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Moving to Russia

Many expats think of moving to Russia as embarking on a mysterious and potentially dangerous adventure. But in truth, some foreigners seem to have little notion of what the present-day Russian Federation is really like. The oppressive Soviet state was dissolved in 1991 and, although modern Russia is still very much overshadowed by its turbulent past, it has emerged as a proud country prepared to assert its place as a global superpower.

Most expats relocate to Russia for a senior or managerial position, and to take advantage of the attractive accompanying salary packages. Others come to teach English, or to expose themselves to a rich, interesting and complex culture

Russia, especially the heavily expat-favoured economic centres of Moscow and St Petersburg, has a high cost of living. Most of the services that appeal to Western foreigners tend to levy higher fees than the local equivalent. Furthermore, the government-managed systems of education, banking and healthcare will likely fall far short of the standard that many expats expect. 

Russia’s former isolationist policies have limited its populace’s exposure to foreigners, and many expats report that they find the locals unapproachable and cold. The sizeable language barrier also creates a tangible divide. That said, expats willing to put time and effort into learning the local language and culture will find that most Russians are keen to welcome them to their country and help them settle down. 

Russia is famed for its extremely harsh, cold, dark and long winters, and the severity of the weather cannot be denied. However, summers can also be very hot and pleasant, with plants and other wildlife going through impressive growth spurts in the warmer months. The further north one goes, the colder the weather and the longer the winter. Areas of southern Russia, like the resort city of Sochi, have far more temperate climates.

Regardless of what motivates the move to Russia, it’s important that expats prepare for an overseas experience like none other. Overall, Russia is a vast and varied country, and expats would be wise to learn as much as they can to prepare before they relocate to this unique destination.


Fast Facts

Population: 144.5 million 

Capital city: Moscow

Neighbouring countries: Russia is bordered by Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland to the west and by Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea to the south. 

Geography: Russia is the biggest country in the world, with various geographical features. Most of the country consists of vast stretches of plains, with grasslands and mountain ranges to the south and is heavily forested to the north. The Ural Mountains form north-south ranges that divide Europe and Asia. Russia has an extensive coastline, bordering the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, as well as a number of seas. 

Political system: Federal semi-presidential constitutional republic

Major religions: Russian Orthodoxy, Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism

Main languages: Russian is the official language. English, French and German are sometimes spoken but are far less common than in European destinations. In total there are over 100 languages and dialects spoken in Russia. The country's most common minority language is Tatar.

Money: The Ruble (RUB), divided into 100 kopecks. ATMs are available in most major cities and expats should not have trouble accessing banking services while in the country.

Tipping: A 10 to 15 percent gratuity is expected by service staff in most restaurants

Time: GMT+3 to GMT+12 (omitting GMT+5) moving from west to east. Moscow and St Petersburg are GMT +3.

Electricity: 220 volts, 50 Hz. Round, two-pin plugs are used in Russia.

Internet domain: .ru, .su, .рф

International dialling code: +7

Emergency contacts: 112

Transport and driving: Cars in Russia drive on the right-hand side of the road. Russia has an extensive public transport system and expats living in the major cities are not likely to need a car. Traffic congestion is a constant problem and all road signs are in Cyrillic, so navigating Russian roads can be difficult.

Weather in Russia

The weather in Russia is nearly as varied as the country is large. Expats are advised to research the climate of their specific destination to get a better idea of what to expect.

That said, extreme cold is by far the most consistent and outstanding characteristic of the climate in Russia. Snowfall varies depending on location, but even in the warmer south, snow cover lasts from 60 to 80 days per year.

Technically, Russia’s climate is predominately continental. Although the north is heavily influenced by its proximity to the Arctic, and the southern parts of its eastern areas are tempered by the Pacific Ocean.

The climate gets more severe the farther one moves east. As expat oil workers may discover, Siberia has harsh, long, bitterly cold winters.

European Russia, on the other hand, is privy to more of a maritime climate, with warm, albeit short, summers, and a decent amount of humidity.

Autumn and spring are pleasant but fleeting, and summers are only slightly longer.

 

 
 

Embassy Contacts for Russia


Russian embassies

  • Russian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 298 5700

  • Russian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7229 6412

  • Russian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 235 4341

  • Russian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6295 9033

  • Russian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 362 1337

  • Russian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 492 2048

  • Russian Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 476 6113


Foreign embassies in Russia

  • United States Embassy, Moscow: +7 495 728 5000

  • British Embassy, Moscow: +7 495 956 7200

  • Canadian Embassy, Moscow: +7 495 925 6000

  • Australian Embassy, Moscow: +7 495 956 6070

  • South African Embassy, Moscow: +7 495 926 1177

  • Irish Embassy, Moscow: +7 495 937 5911

  • New Zealand Embassy, Moscow: +7 495 956 3579

Public Holidays in Russia

 

2021

2022

New Year Holiday

1–8 January

1–8 January

Orthodox Christmas Day

7 January

7 January

Defender of the Fatherland Day

23 February

23 February

International Women’s Day

8 March

8 March

Spring/Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Victory Day

9 May

9 May

Russia Day

12 June

12 June

National Unity Day

4 November

4 November

*Public holidays that fall on a Saturday or Sunday are observed on the following Monday.

Pros and Cons of Moving to Russia

Moving to Russia may seem like an exciting adventure to some expats. Reality may be quite different, and 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. This largely includes city apartments and international compounds often outside the cities. Many apartments have both a classic feel with high ceilings and a modern feel with good facilities and internet connections. The housing compounds are secure gated communities, and some prestigious ones have sports and community centres in the compound itself.

- CON: Undeniably expensive

Finding a well-sized apartment in a sought-after location in Russia at a reasonable price isn't easy. The demand for housing is high, especially in the larger cities where most expats are likely to find themselves.


Cost of living in Russia

+ PRO: Attractive salaries

Most expats take up senior management positions, so they benefit from high salaries. Salary packages sometimes come with accommodation, insurance, a car or driver, and a schooling allowance. This means that despite the high cost of living, expat life in Russia can definitely be affordable.

- CON: High cost of living

Russia has a relatively high cost of living. Accommodation, private healthcare and international schools are expensive, and prices fluctuate. Although, this depends on the location as life in smaller cities is cheaper.


Lifestyle and culture in Russia

+ PRO: The people

Russia has a unique culture. Whilst people may seem unfriendly, once expats get to know a person, they may go out of their way to help. Locals are warm, friendly and helpful. 

+ 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. However, 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

Drinking culture in Russia is a stereotype for a reason. Expats 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. However, 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 more likely to be able to communicate in English. However, private health insurance is a must as private treatment in Russia is expensive.

