More Than Vodka and Stroganoff: The 7 Best Places to Live in Russia
If you’re thinking of moving overseas, Russia might not be at the top of your wish list.
With miles of vast wilderness and a tricky language to master, the thought of moving to Russia can be a little daunting.
However, with a growing middle class and a range of expanding industries, there are plenty of opportunities for expats in Russia—provided you’re willing to think outside the box!
When I first visited Russia about eight years ago, it seemed like a different planet. However, there are now several large cities with well-developed expat communities, many westernized amenities and appropriate support networks to help you succeed in Russia.
But how do you decide where to go? And what do you need to do to get there?
How Do I Get a Russian Visa?
Getting a visa to work in Russia can be a frustrating and time-consuming process. If you’re interested in moving to Russia long-term, it’s best to start planning early. Chances are, you’ll experience delays in the process.
Russia works on a quota system for work visas. Basically, companies wishing to hire a foreign worker must apply (sometimes up to a year in advance) to be able to advertise a role locally, with the intent of hiring a foreigner for that role.
After a month, if a suitable local employee can’t be found, the company can then commence the employment process for a foreigner. There are no qualification requirements.
An exception to this rule is the Highly Qualified Specialist category, which isn’t subject to quotas or corporate permits. This means that highly qualified specialists can be foreigners who work in a special sector. Eligibility for this category depends on your wages. To be considered a highly skilled specialist, you must have a job offer of 2 million rubles (just over 29,600 USD) or more annually.
Generally, you wouldn’t enter Russia to live without having a job lined up ahead of time due to the visa requirements. Therefore, you should start looking when you’re still in your home country. In Job, Xpat Jobs and HH are great places to search for expat gigs.
Of course, you could also study in Russia! There’s a separate visa process for potential students. Russia hosts a range of highly respected institutions, and it’s becoming more and more popular as a country for exchange students.
How Much Does It Cost to Live in Russia?
Not so long ago, a few American dollars went a very long way in Russia. However, times have changed.
Would you believe that Russia has the most rapidly growing number of millionaires of any single country? In Russia, there’s money to be earned. And spent!
- Housing Costs. The average cost of a furnished two bedroom apartment is a little under 670 USD per month. An unfurnished apartment costs around 600 USD per month. Housing targeted at expats is generally high-quality and well insulated, although the actual apartment buildings might appear a little worse for wear.
- Food and Groceries. While it ‘s easy to locate grocery stores in the big cities, you might struggle in more rural areas. Western imported goods carry a premium and are often in short supply. Luckily, there are cheaper alternatives: bakeries, butcheries and greengrocers are much more commonly found than large supermarket chains. Major cities have lively restaurants to visit, but these will be focused on a Russian palate.
- Transportation. Russia is well-equipped with public transportation, with Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Yekaterinburg all offering quality metro networks. Most cost around 0.50 USD per trip. In addition, bus networks are extensive, although they’re initially a little confusing for newcomers to Russia.
- Extra. Western style clothing or brands can be surprisingly expensive. It can get extremely cold in certain parts of Russia, and you might find that you spend more money than you’d expect on comfortable and warm snow boots, a jacket and appropriate thermal wear! Health and beauty services, as well as leisure activities, are reasonably priced.
Of course, if you live in one of the major cities, like Moscow or St. Petersburg, you’ll have many more Western comforts than if you live in the middle of Siberia!
What Is Russian Culture Like?
Russian culture can be a little daunting at first. Russians aren’t known for being overly friendly and don’t exhibit the over-the-top kindness commonly found in America. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re being rude.
If you really want to integrate yourself in Russian culture, you need to remove the language barrier. Language misunderstandings are a common frustration among new expats.
While it isn’t the easiest language to learn, there are lots of resources to help you on your quest to master the Russian language. I strongly recommend buying a VPN so you always have access to language resources in Russia.
The country is known for being a fascinating place of culture, too. Whether it’s art, history, literature or philosophy, Russia has so much to offer the world. Those who wish to immerse themselves in Russian culture won’t be disappointed!
Want to get a leg up on both the Russian language and culture? Try FluentU free for 15 days.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized Russian language learning lessons.
By watching authentic videos, you’ll hear native Russian accents, which will make understanding your Russian neighbors and coworkers much easier. And you’ll be watching Russian news broadcasts, TV shows and music videos. So you’ll have plenty of cultural topics to talk about with your new friends!
More Than Vodka and Stroganoff: The 7 Best Places to Live in Russia
Russia is obviously a large country. If you’re considering moving here, you need to think about what exactly you intend to do. If you want to work, certain cities are better for specific industries than others.
Alternatively, those wishing to study need to consider exactly which subject they wish to learn. The university system operates in a similar way as the work force in that the schools are quite specialized.
But if you need a little help narrowing down your options, these are some of the best places to live in Russia.
The capital of Russia and a city full of history, Moscow is the top choice for many expats who move to Russia.
The city has a large expat community. Although it’s one of the most expensive places to live in Russia, it’s a logical destination for expats still getting their heads (and tongues!) around the Russian language. Moscow and St. Petersburg are the main cities where you can get by with only the basics of the Russian language.
You’ll never be bored in Moscow. You have access to lively nightlife and can work and study at a range of reputable organizations. And the city’s location and transportation system make it easy to travel to other cities in Russia (and beyond).
Moscow offers job opportunities in business, language teaching, the diplomatic service and the finance sector, and many companies’ headquarters are in Moscow.
And despite being a relatively expensive destination to move to within Russia, average housing costs are still a massive 27% less than in Munich and 38% less than in Paris. To save money, you can always rent a room and have roommates rather than lease a whole apartment.
