Can any Russia travelers advise me on the safety/security of using ATMs in Russia? We are planning to take our first trip to Russia (St. Petersburg & Moscow) next Spring. We will be on a group tour, but will have some independent days in St. Petersburg prior to the start of the tour. We are very comfortable traveling in Europe, but with all the news about Russian cyber crime I'm a little nervous about the best way to pay for things while in Russia. We would like to use ATMs and pay in cash for meals and souvenirs. This is part of a much larger trip to other countries as well, so I want to make sure our ATM card is good for the rest of the tripl. We usually use ATMs in banks when the banks are open. Is this the best way to handle it in Russia? For what it's worth, we will be staying at the Park Inn by Radisson on Nevsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg and the Marriott Tverskaya Hotel in Moscow. Feel free to tell me I'm being silly and there is nothing to worry about. Thanks.!
I had the same concern when I visited St Pete. While it may not have made any difference in the end, I exclusively used Citibank ATMs. Being a multinational banking operation I thought it a bit safer. But I think the bigger risk is when you are physically getting cash out of the ATM via a strong arm robbery, which is why I only used them when the bank was open and there were security guards with automatic weapons on duty.
Thanks Michael. I'll research to see if there is a Citibank close to our hotel and we'll definitely make sure we're there during bank hours. Security guards with automatic weapons? Maybe I'm not being silly to be even more cautious than usual...
Just went to look up Citibank locations, and it appears they have pulled out of Russia since my last visit:(
So you may no choice but to use the local banks.
Thanks Michael. Are you sure? I just googled Citibank Russia and it came up with a website (citibank.ru) showing multiple locations in St. Petersburg. I couldn't find it from the main US website, so I'm hoping it is the same Citibank.
Hope I'm wrong, but according to Google Maps the location that I was familiar with on Nevsky has "closed permanently".
It has been 5 or so years, but as I recall many of the ATMs only worked for Russian Cards. When we did find a machine with the Cirrus sign, they seemed to work fine. If the machine does not have a skimmer attached, it should be okay to use. Cyber criminals have cracked many big companies in the US and many government agencies. In addition, many smaller operations have been compromised here as well, yet I continue to use my credit and debit cards in the US. To be safe when I am abroad, my credit card companies send me an e-mail regarding every out of country purchase or cash withdrawal. I generally receive notification with minutes of making a purchase or withdrawal.
Thanks Ray. Skimmers (among other problems) are exactly what I was worried about. Is there a way to know when one has been attached to an ATM?
Skimmers may be internal to ATMs as well as very cleverly made and attached externally. A quick Internet search can reveal examples of externally attached skimmers.
The hotel where I stayed in St Petersburg had an ATM in the lobby and that is what I used simply because I didn't have to worry about people seeing me take out cash in public.
I'd ask the front desk or concierge at your hotel to suggest a location. You are staying at two western chains and I'm sure they routinely are asked this.
One of my sons, 21 at that time, spent his junior spring semester at the State University of St. Petersburg in 2013. He had no issues using my ATM card from CapOne at Russian ATMs, and I am certain he did not take the trouble to find lobby machines inside banks (although he WAS instructed to use bank owned ATMs). Nor was there any problem with one of our credit cards. Come to think of it, my only beef was that he fell victim to DCC in London while staying with a friend while on his way home. The usual caveat - be certain that you have called your bank and given them the dates that you are in each country, and make certain they have email contact for you. They will spot anything suspicious before you do..
We used ATMS all over St Petersburg and Moscow. Grab hold of the card slot (external) and give it a good shake or tug. If it doesn't move or wiggle around or come off in your hand...that's a good sign. We had no problems with skimmers.
Both of my banks would not allow ATM use or Visa cards in Russia for fraud reasons I guess. Luckily I was on a cruise and didn't need to use them.
Wow. Thank you both Tim and Kathi. We'll try the "shake" method and I'll call our banks now to make sure we won't have a problem using their ATM cards.
Russia is notorious for credit card theft/hacking etc. It is very hard to do credit card purchases from the US as it triggers the fraud notice for most cards and they often require extensive checking before purchases are approved. There are also very well organized pick pockets who steal cards and run up tens of thousand on them within minutes of the theft. I alas know this from personal experience; our only successful pickpocketing attempt occurred in St. Petersburg and within the hour they had charge 20K on the card. All countries are not in fact equal when it comes to this sort of thing. There are different risks different places. For example pickpocketing is very rare in the US and very common in major European cities. Violent crime is much more common in the US and rare in most major European cities especially with regard to tourists. All places are not the same.
I am fairly certain that there were ATMs which only took Russian Cards when I was there. Our guide pointed out several of them. Maybe she was not truthful, but can't see what that would get her. We didn't have trouble finding machines that had a Cirrus logo and others may have worked as well, just not the ones that she pointed out which only took Russian cards.
We used our American Airline Visa card in St. Petersburg and Moscow during our trips in the past 3 years (we git a 3 year visa) and had no difficulty. We always used ATMs located at banks. But sounds like you should check with your credit card company to be sure they allow tranactions in Russia. We had to get clearance from the bank to use our cards in Romania and Belarus. Also, we try to have an ATM and credit cards that we only use on our trips, incase there is a problem.
We just got back from St. Petersburg. We used ATMs and credit cards with no trouble. We found it easiest to use our credit card for restaurants- the all had pin card readers that they brought to the table, so we could keep a close eye on our card.
I noticed that my Citibank ATM card as a feature that allows me to lock the card from my iphone app. This looks like an interesting security feature that is tailor made for the Russian situation described. I guess I would use it an an ATM and then immediately lock the card from my phone. Next time I want to use it, I can unlock it and they say it goes through immediately. Further it does not affect recurring payments or autopay of the monthly balances. Does anyone have any experience with this?
Re: Citibank e-banking functionality
If the functionality you describe is intended to be used as an on/off switch before and after each individual transaction, I do not believe it makes too much sense even for the most paranoid of us.
First, if your account is compromised (stolen identity and skimming vs all-out theft or robbery of the physical card), only a portion of withdrawal attempts will occur on the day of. The data will likely end up in some database and can be used at any given point later, maybe very well after your trip.
Second, there is just too much hassle. On an average day/night out in Moscow or St.Pete I would typically use my card 10 to 15 times. I can't imagine killing off my e-banking after each transaction - if anything, that would drastically increase my chances of losing my phone (especially deeper into the bar-hopping de nuit).
The Russian-issued Citibank card I used years ago had instant text/email notifications of withdrawals and movements between accounts. Once I saw any suspicious activity going on (and it did happen once when I was in Turkey), I could instantly block the card from within the Citi app. The card also had "verified by Visa" functionality to curtail unauthorized online transactions. Most importantly, it had 6 accounts in various currencies hooked up to it, with only one available for withdrawals. Every week I would simply transfer my "allowance" from savings to the active current account, thereby limiting any losses to that weekly allowance.
Thanks again for all the helpful suggestions. We have just finished the Russia segment of our trip and (as for as I know) had no problems. Both hotels ( different ones than I originally posted) had ATMs in the hotel lobby close to the reception desk. They felt safe and secure. One step we took prior to leaving was to open a separate account at our bank. We moved a relatively small amount of money into that account and got a new ATM card for it. That way we didn't have to worry about someone fraudulently gaining access to our main account.
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