- CON: Inefficient public healthcare

Although 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. Although pickpocketing and bribery are common, one still feels 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, Canadian 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 to plan accordingly as some, for example in Moscow, are just outside the city centre.

- 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.

- CON: Language barrier at public schools

Although tuition and books are free at Russian public schools, the language of instruction is mainly in Russian. This means these aren't a viable option for most expats, who tend to opt to send their children to international schools.


Getting around Russia

+ PRO: Well-developed transport systems

Russia has well-developed public transport systems. The metro in Moscow and St Petersberg is 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 amongst 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

Public transport in rural areas is less well-developed than in 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.

Safety in Russia

The reality of the safety situation in Russia is all too often obscured by Hollywood images of a dark underworld rife with criminal activity. Expats should realise that these seedy stereotypes are just generalisations that have nearly become a myth, and foreigners who take the appropriate precautions usually enjoy a crime-free stay in the country. That said, it’s still important that those moving to Russia are aware of the potential threats. 


Theft, scams and extortion in Russia

Theft and extortion are the most common crimes against foreigners in Russia. Most incidents occur in areas associated with public transport, underground pedestrian crosswalks, and popular tourist attractions. Expats should be mindful of their belongings when in these locations.

ATM-related robberies are also becoming more problematic, both from theft and a fraud standpoint. Expats should be mindful about which ATMs to use, those found in reputable banking institutions are usually best. Car burglaries are also fairly common, and expats should make a habit of removing any items of value from plain view in their vehicle.

Russian scammers have become fairly creative, and even fairly professional police impersonations have been reported to various embassies. A good practice is never to show a wallet or passport to anyone until asked to do so by someone with proper accreditation. 


Police corruption in Russia

Law enforcement sometimes seems to occupy a grey area in Russia, and even powerful politicians argue that corruption is somewhat of a cultural tradition. As a result, expats will need to be wary that police officers may be less law-abiding than they expect.

If stopped by a police or traffic officer and made to feel victimised, note the officer’s name, badge number, patrol number and where and when the incident happened. If asked for a bribe, a good way to mediate the situation is to ask to speak to the officer’s superior. 


Racially-motivated crime in Russia

As of late, crimes against ethnic minorities in Russia, against Africans, Asians and Arabs in particular, are on the rise. Verbal assault and spitting are the most common offences, though reports of physical assault and extortion are also cited. This bigoted behaviour can largely be attributed to extremist nationalist groups. Though intimidation tactics and demonstrations occasionally occur in Russian cities, expats should realise that these actions are taken by a small percentage of the population, and are not common.


Terrorism in Russia

A number of terrorist attacks have occurred in Russia in recent years. Government buildings, transport infrastructure, airports, hotels, entertainment venues, residential complexes, and schools have all been targeted.

Recent attacks have been linked to unrest in the North Caucasus region, where Islamist militants continue to fight for independence from Russia. Expats are advised to avoid this region and any areas along Russia's western border with Ukraine, including Crimea.


Driving safety in Russia

Expats will encounter a degree lawlessness on the roads, and it follows that accidents are frequent and road rage is common. Extreme weather exacerbates the situation, causing “black ice” and dangerous conditions. Foreigners planning to drive in Russia should always drive defensively, maintain patience in all situations, and always carry proper documentation, including their passport and visa.

Working in Russia

Expats working in Russia are often afforded high salaries and a lofty financial quality of life. However, these sizeable payouts are hard-earned, and jobs for foreigners are becoming more difficult to find.

Most non-locals who have secured work in Russia occupy executive or senior managerial positions. These jobs are often pinned down with the help of Russian or international executive search offices. Junior and middle-management positions are now much more likely to be filled by locals.


Job market in Russia

Russia's economy is heavily based on natural resources, specifically oil and natural gas. Expats working in the fields of technology, science and education will also find a market for their skills. Teaching English in Russia is another common occupation for expats. 

Expats are generally paid lucrative wages and given housing and education allowances. These expat employment packages are not as glamorous as they were a few years ago but are often considerably more than what expats would be earning at home. It follows that many expats perceive working in Russia as a grand opportunity to further their career and improve their financial status. 

Private business is still lagging, and untrusting attitudes toward foreigners and poor business regulations are difficult to handle. Crime related to bribery and corruption has also affected costs for both local and international enterprises.


Finding a job in Russia

Expats can make use of a recruitment company to assist with their job search, or alternatively use online job portals. It is important to keep in mind that the language barrier is a considerable obstacle to overcome as only a small percentage of the population speaks anything besides Russian. 

However, if working for a multinational, it’s likely that more employees will speak at least some degree of English. Expats who can speak Russian will adjust to the cultural differences far quicker than those who don't.


Work culture in Russia

Business culture in Russia is generally conservative and hierarchical. Employees do not usually contribute to decision making and usually follow instructions with little feedback. Personal connections are important to Russian businesspeople, and expats will do well to invest time into forming solid relationships with co-workers and colleagues.

Appearances are also a central part of Russian work culture. Men are expected to wear suits and women should also be well dressed. When meeting new colleagues, expats should always be respectful and try to keep humorous remarks to a minimum. 

Doing Business in Russia

Expats doing business in Russia will find themselves in a unique environment. The locals are often viewed as cynical and fatalistic, but the actual business environment has improved considerably over the past few years. This is especially the case for the country’s large financial centres like Moscow and St Petersburg, which are home to numerous international companies and corporations.

In the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Survey, Russia was ranked 28th out of 190 countries. The country did particularly well in the categories of getting electricity (7th) and registering property (12th). Alternatively, the country ranked poorly in the category of trading across borders (99th), a reflection of the contentious political issues that Russia still faces. 


Fast facts

Business hours

Office hours in Russia are generally from 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.

Business language

Russian is the official language, but English is often spoken by younger business people in the main city centres. The option of hiring a translator is always available. 

Dress

Business attire is formal and conservative, dark suits for men and suits or skirts and blouses for women. Dress is taken as a sign of prestige in Russia, and Russians often spend more than they can afford on business clothing. 

Gifts

Russians enjoy giving and receiving gifts, but this is not a mandatory or an expected act. Appropriate gifts if invited to a Russian's house include sweets, wine or liquor.

Gender equality

Men and women in Russia are equal in theory, but not in practice. Women remain inferior to men in the Russian business world. Though foreign businesswomen will be treated with old-world courtesy, they will generally not be respected as key leaders. It is rare to find women in senior management positions in Russia.


Business culture in Russia

To understand business culture in Russia, expats must have some knowledge of the country’s political past. This framework will provide some insight into why modern Russian businessmen seem to tend to respect informal rules, rather than formal laws and authoritative bodies and structures.