St. Petersburg is the historic and cultural center of Russia. This beautiful city, established by Peter the Great, is a mixture between Moscow, Paris and Venice, complete with gorgeous neoclassical buildings and numerous museums and theaters.
St. Petersburg is divided into 18 administrative districts, and the Grand Central District (bordering the Neva and Winter Palace) is the most expensive. The Admiralteysky District just next door offers beautiful digs for those willing to pay for the privilege.
Expats can find jobs in medicine and medicinal research/supplies, teaching, sales management, legal services and education. On average, salaries are two or three times lower than they are in Moscow.
The good news is that housing is a lot more affordable, too. The median rent for an apartment in the nicest part of the city center is around 500 USD per month,which is much cheaper than in Moscow.
Finally, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of living in a culturally rich city. Go to the ballet, visit local museums and art galleries and explore the local historic towns of Peterhof and Tsarskoe Selo (Pushkin).
Fancy living on the Russian Riviera? Sochi might be the spot for you.
Sochi is the most popular summer resort town in Russia and sees over 4 million domestic tourists per year. The town itself boasts a little more than 350,000 residents.
International students are starting to view Sochi as a popular place to go to school and a cost-effective town to reside while studying. With housing costs at around only 300 USD per month, you can understand why!
Foreigners state they feel quite welcome in the city. But knowing a little Russian will definitely help with the transition!
It’s a great location if you’re interested in working in the tourism industry. Sochi’s beaches draw crowds in summer and the ski slopes attract winter patrons, meaning seasonal jobs can be easy to come by.
If you’re looking for a warmer destination to explore in Russia, add Sochi to your list. After all, there has to be something to the Russian saying, “Знал бы прикуп – жил бы в Сочи” (“If I could read the cards, I would live in Sochi”).
Do you have experience in the I.T. sector? Consider moving to Nizhny Novgorod. It’s known for hosting a cluster of I.T. companies, with Intel, Huawei, SAP and Yandex all having offices in the city.
Russia’s fifth largest city has a couple of flourishing industries that attract expats, and property prices are nowhere near as high as Moscow or St. Petersburg. It’s just a few hours from Moscow by train, but its atmosphere is much more relaxed.
Nizhny Novgorod offers surprisingly beautiful architecture, with its own Kremlin, orthodox churches and 18th-century merchant houses. In winter, you can duck away for a skiing weekend at one of the nearby resorts, such as Shchelkovsky Khutor.
In the summer months, you can make the most of the greenery surrounding the city and enjoy its breathtaking landscape overlooking the Volga and Oka Rivers.
When searching for housing, make sure it’s near your work or a public transportation stop, such as the local metro or even the cable car. There can be some serious traffic jams in the city, and these are best avoided.
Yekaterinburg is the capital of the Ural region and the third largest city in Russia. Located in one of the more industrial regions of the country, there are plenty of opportunities for those who have experience in the mining and retail trades.
With housing costs 50% lower than in Munich, you’re sure to snaffle yourself a bargain. As long as you either know enough Russian to speak with local real estate agents or know someone who can talk with them for you!
While it might lack some of the cultural advantages of cities like Moscow, Yekaterinburg is on the rise and an ideal place to live in Russia for greenery and outdoor life.
It’s also described as Russia’s first Asian outpost, and it boasts an interesting Ural-centric culture.
One handy hint: If you’re keen on moving to Yekaterinburg, make the big move in spring or summer. Moving in the middle of the winter will likely be a bit of a shock to the system! Yekaterinburg winters are particularly brutal and can last up to six months.
Still, plenty of people consider Yekaterinburg an up-and-coming city, and it’s a great place to raise children. Let’s face it—if you’re looking for a taste of the real Russia, this is a safe bet.
Want warmer weather and lower costs than Moscow? Located not too far from Sochi, Krasnodar is one of the country’s fastest growing regional economies.
What Krasnodar lacks in big city living, it makes up for with contemporary art galleries and funky design outlets. And the region is known for spas, beaches and gastronomic tourism.
The city is located on the Kuban River, which flows directly into the Sea of Azov. Krasnodar has around 1 million inhabitants, and there’s a bit of diversity included in there! The population includes Russians, Ukrainians, Armenians, Greeks and Germans.
Employment opportunities mainly focus on the food and food manufacturing industries, as well as the agricultural sector, given its location in Russia’s breadbasket. However, there is some development in the creative sectors within the region, and jobs in creative technologies are expected to rise.
To sweeten the deal, the city is pretty darn cheap to live in, with a small family able to live comfortably on around 1,700 USD per month. Not bad at all!
Tyumen has been chosen several times as the best place to live in Russia, although it initially seems like an unlikely choice. What is it about this industrial center that makes it such a popular place to live?
First of all, if you’re in the oil industry, this is the place to be. The city also has ample job opportunities in the manufacturing and engineering industries.
In contrast to many cities in Siberia, Tyumen boasts gorgeous wooden buildings and historic churches, as well as one of the only McDonald’s in the region! And there are benefits to living in a place with a large expat population, particularly if you’re still learning the Russian language.
Similar to Nizhny Novgorod, you should be careful when deciding where to live. Traffic can be terrible, and you want to be located close to work.
In your spare time, you can enjoy wandering the embankment, study at the prestigious university or eat and drink at local cafes and bars.
While moving to Russia isn’t for everyone, doing so is a real adventure for those willing to take the plunge.
If you’ve always dreamed of spending a summer in St. Petersburg or seeing Red Square in the snow, now could be the time to discover everything Russia has to offer you.
An experienced writer, traveler and communications professional, Belinda Birchall splits her time between New Zealand and Dubai, with a lot of travel packed in between—visiting 20 countries in 2017/2018. In her spare time, she blogs at The 58th Floor and shares photos of her travels on Instagram.