In 2014, I moved to Moscow for the first time. I was a student back then that already had lived in two different foreign countries. Russia was a different animal though. That wasn't just another feel-good European country. It was big bad, scary, unknown Russia.
I had a lot of questions back then and I wish someone had written such a guide for me.
That's why I compiled everything that I know about living in Russia and moving to Moscow in this article. Each part will answer the most common questions that people have about moving to Russia.
Do people speak English in Moscow?
The bad news is that levels of English in Russia are still pretty poor, albeit slowly improving.
The good news is that you can get by without knowing Russian, especially if you stuck to the big cities.
In Moscow and St.Petersburg, I would guesstimate that about 50% of people under 30 can at least somewhat communicate in English. Regular Russians above 30 usually speak no English. In all other cities, it’s much less than that.
Knowing Russian is very useful and convenient but I wouldn’t say it’s mandatory. Yes, it’s more pleasant if you actually understand what people want from you. It also helps you a great deal with making friends. I would strongly recommend learning to read the Cyrillic alphabet. If you can’t even read, you’ll feel relegated to the level of a two-year-old.
How safe is Moscow?
Moscow is 100% safe to travel to.
If you’re a tourist and plan to visit Moscow for whichever reason, you have nothing to be afraid of.
I’m by no means a massive traveler but I’ve been to multiple countries in Europe and in the US. Moscow and St.Petersburg are as safe as any other big Western capital.
There’s very little petty crime such as pick-pocketing, scams or foreigners and the sorts. You’re very unlikely to encounter petty corruption by the police since this has been weeded out a few years ago.
You can go out at any time of the night within the city center. The amount of shady people or places where you would feel uncomfortable is close to zero.
Russians hold Western tourists in high regard. Asians and Black people are generally ok too. They tend to look down upon Central Asian migrants, who do a lot of low-paying jobs in Moscow and are inofficial second-class citizens.
So if you are from there, or could be mistaken for being from there, that might be a bit unpleasant here and there. But nothing that would endanger your security.
Speaking English always opens a lot of doors in Moscow, even if you might not get understood all the time.
How is the weather in Moscow?
The climate in Moscow is very continental. The air is very dry unlike New York City air for example. That city felt like a beach resort for me. Very high and very low temperatures become somewhat more bearable.
Between December and March, the temperature never rises above 0C for a longer period of time. January and February are the coldest months and yes, you’ll easily get a few days in a row where it’s -20C or less.
This might be good or bad news but St.Petersburg, for example, is much worse in that regard. I experienced -27C there and this was pretty friggin cold to say the least.
Actual summer only lasts for a good three months, June to the beginning of September. It does usually get pretty warm with temperatures around +25C, sometimes even above that. Outside it’s bearable thanks to the dry air. In the metro, you’ll be sweaty and sticky though. Pretty much the same in winter to be fair.
The funny thing about Moscow weather is that there’s almost no spring and fall.
End of April and especially the beginning of May is when real spring starts in Moscow. The norm is 15C+ in May but it can get even warmer (and also colder…). June is generally already a summer month.
By the end of August, you can feel summer already retrieving and September is the only real month of fall in Moscow. Temperatures are still mild, so it is still pleasant to be outside.
How to take taxis in Moscow
Yandex Taxi is nowadays actually often the cheapest option to get a ride. Within the city center, you will find it hard to spend more than 500 Rubles (~8$), even if prices increase at peak times. Yandex Taxi gives you the option to choose a fixed price or ride by the meter. The former is usually preferable.
Yandex is the cheapest and most reliable option. Outside of Moscow and St.Petersburg, it is also the most-widespread app. That's why I recommend Yandex in most smaller cities in Russia.
Uber is a decent and fast option although it can be more expensive, especially if they have a price surge (which can happen to the experienced party person Saturday night). Their customer support is friendly and any issues are generally resolved quickly. Their drivers are the weakest out of all the big companies.
Gettaxi is similar to the other options. Prices can be a few % higher but you might also catch a cheaper ride if the other apps have a price surge. I have been using Gettaxi more and more recently and I am pretty satisfied with them. Gett is usually 10% more expensive than Uber but I found it to be well worth that difference in terms of service.
How to find an apartment in Moscow
For short-term rentals Airbnb is the most convenient option. For long-term rentals you have a couple of options.
My preferred option is using a site called cian.ru. It’s by far the best and most-used site for buying and renting property in Russia. It’s all in Russian but Google Translate will help you out. It’s constantly updated and most of their offers are legit. There are also options to filter for different parts of the city, filter by metro station and all sorts of other stuff.
This is by far the best site and the only thing that I’d recommend using. The only small downside is that a lot of the offers come from real-estate agents and are, therefore, subject to a commission. If you don’t speak Russian though, you’ll have a hard time negotiating with the landlord yourself. Still, this is a price that’s worth paying.
Cost of living in Moscow
Here's my basic rule of thumb cost breakdown:
How to find work in Moscow
Finding work is quite tough. Russian companies cannot easily employ foreigners because foreigners need a work visa. To get said work visa, they have to complete an elaborate process that proves you are competent enough and required to do this work. That's why finding corporate work in Russia is a foreigner is quite a difficult process. Most companies nowadays aren't willing anymore to employ a foreigner illegally. In addition they also don't want to take on the costs and time to get him a work visa. If you still want to try your luck, Headhunter is the best site to start looking for jobs.
Another option is to get sent to Russia as an expat. I can tell you as much about that as the next guy because I know nothing about the process. However, that is much preferable to finding employment in Russia because you will be paid a Western salary, get help with accommodation, insurances and the whole shebang. If you work corporate, do this.
The final option is to freelance or have your own business. You can always teach English but I honestly advise against that. Being self-employed is great because if you earn in hard currency but spend in Rubles, you are geo-arbitraging and taking advantage of the comparably low cost of living.
There are two possible ways of living legally in Russia. You need a visa as a highly-qualified specialist or a work visa.
To get employed as a highly-qualified specialist, you must earn above a certain income threshold and be of exceptional value to your employer (burden of proof is on them). In short, if you're an expat or working a higher position, this won't be an issue. If you're entry-level or freelancing, forget about it.
You can also get a work visa from a Russian company. However, this is expensive and time-intensive for the company so they're unlikely to do it. There is a way of getting a work visa and legally owning your own company in Russia. This is how you can live legally in Russia while being a freelancer or having your own business. Get in touch with me for consultation and further legal and administrative assistance on owning your own company in Russia.