Living in Russia: 17 Things to Know Before Moving

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Written By Matt Shannon

Are you thinking about living in Russia and considering a move to Moscow or one of the other best cities to live in Russia? Living in Russia remains incredibly underrated in 2021 and it is a country full of opportunity for expats. The recent economic issues in 2014 that devalued the ruble have caused a mass exodus of expats from Moscow and other major Russian cities. The result is a market that used to be very popular with expats but is now underserved. 

The biggest bonus is that Moscow has gone from one of the most expensive cities in the world to one of the cheapest megacities in the world. Living in Russia has its difficulties, but expats who spend time there usually find their time well spent and exciting. 

Here are 17 things that you probably didn’t know about living in Russia!

1. Russia is the number one country to start a career according to US News

Most people don’t know this, but US News & World Report ranked Russia the number one country to start a career in the world in 2020 and 2021. Living and working in Russia has always been relatively popular, but in 2014 when the ruble crashed many expats left because it was no longer as financially advantageous to live there. Fortunately, salaries have gone up significantly since then and Russia is again one of the best countries for expats in terms of finances. 

Because so many expats left Russia, the competition has decreased significantly and there are a lot of opportunities for younger expats. Even better, it isn’t nearly as hard as you think to get a job in Russia

2. Russia is a great base if you love to travel

Russia is located between Europe and Asia. Moscow specifically is one of the most connected cities in the world with direct flights to almost every country. If you consider flights with one layover there are very few major cities you can’t get to from Moscow. 

Central Asia is an incredibly beautiful part of the world and very accessible from any major city in Russia. 

Russia is also full of its own natural beauty. Most of the largest country on earth is uninhabited and there are amazing vistas in Siberia, Altai, and Kamchatka. You also have incredible mountains in the south and center of Russia. It is an incredible country with vast unexplored terrain. 

If you love adventure, travel in and around Russia will NOT disappoint. 

3. Russia has a very low cost of living compared to most Western countries

We have talked about the low cost of living in Russia on many occasions and it is true. Even Moscow, a massive city with a reputation for being very expensive is still quite affordable by Western standards. 

When you take into account the salaries in Moscow, you can see that it is easy to live in Russia comfortably as an expat. You will have no trouble affording a decent apartment, having money to go out, and saving some money. 

Read more about the cost of living in Moscow here

4. Working in Russia means you will get significantly more vacation time

Working in Russia entitles you to 28 vacation days per year. Far more than most Western countries. Most employment contracts stipulate that you must work a flexible workday meaning that you may have to work later than 5 pm or on the weekend. Under Russian law, if you do have to work outside of 9-5 in your employment contract, you are entitled to 3 more vacation days for a total of 31 vacation days. 

31 vacation days is the most of any country in the world by law. In addition to many vacation days, you also get 14 paid holidays, which is also among the most in the world. In total, most expats have around 45 paid days off in Russia. 

5. If you want to live in Russia, learn Russian 

Living in Russia is 10x easier if you speak Russian. It is definitely possible to get by in Moscow or St. Petersburg speaking only English, but you will really miss out on the Russian experience. 

You will be restricted to expat meet-ups where you will definitely meet Russians, but they aren’t regular Russians. Many are educated abroad and have a global outlook like any expat. Getting to know average Russians opens an incredible door into Russian culture, which is easily one of the highlights of spending time in Russia.

Russian is a hard language for sure, but it isn’t impossible to learn. Here is some of our best advice on learning: 

6. Russia has made it easier to work legally as an expat

The Russian government has made it increasingly easy for expats to come to live and work in Russia. They have a highly qualified specialist work visa, which allows expats who make 167,000 rubles ($2,200 USD) per month to get a work visa quickly. There are no bureaucratic obstacles if you have a job offer.

In addition, if you are an English teacher there are also exceptions that make getting a work visa a breeze. If you are looking to teach English in Russia, not only is it easy to get a work visa, but it is also easy to get a job in general. Russia is one of few countries where you can get a job from abroad. Honestly, these aren’t the best jobs, so it is still always better to show up and start your job search. 

