Moving to Moscow

The Monster Guide to Moving to Russia

In 2014, I moved to Russia 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. Maybe not exactly scary but I did have a healthy amount of respect. When you move to a foreign country, especially one you have never been to before, even the most mundane things become interesting. If you're reading this, you're interested in moving abroad as well. I put together this 7,000+ word guide to answer as many questions as possible about living in Russia.

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This guide is massive and a smorgasbord of almost everything that I know about living in Russia.

That's why I broke it up into different parts. Each part will answer the most common questions that people have about moving to Russia.

Since I live in Moscow, a lot of the answers will be very Moscow-focused. Keep in mind though that a lot of this info applies to other Russian cities and regions as well. This is a guide to both moving to Moscow AND moving to Russia. 

I'll also keep updating it in the future for maximum relevancy. If you have a question that is not answered in the guide then leave a comment or shoot me a mail and I will add the answer.

Communication

Do people speak English in Russia?

I have good news and bad news for you here.

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.

Your perception will differ depending on whether you're a tourist or living in Russia. If you’re a tourist, you will likely spend time in locations where people speak at least some English. But if you live in the country, you have to communicate with more than just the bartender and the bellboy. Inevitably, you’ll notice that English isn’t that widespread.

Do I need to know Russian?

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.

But how many strangers do you interact with on a daily basis? Probably not many. In Russia, that’s no different. Essentially, not knowing Russian damages more your social life than being able to “function” in Russia.

What about the Cyrillic alphabet?

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. Even menial tasks will be a hassle. It takes at best two days to learn so do yourself a favor and learn it.

russian alphabet

Is Russian hard to learn?

That question depends on your perspective. What one person considers difficult might be easy for the next one. To give you a general idea, it took me about 18-24 months to reach B2/C1 level in Russian. This means I’m fully conversational, understand 95% of what people say and can express myself freely in almost any situation.

Now that’s more than what you need to survive. Your goal should be A2 level. That means you can handle basic social situations and understand what’s necessary. You’re at the level of about a three-year-old, which is enough to get by. A reasonable time to achieve this would be one year. That is if you are dedicated and willing to put in three to five hours of studying per week.

There’s an abundance of resources out there. Rocket Russian is a resource that I can recommend for beginners. Several of my acquaintances in Moscow have used it and had only positive things to say about it.

Safety

“How safe is Moscow?” 

“Is it safe to travel to Moscow?”

I see these questions popping up all over the net again and again. Time to answer these questions once and for all with actual on-the-ground experience so you're able to travel safely and with your mind at ease.

In this article you will find out all you need to know about your safety in the Russian capital:

  • How safe is Moscow for travelers?
  • How safe is Moscow at night?
  • How safe are taxis in Moscow?
  • How safe is Moscow for females?
  • How safe is Moscow for Asians and Black people?
  • How safe is Moscow to visit alone?
  • Do Russians like Americans?
  • Are there no go zones in Moscow?
  • Is there corruption in Moscow?
  • Is Moscow dangerous because of terrorism?
  • Is Moscow safe for gay people, political activists and the sorts?
  • Let’s address these one by one.

    How safe is Moscow for travelers?

    The first, biggest and most important answer, valid for all other questions as well, is:

    Yes, 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.

    Police presence in Moscow is high but not in an intrusive way. 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.

    Nowadays, Western capitals “feel” less safe to many people because of the rise in migrants. Regardless whether this is true or not, Moscow is culturally more homogeneous. Pretty much all people are White, in the American sense of the word.

    In almost three years of living in Moscow, never have I been threatened, a crime victim or even felt unsafe. Broadly speaking, your biggest enemy is your own stupidity, such as behaving inappropriately or carelessly when it comes to your belongings or other things.

    In conclusion: yes, Moscow is absolutely safe.

    How safe is Moscow at night?

    Nighttime or daytime does not make a difference in terms of safety in Moscow.

    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.

    I’ve lived in the suburbs as well and this has been the case there too. As a tourist though, you’re unlikely to ever venture far from the center of Moscow at night (and if so, then only for the right reasons hopefully...).

