Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

On a Quest for Credit

Unknown
So you want to get a Russian credit card, do you? For the ordinary foreigner in Moscow, obtaining instant credit is harder than you might think.

For expats opening a bank account, the process is now relatively easy. It takes just a few days after filling in all of the necessary documentation to pick up a MasterCard or Visa card. While outwardly this might appear to be a credit card, this is in fact a debit card, with money for purchases coming straight from the customer's bank account.

Try getting a credit card from the same bank, and it's a different story.

All but a handful of the country's banks provide a pared-down service to foreigners. Some of the country's biggest lenders -- Sberbank, VTB-24 and MDM Bank, for example -- refuse credit cards to foreigners living and working here. In theory, it should get a little easier if you have permanent registration, and there is anecdotal evidence that banks such as Alfa Bank will consider credit card applications in this instance.

Credit cards have not been around that long here. The country's largest bank, Sberbank, for instance, only started to issue credit cards at the end of 2006. The relative youth of the credit market is reflected in the high borrowing costs. Rates typically vary from 18 to 29 percent.

For citizens, too, the terms and conditions can be onerous. Applicants are usually required to provide proof of permanent registration, proof of income and a letter from their employer to show that they have worked for more than three months in their current place of employment. Some providers require details of expenses, such as rent, education, health insurance and so on. And it helps to be female. Russky Standart bank, for example, gives credit cards to women from the age of 18; men have to wait until they are 23.

You might think that the foreign-owned banks would have a more enlightened view toward foreigners -- but this is not always so. International Moscow Bank, owned by Italy's UniCredito, denies credit cards to expats; so, too, does GE Money Bank. Three of the four banks that we found to provide credit to nonresidents, nonetheless, are foreign owned: Citibank, Raiffeisen Bank and Home Credit & Finance Bank.

It's little wonder that the procedures for obtaining credit are confusing to foreigners, when even the banks provide conflicting information. VTB24, the retail arm of VTB, started off saying that, yes, it would issue credit cards to foreigners with permanent registration. In a second phone call, we were told that, no, only citizens can apply for a credit card with the bank. The same was true of Alfa Bank. During a visit in person to the bank, I was informed that if I had residency here, I could apply for a credit card; a phone call later to confirm indicated that it was for citizens only.

Finally, some banks will offer credit cards to employees of their corporate clients. Trust Bank is one such institution.

Below, the banks most likely to approve credit cards for foreigners are listed. All of the major banks were polled. This list is not exhaustive, however.

Citibank


Who? Expats
What do you need? Passport (including notarized translations of the main pages), visa, migration card, registration; letter from employer confirming employment.
What's available? Citibank MasterCard, MegaFon-Citibank, Miles & More (Lufthansa air miles card) and Kuda.ru Citibank; Citibank MasterCard Gold, Miles & More Gold, and Kuda.ru
Citibank Gold.
Start-up costs and yearly fee: 950 rubles per year base rate; 2,950 rubles per year for the Gold cards.
Credit limit: 320,000 rubles ($12,600)
Minimum monthly income? No minimum, decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. You must be a full-time employee, working neither your trial nor notice periods.
Borrowing rates: 24 to 28 percent
Timescale: After receipt of the documentation, the credit department takes up to two weeks to reach a decision.

Raiffeisen Bank


Who? Expats
What do you need? Passport, visa, migration card, registration (of more than three months) and official proof of income (2-NDFL form).
What's available? Raiffeisenbank VISA, VISA Gold, Raiffeisenbank MasterCard and MasterCard Gold.
Credit limit: 500 to 7,000 rubles; 3,500 to 12,000 rubles ($138 to $475) (Gold cards only)
Start-up costs and yearly fee: $30; $150 (Gold cards)
Minimum monthly income? 15,000 rubles after taxes
Borrowing rates: 19 percent

Home Credit & Finance Bank


Who? Customers with an existing account who have good credit history with the bank.
What do you need? Passport, visa, migration card, registration (of more than three months) and official proof of income (2-NDFL form).
What's available? Home Credit card
Credit limit: Up to 40,000 rubles ($1,575)
Start-up costs and yearly fee: None
Minimum monthly income? No minimum, decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
Borrowing rates: 19 percent

Trust Bank


Who? Employees of Trust Bank's corporate clients
What do you need? Passport, visa, migration card, registration and official proof of income (2-NDFL form).
What's available? VISA Classic; VISA Gold
Credit limit: 75,000 rubles (Classic); 100,000 rubles ($3,950) (Gold)
Start-up costs and yearly fee: None
Minimum monthly income? None specified
Borrowing rates: 23 to 29 percent (The higher borrowing rate applies to those who do not already have a current account with the bank when applying for a credit card.)