7. Russian culture is incredible to experience (and near impossible to understand) as an expat

Anyone who has been to Russia will tell you that the Russian people are incredibly hospitable. Russian culture also has a very rich history and everyone is eager to share this with foreigners who are living in Russia. 

The Russian language is incredibly important to Russian identity and culture. If you can speak some Russian, you will have a much deeper insight into what it means to be Russian and Russian culture. As you start meeting Russians, you will quickly learn that the “Russian soul” is one of the underpinnings of Russian culture, but it is near impossible to describe or define. 

Winston Churchill, 1939 defined Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” This is exactly the reason that Russia is so fascinating to Westerners. It is incredibly hard to explain Russia and Russian culture. 

Getting a visa is also quite easy with our partner, Let’s Russia. They have the cheapest prices and fantastic customer service.

8. Russia has a world-class arts scene 

One of the biggest advantages of living in Russia is access to the arts. Moscow and St. Petersburg are two of the world’s greatest cities for the arts. From museums, opera, ballet, and classical music, if you enjoy the arts, you will really enjoy Russia. Some of the world’s foremost composers, ballet artists, opera singers, and poets are from Russia and Russians are very proud of this.

Russians grow up learning much more about the arts than we do in the United States. From a young age, Russians are exposed to the arts and sometimes you will feel that you know nothing about it! As with most aspects of Russian culture, Russians love discussing and sharing these things with foreigners. 

If you know just a little about Russia’s rich history in the arts, it will always impress. 

9. Public transportation in Russia is incredibly cheap and well developed

Public transportation in Russia is much more developed than in the United States. You can get to just about any point in Russia using public transportation, it may just take a while!

Moscow has one of the largest metro systems in the world and it is very cheap by Western standards. A trip on the Moscow metro costs just 42 rubles ($0.55 USD) when you use the reloadable card. Compared to any Western country, this is incredibly cheap. 

In other Russian cities, it is even cheaper! 

When you are in Russia, it is very easy to get around without a car. Taxis are also incredibly cheap. You can get from the airport to the center of Moscow for less than $15 USD. Currently, there are a couple of different taxi apps available throughout Russia. 

10. It is much safer in Russia than you think

We are not sure why it exists, but there are stereotypes in the West that Russia is a dangerous place. Honestly, in our experience, life in Russia seems safer than any big city in the United States or Europe. There may be some petty crime, but in general, you will feel very safe living in Russia. 

Generally, you should abide by any best practices for safety, but outside of a few regions of Russia, there is little cause for concern. 

Check out our article on whether Moscow is safe for foreigners to learn more.

11. Who should move to Russia?

We are going to be straightforward. There are definitely more male expats in Russia than in many countries. Honestly, we don’t know why this is true. Of course, the stereotype that Russian women are beautiful has something to do with it. Curious about Russian women? Check out our article on the cultural differences that we have observed

Interestingly enough, most female expats we met loved their time in Russia just as much! 

The average age for expats in Russia is less than 40 we figure. Some things can be difficult to do in Russia and many older expats find the pace of life in Moscow overwhelming. Life in Russia can be unpredictable and uncomfortable at times. 

12. The food scene in Moscow is world-class

You may be surprised to find out that Moscow is a world-class restaurant destination. It may not be acknowledged everywhere, but Moscow is seriously underrated. You can find cuisine from just about any country in the world around Moscow. There are incredibly fancy and upscale restaurants like White Rabbit which has been rated one of the top 50 restaurants in the world multiple times.  

Not a fan of fancy restaurants? No problem, you can find restaurants to fit any budget and in most cases today, you won’t sacrifice quality. 