    If we’re talking about safety in the nightlife, pretty much all clubs in Moscow have security present on site. You will get patted down upon entering the club and that’s pretty much it. This is an almost unnoticeable inconvenience considering that regular and high-end clubs are safe to go to.

    More basic places are on the whole safe as well but approach them with care. Getting into a fight, being robbed and/or drugged are very rare events but they do happen. That’s one of the reasons why I generally advise against basic nightclubs or at least staying sober and in control of the situation. People there always will have less to lose than you.

    How safe are taxis in Moscow?

    On the whole, taxis are safe too. That is, if you’re smart enough to use Gett, Uber or some other taxi app like is the norm nowadays in Moscow. Even if some sort of scam or inconvenience were to happen, you’d always be able to complain about it.

    As far as gypsy cabs go, random cars that you flag down on your own, I advise against using those. Unless you’re brave enough to enter a beat-up Lada in the middle of the night with two shady guys sitting in the front, you’ll be safe. But you’ll overpay and have to deal with the interview every foreigner in a gypsy cab has to go through.

    Another case of you being your biggest enemy.

    How safe is Moscow for females?

    I’m not a female so I cannot comment on topics like cat-calling and sexist comments. But female friends and acquaintances tell me that Moscow is and feels as safe as any other city to them. You can perfectly well go out alone at night as a girl without fearing for your security. Again, for lewd comments, I am not the right person to ask.

    How safe is Moscow for Asians and Black people?

    I’m also not Asian or Black so my wealth of experience is rather small regarding this question. The few minorities that I’ve met in Moscow have not complained about racism or feeling insecure because they look different.

    If you’re a member of the politically correct thought-police you are unlikely to like the candid Russian approach towards race. 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 safe is Moscow to visit alone?

    By now you’ve already gotten the idea of Moscow being safe. Visiting alone or in a group doesn’t make a difference, so you can perfectly well do a solo trip to Moscow.

    Do Russians like Americans?

    On the whole, Muscovites will be indifferent or mildly curious about the fact that you are a foreigner. As a German, I can say from my own experience that being European generally evokes good reactions. This goes for girls as much as in general.

    All the Americans I know in Moscow have never complained about hostile receptions. Unless you’re going to beat the drum for NATO opening shop in Ukraine or state that Russia is an inferior shithole, nobody will care either way. As always, some popular states like California, New York and Florida are instant winners and guaranteed to get you good reception.

    Are there no go zones in Moscow?

    I already mentioned that Moscow’s city center is very safe. Moscow doesn’t have real quarters like other big cities do. In Europe, you might see “ghettoization” of certain areas where migrants cluster and natives don’t always feel safe anymore. In Moscow, however, there is no equivalent of migrant neighborhoods, no go zones and the sorts. At best you could say that certain suburbs are far more depressing and you’ll see more alcoholism there. But unless you really go looking for trouble you’re unlikely to find it.

    moscow safety

    What about police and corruption in Moscow?

    Moscow overall has a rather high police presence, though not quite as in other cities. In Paris, for example, you’ll see heavily armed police at big railway stations and the airport. Moscow has more but lighter police presence.

    Metro stations, big malls, concerts and the sorts always have metal detectors that you need to go through. However, they’re not as thorough as at the airport and you simply walk through them. I assume they only check for weapons. If you’re carrying a big bag, you might be asked for a quick X-ray at metro stations and railway stations as well.

    Police presence is highest at big events and holidays. Whole areas can get closed down and people have to pass through designated entrances. This is a big contrast to the rather open European security approach at comparable events. Not always convenient but it definitely works.

    As far as corruption goes, you're unlikely to ever encounter it as a tourist or regular citizen. This only becomes an issue when you start running in certain business and political circles. 

    All that being said, do not count on the police having your back if you get yourself in trouble. The best way of staying safe in Moscow is not to rely on the rule of law but using your own brain.

    Is Moscow safe for gay people and political activists?

    This is a favorite boogeyman of the Western press and a topic of unusually high interest. Short answer: if you’re gay or if you hate Putin with a passion, best to keep it to yourself. Another case of your own stupidity being your own biggest enemy.

