have little or no luck with any brands other than AmEx, Thomas Cook and Visa. The most reliable place to cash AmEx travellers cheques is American Express (495-543 9400; Vetoshny per 17; h10am-9.30pm; Teatralnaya). It also offers ATM, mail holding and travel services for AmEx card holders.
Tax & refunds
The value-added tax (VAT, in Russian NDS) is 20% and is usually included in the price listed for purchases. Moscow also has a 5% sales tax that is usually only encountered in top hotels.