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What You Need to Know When You’re Moving to Moscow

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Relocating to Moscow

At a Glance:

  • You will need a visa to move to Moscow — use a reputable visa agency to take some of the weight off your shoulders.
  • It’s not easy to find accommodation in Moscow, so do your research and be patient.
  • As a global city, Moscow has several expat neighborhoods designed for the international community, although these tend to be more on the pricy side.
  • We would recommend using a real estate agency (or at least a Russian-speaking friend) to help you find your new home.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moscow has become an international metropolis, attracting an influx of Western expats eager to live and work in this enigmatic city. However, due to the economic and political difficulties the country has experienced in recent years, many expats have left or decided against moving to Moscow. The bureaucratic hurdles have also contributed to the decline of Moscow as an expat destination. Nevertheless, the city has a lot to offer ambitious or adventurous expatriates looking to further their careers in a multinational company or to enjoy life in this megacity. Many expats arriving in Moscow are specialists in their field, or else foreign correspondents or embassy employees. Language teachers are also often attracted to the city.

First Things First: Visa Requirements

Moving to Moscow or going there for short-term visits typically requires a visa. Only citizens of some of the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) can enter and stay Russia without one, while some nationals may enter visa-free for short stays — it is worth checking beforehand if this applies to you. 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 easier to hire one of the many established visa services (such as VFS Global) to deal with immigration authorities. We recommend getting in touch with your nearest Russian embassy for up-to-date information on visas and the application process.

Facing Difficulties: Deciding Where to Live

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, the city is divided into twelve okrugs, or administrative divisions. These in turn are divided into districts, of which there are 146 in total. Unsurprisingly, the city’s central districts are where many major corporations and businesses, as well as government buildings, are located. Moscow’s most expensive housing is also here.

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 neighborhoods. Families with children often prefer the expat compounds. These usually have international schools nearby, their own medical facilities, and plenty of green space. Others may 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 can be a very stressful and time-consuming affair. You don’t want to end up spending four hours in your car every day.

Where to Live in Moscow

Expat Neighborhoods

There are a number of residential areas in Moscow that attract expats in particular. These often contain guarded compounds with 24-hour security. Monthly rents for townhouses range from 1,500 USD to close to 5,000 USD, depending on size, location, and facilities. Among the most popular neighborhoods are Pokrovsky Hills and Rosinka.

Pokrovsky Hills is a prestigious international residential area in Moscow’s northwest, adjacent to the Pokrovskoye-Glebovo forest reserve. The compound has a European medical center as well as a community center and sports facilities. The Anglo-American School of Moscow is located directly next to Pokrovsky Hills.

Rosinka International Residential Complex is located in the Krasnogorsk region, northwest of Moscow. As it is quite remote from the city center, commuting from Rosinka is only recommended for those who have their offices in the western part of the city or close to the MKAD. Besides the usual facilities such as a medical center and supermarket, Rosinka also has its own British International School.

Living in the City Center

If you truly want to live in the center of it all, try the area around Tverskaya Street. Starting right at the Red Square, this is Moscow’s most central street. Some even go as far as calling it Moscow’s 5th Avenue. The area is especially popular with young expats as there are endless nightlife and shopping opportunities in the vicinity.

A bit quieter, but almost as close to the center, is the area between the streets Arbat and Kropotinskaya. Arbat Street is one of the oldest streets in Moscow. Today, it is a charming pedestrian area with cozy cafés and a somewhat Bohemian atmosphere. Many embassies and diplomatic missions are located here as well.

Other Residential Areas

Most of the city’s other popular residential areas are located within the Sadovoye Koltso, the Garden Ring. While close to the center, most of them are quiet residential neighborhoods with parks and a number of smaller shops, cafés, and restaurants.

Many Muscovites and expats love the high-end neighborhood of Patriarshie Prudy, Patriarch Ponds. The area has derived its name from a beautiful city park with a pond, which is the center of this quarter. It is located on the northeastern border of the Garden Ring, within walking distance of four metro stations.

Chystye Prudy, another of Moscow’s favorite residential areas, is also huddled around a lake, where you can rent boats in the summer and go ice-skating in the winter. The area is prized for its European charm, ample amounts of green, and quiet atmosphere. The French School is located close by.

Finding Accommodation in Moscow

For those who can afford the fees, the easiest and most convenient way of finding accommodation in Moscow is using a real estate agency. There are a number of agencies in Moscow which cater specifically to the expat community, such as Expat Flat and Troika Relocations. Their staff members usually speak excellent English, and they assist newly arrived expats with the registration process and other bureaucratic hurdles.

If you are not using one of the larger real estate agencies, get someone local to help you find a place in Moscow. Especially if you are not fluent in Russian and unfamiliar with the Moscow rent market, the danger of being ripped off by potential landlords and self-proclaimed real-estate agents is relatively high.

Fluctuating Rent Prices

Moscow’s real estate market is highly competitive. Even during Soviet times, the city was a major migration destination for people from all over Russia and neighboring countries. Nowadays, rent prices are lower than ever because of the many apartments that are being built and the decline in expats moving to Moscow.

Today, a one-bedroom apartment in the city center costs you around 1,000 USD per month. For a decent three-bedroom apartment, you can expect to pay anywhere from 1,500 USD to 5,000 USD, depending on the location.

Even though the rental prices are lower than in many other wealthy capital cities, we advise asking your employer about including housing expenses in your contract. Many standard teaching contracts with private language schools also include accommodation, although the quality of this accommodation is variable.

Rental Agreements: Choose Wisely

If you are using an international real estate agency, the rental agreement will be written in both English and Russian. Rent is usually denominated in US dollars according to a fixed rate stated in the contract or according to the current rate of the Central Bank. Otherwise, the agreement is likely to be in Russian only, and you will be paying your monthly rent in Russian rubles. If this is the case and you don’t speak Russian, you may need to cover the translation costs yourself.

Your rent should include facilities such as heating and water as well as all fees for facility management. Charges for electricity usually have to be paid separately. As prices for utilities are still fairly moderate, these charges shouldn’t add too much to your monthly budget.

Alien Registration: Be Quick

Once you have arrived at your new home, you need to be registered with the relevant authorities as soon as possible. Either your employer that is sponsoring your stay in Russia or your landlord has to register you within seven working days after your arrival in Russia. Depending on who is registering you, the following documents are required:

  • filled-in Arrival Notification form
  • original letter of invitation from your sponsoring organization
  • copies of your passport, visa, and the migration card you receive when entering Russia
  • passport or notarized letter from your landlord

If you are staying at a hotel, they will take care of this. In any case, make sure that you are registered in time — violations can lead to heavy fines and, in some cases, even to deportation from Russia. Any change of address at a later point will also have to be registered with the authorities.

Connect with like-minded expatriates

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  • Jürgen Hofmeister

    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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    At the first InterNations Moscow event that I attended I was absolutely delighted by the elegant atmosphere and the high-quality expat crowd.

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