The best cities to live in Russia are all very different from each other. Russia is the largest country in the world and an incredibly interesting place to live, but almost all expats who live in the country are concentrated in Moscow. There are a fair number of expats in St. Petersburg as well, but nowhere close to Moscow. At the height of the boom in Russia, Moscow was one of the most popular expat destinations in the world. 

Unfortunately, the economic situation in Russia has had an impact on the expat community in Russia and today, most expats are concentrated in Moscow. That isn’t to say that there are not any opportunities outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg. On the contrary, if you have an entrepreneurial spirit there are likely even more opportunities outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg. If you are more career-focused, then Moscow is probably the best choice simply due to the sheer number of opportunities available. If you are looking for a job in Russia, check out our ultimate guide to expat jobs in Russia

No list would be complete without Moscow, so if you are interested in learning about some of the lesser-known cities of Russia with a quality of life that may even be better than Moscow, keep reading. 

Moscow

  • Population: 12,000,000
  • Average salary: 96,900 rubles ($1,250)
  • Average rent (1 bedroom): 45,000 rubles ($590) 
  • Expat cost of living: 120,000 rubles ($1,550)
  • International airports: 4 
  • Average Internet speed: 49.71 Mbs
  • Number of expats: High

Moscow is without a doubt one of the best cities to live in Russia. It is also the largest city in Russia. Many people don’t know, but Moscow is also the largest city in Europe with over 12 million people. It has an incredibly developed public transport system that puts Western public transportation to shame. The people are famously cold and emotionless but don’t let that stop you from checking out Moscow’s incredible history. 

In addition to a fantastic public transportation network and unrivaled history, Moscow is also a very green city. There are many enormous parks around the city, which have been overhauled in recent years as well. Gorky Park is world-famous and Serebryany Bor is one of the best city parks we have ever seen.

From a business point of view, any international company doing business in Russia almost surely has an office in Moscow, which oversees operations in the entire country. Therefore, from an economic perspective, it’s understandable why so many expats are in Moscow. Moscow is also home to some of the highest salaries in the country, but the cost of living is also high. 

Any Russian company doing business internationally will likely be based in Moscow as well. Russia is like any other world city in terms of sectors that are especially attractive to expats. Some of the top sectors with expat employees are professional services, technology, media, consumer goods, and hospitality. If you have extensive experience in any of these industries, with a bit of networking, you should be able to find a worthy job. Check out our list of the most popular expat jobs in Moscow

Just remember that due to the economic situation, salaries will likely be lower for expats on the ground than those sent from home. The cost of living, while high relative to other Russian cities, is still quite low when compared with other world cities. 

Moscow State University

Moscow may be a hard nut to crack for many people who don’t know Russian. The FIFA World Cup in 2018 was helpful in updating much of the public infrastructure with English signs, but Moscow still lacks any real English infrastructure. That being said, if you are willing to learn Russian (you should if you plan to live in Russia), Moscow offers an unbelievable number of things to do and see that even after years, you won’t have scratched the surface. Check out our guide to learning Russian in Moscow if you are interested in the options available.

In recent years there has been a boom of excellent restaurants and food halls that rival some of the best in Europe. Only 10 years ago it was practically impossible to find anything other than sushi or pizza (which wasn’t even good) in Moscow. Today, if you are tired of borscht, pelmeni, and oliv’ye, there is a wealth of great international food in Moscow from Georgian to Indian. The best burger we have ever had was in Moscow. Google Maps is the best resource for finding great restaurants in Moscow.

Check out Expatriant Jobs for the best expat jobs available right now in Moscow. 

St. Petersburg

  • Population: 5,000,000
  • Average salary: 63,800 rubles ($825)
  • Average rent (1 bedroom): 28,000 rubles ($365)
  • Expat cost of living: 100,000 rubles ($1300)
  • International Airport: 1
  • Average Internet speed: 42.98 Mbs
  • Number of expats: High

The second-largest city in Russia is St. Petersburg, and it is significantly smaller than Moscow with a population of around 5 million. Most visitors to Russia usually say that St. Petersburg is much more European than Moscow and for the most part, this is true. The city was built as the “window to Europe” during the czarist times. This is immediately apparent when walking down the main tourist street – Nevsky Prospekt. The buildings are all baroque style on Nevsky Prospekt, which is very reminiscent of central Europe. During the summer, the sun practically never sets, and walking along the central streets of St. Petersburg is magnificent. Unfortunately, the long dark winter days are a stark contrast to the wonderful summers in St. Petersburg. 

Like Moscow, the public transportation system is extremely developed and it is easy to get anywhere in the city in about an hour. The metro stations are also extravagant and efficient. At rush-hour, trains come every 2 minutes or so. In contrast to Moscow, almost all of the public transportation system is labeled well in English, which makes it much easier to navigate than Moscow. 

