Weak Russian ruble encouraging cross-border trade in Estonia's border town

Narva border point 1.
Narva border point 1. Source: Rene Kundla/ERR

The recent weakening of the Russian ruble encourages people in eastern Estonia to shop across the border where prices are cheaper. While this activity has taken place for decades, shoppers must now be aware of sanctions and forbidden items.

At midday on Wednesday, currency exchange shops in Estonia's border city Narva were offering a rate of 100 rubles for €1. While this is 5 rubles less than the official rate, it is still decent.

The border crossing was busy and people returning from Russia were pleased with their purchases, evening news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported.

"Sports shoes, all kinds of foodstuffs, for example, potato chips. We pay around €5 for a big bag of chips [in Estonia], I bought them for €1.50. Almost all food is almost twice as cheap there," Aleksei, a resident of Kohtla-Järve, told AK.

Viktor, a Narva resident, said: "Sunflower oil 77 roubles, chocolate bars 70 roubles each, we pay €3 for them [here]. Eggs 56 roubles. You have to ask customs staff what you are and aren't allowed."

Customs employees do not monitor the ruble exchange rate, for them, cross-border trade is an everyday occurrence.

People at the Estonian border checkpoint in Narva. July 2022. Source: Rene Kundla/ERR

"Throughout time, there has been the same rule – if it's cheaper on the other side of the border, they will want to bring it in. Now, it's just that sanctions have left their mark, so not everything can be brought in," said Virgo Treinbuk, head of the customs point.

Hundreds of items have been sanctioned since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in Feburary 2022, not only foodstuffs.

Other items include alcohol, cigarettes, fertilizers, furniture and different metal items, Treinbuk told AK.

The official said much of what can and cannot be brought back to Estonia depends on qualities. For example, while one bottle of shampoo will not raise any eyebrows, two bottles may do. The same goes for items of clothing. 

Customs officers recommend shoppers ask about the rules.

Experts said earlier this week that the ruble had dropped to a 16-month low against the U.S. dollar and Euro due to Russia's declining oil revenues.


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Editor: Merili Nael, Helen Wright

Source: Aktuaalne kaamera

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