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Using my bank Mastercard debit/credit card in Moscow

My bank (in the US) is a small, local operation. It's virtually an neighborhood bank, and has no international presence. They issue a Mastercard credit/debit card. I would like to use this card when I visit Moscow this spring. However, I don't know if the card will be usable at Russian banks or cash dispensing machines. Can someone who's been to Russia recently give me some advice?

Posted by
321 posts

As long as it's a regular visa/MasterCard and not an electronic use-only card (like visa electron), you should be ok, if you inform your bank in advance that you're traveling abroad.
I have a card from a local credit union - it works fine anywhere in Russia. There only problem I've seen so far is that they slap on a (very small) monthly commission for using out-of-network ATMs.

Posted by
8 posts

Thanks for the answer. Also, I have another question.

Can you tell me where I can expect to use my Mastercard in Moscow? For example, at some cash dispensing machines, but not others? Or at bank ATM's? Or only in banks during the day, when a bank employee can process the transaction?

I've also heard talk to the effect that Russia doesn't permit the use of most Mastercards anymore. At least not the ones issued by Western banks.

And something else I've heard is that no card, Visa or Mastercard, that's issued by a Western bank can be used at those cash machine's unless that Western bank is part of a consortium of banks that sponsor those machines. I think there are three such consortiums. I know my bank isn't a member of any of them. Maybe yours is. Any thoughts?

Thanks in advance for whatever info you have to share.

Posted by
4686 posts

I used my regular ATM card from my credit union (not a Visa or Mastercard) at ATMs in St. Petersburg in 2016. I used a couple of different credit cards at grocery stores, restaurants, museums. It was like traveling elsewhere in Europe - everything worked, no issues. Don't recall if I had a Mastercard at the time, but I would have expected that to work too.

Posted by
8906 posts

There are some small banks and credit unions that impose heavy restrictions on where their cards can be used overseas. This is what TA thread is referring to and has been discussed on this board in the past. The best thing to do is talk to your bank and ask if the have any rules against card usages in Russia. If they do, open an account at a larger institution, and problem solved.

Posted by
4686 posts

Well, that TA thread is older than my visit to St. Petersburg in 2016, and I had no trouble at all with any of my cards there. It's hard to imagine Moscow is different than St. Petersburg.

I'd check with your bank. Surely you aren't their first customer to travel to Russia. If you area really worried about it after talking to them, open up an account with another financial institution before your trip. I recommend Andrew's Federal Credit Union in Maryland. (no relation.) Anyone can join as long as they are eligible - no need to visit a branch. You will probably have to join the American Consumer Council ($5 for a year's membership) and then you can join Andrew's and be a member of the credit union for life. Credit unions have weird eligibility rules but there are often simple ways around them.

With Andrew's, you can get a debit card that offers unlimited ATM withdrawals for no fee (but a 1% visa conversion fee) and a visa credit card with no foreign transaction fee and no annual fee. Plus, the Andrew's visa is a partial "chip and PIN' credit card, meaning you can use it at some machines where a PIN is required. I had one for a while but don't need it anymore.

https://www.andrewsfcu.org/

Posted by
8 posts

My problem is that my Mastercard is not part of the Cirrus network. I don't know how many non-Cirrus ATM's there are in Moscow, if any. Does anyone know the answer to this question?

Regarding the link I posted above -- about people who couldn't use their Mastercards in Russia -- my guess is that those people didn't have cards issued by a Cirrus participating US bank.

Posted by
8906 posts

My problem is that my Mastercard is not part of the Cirrus network.

Cirrus is owned by Mastercard. So all cards can be used on that network.
Don't over think this, contact you bank to see if they allow usage in Russia. If they don't use another bank.

Posted by
8 posts

My bank has confirmed that my card cannot be used abroad at a Cirrus network ATM. For a Mastercard to be used at a Cirrus ATM, the issuing bank must be a member of the Cirrus network. So it's established that I cannot use this card on a Cirrus machine.

Based on my research so far, it looks all Russian ATM's are part of the Cirrus, Maestro, and/or PLUS networks. The question, really, is what does an American tourist in Moscow do if his/her card is not part of those networks. I need to find out what other options exist, if any.

I don't have time to change my banker because I'm leaving on my trip pretty soon.

Posted by
8 posts

My Mastercard is part of the NYCE network, it appears. If anyone has this same kind of Mastercard, and if you've used it (or tried to use it) in Russia, please share you experience here.

Thanks.

Posted by
4686 posts

If you are not leaving for at least two weeks, you have plenty of time to join another financial institution like Andrews's Federal Credit Union. You don't have to change banks; you can keep the bank and cards you have. Use the new one just for traveling. it might be wise to use the second one just for travel purposes, anyway.