Peterhof Palace gardens near St. Petersburg

In terms of job opportunities, the situation is a bit more difficult than in Moscow. Quite simply, there are very few international companies in St. Petersburg when compared to Moscow. They exist, but usually, they are just satellite offices and most operations are run out of Moscow. That isn’t to say you won’t find a job, there are still a large number of professional service firms, hotels, and technology companies in St. Petersburg. Salaries though are markedly lower in St. Petersburg than in Moscow, especially for expats. While rent is cheaper in St. Petersburg, most consumer goods and services are about the same price as Moscow. 

Ekaterinburg 

  • Population: 1,400,000
  • Average salary: 46,200 rubles ($600)
  • Average rent (1 bedroom): 20,000 rubles ($250)
  • Expat cost of living: 90,000 rubles ($1175)
  • International Airport: 1
  • Average Internet speed: 35.98 Mbs
  • Number of expats: Low

Ekaterinburg or Yekaterinburg is the fourth largest city in Russia and is located near the Ural Mountains. Located very close to the border between Europe and Asia makes Ekaterinburg a fascinating city. While most of the population is ethnically Russia, there are many people in Ekaterinburg and the surrounding region of various ethnic backgrounds. Overall, Ekaterinburg is a rapidly developing city with many cultural attractions. 

The city is about 30 hours by train or 1800 km from Moscow. It has over 1 million people and the expat scene is very small for the size of the city. There are probably only a couple thousand total expats, whereas, in Moscow, there are tens of thousands of American expats alone. If you are interested in work options, it might be difficult in Ekaterinburg to do anything outside of English editor/teacher options, but if you have a good command of Russian, there are other options. 

If you are entrepreneurial, then there are likely many options to teach English privately in Ekaterinburg or even start an English school with native English speaking teachers. There are likely some hotels and tech startups that may be interested in an English speaking business development person or English editor. Remember, English editing is just a stepping stone, once you are into a company, you can position yourself out of editing. Check out my story of going from an English teacher to a business development manager in an international law firm. 

The drawbacks aside, Ekaterinburg is a wonderful city. If you are learning Russian, Ekaterinburg is a significantly better city to be located in just due to the fact that expats and tourists are few and far between. It will force you to make friends with local Russians and practice speaking Russian as English speaking Russians will also be more difficult to find. You will also find that people will be much more interested in you as a foreigner in Ekaterinburg than other bigger Russian cities. Just be aware of the winters, which are much colder than Moscow or St. Petersburg. 

Rostov-on-Don

  • Population: 1,100,000
  • Average salary: 39,100 rubles ($500)
  • Average rent (1 bedroom): 17,000 rubles ($220)
  • Expat cost of living: 70,000 rubles ($900)
  • International Airport: 1
  • Average Internet speed: 28.09 Mbs 
  • Number of expats: Low

Rostov-on-Don is the largest city in Southern Russia and located on the Sea of Azov. It is probably most famous for its Cossak culture. It is also the administrative and economic center of southern Russia. Therefore, the economic situation is better than in most regions of Russia. This is partly due to its position as a port city. 

During Soviet times, Rostov-on-Don was an industrial city and that is still true today. Coal mining, car manufacturing, machine building, as well as steel and iron plants are major sources of jobs for the economy. These companies are all Russian, but many of them export to the international market, so there is a small expat community in Roston-on-Don. 

While Rostov-on-Don has a number of thriving industries, there are few opportunities for foreign workers. That isn’t to say it is impossible to find a job, depending on your job and industry, anything is possible. It is imperative to network before arriving if you want to hit the ground running. Rostov-on-Don is quite far from Moscow by international standards, but if you can land a job in a company in Moscow, you may be able to transfer to Rostov-on-Don. 

This would be much easier than finding a job in Rostov-on-Don. Of course, if you are looking to teach English, it is not a problem finding work in Rostov-on-Don. There are a number of English schools that hire foreign teachers. There are even suburbs of Rostov-on-Don, like Shakhty, where it is possible to find a job as an English teacher. 

Tyumen 

  • Population: 621,000
  • Average salary: 53,600 rubles ($700)
  • Average rent (1 bedroom): 20,000 ($260)
  • Expat cost of living: 90,000 rubles (1175)
  • International Airport: 1 
  • Average Internet speed: 41.24 Mbs
  • Number of expats: Very low

Tyumen was ranked the best city in Russia for quality of life by a number of publications recently and is one of the best cities to live in Russia. The city has undergone significant development due to the oil & gas resources that are nearby. If you are interested in Siberia, this is the best option. It may not be as big as Novosibirsk, but the overall situation is much better in Tyumen with regard to jobs and overall infrastructure. 

Novosibirsk is a drab, gray, old Soviet city and Tyumen is a lively, thriving example of what smaller cities in Russia should strive for. That isn’t to say Tyumen is perfect, there are few expats and opportunities outside of English teaching will likely require extensive international experience. 

Even then though, salaries, while very high compared to other Russian cities, are nowhere near European levels. The cost of living is obviously cheaper than in most Russian big cities, but that could change. There are a number of English schools that would certainly be interested in hiring a native English speaking teacher. 