Similarly, it will explain why relationship building is paramount to successfully conducting business in Russia. The state’s formerly untrustworthy nature has motivated a current culture in which close personal relationships and allegiances take primary importance. Expats should be mindful of this and devote an appropriate amount of time to befriending the right people through face-to-face interaction.

Business hierarchy

Russian business hierarchy tends to unfold around a strong, central figure. This figure retains nearly absolute decision-making power. Some consideration is given to the views and inputs of specific middle managers but, for the most part, it is necessary to ‘go straight to the top’ to accomplish anything.

More is achieved in small formal meetings with this central individual, rather than in larger meetings. The purpose of the group meetings is usually to disseminate information, and not to discuss issues, negotiate or generate ideas. Subordinate employees in Russia generally take specific and precise orders from their seniors without expecting much feedback.

Communication

Expats should always address their colleagues and their counterparts with a great deal of respect. Some people may only introduce themselves with their surnames, but it is always courteous to address businessmen as ‘Gaspadin’ and businesswomen as ‘Gaspadja’ followed by their surname.

While humour can be an acceptable way to diffuse a tense business situation, it is not given the same credence as in Western cultures and should be used sparingly.

Greeting

A firm handshake and direct eye contact should be maintained when greeting Russian associates. Hugs are common between good friends and family. A handshake is generally exchanged with female associates, but sometimes a slight nod of the head will suffice. If unsure, wait for a female coworker to extend her hand first. 


Dos and don’ts of business in Russia

  • Do print business cards in Russian on one side and English on the other. 
  • Do respect silences. Russians often take time to think before they answer questions.

  • Do be punctual, and don’t take offence if Russian counterparts are not as timely.

  • Don't give too many concessions when it comes to negotiations. Caving in is a sign of weakness in local business culture. 

  • Don’t spend too much time negotiating with junior and middle managers. Decision-making power tends to lie with a single individual who rarely entertains the input of others.

  • Don’t assume that people will speak English. Most Russians do not speak an additional language.

Visas for Russia

Most expats will need a visa to enter Russia, no matter the purpose or the duration of their stay. The country’s visa protocol is complicated, expensive and, for many people, the cause of much stress. Visas aren't generally granted at Russian border points, making it necessary to apply well in advance.

For short periods of stay of up to eight days, an e-visa can be obtained. For more information on this and the most updated information, contact the embassy or consulate directly. Here are some embassy contacts for Russia.

Russian police officers do not need reasonable cause to stop foreigners and request proof of their identity and the documents that give them the right to be in Russia. For this reason, it’s important that visitors carry their passport and visa at all times. Those who don’t may find themselves subject to fines and even possible arrest. 


Tourist visas for Russia

Unless an expat's home country has a reciprocal agreement with Russia they will need to obtain a tourist visa before arriving in the country. Though this can be a quick process, it’s still best to allow at least a month before travel to complete the application and to receive approval. 

Applicants must apply for a tourist visa at the Russian embassy or consulate in their home country by submitting the appropriate documents. Passports usually should be valid for at least six months after the intended date of exit. If travelling with children, it is best to consult the embassy on any visa requirements and what documents may be necessary as this may vary from case to case.

Provided that all is approved, an entry and an exit visa will be granted.

If overstaying and trying to leave more than three days after the date listed on the exit visa, the Russian authorities will insist the visitor stay in the country until a new visa has been applied for and approved. This process can take several days and is expensive.

Migration card

Once entering Russia, tourists will also need to fill out a migration card. Oftentimes these are distributed on the aeroplane prior to arrival. One half of the completed card is given to authorities when entering the country. The other half foreigners must keep and return when exiting the country.

Migration cards may also be requested by a visitor's accommodation and by police officers. Though a lost migration card will not deter foreigners from leaving the country, it may present problems in the future if wishing to return to Russia.

Registration

Once arriving in Russia, foreigners must register their visa within seven working days of arrival. This shows how long expats are registered to stay in one location, where they are staying and who their sponsor organisation is. As such, most of the time a visitor's accommodation will assume this responsibility. However, if staying with friends or renting a holiday apartment, then the landlord will need to register the visa at the local police station or post office.

It's not necessary for expats to be present for this process, but they must make sure that the responsible party gets the appropriate stamp on the migration card as proof. 


Business visas for Russia

Russian business visas are similar to Russian tourist visas, but they can usually be used to enter and exit the country multiple times, and they can also cover longer periods. Tourists anticipating staying long periods of time or those who make frequent trips to Russia may want to pursue this kind of visa.

Business visas are slightly more expensive than tourist visas but generally demand the same application and approval process.

It is often necessary to obtain a visa invitation letter prior to applying for the business visa. These letters are usually organised by the company with which one has business, but can also be granted by a travel agency or an entity registered with the Federal Migration Department (UFMS). Once they have received this letter applicants can apply at their home country’s Russian consulate or embassy.

The same rules that apply to foreigners with tourist visas in regard to exit visas, migration cards and registration apply to those with business visas.

For more insights, check out our page on Work Permits for Russia.


Student visas for Russia

Student visas are granted to those who have been accepted for enrolment by a formal education institution in Russia. These institutions have special departments that are familiar with the visa application process and will usually take care of the logistics of organising a visa letter of support.

Once expats have this, they can apply at their home country's Russian consulate or embassy with the same documents required to get a business or tourist visa. Student visas last 90 days. However, they can be extended up to one year, and further renewed thereafter. 

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Work Permits for Russia

As with many things in the country, the process of getting a work permit for Russia is awash in bureaucracy and red tape.

There are national quotas restricting the number of foreign individuals who are granted the right to work in Russia. This changes yearly depending on the Russian economic climate and the policies of the time. 

For an expat to obtain a work visa, they need their employer to have a work permit to hire foreigners. Once employers have this, they send a letter of invitation to the expat. The expat can then apply for their visa.


Work permit applications in Russia

Types of work permits in Russia

The main types of work permit are the standard Russian work permit, the Russian work permit for highly qualified professionals and the work patent for people from Commonwealth of Independent States. 

Expats working for private individuals and those with specialised, high-demand skills will find it much easier when processing their paperwork. Expats earning in excess of 2 million RUB per annum are considered highly qualified specialists. They are usually considered exempt from quotas and can be granted a three-year work visa. This visa can usually be processed quickly and entitles close relatives to Russian visas.

Expats from the Commonwealth of Independent States don’t need to apply for a visa. Instead they can apply for a work patent and must do so within 30 days of arriving in Russia.

Work permits are issued for one-year periods and can be extended from within the country.

