One of the first things you need to do as a tourist is to obtain the local currency, in this case Russian Rubles. You should do this as soon as possible upon arriving in Russia, as you cannot use American dollars here. Below is a guide to monetary transactions in Nizhny Novgorod in particular and in Russia in general.
Exchanging Money and Using Debit/Credit Cards
There are two major ways to get Russian Rubles (RUR): actually exchanging US Dollars (USD) for RUR at the bank or simply using an ATM to withdraw RUR from an American bank account. Exchanging USD for RUR at a bank can be tricky, partly because some Russian banks will require a passport in order to exchange the money, and the bank teller may refuse to do so even if you have a copy of your passport rather than the original. Other banks, however, may not require any documentation. Also, be sure to have the nicest, crispest USD possible when exchanging money at a Russian bank. For whatever reason, Russian banks can be very picky about the quality of American dollars, and they may charge a fee for exchanging bills that have been torn, marked, or otherwise damaged, even a little bit.
When it comes to withdrawing RUR via ATM, make sure to call your American bank before you travel and let them know where you will be traveling and when. Otherwise, your bank may freeze your account(s) if they see a random international purchase that’s outside your normal bank account activity. Also, just because you can withdraw money from an ATM using your debit/credit card doesn’t mean that you can use it to purchase items in stores or restaurants with it. Even if you call your bank ahead of time, some business may not accept your debit or credit card(s). Therefore, be prepared to have cash (RUR, in other words) be your main form of payment for daily purchases.
When paying in cash, as you will often have to do, be prepared to have exact change whenever possible. Russian cashiers will usually insist that you give them exact change, or at the very least an amount for which they will be able to give you less change. For example, if your purchase costs 67 rubles, and you hand the cashier a 100 ruble note, he or she will probably ask you if you have 7 more rubles so that he/she can give you an even 40 rubles as change rather than the awkward amount of 33 rubles.
As of this writing, $1 USD is worth a little over 31 Russian Rubles (RUR). Because of the comparatively strong exchange rate between USD and RUR, Western cultural tourists will often be pleasantly surprised at the relatively cheap cost of living in Russia. Some quality meals, including a drink and dessert, can be purchased for the equivalent of $4-5 USD. However, the more “touristy” places can be a little pricier. Nonetheless, you should be able to get around without spending too much money, at least by American standards.
As a general rule of thumb, be prepared to tip 5-10% in restaurants. However, not tipping is acceptable as well, especially if you are not satisfied with the service. In other words, tipping is less stringent in Russia than it is in America, though it is still generally better to leave a tip than not to.
Think twice before buying expensive items in stores. If it turns out that you don’t need such an item after you buy it, there is no guarantee that you will be able to return it. Depending on the store, simply saying “It turns out I didn’t need this item” may not considered a legitimate reason to be able to return the item, as it is in America. Other reasons, such as “This item has a defect/doesn’t work” are generally legitimate, however, so still ask about the return policy when making a high-end purchase.
– David Pruden