    Russian values are different from Western values and homosexuality isn’t looked too favorably upon. You’re free to be as homosexual as you like in Russia but best to do so at home or in designated nightclubs, where you can do so. Yes, they exist, I’ve accidentally crashed gay nights more than once. Holding hands and kissing in public won’t get you arrested but sure as hell people will quite rashly tell you to stop it.

    The same goes for political activities and discussions. Best to avoid both of those as much as possible.

    Weather

    To preface this before I actually start. Russia is massive and the weather will vary a great degree between Moscow and Sochi and Novosibirsk and Vladivostok. I've only lived in Moscow so I can only give you the complete rundown of this city. That said, you can imagine Siberia to be 30% colder and the cities on the Black Sea about 30% warmer... 

    The obvious question that everyone is asking themselves before they actually come here.

    Is it really so damn cold over there?

    Yes and no.

    You have to know that 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.

    Again, thanks to the continental climate though it is not quite as bad as it sounds. If you pack yourself in in warm clothing, you’ll be good. I’ll cover that one later.

    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.

    Usually, the first snow falls around the end of October. From then on it depends on the year if it becomes cold immediately or not. November 2017 has been somewhat mild with very little snow.

    Don’t worry about being inside, by the way, Russian apartments and buildings use a generous amount of heating. Not good for the environment but you’re more likely to be hot rather than cold inside.

    moscow winter

    A sunny winter day (not joking)

    When does summer start in Moscow?

    Let’s talk summer, which unfortunately is not as long as it should be in Moscow. Usually, temperatures creep up to 20C in May, right in time for the holidays at the beginning of the month. 2017 was particularly bad and we had snow in Moscow as late as June, not kidding. Not the rule though.

    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.

    When do spring and fall start in Moscow?

    The funny thing about Moscow weather is that there’s almost no spring and fall

    I mentioned how in 2017 winter kind of took spring hostage until May and even June. Usually, temperatures rise above 0 celsius consistently in April, although it will still be grey and miserable a lot of the time. March, though colder, can actually be better in terms of sunshine.

    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.

    October can be ok but can turn very grey as well. November temperatures around 0 are considered winter in most of Europe and the US, while in Moscow we will book this as mild and still ok.

    So both spring and fall feel very short. You get a good two months of each at best and should consider this when making your travel plans.

    What to wear in Moscow for different seasons?

    I covered style and fashion for nightlife in my popular dress code guide.

    Instead, I'll focus on what to wear in winter. Overall, what I mentioned in my nightlife dress code guide still hold true:

    You can (almost) never be overdressed in Moscow

    This isn't a fashion blog and there's plenty of resources out there that will tell you how to dress sharply. But when in doubt go for the more fashionable option in Moscow. 

    That being said, here's what you should bring in winter (December - March):

    • very warm overcoat or winter jacket: think thick wool or something with good isolation. Russians wear a lot of furs and for a very good reason. 
    • very warm cap or whatever you prefer to cover your ears
    • Good boots with a rough profile so you don't slip (in nightlife the usual rules apply, no boots but dress shoes and heels!)
    • Warm gloves and a scarf should be obvious
    • If you're a little chicken or plan to stay longer than 15 minutes outside when it's below -15C, then you should bring thermal underwear as well. I don't have any and it's not necessary if you don't stay outside for too long.

    Generally, it is not as bad as you imagine, as long as you don't spend hours outside. Wear layers because you will be putting something on and off all the time. November and April are more forgiving and more like "normal cold" months. 

    russian woman fur coat

    Sometimes you will love Russian winter

    Transportation

    Russia is a massive country. That means life is happening in the cities and between them, there's a whole lot of forest and nothingness. I'll look at inter-city and intra-city transportation.

    Let's first look at transportation between cities.

    Taking the train

    Russian trains are serviced by the public company RZD. Trains and plains are the most popular means of transportation in this massive country. Everyone's familiar with the famous Transsiberian railroad, which takes 9 days from Moscow to Vladivostok. 

