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GSM mobile phones work well within Moscow and St Petersburg, even in the Moscow metro. Signal strength falls away quickly, however as you leave the cities and their suburbs. GSM networks operate in nearly all Russia cities, so mobile phone use across the entire country is generally quite okay. International roaming works fine in most Russian cities, but may come at a high price. The cheapest option for overseas calls using your mobile phone (in Moscow and St Petersburg) is to purchase a local sim card. With a local sim card, incoming calls are free of charge so you can always be reached and outgoing calls to most countries are around the 7 Ruble per minute price range (one of the best options is the Ediny plan provided by Megfon which costs 150 Rubles for the sim card - the lowest price to pay and the 150 Rubles is all pre-paid talk time).
The important thing to understand with Russia and its mobile phone network is that each city is on a different network and once you leave the city where you have purchased your sim card, you go onto roaming tariffs, which can be as expensive. The solution is that for any city where you will staying for any extended period of time, purchase a new sim card (at 150 Rubles basic price, it is not expensive) so that at least incoming calls are free of charge and you can call out on local rates. Outside the major cities, the rate to call overseas will generally be about double the Moscow/St Petersburg rate so it will be about 13 - 15 Rubles per minute, which means that a phone card may be the best option, as they will generally be from 1 - 5 Rubles per minute, depending on where you are and where you are calling to.
When buying a sim card you will almost always be asked to show your passport & registration. Don't worry - this is done for everyone. In St.Petersburg you can buy a Megafon sim card without registration but no other network.
Land lines in Russia are NOT digital/tone, they are still rotary/pulse mode, so to use phone cards you need to activate the phone you are using to send tone signals to make the card work. After you dial the phone card number, that is done by pressing the "*" key (you often need to hold it for a while then it'll come up with a 'd' on the screen) before pressing the numbers on the phone card.
8 (eight) is a very important number to remember, it is the long-distance prefix used to dial a number within an area code different from yours, when in Russia. So to dial a Moscow number, dial 8-495-555-5555
810 (eight one zero) is the International Dialing Code you use to make an overseas call from 'within' Russia.
7 (seven) is the International Telephone Country Code used to call or dial to Russia.
495 (four nine five) is the Area or City Code used to call or dial to Moscow.
812 (eight one two) is the Area or City Code used to dial to Saint-Peterburg.
Other cities codes can be found on the Country Calling Codes website (not a full list but a decent one in English). Or if you know the name of where you are going and the region it's in (in Russian) then try this website.