Russia has excellent internet. Getting authenticated to use it is sometimes trickier.
Russia has excellent internet, particularly in urban centers like Moscow. If you’re American or Canadian or European, in fact, you might wish their internet was a little more broken. But you can’t change that now. All you can do is connect while in Moscow so you can continue seamlessly feeding Facebook and Instagram your personal information.
There are a huge amount of public and private Wi-Fi hotspots throughout Moscow, even in the Metro, where there were 500 million connections to the Metro Wi-Fi in 2015 alone. I have two concerns with relying solely on Wi-Fi hotspots though. First, the public wifi spots require “mandatory authentication of users in accordance with the Government Resolution № 801 of 08.12.2014”, which basically means authenticating your name and phone number with each connection. You may get creeped out by that or not, but it’s definitely a pain if you’re on the go. The second concern is that the single most valuable use of connectivity in Moscow is the ability to hail a Yandex Taxi or Uber. These car services have changed mobility in and around Moscow, and you don’t want to be tethered to a Wifi hotspot to use them. For that reason alone I recommend either a local SIM or pocket Wifi connection.
Protip: Beeline has a great deal going through the end of the World Cup: order a 2-week SIM card online—unlimited data, 30 minutes of local and international calling—for just US$11 and you can have it waiting for you at Sheremetyevo airport, or, if you’re arriving elsewhere, at one of their central Moscow branches.
Upon arrival: If you didn’t pre-order your SIM, the largest of Moscow’s three airports—Sheremetyevo—has the big telecom carriers—either Beeline or MTS (мтс in Cyrillic) or Megafon—in every terminal, plus a Evroset Electronics store for chargers and more SIM options. Most of those stores are open 24/7. Spend the time here upon arrival before heading into Moscow, not least because Uber and Yandex Taxi are the best car services to use (though the real pro move is to take the new-ish Aeroexpress train to Belorussky Station in the heart of Moscow: traffic in Khimki is a circle of hell Dante couldn’t have known about).
The major telecom carriers are all reliable services with comparable rates. You can either get a SIM card with a local number and a data plan or go with a pocket Wi-Fi. I’m a fan of the latter because, especially with an American Android phone, I prefer to keep my U.S. number for texting back home and then use the pocket Wi-Fi for everything else.
For 3300₽ (US$53), for example, мтс will get you a 4G mobile router with 60GB of internet for two weeks. It worked reliably for my laptop and phone in Moscow and Saint Petersburg and even some of the more rural areas south of Moscow.
Vnukovo Airport has Megafon as well as Evroset and Svyaznoy shops to get sim cards and more.
Domodedovo Airport—Moscow’s busy single-terminal airport—has only one telecom company—Megafon—in Terminal 2, near the Svyaznoy electronics shop (where you can also buy SIM cards). But they are both open 24/7.
All three airports have free public Wi-Fi, though the authentication requires you to already have a connection, so you would have to connect to international roaming. You might be better off waiting until you get your new SIM card.
Should you connect to public Wi-Fi? Depends. The same general caution about public Wi-Fi applies in Russia as elsewhere. Despite the mild hysteria about Russian superhacking prowess in the West, we haven’t seen reports of visitors being specially targeted on the ground in Russia. Still, if you’re so inclined, a VPN is never a bad idea (and it isn’t illegal in Russia like it is in some countries). The biggest hassle with connecting to the many many public Wi-Fi hotspots in Moscow is the authentication. If you’re truly looking to save money or don’t mind staying mostly offline, however, those public hotspots combined with the myriad restaurant and cafe Wi-Fi spots could suffice. But the convenience and ease of always-on internet, particularly in a ridesharing city, is too appealing.