Standard work permit application process

In order to legally work for a company in Russia, expats must obtain both an entry visa and a work permit. If both procedures are undertaken simultaneously, the entire process can take roughly three months. Luckily, much of the burden of organising this documentation falls on the shoulders of the employing company who will inform the expat of any necessary documents.

Employers who wish to hire expats must apply for their own employment permit before they can legally employ non-locals. The employer will first file a formal declaration of need, and then apply to the Russian Directorate of Migratory Affiars (GUVM). If approved, employers then receive an employment permit. The permit outlines how many expats of a certain nationality the company can hire and for what positions. It also allows employees to apply for a work visa.

Along with the work permit, the employing company receives a formal visa invitation letter. They will pass this letter of invitation onto their expat employee. Expats will use this document, along with supporting documents, to apply for an entry visa at their home country’s Russian consulate or embassy.

Medical examination and work permit collection

Once the entry visa is approved and issued, expats can travel to Russia in accordance with the date listed on their visa. In order to be granted the work permit, it's necessary first to pass a medical test in a registered Russian state clinic. Expats should bring a fluent Russian speaker with them to the clinic, as it's likely that state healthcare professionals will not speak English. 

The combined testing and processing time is usually one week. After this examination, the employer will present an expat with their work permit, a small plastic card, and will advise them of additional registration formalities to be completed.

*Work permit requirements can change at short notice and expats should contact their nearest Russian embassy or consulate for the latest details.
 

Cost of Living in Russia

There is no escaping the fact that the cost of living in Russia is high. In Mercer's Cost of Living survey for 2020, Moscow was ranked 21st out of 209 cities, while St Petersburg was ranked 59th. Expats can expect essentials such as accommodation and school fees to eat into their budget. Basic groceries and international food brands may also be much more expensive than new arrivals might expect.

On the flip side, expats staying outside of the urban centres will find the cost of living to be less severe. New arrivals who come from places including Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York may also be relieved to find that general expenses are much lower in Russia.

Typically, expats working in Russia often start on an employment package for the first two to three years, after which many stay on and ‘go local’. It’s worth trying to negotiate a package that includes accommodation, health insurance, a car or driver, schooling and some daily living allowance. Expats who earn a decent salary with these additional benefits may find themselves enjoying a comfortable lifestyle in Russia.


Cost of accommodation in Russia

Accommodation options preferred by expats in Russia fall broadly into two types: apartments in the city or houses in secure compounds outside of the city. Finding a high-priced rental with low-quality amenities is not uncommon. We advise house hunters to enlist the services of a real-estate agent or relocation company and visit prospective properties in person to avoid a bad deal for a poorly-maintained property.

Expats should also account for utilities which may not all be included in a rental contract.

When looking for accommodation in Russia, new arrivals should consider the location wisely. The closer to the city centre, the higher the rent will be. Expats on a budget often look a bit further from the city centre, while still considering the proximity to public transport connections. Public transport in Russia is usually reasonably priced.


Cost of food in Russia

There is an abundance of supermarkets springing up all over Moscow and other big Russian cities, but high-quality food, international brands and wine remain expensive. During the long winter months, vegetable stocks in supermarkets are noticeably depleted and imported varieties can be outrageously priced. The variable quality and the constant hunt for familiar home brands means most expats become accustomed to shopping around.  


Cost of healthcare in Russia

Private healthcare in Russia can be expensive. The state medical system can be hard to navigate, especially for expats who do not speak Russian. It's recommended that expats take out private health insurance in Russia, and many companies offer this as a standard feature of employment packages.

An initial consultation with a general practitioner might be reasonably priced, but fees can quickly escalate and become prohibitively expensive if specialists need to be consulted, tests are required or in the case of an emergency.


Cost of living chart for Russia

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows the average cost of living in Moscow in January 2021.

Accommodation (monthly)

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

 RUB 65,000

One-bedroom apartment outside city centre

 RUB 35,500 

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

 RUB 133,000 

Three-bedroom apartment outside city centre

 RUB 66,600 

Shopping

Eggs (dozen) 

 RUB 94

Milk (1 litre)

 RUB 70

Rice (1kg)

 RUB 84

Loaf of white bread

 RUB 43

Chicken breasts (1kg)

 RUB 280

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

 RUB 160

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

 RUB 300

Coca-Cola (330ml)

 RUB 61

Cappuccino

 RUB 168

Local beer (500ml)

 RUB 200

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

 RUB 3,000

Utilities

Mobile-to-mobile call rate (per minute) 

 RUB 2.25

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

 RUB 470

Basic utilities (per month for a small apartment)

 RUB 8,650

Transport

Taxi rate (per kilometre)

 RUB 15

Bus/train fare to the city centre

 RUB 50

Petrol/gasoline (per litre)

 RUB 47

Culture Shock in Russia

Expats moving to Russia will almost certainly experience some degree of culture shock. The weather is often harsh, the language seemingly impenetrable, and the people themselves can often appear distant and uncaring. That said, expats living in Russia will also find themselves in a land of surprises and adventure, and will be able to enjoy the country's sublime theatre, dance, art and music. 

Russian people speak with pride about the nature of their “Russian soul”, and are often eager to share their traditions, passion for life and rich culture. With patience, good friends and an open mind, expats will be well equipped to deal with the culture shock of living in Russia.


Meeting and greeting in Russia

Living in Russia’s big cities, like Moscow or St Petersburg, is a curious and contradictory interplay of invisibility and exposure. At times one may feel like they have disappeared altogether as people in the streets seem to look through each other. It’s important to realise that this kind of behaviour is a result of the fact that Russian people have a public mask that is different from their private selves.

Expats shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that everybody in the country is rude and unfriendly. Once acquainted with someone, Russians are usually generous, warm and helpful, and may go out of their way to help.

When meeting someone, Russian greetings are normally done through a firm handshake.


Drinking in Russia

Drinking alcohol is a central part of Russian culture. Expats should be prepared when their local friends and coworkers invite them out for drinks. This is an issue that generally impacts men more than women, but any expat should make an effort not to underestimate the dangers of over-drinking.


Gift-giving in Russia

Gift-giving is an important part of Russian culture. It’s best to not show up to a party empty-handed, although when asking a Russian host what to bring, they'll probably tell the expat not to bring anything.

It's normal practice in most businesses to buy vodka, whisky or brandy for men and a good wine or liqueur, or chocolates and flowers for women. If someone has done something helpful, it's usual to thank them with gifts that would be considered extravagant elsewhere. 


Language barrier in Russia

English isn't widely spoken in Russia, although it's sometimes spoken among young professionals. It's worth attempting to master the Cyrillic alphabet, in which some letters look exactly like letters from the Roman alphabet but denote completely different sounds.