It may take a bit of marketing yourself in Tyumen to find a job, but it is definitely possible. The expat community is almost non-existent, but you may have some luck reaching out on LinkedIn. Take a look at our guide to moving to Russia as an expat for information on executive search and headhunting firms, you may have some luck communicating with the local Tyumen offices. 

Kazan

Kul Sharif Mosque located in the Kazan Kremlin
  • Population: 1,170,000
  • Average salary: 39,500 rubles ($525)
  • Average rent (1 bedroom): 20,000 rubles ($260)
  • Expat cost of living: 100,000 ($1300)
  • International Airport: 1
  • Average Internet speed: 31.77 Mbs
  • Number of expats: Medium

Kazan is a unique city in Russia. With just over a million people, it is the capital city of Tatarstan, a republic made up of ethnically Turkic people. The city has a significant Muslim population and this is evident from the white Kremlin in the center of the city with its iconic Kul Sharif Mosque. 

The ethnic diversity makes Kazan an excellent tourist destination with very unique architecture. The Republic of Tatarstan is one of the wealthiest federal subjects in Russia and this is immediately evident when you are in the city center. Everything is taken care of and well planned. Kazan is a beautiful city. 

Like most cities in Russia, the expat population is very small relative to the city’s size. There isn’t a massive expat community in Kazan, but there are definitely options if you are determined to find them. As with any city in Russia, there are many opportunities to teach English, but if you want to really earn money doing this, you are going to have to network and give private lessons to business executives. 

Nizhny Novgorod

Overlooking Nizhny Novgorod Stadium
  • Population: 1,257,000
  • Average salary: 41,700 rubles ($540)
  • Average rent (1 bedroom): 16,000 ($210)
  • Expat cost of living: 80,000 rubles ($1050)
  • International Airport: 1
  • Average Internet speed: 15 Mbs
  • Number of expats: Low

There are many things to like about Nizhny Novgorod, which is another one of the best cities to live in Russia. It is located about 4 hours by train from Moscow on the Volga River. The city has over a million people and near the Golden Ring of historic cities that surround Moscow. In the Soviet times, Nizhny Novgorod was called Gorky after the famous Russian writer. If you are looking for a city for cultural and language immersion, then Nizhny Novgorod is probably the best large city in Russia to live. 

View of Dmitrievskaya Tower in Nizhny Novgorod
View of Dmitrievskaya Tower in Nizhny Novgorod

That being said, it still has a very small expat population, and career opportunities will take some networking. Nizhny Novgorod Oblast is known as a manufacturing hub and there are a number of international companies with factories there. Of course, if you want to teach English, there are limitless opportunities with language schools and private tutoring. If you are interested in teaching at a university, there have been several American professors who taught in Nizhny Novgorod, so it is worth reaching out to the universities. 

Sochi

  • Population: 364,000
  • Average salary: 37,600 rubles ($490)
  • Average rent (1 bedroom): 26,000 ($340)
  • Expat cost of living: 80,000 rubles ($1050)
  • International Airport: 1
  • Average Internet speed: 23.42 Mbs
  • Number of expats: Very low

Russia probably brings to mind images of freezing cold winters and short summers. If this is your only image of Russia, you should check out the southern Russian city of Sochi. Since the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Sochi has undergone a complete overhaul. The airport is up to international standards for a city of Sochi’s size and the renovation done to the city center was long overdue. 

While it isn’t the best beach destination, Sochi offers fantastic natural sights and has a much more laid back vibe to it than most other Russian cities. If you like winter sports, you are in luck, the best ski resorts in Russia are very close to Sochi. While the conditions aren’t like in the Alps, there is still great skiing to be had. 

Unfortunately, the expat community is minuscule at best, which isn’t for everyone, especially those who don’t speak Russian. Again, teaching English will be the best bet for immediate employment. There are language schools in Sochi that would be interested in hiring native English speakers. If you have experience in tourism, there may be opportunities to work in the tourism industry working to bring more foreign tourists to southern Russia. 

Conclusion 

If you are interested in exploring beyond Moscow and St. Petersburg, you won’t regret it. You just need to keep in mind that things will be very different. The number of options for non-Russian speakers will be slim as well. For the adventurous entrepreneur, smaller Russian cities present an untapped opportunity. 

If you are looking to start a small company in any Russian city, contact us and we can put you in touch with our network of local verified lawyers who can help you understand some of the difficulties you will face. They can also assist with opening a limited liability company, which would allow you to stay permanently in your city of choice. We also recommend reaching out to the headhunting firms noted in our moving to Russia as an expat guide if you are looking for career guidance. 

Ready to take your career abroad? Browse open positions in Russia today! Don’t worry, if you don’t know where to start. Our career consultants are available to help you create a plan to get you where you want to be.

I lived in Russia for 5 years. Over those 5 years, I started a few companies, worked as an English teacher, worked at a large Russian tech company, and worked at an international law firm. I want to share my experience living and working abroad so you can do the same!

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