A couple of months back I needed to move about 10k from my UK account into cold, hard roubles which led me straight into a brick wall. Sigh. Digging into the forums, I found a couple of threads that touch on the issue, but none of them were comprehensive enough, so, I'm writing this to make life easier for any of you future currency wizards out there.
As with most things, it's easy when you know how, so here's 'how'!
Pounds to Roubles and vice versa
This method will save you the most money, bar none, and keep you from overpaying on other bullshit fees that might add up. Screw Western Union, and forget about high-street exchange rates. This is the way to get your pounds to Roubles.
STEP 1) First things first, I'll assume you have online UK banking, if not, head over here into the 21st century real quick and open an account. Seriously, who doesn't have online banking?
STEP 2) (This doesn't apply to if you deal in dollars or euros) If you don't have a Russian bank account, go open one with VTB24 or have your trusted friend or spouse open one in their name (if you would rather remain off the radar).
Why VTB25? Because they are one of the very few banks that let you open accounts in pounds sterling for free. Most of the other banks that offer pound accounts require you to have at least half a million roubles sitting in your account.
STEP 3) From your UK bank, online transfer yourself / partner spouse the money and send it to their Russian pound account (doing transfers from pounds to roubles is a pain in the ass, requires extra information, and can incur more fees).
The one fee you will have to pay is a transfer fee, which will vary from bank to bank. My bank charges 25 quid, your's might charge less.
You'll need the recipient's address details, their bank account number (which might be refereed to as IBAN, International Bank Account Number), the bank address and SWIFT code. All this information will be given to you by the bank when you sign up (in Russian, you'll find what you need under реквизиты).
The transfer should take no more than a couple of working days.
NOTE 1) Amounts from 10,000GBP and more will trigger a security check, you know, to make sure you're not a terrorist or international drug pimp. These checks might take more time and mean more stress, so it's advisable to make the transfer in smaller amounts.
or just go old school
NOTE 2) If you try to withdraw a large sum of that cash, or the whole amount, you're Russian bank might also want to interrogate you before coughing over your illicitly acquired pimp money.
STEP 4) Now you can simply do an online transfer from your pound account to rouble account, with your money being converted according to the banks internal currency rate. This will be a lot cheaper than using a shitty currency exchange or by withdrawing from the ATM using your UK bank card (unless you're dealing with small sums).
STEP 5) To transfer rubz to pounds, you will just reverse the process. First transfer your roubles to your GBP account, then make the international transfer to your UK account. No hassle, no problems.
Other shit that was suggested that didn't work
One guy recommended using a currency broker, sending me an excellent link to Moneysupermarket.com's guide to transferring a large sum of money abroad. I decided to give that a try, as they charge less than the bank for the transfer, but alas, few places deal with pounds to roubles and the ones that do, only do it for business. So it was no good in this case.
Something you need to know about VTB24
VTB have an online banking system that is the most retard thing I have ever encountered. Sberbank online actually looks good in comparison, and I fucking hate Sberbank.
VTB's system is so retarded that it took me 2 extra trips to the bank before I could actually sort out what the hell was going on. I hate wasting time, fannying about in branches. I get angry just imagining being in a branch!
So what's the deal?
The steps I described are easy enough, but here's what you really need to know -
VTB has two banking systems, their online one and their physical banking system and they both are independent of either other. So, when you open your pound account with them, you need to specifically state that you want to use the account for transactions online and offline. I know, it sounds silly, but here's what happened to me:
When I first opened the pound account and tried to do an online transfer, the money went through and I found that I couldn't actually do anything with the pound sterling account. Very odd. All I could do was sit there and look at the money. Seriously. Why the hell didn't anyone tell me about this? I'm pretty sure most people like to actually spend their money instead of looking at it.
A trip to the bank later and I was told that account management access had to be granted first, basically, this means you can, ugh you know, do stuff with your money. Fine, done. Why this wasn't mentioned at some point before is beyond me.
Back to the webz. Success, now I can interact with the account, but, kick to the nuts, for some reason, when I want to transfer the money, I can't choose the rouble account! I was pretty pissed by this point because it meant another trip to the bank. One of the times when having a car is indispensable because If the metro had been involved in this equation, bad things may have ensured.
Upon my next visit, I was told that the rouble account is an offline account and the pound account is an online account (this is the online-offline system in full swing). So, guess what? I needed to open another rouble account (an online one) and pound one. So, to do a transfer, the money goes into the online pound account, then to the online rouble account, then finally from online rouble account to the offline rouble account.
Don't let this put you off, it's a piece of cake and the transfers are simple enough to do online, but you need to know this information in advance.
If you want to transfer dollars or Euros
In this case, life is a piece of cake. Pretty much all Russian banks offer you an account in roubles, euros and dollars as standard. If you get some dollars or Euros, just pay them straight into your dollar/euro account (which costs nothing) and then do an internal money transfer to your rouble account (which will have no fee and probably be the most competitive rate you'll get).
Same for money coming to Russia. Transfer those beautiful greenbacks to your Russian Dollar account, then do the internal transfer to your rouble account. You'll save money and you can do all this while sitting naked in front of your computer screen. Shit doesn't get more luxurious and simultaneously disgusting that that!
Please don't ever bother with currency exchanges, they're such a rip off that it brings tears to my eyes. Only short term tourists should bother with them, and even they would be better off just using their bank card for a few ATM withdraws.
If you don't need to do transfers in pounds, I always recommend Alfa Bank. Great service and no massive babushka queues. They've always been a pleasure to deal with and have sorted out any problems with lightning speed.
Don't go anywhere near Sberbank or Russky Standart bank, they are both the bank equivalent of the Metro at peak hours. Sber seems to be a bit better these days, but I would still avoid it like a soap bar in the State pen.
Hope that info helps and feel free to share your currency and banking adventures in the comments.