Amanda Surbey lived 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. She has lived in Russia, Taiwan, Florida, Buenos Aires and Bratislava. She plans on being in Russian until she gets rich or gets kicked out.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Ohio, USA
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Moscow, Russia (city center), but in the process of moving to Luxembourg
Q: How long you have you lived in Moscow?
A: Dec 2007 (two years)
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: Accompanying spouse (husband is a lawyer)
Q: What do you enjoy most about being an American living in Moscow, how’s the quality of life?
A: Everything is always open (even on holidays). There is an energy and excitement about the city, especially at night. The churches with their onion domes never get boring. The expat community is wonderful.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: Moscow is a BIG city. Driving is impossible, so I really miss my car. It can be a big energy drain going out to deal with daily errands.
About living in Moscow
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Moscow as an expat?
A: Depends on your job/school/budget.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation?
A: Can be extremely high or the pits. Again, depends on your budget. Even in light of the economic crisis, housing is VERY expensive here. Latest Mercer survey has Moscow in the Top Three Most Expensive Places to Live (it has recently been #1).
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Rents are outrageous. Eating out can be expensive. Vodka and cigarettes are practically free.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: I have had nothing but nice experiences with Russians. Even in my grocery store: they look out for me and won’t let me buy products they believe are not the freshest possible. I never got invited to anyone’s dacha, but I have gotten to know (mostly young) Russians.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: Extremely. Through the two expat forums, I met people faster than I ever did in our other postings. If you have the energy, there is a standing event almost every night of the week here.
About working in Moscow
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: Employer handled it all. Never had a hitch, although I have heard horror stories from others.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Moscow, is there plenty of work?
A: No. And certainly not unless you speak Russian well. There are a lot of English teachers, and they say the money can be good, but it seems like a difficult life to me.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: Secretaries may be asked to be “open-minded.” No sense of PC-ness in offices. Work day tends to be 10:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m.
Family and children
Q: Did your children settle in easily?
A: Yes. I was pleasantly surprised.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: My kids go to the French school. Our experiences have been mixed there. But overall it has met our needs (and price).
Q: How would you rate the healthcare?
A: Excellent, but expensive if you want “Western” facilities and English speakers.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Patience. A sense of humor. Try to get out and see things, meet people. Experience what is unique about Russia and Russian culture. The more Russian you speak, the more fun you will have. Read the Russian classics and be prepared to discuss them at cocktail parties, job interviews, etc. It will open doors.
~ Interviewed January 2010