Issues arising from different methods of transliteration to and from Cyrillic script, particularly with names on passport and visa documentation, can cause problems that reach far down the bureaucratic line. Wherever possible, it's worth the time and energy to correct any such mistakes and inconsistencies immediately.

Accommodation in Russia

Searching for accommodation in Russia can be a difficult experience. Expats will find that house-hunting demands both patience and negotiation. Above all, it requires a good real estate agent.

As in most destinations, accommodation in Russia is varied in terms of structure, style and price. The closer to the city centre, the more expensive the monthly rent. These areas are associated with prestige and are thus more costly. Moscow claims the highest housing prices in the country by far. Even apartments in its periphery suburbs can be more expensive than property in the centre of a secondary city.

Expats should try their best to organise at least some short-term accommodation through their employer before their arrival. It generally takes at least a month to find accommodation and to sign a lease. Expats don’t often buy property in Russia, preferring to rent instead. 


Types of accommodation in Russia

Expats will likely need to come to terms with apartment living. Detached houses are primarily available only on the outskirts of the big cities, in expensive compounds and rural areas.

Townhouses and apartments in multi-storey buildings are the primary types of accommodation in the popular expat destinations of Moscow and St Petersburg. They are often architectural remnants of the psyche of a historical period.

Pre-revolutionary style apartments usually have high ceilings, larger rooms, wide windowsills, thick walls and parquet floors. Soviet-era apartments are small, tend to be on the sparse side, and were established for communal living purposes.

Western-style apartments usually refer to apartments that have been renovated to remove the former Soviet-style decor and fittings. This form of accommodation is favoured by expats and is often designed per Western-style standards. Expats should note that apartments unrenovated in this manner will cost significantly less, sometimes as much as half of the price of a Western-style apartment.

Accommodation in Russia can be furnished, semi-furnished or unfurnished. This can easily be negotiated. For a price, landlords are usually happy to remove or add furniture. Furthermore, in the major cities, there are plenty of home furnishing shopping options that expats can peruse to furnish their new homes. 


Finding accommodation in Russia

It’s highly recommended that expats use a real estate agent to assist with the house-hunting process, especially as online listings and printed material are generally poorly done and of little help. Although some people in Russia speak English, most don't. Even expats who can speak Russian would still be best off using an agent. These individuals will only charge the equivalent of one month's rent or a small percentage of the purchase price if buying. Real estate agents are in no short supply, but it’s best to use a service provider that another individual can recommend through experience.

Leases

A standard lease is written in both English and Russian. Expats should always insist that a translation is made available before signing. Leases typically last between one and three years but this is negotiable.

Deposits

A month’s security deposit is usually required. If possible, expats should negotiate that it is used to pay the final month of rent. Landlords in Russia will often find any excuse not to return this payment, even if all inventories are returned as they were received, and even if the apartment is left in a better condition than it was found.

Utilities 

Water and gas are usually included in the rental cost. Electricity, internet, television and telecommunications are extra costs. Be sure to address this topic during lease negotiations. Utilities are cheap in Russia compared to European countries. Utilities are state-run. If expats live in a traditional Russian apartment, they must be aware that heating is controlled for the whole building and they have limited control over this. Expats living in a more modern apartment or gated complex in Russia have more control over the heating system.

Healthcare in Russia

The standard of healthcare in Russia is not of a level that most expats would be accustomed to. It is currently undergoing development after its decline the end of the Soviet era.

Wherever possible, expats should try to utilise private healthcare in Russia. Private facilities can be exorbitantly expensive, and expats will likely need to organise some form of private health insurance that includes emergency evacuation to elsewhere in Europe. 


Public healthcare in Russia

Though once heralded as one of the best healthcare systems in the world and known for world-class medical innovations, public healthcare in Russia today is underfunded and falls well below the standards expected by most expats. Facilities are not of a very high standard, supplies can be scarce, and waiting times are almost always long.

Many of the health professionals in the public system don’t speak English, which can be an issue for expats. Treatment in the public sector is supposed to be free of charge for all Russian citizens and foreigners with permanent residency. However, in the past, there have been reports of doctors withholding treatment unless they receive a bribe.


Private healthcare in Russia

In Russia’s larger cities there are a number of private health centres and clinics, many of which have English-speaking staff. These facilities are generally of a much higher standard than their public counterparts but are also comparably more expensive. Hospitals may also demand cash or credit card payments before providing treatment.

It is vital that expats have adequate health insurance to cover the hefty fees. This can be organised through their employer or independently. Expats should ensure that their insurance covers the specific facility which they would most likely visit, as many policies will only cover specific hospitals and clinics.

No strong relationship exists between price and quality of private healthcare in Russia. The most expensive clinic may not be the best, and it’s advisable to source recommendations from other expats or reputable forums. Expats living in rural Russia will struggle to find internationally recognised private facilities, and may need to travel to the nearest city to receive reliable treatment. 


Medicines and pharmacies in Russia

There is a good assortment of pharmacies in Russia. Some of these operate out of larger supermarkets, while some exist as standalone bodies and others are available online as ePharmacies. Larger cities like Moscow will have some 24 hour pharmacies as well as pharmacies with delivery services.

Expats should be sure to learn the generic name of their preferred medications, as brand names may vary from country to country.


Health insurance in Russia

Russian citizens and permanent residents are entitled to free public healthcare under the Russian national healthcare system. Employers and employees finance the fund, contributing a small percentage of their salary to a social tax which then goes into the national healthcare fund.

Healthcare at public facilities in Russia is well below what many expats may be used to, and it’s essential that expats arrange private health insurance before moving to Russia. Many expats choose to travel outside of Russia for serious medical care, and it is important for expats to ensure that any health insurance policy makes provisions for this. 


Health concerns in Russia

Safe drinking water is a concern for many expats moving to Russia. While many establishments in the country have their own water filtration systems, it is still recommended that expats opt for bottled water, rather than tap water.

St Petersburg's water system is known for having problems with Giardia, a parasite that can cause unpleasant intestinal infections. 


Emergency services in Russia

State ambulance services are available in major Russian cities, although services are often limited. Emergency numbers have been consolidated into a single emergency service which can be reached by dialling 112. A number of private ambulance services are also in operation in Russia.

Education and Schools in Russia

The system of education in Russia has remained a point of contention since the end of the Soviet era. Accessibility to education is high although the quality can range dramatically.

Though the system has undergone reforms, state schools do not always meet Western standards. Most expats opt for international or private schools. This is especially the case given that the language of instruction in state schools is Russian, whilst international schools provide more language opportunities.

