What is Russia Like to Live In?


On forums, you can meet extreme views on how what life in Russia looks like. So, I decided to make a post and give an objective answer to this question, so each of you could decide what is Russia like to live in.

As you may guess, there isn’t any universal answer. It depends on who is asking, and what part of Russia are you talking about. However, there is a method that will help you to find out what it’s like to live in Russia.

To understand what living in Russia is like, have a look at the list of countries by Human Development Index. The Russian Federation is in place 49. The further your country from the 49th position is in one way or another, the worse or, the better you will find the living conditions, life expectancy, level of salaries, medical services, and quality of education.

If you are from Norway (which is #1 in the rating), you are more likely to find Russian living conditions dis-satisfactory or, at the least, much worse than in your country. If you are from Ethiopia (that takes place #173), you will probably enjoy living there as you move higher in your life quality by 124 steps.

There are many negative comments on Quora from people who live in the top 30 countries, as well as many positive from those who live in countries with a lower Human Development Index. And it’s natural: if you’ve always earned $100 per hour, you won’t be glad about $30, and if you’ve just had $5, the increase to $30 will be more than excellent.

For instance, there are multiple comments from citizens of developed countries that are aiming at downsides: mention poor infrastructure, lack of care about ecology, and so on. However, one gentleman from India was completely satisfied with his life in two-room apartments with central heating, despite having to spend three hours every day commuting to work.

So, the answer to the question “What is Russia like to live in?” is very subjective and depends on your previous experience and what you have gotten used to having.

What is Russia Like to Live in as an American?

Let’s get back to the list of countries by Human Development Index. The USA is in place 13, which is quite far from 49. So, you will quickly notice that the average income and quality of medical services fall behind those you can expect in the US.

On the most basic level, this means that you will have to use older and less convenient public transport, struggle with higher bureaucracy, live in smaller apartments, and the entrance of your house will likely be dirtier. So, the truth is that if you change from the US to Russia, you will generally vary from better living conditions to worse, and this is something you will need to get used to.

Despite raising arguments between the two countries, Russians will never maltreat you because you are a US citizen. By contrast, good hospitality is deeply rooted in Russian culture. Locals will always try to help to solve your problem and provide possible support, even if they don’t know any English. All Americans mention that they were met in Russia very kindly and sincerely.

However, there are some difficulties that Americans find in living in Russia. Here is the majority of them.

  • Toxic bureaucracy: This is a very frustrating aspect of life in Russia. You need to update your migration card every six months, often leave the country, and go back if you are not a permanent resident, fill multiple forms, and stand in long ques. Russian civil servants are obsessed with proper stamping and are very peculiar about each word.
  • Careless drivers: They tailgate, speed, pass when they shouldn’t, and beep with no reason. Plus, if you are going to live in a big city and own a car, be ready to spend significant time in traffic jams.
  • Russians seem to be rude. By nature, Russians are overly direct. For instance, it’s totally fine to say at the table “Give me the salt” without beautifying the phrase with “Could you please…”. In Russia, it’s not an insult when you call a waitress “Girl” (devushka). So, in Russia, you will probably miss polite words and welcoming smiles that you used to receive at home. However, you shouldn’t accept it as an insult; it’s just a different way of thinking.
  • The food is not always delicious: That’s a matter of taste, but Russians usually put an enormous amount of dill in their dishes. Whatever you order in a restaurant will contain at least a little portion of dill or parsley.

People from developed countries don’t seek a quality of life in Russia: People come there for business purposes, some, to study a semester in a local university, but for many, Russia is a place where their heart belongs.

What is Russia Like to Live in as an Expat?

There are two options for those who want to live permanently in Russia. First, is to live in a closed community of other foreigners – in an ex-pat bubble. And another one is to learn the language and integrate into the local culture.

It’s better to grasp at least some Russian. There are quite big communities of foreigners, especially in Moscow or St. Petersburg, and people who have been living in Russia for decades but still don’t speak any Russian.

This lifestyle seems to be an easy option, but ex-pats who don’t know the language lose much of their freedom. Imagine every time you need to go to the doctor or a hairdresser, you need to ask your Russian-speaking friend to come with you, or you can’t understand the ingredients in the supermarkets or dishes in a restaurant.

