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A Comprehensive Guide about Living in Moscow

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Life in Moscow

At a Glance:

  • As the largest and wealthiest city in Russia, Moscow has a lot to offer expats, including a range of international schools and private healthcare facilities.
  • However, this comes at a price — Moscow is also the most expensive city in Russia, and this is especially reflected in accommodation costs and school fees.
  • The city offers a range of public transportation options, meaning you don’t need to brave the busy roads if you don’t want to.
  • The cultural offerings are almost unparalleled, and you can pick from classical ballet, contemporary art, or exploring some of the city’s history.

Moscow is Russia’s capital city and is located in the European part of the country’s vast territory. Currently, the city has more than 12 million inhabitants. It remains the political and economic center of the country, and its cultural life surpasses that of other Russian cities.

The city has a humid continental climate. You are likely to experience a true Russian winter — very long and very cold. Summers, on the other hand, are usually fairly warm, so you will also have the opportunity to enjoy the city in the sunshine

A Wealthy City: Cost of Living in Moscow

According to the 2017 Forbes List, Moscow is only beaten by New York and Hong Kong when it comes to the number of resident billionaires. Although you don’t need to be a billionaire to be able to afford living in Moscow, it certainly doesn’t come cheap.

In the past, Moscow regularly made the top five of the world’s most expensive cities for expats, for example in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey. However, it became more affordable when the Russian ruble lost its value against the US dollar in 2013, and as of 2017 it was ranked 13th in the Mercer survey. Housing, schooling, and medical costs make up the largest chunk of the expat budget.

Finding the Right School in Moscow

Among the first steps for expat families is finding a school to send their children to. Most expats living in Moscow enroll their children in one of the city’s international schools, which may have long waiting lists. It is advisable to contact the school as soon as you know that you will be moving to the Russian capital.

Some expats prefer to send their kids to local public schools in order to fully immerse them in the Russian language and daily life. Education in public schools is free of charge and open to all expat kids living in Moscow. Another advantage of a public school is that it will most likely be very close to your home.

Private Schools: The Solution for Expat Children

Generally, private schools are uncommon in Russia. Those living in Moscow, however, are lucky: even for an expat hot spot, the city has a wide selection of international schools. Children of expats living in Moscow can often choose between studying according to a foreign national curriculum, the Russian national curriculum, or the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. For younger children, many of the private international schools have attached kindergartens and childcare centers.

As mentioned above, international schooling is a major factor contributing to the high cost of life in Moscow. Depending on the school and grade in question, annual tuition fees start at around 5,000 EUR but can be significantly higher. They can also be joined by additional costs, for example an entrance fee or school transport. Fees for kindergartens and childcare centers are usually slightly cheaper. If possible, ensure that schooling for your children is included in your remuneration package by your employer.

In addition to said international schools, many embassies in Moscow organize native-language schooling for children of embassy employees on their own premises. Children of other expats from the respective countries may be admitted as well, so it is worth checking if this type of schooling is offered by your embassy.

Selected International Schools in Moscow

The Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University) is a prestigious higher education institution run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs offering full undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs in English, plus various courses at the Bachelor’s and Master’s level in English, French, and German.

Health, Transport and Leisure in Moscow

Healthcare: The Best of Russia

As a relic of Soviet times, Russia still provides free full-range healthcare services for all its citizens. Expats also have access to these services, so long as they hold a valid health insurance policy, funded by either themselves or their employer. However, those expats familiar with the public medical system have described treatment as ranging from “unacceptable” to merely “uncomfortable”. Additionally, doctors may charge you extra for medication and disposable needles.

In Moscow, however, the healthcare situation is much better than in other parts of Russia. There are hospitals and medical clinics which are well up to Western standards, some of them conveniently located in international neighborhoods. These clinics usually provide general and emergency care, and most of them have dental departments, too.

Here are some well-known international hospitals in Moscow:

In any case, comprehensive medical and dental insurance are a must for anyone moving to Moscow. The Western hospitals in particular can be very costly. Make sure that your insurance also covers medical evacuation for emergencies.

Driving Your Car: Get Ready for a Challenge

Driving in Moscow is much like driving in other megacities: traffic is terrible, especially during rush hour, traffic jams on some major roads do not clear between morning and evening rush hours, and parking spots are in short supply. Furthermore, many roads are in an almost constant state of disrepair. Occasionally, the police block major roads altogether to let government officials pass through unimpeded.

For those who do want to take on the challenge: once you hold a Russian residence permit, you may use your national driver’s license for the first 60 days after arrival, although this is worth checking with your local embassy. After this period, expats must apply for a Russian license. More information is available from the Russian General Administration of Traffic Safety (GIBDD) (website in Russian only).

Public Transportation: The Safe Alternative

The large red “M”s in white and blue circles all over the city indicate you are near a station of the Moscow metro (метро). Its construction began under Stalin in the 1930s. According to his plans, the metro was to be the “people’s palace”, featuring impressive architecture and beautifully decorated stations. Today, the 14 metro lines cover all of Moscow as well as several neighboring cities. Muscovites prize it as the fastest way of getting around Moscow — and the cheapest: a 30-day pass with unlimited rides costs only 2,000 RUB (approx. 35 USD).

Other means of public transportation include buses, trolleybuses and — for the truly Russian experience — marshrutkas. Somewhat similar to minibuses, these vehicles drive along certain routes stopping only upon request. There are two basic rules for the marshrutka. Number one: Don’t expect the most comfortable ride. Number two: Practice saying the Russian words “Остановите здесь!” (Ostanovite zdes, “Stop here!”) loud enough for the driver to hear you.

Sit Back and Relax: Call a Cab

If you don’t want to rely on public transportation, you can use a taxi. Despite many people in Moscow hailing cabs on the street, we would advise expats to call or order them online in advance, due to the high numbers of illegal taxis on the roads. Although these can be cheaper than regular taxis, they are not regulated and can be dangerous for foreigners.

Instead, it is recommend to use apps and services like Uber, Yandex, or Gett to order a taxi, which in theory means you don’t even have to speak Russian. However, some taxi drivers may require you to negotiate a price to your destination beforehand, rather than using a taximeter or fixed rate.

Leisure and Culture: There’s Something for Everybody

In terms of cultural activities, there is enough on offer in Moscow to be busy every evening and weekend if you so choose. Despite St. Petersburg’s popularity, Moscow is still the center of Russia’s cultural life, and there are countless museums and galleries to explore. A performance of classical Russian ballet at the world-famous Bolshoi Theatre is also a must-see for any expat as is the Great Moscow State Circus.

Contemporary art in Moscow is also enjoying a renaissance. New exhibitions and venues are opening every year, with one of the powerhouses the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Gorky Park. It’s also worth checking out the Winzavod Center for Contemporary Art and Artplay, both of which are located in former factories. The city also hosts the Moscow Biennale, which brings together artists and creatives from all over the world.

Of course, your leisure time in Moscow doesn’t have to be filled by cultural activities. There are plenty of beaches and other beautiful spots on the outskirts of the city which make perfect destinations for daytrips. In fact, many Muscovites spend their weekends at their dacha, their weekend home in the countryside.

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    When I came to Moscow I barely knew anyone, but now I've got dozens of expat contacts from dozens of countries.

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