    Generally, trains are a very affordable and sufficiently convenient means of traveling. Sure, they're a bit old but always clean, not overcrowded and most importantly incredibly punctual. Russia has an ambiguous relationship with punctuality but damn, their trains are always on time and not a single minute late. 

    A few selected routes like Moscow-St.Petersburg and Moscow-Nizhny Novgorod are also serviced by brand-new highspeed trains. You can travel from Moscow to St.Petersburg in merely 4 hours. If you're looking for the cheap adventure option though, you should take a regular train.

    Russian Sapsan train

    The highspeed train that connects Moscow and St.Petersburg

    Buses and Marshrutkas

    Traveling by bus isn't all that popular in Russia. If at all, then you have bus connections to Europe but not to the East, simply because trains are the superior option due to the distances. Within cities, there are, of course, buses like in any other cities. At the outskirts of bigger cities, there are also "marshrutkas", sort of minibusses that operate often half-legally and only take off once the bus is full. It's quite an experience in itself.

    All in all, I don't take buses at all but there's nothing really wrong with them besides being inconvenient.

    Travel by plane

    You probably are familiar with Aeroflot, Russia's biggest and most popular airline. There are a few other ones like S7 airlines that also serve international routes. Traveling domestically is affordable. Sometimes it's as cheap as taking the train. Keep in mind that Russia is massive so flying from Moscow to Vladivostok takes a cool 9 hours. Still, about 400$ for a return flight isn't that bad.

    Service meets industry standards, apart from low-cost carriers like Pobeda (I'd recommend avoiding them). Safety is no concern these days. There was a time when Russian domestic airlines weren't all that safe but that's been fixed.

    Taxis

    I wrote most of this with a focus on Moscow. Outside of Moscow, you can expect prices to be yet another 30-60% cheaper. 

    Taxi in Russia

    What gypsy cabs are and why you should avoid them

    Since cabs existed before the advent of smartphones and apps, people had to find a way to call one as fast as possible. Russians are, by and large, a very inventive people and this is where gypsy cabs come in.

    If you’re looking for a ride you stick your hand out, just like you would do to call a regular taxi. Only that in Moscow you’ll pretty soon have a growing number of cars stop by you, eager to give you a lift. Unfortunately, these will not be the city’s BMWs and G-Wagens but more the Ladas and Zhigulis with more or less shady looking people at the wheel.

    This is the basic procedure of how to get yourself a gypsy cab. These unofficial (and technically illegal) rides used to be all over Moscow 10 years ago or so. With smartphones offering a quick, easy and secure way of calling cabs, these unofficial ones are gradually dying out now. You’ll still get plenty of offers though if you decide to get one.

    However, I would definitely advise against that. If you don’t speak Russian, you are 120% sure to get ripped off. Even if you do speak Russian, it will 99% of the time be more expensive than a legal taxi. Not to mention that you’ll ride in a shitty car with god knows who. I’m not going to go into all the things that have happened and can possibly happen, just stay away and stay safe.

    Why taxi apps are better and which one to use

    Again, thanks to smartphones I can’t think of a single person these days that still actually calls a company to get a taxi, at least not in Moscow. That might be a different story in a smaller Russian city but definitely not here.

    Apps are easy to use, fast, convenient and cheap. You can also get a fancier business or luxury car if you want. Here are the 3 main apps that I use.

    Yandex Taxi

    Installation and ease of use

    After you download the app and verify your phone number you're good to go. No need to register a credit card, you can choose to pay in cash. The app is easy to use and you can, for example, add several destinations right away.

    Prices and options

    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.

    In terms of cabs themselves, you get several options ranging from basic Kias (cheapest) to Mercedes E-types (business, most expensive). You can also call minivans or child-friendly taxis. 

    The basic cabs are often, but not always, yellow. I found drivers to be ok, usually not talkative or friendly but they get you safely to your destination. 

    Overall impression

    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

    Installation and ease of use

    Just like with Yandex Taxi you download Uber and verify your number. If I remember correctly (it's been a while), you also have to enter a credit card number. You can choose to pay in cash as well but be aware that no driver in Moscow ever has change. Unlike at Yandex, you can only enter one destination.

