Money & costs
Experts estimate that the average monthly salary in St Petersburg is about R15, 000. Considering that the average for Russia as a whole is about R10, 700 per month, it seems that Petersburgers are doing pretty well for themselves.
Unfortunately, these numbers do not convey how far these roubles go, which is not very far. St Petersburg is the second most expensive city in Russia and the twelfth most expensive city in the world, according to a 2007 report by Mercer Human Resource Consulting. The ranking puts St Petersburg ahead of such famously pricey places as Paris, Singapore and New York.
Travellers will not find too many bargains in St Petersburg, although it is possible to live frugally by taking public transport, self-catering and sleeping in hostels. Anyone who is coming from Moscow will be pleasantly surprised to learn that St Petersburg is significantly cheaper than the capital, which ranked number one in the world on Mercer’s list.
Expect to pay at least R600 per head for a meal in a nice restaurant. Many offer business lunch specials, which usually include three courses, for as little as R200. This is an excellent way to sample some restaurants where you would otherwise pay much higher prices. If you self-cater or dine exclusively at budget places you can probably get by on R400 for meals.
Lodging prices are also high, although the proliferation of privately owned ‘mini-hotels’ means that there is no shortage of excellent midrange accommodation options. The going rate for a bed in a hostel is about R600, but you will pay anywhere from R2200 for a private room, and from R3200 if you want private facilities. The good news is that most midrange options are nicely renovated and efficiently run, offering good service and even a touch of style. Prices for luxury hotels start at €150 and go all the way up.
Although dual pricing for hotels and transport no longer exits, as a foreigner in Russia you’ll still often find yourself paying more than a local for museums and theatre tickets. 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 a student identification). Take heart that the extra money you shell out is desperately needed to protect the very works of art and artefacts you’ve come to see.
Russian currency is the rouble, written as or abbreviated as. There are 100 kopecks (or) 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.
ATMs linked to international networks such as AmEx, Cirrus, Eurocard, MasterCard and Visa are now common throughout St Petersburg. Look for the sign (bankomat). Using a credit or debit card, you can always obtain roubles. The following outlets also give the option to withdraw US dollars or euros:
Alfabank (329 8050; www.alfabank.ru; nab kanala Griboedova 6/2; Nevsky Pr)
Citibank Nevsky (Nevsky pr 45/2; Mayakovskaya)
Citibank Petrograd Side (Bolshoy pr 18; Sportivnaya)
Citibank Sennaya (Moskovsky pr 7; Sadovaya)
Citibank Smolny (pr Chernyshevskogo 18; Chernyshevskaya)
Citibank Vasilevsky Island (Sredny pr 27; Vasileostrovskaya)
US dollars and euros are easy to change around St Petersburg, but 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 they are of the new design, which has the large offset portrait. When you visit the exchange office, be prepared to show your passport.
Credit cards, especially Visa and MasterCard, are becoming more widely accepted beyond upmarket hotels, restaurants and stores. You can also use your credit card to get a cash advance at most major banks in St Petersburg.
Travellers cheques are still relatively difficult to use in St Petersburg. The process can be lengthy, involving trips to numerous 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.