Oh, traveler. Please, heed these words. The best way to exchange money in any of the Moscow airports is - NOT to exchange money in Moscow airports.
There's NO way to circumvent that. It is pretty much a legal form of robbery in the middle of the day that you agree to and receive a receipt for.
A foreign traveler once told me how he was travelling on the trans-siberian train and somewhere half way through the 6-day trip decided to buy a cup of coffee. He realized that he run out of rubles and asked a bartender to exchange him some. He the barman told him, 'Sure, 1 dollar to 5 rubles'. The man though, 'Heck, we're in the middle of Siberia'. And exchanged it eventually buying this cup for around 2500 RUB.
Are airport rates as bad? No. But they are certainly the next worst thing after that.
The rate at any of the most 'official' exchanges or bank branches inside all the major Moscow airports is around 60% of the currency's current value. If it's 60 RUB for a dollar, you'll get about 35-40 RUB for one.
So, every time you feel the desire to get some rubles at the airport mounting, follow those four easy tips that'll help you minimize the damage:
1) 99,9% of all stores, stalls and electronic kiosks at any airport accept bank cards. Your bank card doesn't have to have rubles on it for you to pay anywhere abroad. All major transaction processing systems like MasterCard or Visa employ automatic currency conversion every time someone charges you in any other openly convertible foreign currency.
Whether you have American Dollars or Indian Rupees on your card; if it's a MasterCard or Visa card, you can just use it to pay anywhere here.
If you're from the States or Western Europe, you might need to call your bank and notify them that you're going to Russia. So that they don't block your card after the first attempt to use it. Because Russian banks have 'stellar' reputation in the West.
2) If you still feel like you want to get some rubles, don't trust local vendors or just don't use your cards abroad on principle. Then again, that automatic conversion system of Visa and MasterCard also works when you're trying to withdraw money from an ATM.
So just try to withdraw any sum from any legit-looking ATM around, and it'll give you rubles regardless of your card's currency.
That kind of conversion uses the current rate for rubles that YOUR bank has at home not something set by the ATM. So it'll be the closest possible to the real market rate to date. There is a chance, however, that airport ATMs are specifically 'tuned' to make them more lucrative. They might have special commissions for withdrawals or for using cards of other banks. But they'll always tell you about them on screen before finalizing the operation. And it'll still be significantly better deal than changing your money any other way in the airport.
3) If even that is not an option, then look for some exotic currencies in your wallet that you can exchange.
Many of airport exchanges change a variety of currencies besides your conventional US dollars, euros and pounds. You'll easily find ones that deal with Australian, Canadian and Singapore dollars, Chinese RMB, Japanese yen and more.
So the thing is, that even the most shameless exchanges will always have more fair rates (not completely fair though) for less popular currencies. The idea is that since everyone uses dollars and euros, we can crank up the rates to make money since people will have to exchange them anyway. But for currencies with less demand, where there isn't too much money to be made anyway, let's set more or less normal rates. So that we provide something that people can actually thank us for and balance our karma a bit this way.
The tricks works not just in Moscow airports but almost everywhere where many currencies are exchanged but rates for US dollars leave lot to be desired.
4) And finally, if for some supernatural reasons none of the above works for you, and you are going to exchange your US dollars or euros in one of the airport banks or exchanges. Then just make sure you don't change a big sum or everything you have with you.
Exchange just 2000-3000 RUB, so that you can pay for a cab to the city and, maybe for a cup of coffee (500-700 RUB in the airport).
Exchange the rest as soon as you reach the city center in any bank branch you encounter. Almost everything in the city center follows reasonable exchange rate policies.
Make sure you have some clean, newer banknotes without any ink marks. Some of the banks might be VERY picky about the quality of notes they accept. If something is not accepted in any given bank, go to any big Sberbank branch. They are a bit more omnivorous.
So, here we are. Here's all you need to know to make your money exchanging in Moscow airports as lucrative as possible.
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