Banks in Russia, Which One Should You Choose?

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Finding a credible bank is not an easy job, especially if you are an expat living in a new country. A country which, according to some judgmental people (even though they have never set foot there before), is so dangerous and corrupted that you’d better not move there or even think to save your money there! Putin will use it for maintaining his power! Oh, no! 

Believe me, dear, what you have in your bank account is about enough for those oligarchies to buy a box of their favorite candy or a toothpick. 

To be honest, I used to believe that and refused to transfer my cash to Russian banks, preferring for it to pile up in Indonesian banks thousands of kilometers away from my current location. Only later did I fully understand that I urgently need a Russian bank, as it is impossible to use an Indonesian card to withdraw money from a Russian ATM. It is much too expensive—the commission is sometimes even bigger than what is inside my bank account (I may or may not be kidding).

When I finally made up my mind, another problem emerged: which bank should I use? In such a situation, recommendations from locals were really helpful along with information on the internet. But, that only works if you read Cyrillic or you can speak Russian, as most of the comments are available only in the local language!

But if you take it easy, don’t panic, and read my research and brief comparison of the four banks I’ve tried, there’s no need to worry. There are plenty of choices out there, but I focus especially on large companies with good services and light requirements for foreigners. And of course, those that offer more perks.

Sberbank

Whether you are a local or an expat, you might recognize the light green Sberbank logo that appears in almost every corner of town. Yeah, Sberbank is the most common bank in Russia with branch offices located every hundred meters. If your taxi passes by one Sberbank, don’t be mad because there will be another Sberbank awaiting you. 

ATM – almost everywhere

Requirements for expat (savings account) – only living permit or work permit, passport

Customer service – good, most of them friendly and helpful

Other perks: 

  • Deposit with good interests
  • Sberbank premium + free pass to airport lounge
  • Special line for pregnant women or parents with kids
  • Good mortgage rates
  • Savings in dollar and euro are available (with low interest)
  • Apps for bank: available for Android and iOS, friendly user interface
  • Sberbank Spasibo – A promotional program made of cumulative points that you can use to buy Burger King or other fast food products included in this promotional offer.

CONS

Sometimes they have strange systems of calculation. If you don’t open your account in the center but make your card (premium) in the center, they will count your savings separately as if you have two bank accounts.

VTB

Although it’s the second biggest bank in Russia, it has no competitive offers to attract clients. It is a better option for those who hate Sberbank. However, there are still some cons if compared to the ‘green’ one.

ATM – Everywhere, but not as many as Sberbank. You still can use other banks’ ATM with some commission. 

Requirement for expats (savings account) – Living permit/work permit (translated by sworn translator and legalized by notary) and passport (also translated and legalized).

Customer service – My first impression was far from satisfactory. But I may have just spoken with an unfriendly representative.

Other perks:

  • Deposit with good interest.
  • Special line for pregnant women or parents with kids (in some branches).
  • Good mortgage rates, a little bird told me that they are even better than Sberbank.
  • Savings in dollar and euro are available (with low interest).
  • Application for phone: Available in Android and iOS, but it was hard to use (too complicated to use with special functions, hidden functions and so forth).

Gazprombank

You might laugh and think that I was making a joke when I said that Gazprom has a bank. Nope. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a joke. Heralded as the biggest oil company in Russia, Gazprom can do whatever they want, from building a skyscraper in St. Petersburg to operating their own bank. Their offers are quite enticing, like any other bank, and their reputation is good enough for you to trust in keeping your own money there. However, the service (to be honest) was not as good as I thought it would be. I visited a branch in Moscow (Kutuzovsky Prospekt) to create a new bank account. The customer service reminded me of Mr. Sloth in Zootopia, as they really took their time to do I-don’t-know-what for more than an hour. When it was my turn, another approached to ask my customer service rep a question. And you know what happened? The guy shushed us, explaining impolitely that he needed to help the client as he was with them longer than us (a new client). Ah-ha! So I guess they don’t accept any more new clients?

ATM – Not everywhere.

Requirement for expat (saving account) – Living permit/work permit (translated by sworn translator and legalized by notary) and passport (also translated and legalized) 

Other perks: 

  • Deposit with good interest.
  • Quite good mortgages.
  • Savings in dollar and euro are available (with low interest).
  • Less commission for almost everything.
  • Application (might be available).

Raiffeisen

Originally from Austria, Raiffeisen appears to be one of the best options for saving a dollar or euro. Not only does it have good exchange rates, but they are also far more reliable if you don’t trust any of the Russian banks I mentioned above. However, if you still want to save in rubles, Sberbank is definitely still a good option, in my opinion. Unfortunately, the branches are not scattered around the capital, and you can hardly find them in the outskirts. 

ATM – not everywhere, but you still can use any ATM with an extra fee.

Requirements for expats (savings account) – only living permit or work permit, passport.

Customer service – good, most of them are friendly and helpful.

Other perks:

  • Good rates for dollars and euros. 
  • You can withdraw money in dollars/euros.
  • Application (iOS and Android), friendly user interface.
  • Free travel insurance for two people (with expiry date of up to 1 year).

CONS:

They still have a limited number of branches.

Russian Financial Rules That You Need to Know:

In case of bankruptcy, all banks available in Russia only guarantee 2,500,000 rubles of your money. More than that, I have no idea. So, be wise and, if possible, divide your wealth among different accounts!

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