This guide was written prior to Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine and is therefore not reflective of the current situation. Travel to Russia is currently not advisable due to the area's volatile political situation.
Some foreigners seem to have little notion of what present-day Russia is really like. The oppressive Soviet state was dissolved in 1991 and, although some aspects of modern Russia still carry remnants of its turbulent past, it has emerged as a proud country looking to assert its place as a global superpower.
Living in Russia as an expat
Most expats relocate to Russia for a senior or managerial position in a multinational company, and to take advantage of the attractive salary packages. Others come to teach English, or to immerse themselves in a rich, interesting and complex culture.
The government-managed systems of education, banking and healthcare will likely fall short of the standard that many expats expect. That said, Russia has extensive and reliable public transport and some high-quality housing, although these may take some time to find, and we recommend hiring an estate agent to assist.
Russia’s former isolationist policies have limited its population’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.
Cost of living in Russia
Russia has a reasonable cost of living, although the heavily expat-favoured economic centres of Moscow and St Petersburg are quite a bit more expensive than the rest of the country. That said, as a whole, it is more affordable than many Western countries, and an expat's cost of living in Russia will depend on their lifestyle.
Most of the services that appeal to Western foreigners tend to levy higher fees than the local equivalent. Those who are willing to live like the locals will find that they're able to live comfortably while saving money each month, whereas luxury living warrants much higher costs.
Expat families and children
Although local state schools have varying standards in Russia, the country has numerous excellent international schools in major cities. These schools uphold the teaching language and curriculum of select countries or, alternatively, teach the International Baccalaureate. Waiting lists can be long and fees are high.
Russia is more family-friendly than some expats may expect. Most cities are replete with child-friendly activities to keep the little ones busy outside of school. Parks often have playgrounds and amusement rides, and ice skating is a beloved pastime during the winter months. The cities also host cultural shows and theatre performances throughout the year, and cinemas, museums and play areas abound. Parents will certainly not be wanting for entertainment, whether educational or not, for their children.
Climate in Russia
Russia is famed for its extremely harsh, cold and long winters, and the severity of the weather can't be denied. That said, summers are warm and pleasant. 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: 146 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. Due to Russia's extensive public transport system, expats living in the major cities are unlikely to need a car. Traffic congestion is a constant problem and all road signs are in Cyrillic, so navigating Russian roads can be difficult.