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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Russia: Cold Weather and a Welcome to Match

Russia offers a great transportation network and some benefits for those with children, but expats find it a struggle to settle in.
  • Bottom rank for language
  • 77% pleased with transport infrastructure
  • Weather seen as a negative by 48%
  • 42% regard the economy negatively
  • Long working days, unsatisfied with work-life balance

From Russia With(out) Love

If you are planning on moving to Russia, you can expect a less than warm welcome: just 47% of expats in Russia say attitudes towards foreign residents are positive, twenty percentage points lower than the global average. Feeling at home in Russia is also a problem; while globally just a quarter of respondents find it hard to settle in their country of residence, 46% of expats in Russia report difficulties.

Very few people speak English; in general it’s difficult to communicate with others.

These struggles aren’t helped by the complexity of the Russian language. The country comes last place in the Language subcategory of the Ease of Settling In Index, with less than one in five respondents (17%) finding Russian easy to learn. Furthermore, just 11% feel it is easy to live in Russia without speaking the language. This hinders expats trying to make friends with the local population too: almost three in ten expats living in Russia (29%) say their social circle is mainly other expats. Of this group, 62% feel that difficulties with the language prevent them from finding local friends. One Venezuelan expat describes the situation with the words: “Very few people speak English; in general it’s difficult to communicate with others.”

Excellent Transportation Networks

As Russia is the largest country on Earth, it might take a bit longer to travel elsewhere if you live within its borders. Just 28% of expats rate their travel opportunities as very good: a low figure compared to the global average of 46%. However, while quick trips abroad may prove to be a challenge, traveling within the country is considerably better; over three-quarters of expats living in Russia (77%) rate the transport infrastructure positively.

There are good leisure options for adults and children. The quality of life is good.

However, it is important to note that 80% of respondents live in either Moscow or St Petersburg. One US American respondent living in Moscow was particularly enamored with the local public transportation system: “[The network] totally negates the need for a car,” they commented, “I could not work with as many clients in New York City as I do here because of the very extensive and well-run systems.”

Climate Leaves a Lot to Be Desired

The long cold Russian winters seem to hold less charm for expats — almost half of respondents (48%) rate the country’s weather negatively. Similarly, the Russian environment is not held in high esteem by foreign residents. Despite being party to numerous environmental treaties, Russia continues to face environmental problems as climate change takes hold. Expats living in the country are less than satisfied with the state of the environment and are almost twice as likely to rate it negatively as they are elsewhere (44% vs 23%).

Politics No Problem for Expats

Sanctions and two years of recession have left Russia in an economic slump, felt by expats as much as by Russians. Some 42% of expats living in the country rate the state of the economy negatively, well above the global average of 25%. However, on a personal basis, expats fare well financially, with 84% saying their disposable household income is sufficient or even more than enough for their expenses. While 21% fell into the lowest household income bracket, with 12,000 USD a year or less, a similar percentage (20%) are in the top three income brackets, accessing at least 150,000 USD a year (global average: 10%).

Despite contested international politics, Russia more or less matches the global average with regards to political stability. One British expat cited Russian politics as an advantage in their new home, and noted “there is a lack of understanding about Russia from the West”. Similarly, 77% of respondents are still generally satisfied with their personal safety. It is worth noting, though, that the survey was conducted prior to the St Petersburg bombing or the large-scale persecution of gay men in Chechnya, which made headlines in April 2017.

 Long Hours Take Their Toll

Expats living in Russia can expect to work hard for their rubles. Full-time working hours are considerably longer than the international average, with expats clocking up nearly 49 hours a week (48.7 hours vs a global average of 44.3 hours). An American teacher based in Russia was very critical of this culture. “The work hours are inhumane,” they explained, “My boss wants me to teach 6:30–22:00, Monday through Friday.” Spending longer in the office might explain Russia’s poor performance in the Work-Life Balance subcategory — it ranks 50th out of 65 countries.

Ups and Downs for Families

For those looking to raise a family abroad, Russia does have its upsides. More than eight in ten expat parents (83%) rate the availability of children’s leisure activities as good, with 38% even describing it as very good. One respondent from Iceland stresses the “good leisure options for adults and children”, stating that “the quality of life is good”. Over half (56%) feel that there are numerous education options, although those with younger children are less satisfied because of the cost of childcare: 45% of expat parents in Russia are unhappy with its price.

Further Reading