    Prices and options

    Uber used to be the cheapest option but recently I found that it's often a bit more expensive than at least Yandex Taxi. Since the two companies are going to cooperate in Russia in the future, I expect prices to become very similar soon. 

    Uber always gives you a fixed price and four options to choose from (basic, comfort, business, child-friendly). You can't call bigger cars and there's also no cab-sharing like in the US for example. Some cars are yellow, some are "civilian". Drivers are pretty much the same like anywhere else but you often run into some damn incompetent ones too.

    Overall impression

    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

    Installation and ease of use

    Like Yandex Taxi, Gettaxi is good to go without a credit card. The app is user-friendly and easy to navigate.

    Prices and options

    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. The only difference is that you can also choose to get a VIP option and call a Mercedes S-type or BMW 7 series, which will be around 3-4 times the price of the cheapest car. 

    The drivers at Gettaxi are usually pretty competent and I've found them to be better than Uber for example. No unasked for conversations, less trouble finding the pickup spot, just overall a better experience. Sometimes you also get nicer cars even if you ride economy class (a Ford vs a Kia for example). 

    Overall impression

    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.

    Keep in mind that 90% of the time drivers do not speak English. That is fine though since you want to get from A to B. It can be a bit iffy when they pick you up. My advice is to indicate a spot where they will have no problem to see you, so you avoid a useless phone conversation.

    The Metro

    Mandatory maps and apps for the Moscow metro

    In case you speak Russian you should have much fewer problems finding your way, hence my focus on English in this guide. You definitely want to download the Yandex metro app. You can use it in English and it's a foolproof way to find out how to get from A to B (web version here). You don't even need an internet connection to use it. Alternatively, you can download a version of the Moscow metro map here (small English names of the stations in grey).

    Moscow metro ticket prices and where to buy tickets

    Once you enter a metro station, you’ll go and have to buy a ticket.

    The best tickets for tourists are those that are calculated by rides. For example:

    • 1 ride: 55 Rubles
    • 2 rides: 110 Rubles
    • 20 rides: 720 Rubles
    • 40 rides: 1440 Rubles
    • 60 rides: 1700 Rubles

    As you can see, the more rides you have, the cheaper a single one becomes. You can share a ticket between several people, so if you're in a group you buy a multi-ride ticket and hand it over to the next person.

    You are probably already on to the fact how dirt cheap taking the metro in Moscow is. There are no shenanigans like zones, so once you're past the turnstiles you can ride the metro all the damn day until you exit at a station (exit, not change!).

    With that in mind, it is surprising how few freaks and homeless people there are on the Moscow metro, even in winter. 

    There's also no ticket controls on the metro because it is rather hard to sneak past the guards at the turnstiles. And who would want to freeride anyway at these prices?

    You can get a ticket at one of the vending machines or at the booths. Elena recommends using your fingers to indicate the number of rides you need.

    With the advent of the World Cup 2018 in Russia, Moscow metro has started hiring English-speaking staff for information stands at central stations. I've heard conflicting info on how much English they actually speak but it's better than nothing.

    How to board the train (and avoid this dumb mistake)

    Armed with a ticket you’ll take a long escalator deep into the ground. Make sure you stay on the right side. The left side is for people like me that are frantically running down the stairs. People will tell you to move it if you don’t do that.

    Once you’re in the station, you’ll be impressed by how big and clean everything is. The Moscow metro is one of the most pompous in the world. It’s a class above those dirty and smelly stations that you’ll find in Western metropolitan cities (a different story in Asia). You’ll also notice that the metro in Moscow is as goddamn loud as standing in the first row of a Tiesto concert.


    Unfortunately, there is no rule of thumb on which side your train is running from. You will have to decipher the Cyrillic signs on each platform to find out. 

    During rush hour the trains are pretty packed. There’s a new one coming every one to two minutes, so don’t bother with running after it. As a part of the preparations for the World Cup, the announcements on the train are nowadays also in English.

    If you happen to be on one of the older trains, which is most of them, it’s still going to be as loud as in a Moscow nightclub. Good luck with trying to have a conversation. Fun fact: towards the center the announcer is a man, out of the center a woman.

