Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moscow has developed into a very international city. The number of expatriates in Moscow has increased rapidly during recent years. Although bureaucratic hurdles for moving to Moscow are still rather high, the city’s exciting life and the locals’ hospitality make well up for it.
Most of the multinationals and largest Russian companies have their headquarters in Moscow. This has been the major pull factor for getting foreign specialists interested in moving to Moscow. Other large groups of expats coming to Moscow every year are embassy employees, foreign correspondents, and language teachers.
Moving to Moscow or going there for short-term visits requires a visa. Only citizens of some CIS states can enter Russia without one. To apply for short-term business and tourist visas, a letter of invitation from a Russian citizen or organization is necessary.
Expats moving to Moscow in order to take up employment need a work visa. This can only be issued after a work permit for a particular position has been successfully acquired. Normally, your potential employer in Moscow takes care of the application process. Unless you fall under the new immigration category of “highly qualified specialists”, the application process is relatively complicated and takes around four months.
It is generally easiest and least stressful to hire one of the many established visa services to deal with immigration authorities. This way, you don’t have to immerse yourself in the immensely complicated and constantly changing immigration regulations. The consulate of the Russian Federation in Washington, D.C. has up-to-date information on visas and the application process.
Before moving to Moscow, it is important to understand the layout of the city. Moscow has developed in circles around the original historical center. Today, Muscovites divide their city into four major rings. The first ring contains the very center of the city, the Kremlin, as well as the Red Square and some other tourist attractions.
The second ring is an immensely popular place to live with both locals and expats moving to Moscow. Its outer ring road draws a circle with a diameter of around five kilometers around the Kremlin and covers what is considered the city center. The area is referred to as Sadovoye koltso, the Garden Ring.
Although the majority of expats moving to Moscow choose to live within the Garden Ring, most of the city’s residential quarters are located between the third and fourth ring. The fourth ring is enclosed by the Moscow Automobile Ring Road (Moskovskaya Koltsevaya Avtomobilnaya Doroga — MKAD). The MKAD is the official city boundary, although there are some areas outside the ring that are also part of the city area.
Finding suitable accommodation is among the most difficult parts of moving to Moscow. Some say it is easier to find work than a decent apartment. Here is some advice on how to best go about the task.
Expats moving to Moscow have a choice between expatriate-only communities in wealthy suburbs and a more local experience in other Moscow neighborhoods. Families with children often prefer the expat compounds. These usually have international schools nearby, their own medical facilities, and plenty of green space. Other expats prefer the centrality of the Garden Ring or the slightly more Russian experience in other suburbs.
When deciding where to live in Moscow, take into account your office location, international schools for your kids, and other daily necessities such as shopping opportunities. Commuting in Moscow is a very stressful and time-consuming affair. You don’t want to end up spending four hours in your car every day.
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