Mobile phone use during the Trans-Siberian Tour
Mobile phone usage is high in Russia, Mongolia and China and coverage is accordingly better than most expect.
Much of the time on the train your mobile phone should have reception if you have a roaming facility on your phone. You will need to contact your mobile operator for details on charges.
DATA roaming can be very expensive when abroad.
If you have a smart phone and wish to use email or GPS it is recommended to buy a local SIM card to reduce charges. A Russian pay-as-you-go SIM card costs around US$10.
There are four main Mobile Phone companies in Russia, ‘Megafon’ (Мегафон), ‘Beeline’ (Билайн), Tele2 (Rostelcom) and ‘MTS’ (МТС).
has the worst coverage – only in big cities – but the quality of their network is good where it works.
has 3G fast-speed Internet almost everywhere in Russia, including the countryside area between Moscow and St Petersburg, Lake Baikal and Olkhon island – so perfect for travelling to remote areas and train rides.
has better coverage than MTS and slightly worse than Beeline, but it’s good if you get their SIM to compensate for where Beeline doesn’t cover.
has even slightly worse coverage than MTS, but they deliver 4G fast-speed Internet in remote areas where others only offer 3G. E.g. at Olkhon island at Lake Baikal, 4G is only available with Tele2 as well as in remote areas of Novgorod region and Valdai National Park.
When you buy the SIM card you need to ask at the shop for all the extra services to be connected as well. Please connect the services ‘All You Need’ (пожалуйста опцию “Все, что нужно”). There is no extra fee for this service.
You need to show your passport and the registration stamp on your customs declaration in order to buy the SIM. You can buy these SIM cards and top-up cards at many small shops (normally near metro stations).
In Mongolia, you can buy a similar card from the local operator, called MOBICOM – your guide can assist on arrival in Ulaanbaatar.
In Beijing you can buy a Chinese SIM card from China Mobile.
Photography during the Trans-Siberian trip
Russian security people can be a paranoid bunch so DO NOT take any photos of military
personnel or installations, be very careful about taking photos at the border and even
photos at stations can be frowned upon.
Respect the culture and privacy of local people. Many people are happy to be photographed (some will expect payment) and to be shown the result on a digital camera, but many prefer to keep their privacy.
Extra consideration should be given at religious sites.
Backup photos frequently in case you lose your camera.
For the non-digital, bring your own specialist film from home as availability and quality is scarce en route. You can stock up in Moscow or Beijing if necessary. Don’t forget to check how old any film is when you buy it and keep an eye on how it has been stored – especially in winter!