You’ll never stay without work. There are many teaching positions for foreigners; a significant number come to Russia to teach English at schools or via Skype. The salary will be less than those you could have in the US, but the prices are lower, too. So, if you work for an American company and have an American salary, you will be able to afford yourself a lot.

Russia is safe if you use common sense. Don’t hang around the streets at night or drink with strangers in a bar, and you will be fine. The bearing of firearms is forbidden, so there is no chance that you hear firing. There are rough parts of the city that are better to avoid, however, but there are no dangerous ethnic ghettos.

There are more similarities than differences. Though Russia may seem very different culturally, people here have similar worries, fears, and beliefs. How to earn money? How to provide children with a better education? How to provide my family with a respective quality of life? So, if you look into the core, you’ll soon see that the life of an ex-pat in Russia is not the life of an alien.

What is it Like to Live in Moscow?

Life in Moscow is completely different from living anywhere else in Russia, even from St. Peterburg. Russians often say that Moscow is a separate country inside the country with its laws and way of life.

Life, as an ex-pat in Moscow has its pros and cons. Here are some of them.

Pros of living in Moscow

  • It’s easy to earn money as Moscow offers a vast amount of opportunities for English-speakers. And it’s not only about teaching jobs but work in international companies.
  • It’s easy to find friends. It’s much easier to find an English-speaking community and someone from your country as Moscow attracts people from all over the world. There’s a big ex-pat bubble that you can join.
  • It’s very easy to fly anywhere; Moscow is a central point for international and domestic flights. This opportunity is not available in other Russian cities. From Moscow, you can explore all over the country for a very reasonable price.

Cons of living in Moscow

  • Crowd and noise; Moscow is a super-crowded and noisy place. If you didn’t get used to hectic city life, it could take time for you to get used to its 24/7 rhythm. Too many people in a subway, too many cars on roads, traffic jams, smog – this is an inevitable part of Moscow life.
  • Long distances; Moscow is a huge city, so you’ll likely need to spend several hours daily to commute to work. There are many types of public transport available, but they are generally overcrowded. You can also use Uber or Carshare, but it won’t save you from traffic jams.
  • Cost of life; Moscow is an expensive place to live. The price of a nice two-room apartment near the Moscow ring highway that surrounds the city costs about $900. If you want to live in the center, be ready to pay about $1500 a month. The average cafe bill is $20. For some, such prices are more than affordable, but if you move to other cities, you’ll notice that the prices are much lower.

What is it Like to Live in Saint Petersburg?

St. Petersburg is the cultural capital of Russia, and I can’t stop saying that it’s gorgeously beautiful. I’ve been living here for a long time, and I still enjoy the architecture.

It’s a great place for foreigners to stay for a long time as the city offers all possible conveniences from a huge ex-pat community where you can easily find English-speaking friends, to workplaces in international companies, as well as teaching positions.

Both in Moscow and St. Petersburg, people are more accustomed to foreigners, know more English, and your presence there might be more comfortable if you don’t know any Russian.

Pros of living in St. Petersburg

  • It’s insanely beautiful, not only the center of the city. There are many gorgeous parks and Tzar’s residences around the city: Petergof, Pushkin, and many others. And these places are easy to reach by public transport. Another thing that adds to this beauty is the white summer nights that make views breathtaking.
  • The Cultural way of life; It’s the center of attraction of all cultural life of the country. The concentration of theaters, museums, and art galleries is over the top there. There’s no chance that you stay at home with no idea where to go in the evening. There’s always something new you can do.
  • The pace of life is not as hectic as Moscow; Life is much calmer there, though it’s still a big city with a population of around 7 million people. However, it’s a perfect place for those who want to live in a big city, but for whom Moscow is too much.
  • It’s not as expensive as Moscow. The prices there are much lower than in the capital of Russia. No doubt, there you will always find a deal that suits your budget. The market offers you options from very expensive to absolutely affordable in accommodation, products, and entertainment.