The school year in Russia generally runs from September to June.


Public schools in Russia

The quality of Russian state schools varies. The vision of general education is to equip students with skills for life and contribute to one’s intellectual, physical and emotional development. However, debate still exists as to what should be taught in schools, who should control the curriculum, and whether rote learning is still desirable.

Public schools in Russia face several challenges. Teachers don't usually receive very good salaries. As a result, many talented Russian teachers abandon the industry in search of more lucrative options or opportunities abroad. 

The language of instruction in public schools is Russian. Two days a week are generally afforded to foreign language classes, such as German or English, but many feel this instruction is inadequate. Tuition and books are free in state schools. Parents pay only for meals and school uniforms. 

Unless one plans to spend time in the country long-term, or one's child has some previous knowledge of Russian, public schools in Russia are not a viable option for most expats. 


Private schools in Russia

The curriculum and teaching methods utilised in Russia's private schools still largely align with those of public schools. However, class sizes are generally smaller, facilities are better maintained and extra-curricular activities are more accessible. Tuition costs for these schools usually depend on the age of the child and the institution which they attend.

The teaching language of private schools is Russian. Unless one's child has some language foundation or expats plan to stay in Russia long-term, international schools are likely to be the best option. 


International schools in Russia

Most expats who move to Russia with school-aged children prefer to send their children to international schools. These schools uphold the teaching language and curriculum of select countries. Many of Russia's major cities have a healthy selection of international institutions including American, British, French, Japanese and German schools. Some of the schools also administer an International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum alongside their home country curriculum.

The most prestigious schools in Russia tend to have long waiting lists. For this reason, expats should apply as early as possible once the details of their relocation have been confirmed.  Admissions are sometimes based on priority, with the children of diplomats and certain larger companies given the first available spots.

Expats should be sure to bring their child’s previous transcripts, vaccination records and teacher's recommendations with them. When selecting accommodation, expats should also note the location of these international schools. In Moscow, for example, international schools are mostly outside the city centre and thus will necessitate a long commute for those living centrally. 

Lastly, tuition costs at international schools in Russia can be astronomical. If an employer does not give an education allowance, expats should be sure that they can afford these costs.


Homeschooling in Russia

Homeschooling is legal in Russia and has been growing in popularity, especially in Moscow. There are certain regulations that parents must follow if they are homeschooling their children. Children must be enrolled in a state-licensed school as a supervising body. In some cases, they may use teacher support and school resources. Otherwise, there are minimal rules in terms of curriculum.


Special needs education in Russia

Some schools in Russia provide support for certain physical disabilities. There are schools for the blind and learning opportunities for the deaf. However, the school system has not adapted to provide enough support to children with mental disabilities. 

In some cases, children with intellectual disabilities and developmental delays may be in normal schools receiving compensatory classes. However, the extra support is limited and does not meet Western standards. Therefore, children with disabilities are often excluded and isolated, with homeschooling as the main option.

However, some international schools in Moscow are transforming to provide facilities, education and a warm, encouraging environment to children with disabilities. Expat parents who have children with disabilities will need to do much research on their needs and opportunities for support in Russia.


Tutors in Russia

Tutoring is growing in Russia, especially in big cities. It seems that tutoring services largely focus on students learning English as a second language. Tutoring is also available for individuals preparing for university or college entrance exams.

Tutoring children is becoming more popular. Tutors can be found through various online portals. These allow expat parents to connect with tutors and find someone matching the child's needs for their age, subject and level. There are tutors for a range of subjects including maths, biology, music and various languages.

Transport and Driving in Russia

With an extensive public transport network, getting around in Russia is relatively easy. It’s not necessary for expats living in the major cities to own a car, as public transport is reliable and relatively cheap. However, those living in more remote towns may find it easier to have their own vehicle. 


Driving in Russia

Expats living in Russia should consider their need to drive carefully. Traffic congestion is common in Russian cities. Drivers can be ruthless and the police are notorious for issuing fines for very minor offences. Furthermore, winter weather can add to the hazards of driving in Russia. Some expats wanting to have a car in Russia hire a driver or have one provided by their company.

Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road in Russia. Speed limits are generally 37 miles per hour (60km/h) in urban built-up areas and 62 miles per hour (110km/h) on highways. Road signs are almost all in Cyrillic so expats driving in Russia would do well to learn the local alphabet. 

Foreigners wishing to drive in Russia can use their national driver’s licence for up to six months but also require an international driver's licence. Expats should also carry their passport, visa and migration card with them at all times when driving a vehicle. 


Public transport in Russia

Metro

A number of Russian cities, including Moscow and St Petersburg, have metro systems. These offer the best means of getting around but overcrowding is common, particularly during peak hours. To use the metro, passengers need to buy a ticket (single or return) or purchase a smart card that can be topped up as needed. This card is more convenient and allows transfers from the metro to buses within 30 minutes.

Buses, trolleys and trams

When the metro can't connect with where one needs to go, buses, trams and trolleybuses provide an alternative way of getting around many Russian cities, albeit slightly less comfortably.

Buses offer the cheapest way of getting around Russia. For short trips between major cities, buses sometimes have more convenient routes and schedules. Purchasing tickets can be done at the bus station ticket offices themselves the same day or online if expats prefer to buy the ticket in advance.

Trains

Russia has an extensive rail network. Long-distance trains connect most Russian towns and cities. Moscow and St Petersburg are linked by a high-speed train which completes the journey in about four hours. It’s best to arrange train tickets online well ahead of time. Even though this may be the more expensive option, it saves time standing in queues.

Train travel is the most comfortable means of travelling around Russia. However, pickpockets are known to operate on long-distance trains and expats should keep a close eye on their valuables at all times.

The Trans-Siberian Express

Russia is home to the Trans-Siberian Express, a network of railways linking Russia to China, Mongolia and North Korea. There are three routes traversing Siberia from Moscow, accommodating the longest rail trip in the world. The main terminals for the Trans-Siberian Express are Moscow, Beijing and Vladivostok, and there's also a weekly connection from Moscow to Pyongyang.

The Trans-Siberian proper travels from Moscow to Vladivostok. It then links with the Trans-Mongolian Express from Moscow to Beijing via Ulaanbaatar and the Trans-Manchurian Express which travels through Siberia and Chinese Manchuria to Beijing. Tickets can be purchased through a travel agent, online or at the relevant train station. 

Taxis and ride-sharing services

A number of different taxi companies operate across Russia. Private cabs can be hailed in the street, booked via the telephone or hailed at a taxi rank. Hailing taxis from the street is now much less common as mobile apps have become popular. It’s best to negotiate the fare with the driver before getting in the vehicle.