    One thing that you have to pay attention to

    In Moscow, people shuffle towards the door to get ready for the exit as soon as the train left the station. So if you’re planning to get off only in a couple of station, you better go stand somewhere in the back. Same goes for when you want to exit, don’t jump up from your seat when the doors are already opening. 

    Here’s a funny story. When I was in New York City this year I applied this very principle. Next thing you know, I’m getting told off for how rude I am to try to find my way to the door midway through traveling. Different countries, different customs I guess.

    If you want to change, follow the color-coded signs and arrows to the adjacent station. Look at the floor for Exit signs in English.

    Beautiful stations in the Moscow metro

    Once you live in Moscow, you become oblivious to the fact how clean, orderly and magnificent the stations are. I remembered that when I entered the New York subway at JFK and had to wait about 10 minutes for the train. Irena from Russiau put together a great map of stations that are worth visiting for tourists. Check it out:

    My top 3 Moscow metro stations that I would recommend are Mayakovskaya, Ploshad Revolutsii and Komsomolskaya.

    General tips for the Moscow metro

    Last but not least, a few general tips off the top of my head.

    • There are metal detectors at the entry of pretty much every station. It’s not like at the airport but if you have a backpack with you, security will politely ask you to X-ray it. Moscow became big on this after it got hit by terror attacks.
    • Similarly, there are also always a couple of police officers at the main stations and even at remote ones. If you’re not a man or a woman that could pass for a local, police will stop you to check your documents. Racial profiling is a thing in Moscow. Best to not bitch about it and be aware and prepared.
    • The metro works till 1am and from 5am. In reality, this means that around 1am and shortly after you will still be able to board a train in the center. But you better not gamble too hard on when the last one runs (never really understood that). In the morning, the first trains leave the stations at 5am. De facto you’ll get a train in the center 15-20mins later. In terms of partying, I recommend to always cab it in the morning, if only to avoid other people, ha.
    • As I mentioned, the metro is safe and the amount of freaks, beggars and drunkards is quite low in comparison to what I’ve seen in other cities. Never have I felt threatened or any of the sorts. Pickpockets exist but if you take general precautions, you will be fine. I’ve also never seen a fight or anything of the sorts.
    • In terms of reliability, the Moscow metro is second to none. I’ve never encountered unannounced closures of stations or breakdowns of trains or any of the sorts. Trains run non-stop in short intervals.

    Cars

    Moscow and St.Petersburg are very well covered by carsharing services. Not all of them accept foreigners but I had no problems signing up with Belkacar. You download an app, send in a couple of documents and get approved. That's it. Find the nearest car and you're ready to go. The process is super simple although, to be honest, I haven't used them myself yet. I know they're even cheaper than taxis and you won't have problems with parking because you can leave the rented car anywhere.

    Be aware of the fact that Moscow is notorious for its traffic jams and lack of parking spots. Keep that in mind before you decide to get a car. 

    Bikes

    Moscow has followed the trend of numerous Western cities and introduced rent-a-bikes all over the city. With a few swipes on the connected app, you can rent a bike and cycle all over the city. But keep in mind that Moscow is not that progressive yet when it comes to cycle lanes. You'll be using the road most of the time. 

    Walking

    Last option is to walk.

    Moscow is massive. Moscow is also cold 6 months of the year. Walks between metro stations take at least 10 minutes in the city center. However, in summer it's a beautiful city to take a walk. I recommend the areas around Patriarch ponds, Clean ponds (Chistye Prudy), Gorky Park and Alexander Gardens. 

    Housing in Moscow

    You're probably curious to see how people live in Russia. I went out of my way here and cleaned up my apartment to give you a glimpse into a real Moscow flat. Keep in mind that this is an above-average standard. Many people live in worse, older apartments while some live in much more luxurious conditions.

    Moscow apartment 3
    Moscow apartment 2
    Moscow apartment

    How to find a flat

    Finding a flat is, fortunately, a really easy and straightforward process in Russia.

