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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.
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.
"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." Read more about American expat Amanda's experiences of Moscow here.
"What I like about Moscow is that it’s very dynamic and animated; there is always something to do at any time of the day and of the night." Laurent, a French expat, shares his experiences of life in the capital.
Are you an expat living in Russia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Russia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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