Minibus shuttle taxis known as marshrutka can normally carry about 16 passengers and travel set routes in towns and cities. They're usually numbered the same way as the buses they share routes with. Routes are normally displayed on the front or side window of the vehicle. To get on an approaching marshrutka, just wave it down like an ordinary taxi. 

Ride-sharing services and apps are readily available in most Russian cities. These are a good option for expats who can't speak the local language and want to avoid miscommunications with taxi drivers. 


Air travel in Russia

Due to the vast distances between popular destinations, it can be more convenient to fly between Russian cities. The main airports in the country include Moscow’s Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo airports and St Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport.

Regular flights in and out of Russia are operated by Aeroflot, which is Russia’s national airline, as well as Emirates, KLM, Air France, Alitalia and British Airways, amongst others.

Keeping in Touch in Russia

Keeping in touch in Russia is quite simple when living in large cities like Moscow or St Petersburg. These modern cities offer most of the same amenities found in large European cities. Internet, mobile phones and media are widely available and fairly easy to access, particularly if one can speak basic Russian. Many Russian people speak some English, but fluency shouldn't be expected.


Internet and landline telephones in Russia

In Russian cities, most apartment buildings are already wired for an internet connection, meaning expats will simply need to contact a service provider to come over and physically bring the wiring from the hall into the apartment. Expats should speak to their landlord first to determine whether the connection has already been installed. If it has, one can simply call the previous internet provider and turn on the service. 

In order to sign any new contract, expats should provide a passport with a valid Russian visa. Speaking Russian or having a Russian speaker present during this process will be very helpful.

Most packages will include internet, television and landline telephone service, though it's possible for expats to pick and choose exactly what they need. Many expats in Russia are happy to opt out of a landline telephone and television, as mobile phones and internet television services are cheaper and more convenient.

Free public WiFi is also available, especially in the bigger cities including Moscow and St Petersburg. Expats will find free public WiFi in parks, restaurants and the Moscow metro.


Social media and censorship in Russia

Social media sites and messaging services are widely accessible in Russia. Censorship is not much of a concern, but expats shouldn’t be surprised by occasional blockages. Some sites may be temporarily blocked as the Russian government continues to institute strict internet blacklisting laws. These sites will usually become available again after a few days.

For those living in Russia for a shorter time, cities are full of WiFi options. Most restaurants, cafés, and even clubs have fast and free WiFi connections. 


Mobile phones in Russia

Many of the main internet providers in Russia also sell mobile phone services. The three predominant companies are Beeline, MegaFon and MTS. There is not really much variation between the three large service providers, as reception and cost of service will be roughly the same. Note that mobile phone contracts are usually separate from internet and landline telephone contracts, even if choosing the same company for both.

International calls are very expensive on any plan. Therefore, online telephone services are generally a more cost-effective idea.  


Postal services in Russia

The Russian postal service, called Pochta Rossii, is fairly cheap, but slow and unpredictable. However, there are many global courier services that operate efficiently for both in-country and international post.

Post sent through Pochta Rossii from within Russia can take several weeks to arrive at its destination. Post from abroad can take anywhere from one to four months to arrive, as getting through Russian customs is a very long process. It is also not unheard of for post to never arrive at its destination. It is inadvisable to send or receive any important or time-sensitive documents through Pochta Rossii's services. 


English-language media in Russia

English-language media is easily accessible in Russia's larger cities. The Moscow Times is a well-respected English newspaper, and most of the larger Russian newspapers have an English presence online. 

On the whole, most expats in Russia do not keep a television in their homes. Russian television is dominated by state-controlled media and offers a limited range of programmes. Some foreign channels are occasionally available with the most expensive television contracts.

Shipping and Removals in Russia

Relocating to another country holds many challenges, especially in deciding if it's worth shipping goods over or not. Some items of furniture may have been passed down through generations and are treasured items. However, shipping to Russia can hold many challenges.

Expats are highly recommended to seek an international shipping and removals company that can grant them door-to-door service. Relocation companies offer a full spectrum of mobility needs to expats, individuals and companies. Rather than simply transporting goods, they help orientate new arrivals in all ways possible. See our list of relocation companies in Russia to smoothen the transition. 


Be sure about shipping to Russia

Expats should think carefully about what they want to bring with them and what they can afford to leave behind. Shipping to Russia can quickly become expensive and custom clearance procedures are known to change frequently and without notice. Keep in mind that accommodation often comes furnished in Russia and plenty of large home decor and household furnishing stores can be found in most of the major cities. So expats should be sure if shipping to Russia is the right option for them.


Shipping household goods to Russia

Whether choosing air shipping or surface shipping, expats will need to make a comprehensive packing inventory of all shipped items. Note and photograph items of value, this includes computers, TVs and appliances. Record the serial number, brand and model number of any electronics in this inventory.

Expats will need to supply their international moving company with the appropriate documents to allow them to assume customs clearance on their behalf. 

Expats should be well-informed and aware of the details in the contract with the moving company. The contract may specify certain details of insurance and the expected time of arrival of the goods to the destination. Customs charges may apply to some goods, which is where the advice of the moving company will be useful.


Shipping cars to Russia

Many expats are encouraged to buy a car in Russia rather than shipping one's car in. This is because shipping vehicles to Russia is expensive with a hefty import tax on top of value-added tax. Tax rates and specific documentation required are subject to change, and so expats should check the governmental custom's page. Relocations companies can provide advice and assist with shipping vehicles to Russia, making the process much easier.

Public transport in big Russian cities are well developed and there are many options for getting around in Russia. So expats should consider if bringing a car into the country is worth it or not depending on their needs.


Shipping pets to Russia

If importing a dog or cat to Russia, expats will need to make sure they have the proper documentation at the time of shipment. Pets are often required to be microchipped and have up-to-date vaccines, including a rabies vaccine, and health certificates and documents.

Expats interested in shipping their pets to Russia are often discouraged from doing so. Most Russian living is done in small apartments rather than houses with outdoor space, so it’s important expats evaluate whether their accommodation is indeed pet-friendly.

Frequently Asked Questions about Russia

Expats moving to Russia are likely to have a number of questions about life in their new home. Below are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about relocating to Russia. 

Do I need a car in Russia?

It greatly depends on where one intends to live. In the bigger cities like Moscow and St Petersburg, public transport is very efficient, safe and cheap. Maintaining a car can be very costly and a nightmarish bureaucratic experience. One will also have to get a Russian driving licence after six months. On top of all this, the weather conditions in Russia make it more challenging to keep any car running. However, if living in a more rural area or planning to live on the outskirts of the city, one will need a car. Many expats opt to hire a Russian driver.