In addition to restaurants, the local markets throughout Moscow have transformed from Soviet relics to modern gastronomic paradises with food from all around the world. Check out, Danilovsky Market, Central Market, or Dorogomilovsky Market. There are also many food halls scattered around Moscow with cuisines of the world. Sometimes there are even 60+ restaurants under one roof like the largest food hall in Europe – Depo

Perhaps the best part about the restaurant scene in Moscow is that it has so much food from former Soviet Republics that is rare in the West. Georgian and Uzbek cuisines are absolutely delicious and there are many opportunities to try the national dishes in any major Russian city. 

Here is a list of our favorite restaurants in Moscow

13. Moscow is one of the most livable mega-cities in the world

In Internations’ Expat City Ranking 2020, expats ranked Moscow as the 17th best city in the world for expat life out of 66 cities. It ranked very well for finance & housing and urban work life. 

Moscow has undergone incredible development over the past 10 years. You will likely be surprised how clean the city is and how well things work from an infrastructure point of view. It is also extremely easy to get around on public transportation despite poor rankings for traffic. 

For a city of almost 15 million people, you might be surprised at just how livable Moscow can be. There are many parks and green areas. Many of them are quite famous like Gorky Park. 

With so many things to do in Moscow, it is no wonder expats consistently praise the city as one of the more livable big cities in the world. 

14. Russians are incredibly friendly to expats

While it isn’t as common in Moscow anymore, it is easily possible to meet someone on the street in smaller Russian cities and have them invite you into their house for a meal or to drink. 

Drinking is a very popular custom in Russia and while it can be overwhelming for some expats, you will quickly find that Russians are very understanding of your culture. You may just have to be a bit stern in the beginning. 

When you live abroad, the local culture should always be a highlight, if it isn’t why live there? Russia definitely delivers in this aspect. Russia regularly ranks above average for making friends and social life according to expats

Unfortunately, because Russian is very hard to learn, many people find the language barrier difficult. Considering Russia has one of the highest language barriers in the world, if you speak Russian or are learning, you will be pleasantly surprised by how friendly Russians can be.  

15. Work-life balance is favorable in Russia

Russia ranks near the top of the list for work-life balance in the world. Russians work to live rather than live to work like in most Western countries. Moscow specifically was ranked third overall in Internations’ Expat City Ranking 2020 for overall job satisfaction. This is due in large part to friendly coworkers, lots of vacation time, and a more relaxed work atmosphere compared to many Western countries like the United States. 

73% of expats in Russia in the same survey also said they were happy with their jobs. Many expats say that working with Russians is one of the best parts of working in Russia. Having Russian colleagues is much different than in the West. Teams at work are built on trust and camaraderie. Your colleagues in Russia will more than likely become friends by Western standards. Just know that the word friend has a stricter meaning in Russian. 

16. It is easy to get a residence permit and citizenship in Russia 

Not only is getting a job easy, but the Russian government has also made it easy to live in Russia permanently as well. 

Over the last 10 years, Russia has made incredible strides towards attracting top talent. For the most part, the beneficiaries are from less developed countries, but in 2020, they eliminated the need to renounce your existing citizenship to take Russian citizenship. 

Anyone employed as a highly qualified specialist can apply immediately for a permanent residence permit and after 3 years apply for Russian citizenship. To be a highly qualified specialist, all you need is a salary of more than 2 million rubles ($26,000 USD) per year. It might even be the easiest country for foreign workers to gain citizenship in the world. English teachers fall under a list of critically needed professions and can also apply for permanent residence permits and citizenship. 

There is also a program for English teachers where it is even possible to gain Russian citizenship after 1 year and there are no salary requirements. 

Here are some of our top articles about residence permits in Russia:

17. Russia has a very low flat income tax rate of 13%

Yes, it is true, Russia has one of the lowest income tax rates in the world. It is a flat 13% on all income. As of January 2021, there is a 15% income tax on all income over 5 million rubles ($65,000 USD) per year. There are a few countries in the world without an income tax, but of the countries that have an income tax, Russia is one of the lowest.