Cost of Living in Russia

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There is no escaping the fact that the cost of living in Russia is seriously high. Most expats will find themselves in the cities of Moscow or St Petersburg, and thus can expect essentials like accommodation, food and education to eat into their budget in a big way.

In the Mercer Cost of Living Survey for 2012, Moscow was ranked 4th out of 214 destinations, putting it firmly ahead of both cost of living in Russian rublesLondon and Hong Kong, and not far off from Tokyo. St Petersburg was ranked a less expensive, but still pricey 29th. Expats living outside of the urban centres will find the cost of living to be less.

The ruble, Russia’s monetary unit, fluctuates considerably against the euro, the British pound and the US dollar, so it’s worth remembering that your monthly wage and your rent, if it’s been set in another currency, could also fluctuate each month. Expats should keep in mind that many rents are agreed upon and paid for in US dollars.

Typically, expats working in Russia start on an employment package - at least 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 (if required) and some daily living allowance, given that basics, like good quality food, are so much more expensive than in most other locations.

There are now a wealth of Western chain stores in Russian cities, like Zara, Mango, TopShop, Mothercare and Marks & Spencer, but clothes and shoes remain costly, with as much as a 20 percent mark up for the same item elsewhere. Expats, therefore, tend to stock up when they go home.

Cost of accommodation in Russia

Accommodation options in Russia fall broadly into two types: apartments in the city, or houses in secure compounds outside of the city. Prices range from the expensive to the exorbitant.

Cost of monthly home rentals in upmarket areas:
  • A two-bedroom apartment in Moscow city centre: 6,500 USD
  • A three-bedroom house in an upmarket Moscow suburb: 12,000 USD
One thing guaranteed to catch people by surprise is the low quality of the communal spaces that come with high-priced rentals. Downright dodgy looking apartment block entrances (often hidden away at the back of a building) are normal, antiquated lifts (elevators) are common, and the public parts of most buildings are still government managed, meaning they’re tatty, and covered in a patchwork of lead paint with bundles of wires all over the place.

Don’t let these hangovers from the Soviet days put you off; actual apartments tend to be spacious and practical, with at least two bathrooms in a two- to three-bedroom apartment. The style of interiors does vary, and though many places are now being renovated in Western-style, the majority of Russian properties still have a slightly old-fashioned feel, which includes dark wood kitchens and chintzy bathrooms.

For those who prefer to live just outside of the hustle and bustle of the city centres, or for those with kids, the exclusive compounds close to the region of Serebryannyy Bor or Pokrovsky Hills have large family houses with gardens and access to ice-skating, lakes and other outdoor recreational spaces. Here you can expect to pay upwards of 12,000 USD a month for a three-bedroom house, but in terms of rent, the sky really is the limit.

Living outside of the city means you’ll spend at least an hour, and possibly much more, on your daily commute. Public transport is faster and cheaper than driving a car in rush hour, but you’ll need to get to and from the station in below freezing temperatures for around six months of the year.

Food costs in Russia

Though there are now an abundance of supermarkets springing up all over Moscow and other big Russian cities, good quality food and wine remain expensive, and the standard of both vary widely.

During the long winter months vegetable stocks in supermarkets are noticeably depleted, and imported varieties can be outrageously priced; it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a small punnet of blackberries selling for 30 USD, for example.

The variable quality and the constant hunt for familiar home brands means most expats, and locals alike, become accustomed to shopping around - buying washing powders, toilet rolls, frozen veg and other household essentials from cheaper supermarkets like Auchan, and buying meat, fish and fresh veg from the more expensive Sedmoy Kontinent or Azbuka Vkusa.

Four bags of shopping with a mix of vegetables, cheese, milk, eggs, pasta, a bottle of wine, fruit juice and other standard stuff could cost around 100 USD.

The number of swanky restaurants in Moscow has grown exponentially in the last three years, but service has been slower to catch on, which can make the price for a meal out seem even more unreasonable. A steak or a piece of fish can set you back 50 USD+, a bottle of average wine in a restaurant is usually around 70 USD, and a coffee in a nice café is around 6 USD. Eating out is therefore an expensive luxury, especially with kids, who are probably better catered for at one of the many reasonably priced Uzbek restaurants, or one of the chains, like Pizza Express.

Healthcare costs in Russia

The state medical system is chaotic, hard to navigate and unpredictable. For this reason, it's recommended expats take out private health insurance in Russia, and most companies offer it as standard feature of employment packages.

An initial consultation with a general practitioner might be reasonable, but fees can quickly escalate and become prohibitively expensive if specialists need to be consulted, tests are required or if there is an emergency situation.

Private care providers will ask for payments to be made in full, on the day. Expats need to make sure that their medical insurance packages will reimburse the costs incurred afterward, and should be aware that arbitrary costs and additional ‘fees’ can easily be added to medical bills if they think you have insurance. Always be prepared to challenge any costs you think are unreasonable, or to get a second opinion from another clinic to ensure you’re not being overcharged.

Fees for a general consultation can set you back from 2,000 RBL, depending on the clinic.

Cost of living chart for Russia (2013)

*All prices in Russian rubles (RUB), and based on Moscow
Milk (1litre) RUB 50
Bread (white loaf) RUB 20
Coca Cola (1 litre) RUB 50
Chicken breasts (skinless, 1kg) RUB 200
Cigarettes (Marlboro lights) RUB 55
Eating out
Big Mac meal RUB 250
Cappuccino RUB 100
Bottle of beer (500ml, local) RUB 50
Three-course meal at mid-range restaurant for two RUB 1,500
Internet (Uncapped ADSL or Cable - average per month) RUB 1,300
Mobile call rate (per minute - mobile to mobile) RUB 1.5
Monthly energy costs (apartment) RUB 1,000
Public transportation
Taxi rate per km RUB 120
City centre bus fare RUB 20
Petrol (per litre) RUB 30

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