Now that you've arrived, how can you stay connected - whether via phone or the internet (e-mail, messenger, Skype, etc) with those "back home"...without paying an arm and a leg? For example, for "phone" calls, you should NOT plan on making calls at the hotel rates, and even calling cards are not that handy. One issue with calling cards if you try to use from a general street pay phone, you will likely find the quality of the call to be substandard at best.

  • Before  getting started, one quick, but VERY critical "adjustment" for those whose jobs/bosses "require" 7*24 access (or who are traveling with "workaholics"!) will want to advise your boss and/or travel partner that it is VERY hard and expensive to stay connected while in Russia so you can make the most of what will surely seem like way too short a visit!

One simple option might seem to be to sign your cell phone up for an international plan, but even that will likely be an expensive proposition. Should you choose to do this anyway, make sure your cell phone will operate under the GSM 900/1800 standard.

NB: T-Mobile USA is offering 20 c/minute calls and free data to customers on their new plans while roaming in a number of countries including Russia.  You will receive an SMS from T-mobile stating applicable voice and data rates once you land in the country.  

First, for cell phones, the simplest, least expensive approach, assuming you have a phone that supports the above-mentioned GSM 900/1800 standard, is to a) get it unlocked, and then b) buy a VERY inexpensive SIM card at one of the very numerous cell phone stores. The can be found at the airport right after you clear customs, but otherwise are all over the downtown area. Note that the stores can either for a specific cell phone company (the top three - very reliable - in Moscow are Beeline, MTS, and Megafon), or generic cell phone stores (leading ones are Evroset and Svyaznoi) which will and they handle various provider SIM cards as well as a wide range of cell phones and accessories). You will need your passport for this, but really only as an ID check.

An initial SIM card will run you about 200 rubles and it comes with 200 rubles already preloaded. The folks in these stores are generally very knowledgeable and helpful (as in, for the inexperienced, can probably be coaxed into swapping out your SIM card). An added benefit, most personnel are younger, and as such, somewhat likely to speak English. The bottom line...don't be shy or worried - you will easily find help! Most phone plans sold are prepaid no-contract  plans which come with or without data. Smartphone and tablet-specific plans sold include bundles of data at attractive rates.  Example: the cheapest plan from MegaFon costs 300 rubles and buys you 300 minutes airtime, 2 gigs of data and 200 text messages. Other providers should be very competititive. All incoming calls are free.  Once your funds run out you can top it up with cash from one of the handy terminals all over town.  Or staff in cell phone stores can top it up for you. 

If your current cell phone does not meet the GSM standard, you can either get a "cheapo" online beforehand (on E-Bay for example, but make sure it is unlocked). Very inexpensive unlocked GSM phones are sold under the BLU label at Walmart and online. Or you can even buy one in Moscow for about $20-30. In the latter case, these will be very basic and should be considered a throw-away. 

Now, on to the internet...and e-mail, messenger, Skype, etc. Again, for sure, unless you are one of a lucky few "Platinum" guests at a major chain (and even here, Moscow hotels are not quite up to what one would find in other countries), or otherwise paid enough for your room that the internet connection will be free, you should NOT count on paying by the hour at your hotel - it is obscenely expensive. Some hotels MAY provide free Wi-Fi in their lobby, but this is spotty at best and also not going to be a great option if you need to use the connection for either prolonged periods, or for more private "conversations" if you are using Skype. The good news - there are a lot of coffee shops and other places that provide free Wi-fi access. If your computer is showing "Beeline WiFi" is in range - you are in luck. This is the citywide network which is spotty but cheap - under $10 per week.  You will need a Beeline scratch off refill card available from  cell shops, supermarkets etc to get started. If you are not ready for the commitment - they offer a "15 minutes free" option but force you to watch a commercial first.  Once your 15 mins runs out you can repeat the process.  Also free WiFi is available in some public parks, and on most Moscow Metro underground trains.  

The bottom line - one can stay connected while in Moscow without spending a lot of money with a bit of planning before you leave on your trip!