Cons of living in St. Petersburg

  • Traffic jams are a big problem; The streets in the center of the city are quite narrow, so sometimes it’s better to use the subway, which is not as crowded as in Moscow and well-thought. But when there is a car crash on the Ring Road, be ready to spend an extra hour on your way. In some areas of the city, people spend two extra hours just to leave their district. Take this into account while choosing your place of living.
  • The weather is nasty there with rain and fog and cold winds;  Winter is very long, summer is short, and that’s very frustrating.

What is it Like to Live in Eastern Russia?

The first thing that makes a difference is the harsh weather, which is challenging to get used to. However, it’s always very warm at home as central heating is inexpensive. In summers, the temperature may rise above +30C (+86F). Siberia has been a zone for criminals’ punishment for a reason.

Secondly, the vast distances. For a local, 400 km (250 miles) is something “near.”

For this reason, the prices for products and estate are high. A two-room apartment in the center of Irkutsk will cost you around $450-$500 when a similar flat in Petrozavodsk (North-West of Russia) is about $300. The Interner is also slow and expensive.

Siberia is rich with natural resources: oil, gas, and diamonds. People who live in cities and work in these industries get a respectable salary, though villages are slowly dying out.

Though Siberia covers the Eastern territory of Russia, locals don’t find themselves belonging to the Eastern culture. From their perspective, the “real East” spreads somewhere further: in China.

What is it Like to Live in Sochi?

Sochi is a big resort city, situated in the South of Russia on the shore of the Black sea with a gorgeous climate and good ecology. The Russian government invested huge money in its development before the Olympics, so now it looks like a prosperous European city with excellent infrastructure.

As it is the center of the tourist industry, you can easily find a job as well as English-speaking friends among travelers.

As Sochi is a touristic place, prices for products and accommodation fluctuate depending on the season but are generally affordable.

What is it like to live in Tyumen?

Tyumen is a large Siberian city with a population of about 800,000 people. Tyumen has been named as the most comfortable city of Russia to live in, chosen from almost 40 other cities. Many big companies of the oil and gas industry have bases there; this is why the city looks prosperous and clean and modern.

Architecturally, it looks like most of the Russian cities with a mixture of neo-classical Stalin-era buildings, grey prefabricated five-story apartment blocks, and a big number of modern buildings where you will easily find a convenient place to settle down.

Tyumen is inexpensive in comparison to Moscow and St. Petersburg. An average Westerner will find prices for products and accommodation more than affordable. Two-room apartments will cost you around $400-$450.

Tyumen offers job opportunities for foreigners. As this is a center for oil and gas corporations, there is a chance that you will find a job there. Or, you can apply for a teaching position in one of 8 Tyumen universities or become an English teacher in one of the multiple English language schools.

Another significant benefit of life in Tyumen is the active presence of cultural life and options for leisure activity: theaters, museums, educational institutions, different cafes, bars, and restaurants.

What is it Like to Live in Volgograd?

Volgograd is located in the South of Russia that lies on the river Volga. With a population of more than one million people, it still stays a country town.

Volgograd is excellent for those who want to explore the real Russian lifestyle as there are not many foreigners there.

This city is very historically rich and full of memorials devoted to the Soviet-era and WWII. Their people remember the war as nobody else in the world because of the primary fight that happened exactly at this place.

The weather is different here: summers can be scorching and winters cold, so you can experience all sides of the Russian climate.

Volgograd isn’t strong economically but cheap, and this is reflected in the quality of infrastructure, medical care, and other aspects of life.

 At the same time, it’s very affordable. Nice-Looking two-room apartments will cost you just $200 a month.

Conclusion

The answer to the question “What is Russia like to live in?” is complicated. It depends on who is asking and what part of Russia are we talking about. Those of you who got used to living in developed countries will see many, many drawbacks to living in Russia. Those who have been living in increasingly developing ones will see many positive sides.

At the same time, the place you are talking about means a lot: life in touristy Southern Sochi is not similar to life in the Siberian Tyumen. Similarly, living in the hectic capital, Moscow, will be in stark contrast to life in quiet and calm Volgograd.

Have you ever lived in Russia? If yes, what was living in Russia like for you personally? What pros and cons have you noticed? Share in the comments below.

Anastasia Korol

Anastasia Korol is an enthusiastic Russian language tutor. She gives effective, goal-oriented lessons to students all over the world. Thousands of people have already followed her Instagram.

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