Nov 24, 2009

Foreigners Cannot Roam in Russia

Today, I was chatting with a friend who happens to be vacationing in Russia. (Yes, dear readers, my friends and I are actually fans of Russia, deal with it.) I discovered an interesting fact about Russian pay-as-you-go mobiles...

1. When you purchase a phone, you are required to provide a passport.

2. Foreigners are not given permission to roam on their cell phones.

3. "International access" (making a call from Russia to a number abroad) is not available on pay-a-you-go plans.

I am reluctant to speculate on these measures. But come on. Are we literally trying to prevent foreigners from roaming around Russia to report on what's happening?


Sleeper said...

Although there are many annoying restrictions on foreigners in Russia, I felt I should make some corrections to your post. The situation is both better and worse than you imply.

I'm pretty sure you can get a SIM for a phone without a passport, although this may not be legal, and so the official sales channels require a passport. But there are kids selling SIMs outside many metro stops in Moscow, and I'm pretty sure they don't demand a passport.

On roaming - it's a little more complex. I am a foreigner, and have roaming on my phone, but it only lasts as long as my registration. This is a general problem - I can't get a Russian driving license that lasts longer than my registration, either, and since most foreigners are only registered for a year, this makes it impractical to get a Russian driving license, unless you are one of the rare few with permanent residency. These are all regulation based - essentially a foreigner does not exist in Russia if they are not registered, so it's not possible to give them any kind of services without a registration. I get round this by having a SIM that is registered in my wife's name. It's really very easy to get a SIM from a Russian to get round this problem.

As for no international calls from a pay-as-you-go phone - I've just looked at the Beeline site, and they quote prices for international calls for pre-paid plans. So it's definitely possible.

Pirates(and)Diplomats said...

"...and I'm pretty sure they don't demand a passport."

Gonna have to agree, Sleeper. =)

Great info. Thanks for the detail.

Ern said...

Sleeper, all great pts. I often forget that although there are many rules in Russia, there are also many opportunities to circumvent them.

The Expatresse said...

I TEXT foreign phones all the time from Moscow.

Slothy said...

As the vacationer in Russia... yes, I could have just had a Russian friend buy the sim card for me (and turn on the international access). But, once the passport was produced, buying the sim card was no problem. And the roaming and international access stuff just became a challenge, as I bounced from the store to an MTS service center to the website and the help hotline. And they all said the same thing. (The surprisingly kind girl on the help line was even apologetic about it).

If I were Russian, they could turn on international access and roaming for free. If I were a registered foreigner, they would have turned on the roaming for me. But as I was just a tourist, they would not - unregistered foreigners cannot use Russian sim cards abroad. And if I bought a tariff plan upgrade (for 300 rubles, which, granted, would not have broken the bank), then international access would be activated and I could have made international calls from within Russia. [Note: a Russian citizen would not have had to upgrade plans - just a foreigner].

It would have been nice to make my Russian sim card fully functional. As it was, I got a little taste of the Russia I first visited, as opposed to the one with 24-hour sushi bars on every corner...