What currency to take?
You will need to spend local currency on the trains and at all stops. However it is not always easy to arrange Mongolian Tugrik or Russian Ruble outside of the country. Payment by credit card is only accepted in larger hotels and restaurants. US Dollars are king and can often be used for making small purchases on the train – but not always. They should be clean and crisp new bills. Euros are easy to change, but you can’t normally use them to pay for small transactions. British Pounds are OK to exchange in Moscow, St Petersburg and Beijing but are less widely accepted elsewhere. Chinese RMB is becoming easier to exchange as Chinese travel more.
ATMs are common place in big cities and this is the primary method of obtaining local currency along the trip – make sure your bank is aware you’ll be using your card before you leave home. Travellers Cheques have almost become redundant with the prevalence of ATMs but, together with Credit Cards, can be used for cash advances if you are prepared to lose a few hours in the main branch of the local bank.
In summary, bring a few hundred US Dollars or Euros in cash and small denominations and rely on ATMs for the rest of your money needs.
How much to take?
You can spend €15 to €20 per day on the train, with a meal in the dining car costing about €10 to €12 with a drink. If you are likely to eat a lot (or drink a lot of alcohol) you will obviously need more.
On the organized stopovers most expenses are already taken care of. Your main spending there will be on souvenirs, drinks, & additional activities such as horse riding and tips for the guide and driver. Count on €20 to €30 a day for essentials.
Beijing is a €20 to €200 a day sort of place and in Moscow and St Petersburg count on spending at least €50 a day (on top of your accommodation) with no upper limit on what you can spend.
What currency to use on the train?
ALWAYS try and use the local currency. If you don’t have the local currency available US$ are often accepted but you aren’t likely to get enough (if any) change.
How do I get Russian Rubles?
Rubles are often hard to obtain outside of Russia. In Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia they can be exchanged easily with US$, Chinese Yuan or Mongolian Tugrik.
You may simply need to wait until you get to Russia to obtain them. Once in Russia there are many ATMs and there are ForEx bureaus everywhere changing your hard cash – you will likely need your passport.
How do I get Mongolian Tugrik?
You cannot obtain Tugrik outside of Mongolia. If coming from Russia you should be able to get Tugrik at the Russian – Mongolian border. Otherwise you need to wait until you arrive in Ulaanbaatar. There are ATMs in UB (the lobby of the Bayangol hotel has one) but not all International cards are accepted.
How do I get Chinese Yuan?
Officially called Chinese RMB Renminbi ‘People’s Money’ more often referred to as Yuan (similar to pounds) or on the street as Kuai (similar to quid or buck).
You should be able to purchase RMB at home before leaving. It is also possible to buy RMB in Moscow at some private exchange booths.
Do exchange some Chinese Yuan in Ulaanbaatar if you can before hopping on the train to Beijing as you will find these useful on the train once across the Chinese border and on first arrival in Beijing as the Main Train Station can be quite chaotic.
Once in Beijing you can get money at ATMs which are widespread. Note that not all ATMs accept foreign cards. It is easy to buy Chinese currency at Beijing airport where there are International ATMs.