Checking your email or surfing the web can often be done in the business centers of major hotels, which usually charge an hourly rate; most hotels now also provide Wi-Fi, at least in public areas. Web access is also available at many fax and copy centers, many of which are open 24 hours and on weekends. The easiest way to get online in Moscow and St. Petersburg is to visit one of the plentiful cafés, many of which offer free Wi-Fi. Some require you to pay an hourly rate, which can run from about 60R, or $2, per hour and up. Some parks and metro stations in Moscow offer free Wi-Fi access, as well.
The good news is that you can now make a direct-dial telephone call from virtually any point on earth. The bad news? You can't always do so cheaply. Calling from a hotel is almost always the most expensive option; hotels usually add huge surcharges to all calls, particularly international ones. In some countries you can phone from call centers or even the post office. Calling cards usually keep costs to a minimum, but only if you purchase them locally. And then there are mobile phones , which are sometimes more prevalent—particularly in the developing world—than landlines; as expensive as mobile phone calls can be, they’re still usually a much cheaper option than calling from your hotel.
The country code for Russia is 7. Moscow has two city codes, 495 and 499; St. Petersburg's is 812. When dialing a Russian number from abroad, drop the initial 0 from the local area code.
The country code is 1 for the United States and Canada, 61 for Australia, 64 for New Zealand, and 44 for the United Kingdom.
Calling Within Russia
Direct dialing is the only way to go. Russian phone numbers have 10 digits (including the area code). To use your North American cell phone in Russia, it must be tri or quad band. If it's an unlocked GSM cell phone, purchase and install a SIM card so that you'll be charged Russian rates for usage while there.
Throughout the country you can dial 09 for directory assistance. However, because directory workers and operators are underpaid, overworked, and speak only Russian, you probably have a better chance of getting telephone information from your hotel concierge or a friendly assistant at a business center.
Public phones, which are similar to those found in most other European countries, can be harder to find these days, as most Russians have mobile phones. The modern public phones are all card-operated, and the line tends to be atrocious. You can buy cards at kiosks.
City centers have telephone centers handy for making all sorts of calls: in Moscow, try the Central Telegraph office at 7 ulitsa Tverskaya, and St. Petersburg has one located at 2 ulitsa Bolshaya Morskaya.
For long-distance calls within Russia, simply dial 8, wait for another dial tone, and then dial the rest of the number as listed.
Calling Outside Russia
The country code for the United States is 1.
Most hotels have satellite telephone booths where, for several dollars a minute, you can make an international call in a matter of seconds. If you want to economize, you can visit the main post or telegraph office and order a call for rubles (but you'll still pay about a dollar or two a minute). From your hotel room or from a private residence, you can dial direct. To place your call, dial 8, wait for the dial tone, then dial 10, then the country code (1 for the United States) followed by the number you're trying to reach. In the Western-managed hotels, rooms are usually equipped with international, direct-dial (via satellite) telephones, but beware that the rates are hefty.
If you want to save money, computer and smartphone applications such as Skype and the voice and video chat services offered by Facebook and Google are good ways to stay in contact with people back home. If you didn't bring your computer with you, such services are also frequently available in Internet cafés. Another option is to set up an international call-back account in the United States before you go. This service can often save you as much as half off the rates of the big carriers. To use the call-back account, you must dial a pre-established number in the United States from any phone in Moscow or St. Petersburg, let the call ring a few times, then hang up. In a few minutes, a computer calls you back and makes a connection, giving you a U.S. dial tone, from which you dial any number in the United States.
AT&T Direct. 495/363–2400; 8/10–800–120–1011; 812/363–2400.
MCI WorldPhone. 495/747–3322; 812/346–8022.
Sprint International Access. 8/10–800–120–2011.
Kallback. 877/777–5242; www.kallback.com.
Phone cards can be bought at street kiosks that also sell cards for dial-up Internet access. You stick the card in the pay phone (there's a picture showing you the right way) and wait for the dial tone. Then press 8 and wait for another dial tone, then dial the number. A number will flash on the screen showing you how many units you have left; as you speak, units are subtracted from your total.
If you have a multiband phone (some countries use different frequencies from those used in the United States) and your service provider uses the world-standard GSM network (as do T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon), you can probably use your phone abroad. Roaming fees can be steep, however. When overseas you normally pay the toll charges for incoming calls. It's almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call, since text messages have a very low set fee (often 15¢).
If you just want to make local calls, consider buying a new SIM card (note that your provider may have to unlock your phone for you to use a different SIM card) and a prepaid service plan in the destination. You'll then have a local number and can make local calls at local rates. If your trip is extensive, you could also simply buy a new cell phone in your destination, as the initial cost will be offset over time.
If you travel internationally frequently, save one of your old mobile phones or buy a cheap one on the Internet; ask your cell phone company to unlock it for you, and take it with you as a travel phone, buying a new SIM card with pay-as-you-go service in each destination.
To get around the problem of unlocking a U.S. cell phone, you could buy a cell phone in Russia. The country has embraced cell phones with enthusiasm, and you can buy them in stores on every corner. Basic models can be found for less than $50. Handsets aren’t usually sold as a package with a service provider, so you simply choose which network you want to join. Offices for the main providers, Beeline, MTS, and Megafon, are ubiquitous. They may ask to see your registration card and passport before signing you up. The country uses GSM.
Cellular Abroad. The company rents and sells GSM phones and sells SIM cards that work in many countries. 800/287–5072; www.cellularabroad.com.
Mobal. Mobiles and sells GSM phones that will operate in 190 countries are for rent and sale. 888/888–9162; www.mobal.com.