What do other people do? They figure this out ahead of time. If I found out too late before leaving on my trip that my cards would not work in Russia? I guess I'd figure out how to buy some Rubles and take some to Russia with me. And I'd take some USD with me and exchange them. You might still be able to use Amex Travelers Checks - haven't used them in a long time now, but if you can find a place in Russia that will cash them for you in Rubles, that might be safer than carrying cash. Sure, none of this is ideal. The better option is getting your credit and debit cards figure out well ahead of time so you can just use them while traveling - that's what most people do.

Posted by
321 posts

Frankly, it's not a Russia-related issue - if your card is only connected to NYCE network, you won't be able to use it much anywhere except in the US and perhaps Canada, period.

If you do indeed find it difficult to apply for a more travel-friendly card from a different financial institution, I'd stick to Andrew's advice as an ad-hoc but time-proven solution. You can bring cash - and if it's less than 10 thousand dollars (or equivalent), you don't have to declare it.

As to travelers' checks, I had to cash one about five years ago, and finding a bank that would do it turned out to be a Pythonesque quest for the holy grail. I finally did cash it at Reiffeisen bank in Moscow, but wouldn't rush to repeat the experience any time soon.

On my most recent trip to Russia, I didn't even carry the physical card on me most of the time - all POS terminals in larger cities accept not only contactless visa/MasterCard, but also virtual contactless payment solutions (Google pay, Apple pay, SamsungPay) - so I just paid my way with my phone.

The only place where I did indeed have problems using ANY US-issued cards was Crimea - and, again, just like Andrew suggested, I had to carry cash.

Not too convenient, but I didn't mind it - even if for nostalgic value alone.

Posted by
8906 posts

Frankly, it's not a Russia-related issue - if your card is only connected to NYCE network, you won't be able to use it much anywhere except in the US and perhaps Canada, period.

The OP already stated his card is Mastercard, which owns cirrus the largest Atm network on the planet, so it can be used 99% of ATMs around the world. NYCE is an additional network the bank belongs to. The only issue is whether the bank blocks its cards at high-risk countries.

Posted by
8 posts

... if your card is only connected to NYCE network, you won't be able to use it much anywhere except in the US and perhaps Canada, period.

Okay, that's very helpful to know.

But now I'm wondering, does this merely mean that my cash withdrawal problems in Russia are limited to only ATM's? If so, that makes me wonder if perhaps I could use this NYCE card in a Russian financial institution, where a banker could do some kind of fancy cash withdrawal for me, using some kind money transfer that draws on my US bank account. Any ideas?

Posted by
3226 posts

If your card will not work in ATMs, it will most likely not work anywhere else. It costs a bank to join international processing, and if your bank is as small as you state, they probably have very few customers who travel enough to make the cost justifiable. Also, if you would let a teller at a bank get money from your current card, that would be treated as a cash advance and have what most feel are excessive fees related to it. But if Russia is anything like the rest of Europe, they will not help you unless you have an account with them and simply point toward their ATM machine if you want cash.

If you have at least 2 weeks, run, don't walk, to one of the larger banks such as Chase, Wells, of BofA, and open an account. They should be able to issue you a debit card on the spot. Their cards all work everywhere. You don't have to move everything, just enough money to cover your trip, and you can even close the account after your trip if you won't be traveling again soon. Alternately, you can open an online account at Capital One. Their 360 account charges no fees anywhere in the world for ATM access.

Your only other option at this point is to get stacks of Rubles from a bank or currency exchange here before leaving. Your current bank might offer that service, but due to their size probably not. This will not be a cost effective option.

And no, Traveler Checks are not an option. While you can still buy them from some places, the ability to cash them is almost zero. And the fees charge both to purchase them and to cash them, if you find some one willing to do so, is excessive.

Posted by
8 posts

To all: thanks for your feedback. I think we've covered all the bases. I know what to do from here.

Posted by
321 posts

One last-minute comment, if you don't mind - if you do end up going all-cash, i don't think it makes sense to exchange all your money into roubles state-side. Maybe a hundred or two, just to cover taxis/a quick grab of food, etc. before you get to your destination. Whatever you do, do not exchange money at the airport -their rates are absolutely abhorrent (at one point last summer, for instance, it was 45 roubles to a dollar vs. 65 in any bank branch downtown).

Your timing is something to consider, though - now that you can only exchange money at authorized banks, it may become an issue if you're there late at night or on the weekend.

Thank you for your thread, it was quite educational - I had no idea one could have a MasterCard branded card from a US bank that would not be cleared for using it overseas.