    I’m assuming that you want to rent long-term. For short-term rentals Airbnb is the most convenient option. For long-term rentals you have a couple of options.

    One is looking at Facebook groups. For all bigger cities this is an option. Type in [city] + expat or housing or something along those lines and you’ll get a couple of results. In my experience, they aren’t useful though. Either it’s a bunch of spam or the offer doesn’t work for you or (very rarely) the offer is so good that it’s gone instantly. In conclusion,don’t rely on Facebook cause it’s borderline useless.

    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.

    There are other sites out there like www.irr.ru but I wouldn’t mess with them unless you have someone on the ground that can help you with that.

    After setting up a meeting to see the apartment you can move in pretty much right away. Most landlords won’t ask questions if you’re coming from the West. Rent is paid in cash with one month’s rent as a deposit. The usual modus operandi is signing a rental agreement for the first 11 months. After that, you keep on living in the apartment without a contract.

    My landlords have never been interested in what I’m up to and were happy to help when there was an issue. I advise seeing the landlord before moving in to see whether that’s a trustworthy person.

    The quality of your apartment will depend on your budget. You can get anything from a dilapidated old Soviet flat for a low three-figure sum to luxury apartments in skyscrapers for a few thousand. 

    Cost of living

    People often ask me:

    How much money do I need to live in Moscow?

    Here's my basic rule of thumb cost breakdown:

    • 2,000$ per month and you won't have anything left
    • 5,000$ per month and you are living very well
    • 10,000$ per month and you're living like a king
    • 30,000$ per month and you're living with 3 models in a penthouse

    You can check detailed costs on a site like Numbeo. The following are my expenses in an average month.  

    • Groceries: about 200-250€ per month for one person. I eat a lot of meat and few carbs so you could likely go cheaper if you wanted to. Shopping at a mid-range supermarket. I spend a good 200-250€ on eating out as well because I freelance and get lunch or dinner away from home sometimes.
    • Eating out: lunch is often a special menu for 4-8€ that fills you up well (soup, starter, main dish and a drink). Regular meals depend on where you're going. Low-end spots are at most 10€ per meal. Mid-range restaurants 15-20€. High-end restaurants can be as expensive as you wish, from 50€ upwards. Those are all prices per person per meal. In general, it's not too difficult to eat out on a budget in Moscow.
    • Transportation: The metro is less than 1€ for an unlimited ride (no zones or other garbage). I have a yearly pass that cost me about 250€. That's insanely cheap compared to other major cities. Taxis are cheap too. 10€ for the cheapest ride at peak times, black cabs will be about 2-3x the price. Often I don't pay more than a few bucks.
    • Housing: I live 20mins away from the center in a fairly new 50m² apartment for about 650€ per month, all amenities included. In the center that would be about 2-3 times the price. You can live for as little as 250€ in a rundown soviet apartment two hours away from the center or for 3,000€ in one of the skyscrapers in Moscow city. 
    • Entertainment: This is where it gets even messier. For nightlife prices, you should check out my Ultimate Guide to Moscow Nightlife. Going to the movies is cheap, 10 bucks a ticket at most. Theater tickets range between 10 and 100€, the same for sports events. I train at home so I can't help you with gym prices. Like almost anything, you can have it pretty cheap or very exclusive if you can afford the price tag.
    • Shopping: I never shop in Moscow so I wouldn't know. Generally, the prices are roughly like in Europe, where everything is about 10-20% more expensive than in the US (clothes even more).
    • Traveling: If you take a prepackaged tour, you can travel for as little as 200€, flight and hotel included. The downside is that this is mostly going to be in the offseason and not the best hotels. Flights in summer to international destinations aren't cheap. Start from 200€ to Germany, more expensive to European summer destinations. Interior flights are cheap unless you want to fly to Siberia or the Far East (300-400€).
    • Insurances and healthcare: I get my insurances and healthcare from Germany so no comment on this one.

    Work

    How to find work in Russia

    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. If you want to build a business in Russia and need help with market research, administrative or legal questions, get in touch with me. I will put you in touch with the right people. 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. 

    How to legally live in Russia

    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.

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