You don’t want cyberwar. You just want to be able to Instagram the s*** out of this beautiful city. We can help.
Saint Petersburg is famously connected to the Internet. It is home, after all, to the election-tipping regime pranksters at the Internet Research Agency. But you don’t want cyberwar. You just want to be able to Instagram the shit out of this beautiful city. We can help.
Protip: Beeline has a great deal going from May to July 2018: order a 2-week SIM card online—unlimited data, 30 minutes of local and international calling—for just $11 and you can have it waiting for you at Pulkovo Airport.
Upon arrival: If you didn’t pre-order your SIM, Pulkovo Airport has a few telecom companies outside of baggage claim, though not, oddly enough, my slight favorite among Russian carriers, Megafon. Still, spend the extra 15 minutes here before heading into Russia and you’ll stay happily connected during your trip.
Beeline, MTS, and Tele2 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 and then use the pocket Wi-Fi for everything else.
For 3300₽ ($53), мтс (that’s Cyrillic for MTS) 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. Prices for data with MTS drop after the first month but of course most Russian tourist visas cap out at 30 days.
Should you connect to public Wifi? 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 wifi hotspots in Saint Petersburg is the log-in process, which requires you to enter full name and phone number, which you then have to verify. 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.