Is it worth learning Russian?

Definitely. This is a must, even if only learning how to read the Russian alphabet and a few basic phrases. One will not easily find Russians who are able to speak English, even in Moscow. It is very important to know the basics of Russian before arriving. 

How safe is Russia?

Crime rates are dropping in Russia. Theft (pickpocketing in particular) and extortion are the most common crimes against foreigners. Most of these incidents occur in areas associated with public transport, underground pedestrian crosswalks and popular tourist areas. Provided expats take adequate precautions, they're unlikely to be affected by such crimes in Russia.

How is it possible to travel within Russia?

The major cities have good public transport systems, but the more rural areas do not. There is an extensive railway network across the country, which is the most popular option for long-distance travel. Aeroflot, the Russian national airline, also has many domestic flights connecting major cities.

Can I open a bank account in Russia?

The Russian banking system remains small and somewhat fragmented but is improving. Expats are able to open a bank account in Russia, but most choose to bank with an international bank in Russia rather than opting for a local bank. ATMs are widely available. Although the country remains a largely cash-based economy, most establishments in the main towns and cities accept credit cards.

Articles about Russia

Banking, Money and Taxes in Russia

The banking sector in Russia has a contentious history that has loaned its locals more distrust than anything else. The crisis of 1998 and years of unattractive interest rates were enough incentive for the majority of Russians to favour the space beneath their mattress to the alleged security of bank accounts. That mentality is now changing but, nonetheless, it's recommended that expats consider banking in Russia carefully.  


Money in Russia

The official currency in Russia is the Ruble, which is abbreviated as RUB. Each ruble is divided into 100 kopecks.

  • Notes: 5 RUB, 10 RUB, 50 RUB, 100 RUB, 500 RUB, 1,000 RUB and 5,000 RUB

  • Coins: 10 kopecks and 50 kopecks, 10 RUB

It is illegal to pay for products or services in Russia with USD or EUR, even if the price is marked as such. Currency exchange offices can be found at airports, major hotels, train stations and on city streets. Do not change money outside of reputable, established entities, as it likely to be a scam.


Banking in Russia

Many Russian households don't have bank accounts, and the banking sector is small and remains somewhat fragmented. There are a number of major banks in Russia, most of them state-run, and though their service provision has become more comprehensive over the years there are still reports that their policies are outdated.

For these reasons, expats driven to use local banks due to the lack of international options often choose to send their savings abroad while maintaining a small Russian account for daily living purposes. Most banks have internet banking services and can issue credit cards.

Banking hours vary, but are normally from 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday. Some banks are also open from 9am to 3pm on Saturdays.

Opening a bank account

Opening a bank account in Russia can be a frustrating experience. The language barrier can compound issues and it is advised that expats bring a local friend or interpreter with them. The main problem expats face in opening a bank account is obtaining proper documentation. If possible, expats should do this properly ahead of time to minimise any stressful interactions.

Most banks require a copy of an expat's passport, visa and a minimum cash deposit. Some banks will also require a letter from an employer and proof of residence.

Expats should choose the branch at which they open their account carefully, as they may have to return to this branch specifically to manage account operations.

ATMs and credit cards

ATMs (bankomats) are widely available in Russian towns and cities in almost every metro station and shopping mall. Expats are also able to draw rubles from a Russian ATM using a foreign bank card. 

Russia is largely a cash-based society, especially outside of the main city centres. Within all major urban centres, most establishments will accept credit cards. Although expats are able to get a credit card from a Russian bank, many of these establishments are still reluctant to issue credit cards to foreigners. 

Expats using credit cards in Russia should do so with extreme care as credit card fraud is still common in the country. 


Taxes in Russia

Expats living in Russia will be deemed tax residents if they spend at least 183 days in the country in a single calendar year. Those who spend less than 183 days will be deemed tax non-residents.

Tax residents are taxed at a flat rate on their worldwide income, while those deemed tax non-residents are taxed a higher percentage of only their Russian income. This amount is automatically deducted from wages, but it’s still necessary to file tax returns by 30 April for the previous tax year.

Expats should also find out if a tax treaty exists between their home country and Russia. If there is a double taxation treaty in place expats are exempt from paying taxes to both countries. It is best to get professional advice on Russian taxation, as the rules may change with little notice and it can be very easy to fall foul of the law in this area.

Expat Experiences in Russia

When considering a move to a new city, there are few things more useful than hearing real-life stories from other expats who have already lived there. Please contact us if you live or have lived in Russia or Moscow and would like to share your experiences.


Eva is an Indonesian expat who has moved to Moscow. Although adjusting to a new culture may not always be so easy, she shares some interesting stories about people and making friends as well as insights on transport and healthcare in Moscow. Read about Eva's expat experiences in the Russian Federation.

 Eva

Yulia is a world traveller who has had various expat experiences. Originally from Russia, she shares what life in Moscow is like. She talks about the city that never sleeps, its metro, Russia's friendly people and the many activities to do. Read about Yulia's experience living in Moscow

 Yulia

After some time in a long-distance relationship with a Russian woman, Briton Stephen Matthews made the move to Moscow to be with his wife. A few years down the line, he has settled into his job at an international law firm and has two children. Stephen shares a few insights into expat life in Moscow. Read more about his expat experiences in Russia.

Stephen Matthews is a British expat living in Moscow, Russia.

Polly Barks is an American expat living in Russia. She moved to Moscow in 2010 to work as an English teacher. Despite the traffic jams and cold weather, she loves the experience of living in one of the world’s largest cities. Read more about her expat life in Moscow.

Polly Barks - An American expat living in Russia

Northern Lad is a British expat who moved to Moscow in September 2012 for a job. He enjoys life in the city, which he says has plenty of sights to see and is generally a safe place to be. Read more about his expat experiences in Russia.

Northern Lad in Moscow - A British expat living in Russia

Laurent Fontaine, a French expat living in Moscow, has been a Russophile even before he could grow hair on his chest. Now all grown up and graduated, he’s capitalised on his love affair and has moved to the land fabled for its harsh weather. Find out what he has to say about his first year as an expat in Russia.

Laurent Fontaine - A French Expat Living in Moscow

Amanda Surbey lives in Moscow with her family. Originally from Ohio, Amanda was bitten by the travel bug when she spent a summer as an exchange student in Australia. Read her unique take on expat life in Moscow.


 

Rob McDonald has been a teacher, insurance mogul, US Navy sailor and now an expat in Russia. Rob lives in St Petersburg with his wife and three parakeets. Get his take on expat life in Russia here.


 

Philip Donnelly is an expat working in Russia, and has this fascinating account of his time living and teaching in Moscow.