- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals Russia Guide (PDF)
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.
►Take a look at Moving to Russia page for a general overview of expat life in Russia.
'Moscow’s metro system is hugely reliable. I do not need to own a car. For the price of a chocolate bar I can get anywhere in Moscow.' Read more about expat life in Russia in an interview with Northern Lad.
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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