Keeping in Touch
Visiting St Petersburg doesn't mean you have to lose contact with friends and family back home. It's never been easier to keep in touch while travelling, and Russia's big cities compare very well with all other international cities for the ease of which you can access phone and internet services. Below you will find some information to help you make phone calls, get online, and send parcels and packages if needed.
The Russian post office, Pochta Rossii, like many government-run postal services, comes in for a lot of criticism about the speed, efficiency and quality of its deliveries and services. Nevertheless it provides some important services to society in addition to the basic delivery of letters and parcels, such as pension payments, registration for migration purposes, sale of train tickets, and payment for community services such as water and electricity. Postal services to international locations can be subject to significant delays, so do not rely on standard mail if your letter/parcel is urgent. The post office's own EMS Post provides a supposedly speedier delivery service, or there are private sector alternatives (see below). There are around 300 Pochta Rossii branches in the city, but the best one for the traveller to use is probably the Central Post Office, where you can make international calls, send packages, get online, and get registered if staying at a private apartment. This branch is located at Pochtamtskaya ulitsa, 9 (suitably enough, Post Office Street!), and is open 24/7. For a detailed map of all branches around the city, consult Pochta Rossii's main website which provides an interactive map: Click to visit map of city post offices.
The easiest way to avoid sky-high roaming charges or hotel bills is to purchase a local SIM card upon arrival and use that in your existing mobile phone. If your phone is 'locked' by the manufacturer, then you should also be able to get it unlocked to accept a new SIM. The main three mobile phone operators - Beeline, MTS and Megafon - provide competitive services and have scores of stores and kiosks around the city (often near metro stations - try Sennaya ploschad). Russia's largest mobile phone merchant, Evroset, also has a large presence. GSM is the standard. You can add money at electronic monitors at these same stores commission-free, or from any of the electronic monitors you will see across the city, in the street, convenience stores and other locations for a small commission. There are domestic roaming charges however, so be aware that a SIM purchased in St Petersburg will be subject to higher fees if used outside the city, and you may wish to consider buying a second SIM in Moscow if you're headed there. As mentioned above, you can arrange to make long distance and international calls at most major post offices too. There are also still a few public phone boxes around.
Dialing numbers can be quite complex, so we've tried to simplify things here. You can add +7 (the international country code for Russia) to any 10-digit number to reach the number you need, but from inside Russia you might as well just dial 8 plus the 10-digit number. If you are dialing a number with the same 3-digit area code as the number from which you are calling, you can in theory just dial the 7-digit number (for example, between landlines in the same city).
Skype is now very popular in Russia (having been developed in Estonia by a team which included Russian software programmers), and is another alternative to regular phones.
Many first-time visitors to St Petersburg are surprised and delighted to discover that wifi access is provided free of charge in many of the cafes, bars, restaurants and hotels throughout the city center. Some may require registration or access code, but this is usually swift and painless. You may find a few cafes on Nevsky prospekt which charge RUB 100 for access, but these are usually cafes frequented by tourists and a quick walk down the block or around the corner will bring you to a place with free wifi access. There are also a number of internet cafes dotted around the city, and internet access is available at the larger post offices.
If you have urgent postal needs, a more reliable option than using the services of Pochta Rossii is using a private sector alternative. There are several big international firms which operate here, telephone numbers for their most central locations and are plotted on the map below. International companies tend to be expensive, a local option is WestPost which provides guaranteed next day to Moscow for RUB 400 for a standard A4 size envelope containing a few documents. Also recommended is Vosstaniya-1, located at - you guessed it - Vosstaniya ulitsa 1, and calls itself a digital copy center. Here you can get all sorts of printing, scanning, laminating etc done at a very reasonable price.
DHL (Click to visit DHL site)
Nevsky prospekt 10, St Petersburg
tel: + 7 812 326 6400
TNT Express (Click to visit TNT Express site)
Nevsky prospekt 34, Business Center 2nd floor, Office 2, St Petersburg
tel: +7 812 680 1368
UPS (Click to visit UBS site)
Voroshilova ulitsa 6, St Petersburg
tel: + 7 812 703 1650
Vosstaniya-1 (Click to visit site)
Vosstaniya ulitsa 1, St Petersburg
tel: + 7 812 719 9505
WestPost (Click to visit site)
Nevsky prospekt 86, St Petersburg
tel: +7 812 336 6352, + 7 812 275 0806