This guide was written prior to Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine and is therefore not reflective of the current situation. Travel to Russia is currently not advisable due to the area's volatile political situation.
Moving to Russia may seem like an exciting adventure, but the reality may be quite different, so it's important to weigh up the pros and cons when making the decision to move. To help expats have a clearer picture, here is a summary of the advantages and disadvantages of living in Russia.
Accommodation in Russia
+ PRO: Varied housing options
There are many options for accommodation in Russia, most of which are city apartments and international compounds, often situated outside the cities. Many apartments have both a classic feel with high ceilings and a modern feel with good facilities and an internet connection. The housing compounds are secure gated communities, and some of the more prestigious ones even have sports and community centres in the compound itself.
- CON: Undeniably expensive
Finding a well-sized apartment in a sought-after location at a reasonable price isn't easy in Russia. The demand for housing is high, especially in the larger cities where most expats are likely to find themselves. This hikes up the prices and makes it difficult to find cheap but decent accommodation.
Cost of living in Russia
+ PRO: Attractive salaries
Most expats take up senior management positions in Russia, so they benefit from high salaries. Salary packages sometimes come with accommodation, insurance, a car or driver, and a schooling allowance. This means that many expats will be saved from having to cover the high costs of some of these things.
- CON: The expat lifestyle is expensive
The cost of living in Russia is directly related to lifestyle. Expats wanting to live luxuriously, eat out often and experience the finer things that Russia has to offer will find that they will pay dearly for it. Those that are willing to live more like the locals, on the other hand, will be able to afford a comfortable life for a much more reasonable price. That's not to say they must live frugally, but rather limit their eating out and travelling, or choose less expensive spots to have these experiences. Although, this depends on their location as life in smaller cities is cheaper.
Lifestyle and culture in Russia
+ PRO: The people
Russia has a unique culture. Although the locals may seem unfriendly upon first meeting, once they get to know a person, they'll go out of their way to help them if necessary. Locals in Russia are actually warm, friendly and helpful people.
+ PRO: There’s something for everyone
Whether new arrivals enjoy nature or prefer the perks of city living, Russia has a lot to offer. There are lots of social activities and sports facilities in Russia, especially in big cities. Museums, art galleries, theatre and architecture in general provide cultural activities for the keen individual as well as families with children.
- CON: Language barrier
Most Russians don't speak English. That said, expats employed by multinational companies are likely to have colleagues that are English speakers. Expats are encouraged to learn the Cyrillic alphabet and learn some keywords to help them get by. This may be a challenge for some as Russian is a difficult language.
- CON: Drinking culture
The drinking culture in Russia is a stereotype for a reason. Excessive drinking can be a problem, and expats should keep an eye out for this. They are likely to get invited out for drinks, which could be a pro for some but not for everyone.
- CON: Weather
As Russia is such a large country, the weather varies dramatically. No matter where in the country they live though, expats must prepare themselves and adapt their lifestyles for long, cold winters, and shorter spring, summer and autumn seasons. Winters can be harsh. This is something to be aware of, especially for those coming from warmer climates.
Healthcare in Russia
+ PRO: Good private healthcare
There are plenty of private healthcare options in Russia that offer a good standard of services. Doctors at these hospitals are also more likely to be able to communicate in English. Paying for private health insurance is a must as private treatment in Russia is expensive.
- CON: Inefficient public healthcare
Although the quality of healthcare in Russia has been reported to be similar to other European countries, the public health system is inefficient and problematic. Staff are paid poorly, medical equipment is reportedly outdated and organisational structures are ineffective.
Safety in Russia
+ PRO: Decreasing crime rates
Crime rates in Russia are dropping and have decreased substantially over the past two decades. As a result, expats will feel safe in Russia.
- CON: Opportunistic crime
Despite decreasing crime rates, one must always be aware of the risks of mugging and petty crime. Be sure not to leave any bags unattended and be cautious when walking alone at night.
Education in Russia
+ PRO: Plenty of international schools
International schools are a great option for expat children. These schools offer high-quality education with widely recognised programmes. These include American, British, French and German schools, some of which offer their home country curriculum as well as the International Baccalaureate (IB). Be sure to check where the schools are located and plan accordingly, as some, for example in Moscow, are just outside the city centre.
- CON: Language barrier at public schools
Although tuition and books are free at Russian public schools, the language of instruction is Russian. This means these schools aren't a viable option for most expats, who generally opt to send their children to international schools.
- CON: Fees at international schools are high
International schools charge high fees. The high demand for places also means that children are often put on waiting lists.
Getting around Russia
+ PRO: Well-developed transport systems
Russia has a well-developed public transport system. The metros in Moscow and St Petersburg are fast, efficient, clean and safe.
The Trans-Siberian Railway Network is the longest railway line in the world and is a popular option for long-distance travel, especially among tourists. Peak seasons are from May to September and February to April. Air travel is also common, with Russia’s national airline, Aeroflot, offering many domestic flights.
- CON: Driving can be a nightmare
Traffic in Russian cities is chaotic, more so because of reckless drivers. Most expats prefer to use public transport, hire a driver or have their company organise a driver for them.
- CON: Lack of public transport outside the cities
The public transport in rural areas is less developed than in the cities. If expats live outside of cities, it may be useful to drive. Expats must be sure to carry the appropriate documentation with them when driving in Russia, including an international driver’s licence, passport, visa and migration card.