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Using Cell Phones in Russia

Key information for visitors

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This article originally appeared at Transparent Blog


If you are traveling to Russia or staying there for a long time, you probably want to keep in touch with your friends back home. Besides Skype and other similar programs, cell phones are an important tool for staying in touch.

No Strings Attached

Almost everyone in (urban) Russia has a mobile phone (моби́льный телефо́н orсо́товый телефо́н). Older people may not know how to text (посыла́ть СМС), but they can still make calls (звони́ть).

People in Russia have what’s called unlocked phones, meaning you can open the back of the phone and insert or take out your carrier’s (опера́тор) SIM card (сим-ка́рта). That also means that most people are not locked in to a single carrier and can switch the SIM card at any point they choose to hop carriers. In fact, it’s a selling point for cell phone plans (тари́ф) to be “без абоне́нтской пла́ты” (literally, “without a subscription fee,” meaning pay as you go).

 

 

Refilling Account

There are three main carriers in Russia – МТС, Била́йн, and Мегафо́н. You have a certain fee schedule and load a certain amount of money, which you use up according to your usage.

To “top up” is заплати́ть за телефо́нположи́ть де́ньги на телефо́н or technically попо́лнить счёт. You don’t say things like buy minutes. Your cell phone balance (бала́нс) can be used to pay for a number of things, from subway passes to deliveries.

Leave A Message

Once you get your Russian cell phone, you may want to set up your voicemail (автоотве́тчик). A typical message goes along the lines of “Здра́вствуйте, вы позвони́ли в компа́нию…/по но́меру… В настоя́щее вре́мя мы не мо́жем/я не могу́ отве́тить на ваш звоно́к, пожа́луйста, оста́вьте сообще́ние по́сле сигна́ла” (Hello, you have reached company…/number… Currently we/I cannot answer your call, please leave a message after the beep).

Mind that some Russians will not be comfortable divulging personal information such as their names and may not record a voicemail greeting at all.


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