Living in Russia?
Living in Russia
At a Glance:
- While the weather can take some getting used to, this is balanced out by Russia’s fascinating culture and welcoming residents (once you get to know them!).
- Although the country’s healthcare is free, in practice the standard of the facilities is variable, and we would recommend acquiring additional private health insurance.
- Generally, Russia is a fairly safe country to live in, although it is important to take basic safety precautions and remain aware of your surroundings.
Prepare Yourself for Extreme Temperatures
Even before arriving, many expats are already scared of the infamous Russian winter, and for good reason: the winters are long and harsh, with temperatures dipping as low as -30°C and even lower at times.
However, due to the humid continental climate in most of European Russia (where many expat hotspots are located), you should be prepared for hot summers as well. Experiencing 35°C in Moscow during July is not unheard of and might surprise many an expat who thought living in Russia meant wearing long coats and woolly hats all year round. Pack accordingly!
International Healthcare: No Need to Worry
Theoretically, all citizens of Russia are covered by a complete range of state-funded free medical services. However, the availability and quality of services varies widely, and medical care is especially lacking in comparison to the standard some expats may be used to. We would highly recommend avoiding medical facilities outside of the largest cities in Russia.
Naturally, it is a different story in the expat magnets of Moscow and Saint Petersburg: especially private and foreign-operated clinics and doctors are well up to international standards, and services may be available in multiple languages — although it is still important to do your research beforehand. International institutions are often conveniently located near the well-known expat neighbourhoods. Since they are, however, not state-funded, they require extensive medical insurance.
As of January 2016, non-Russian citizens are required to hold a health insurance policy, funded by either themselves or their employer. Future expats should either acquire an all-encompassing international health insurance policy, or discuss the matter of a corporate health plan with their future employer. Due to the variability of Russian healthcare, it is advised that this insurance policy covers medical evacuation abroad. Bear in mind that, even in case of emergencies, many Russian healthcare providers require payment in advance, either by cash or credit card, and that costs can be much higher than in much of Central Europe.
If you require prescription medication, make sure your particular product is legal and/or available in Russia prior to moving — a Russian-language list is featured on the Rossiyskaya Gazeta website. If your medication is permitted, you must carry a valid prescription in its original packaging with a notarized Russian translation. For further information, consult your nearest Russian Embassy or Consulate.
Sending Your Children to a Russian or International School
If you are an expat with children, you will be satisfied with the available options in Russia, which has many public schools that are generally free of charge. Children begin school at the age of six or seven, and attendance is compulsory until they are fifteen, although many continue onto higher education afterwards: over half of all adults in Russia have attained a tertiary education. Class sizes are also smaller than in many other countries, with less than 20 students per class on average. If you would like your child to be fully immersed in the social and academic life in Russia, this is probably the way to go.
Depending on your chosen city, there might also be a good selection of international schools. Naturally, the selection is largest in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. For more information on the former, take a look at our Living in Moscow guide. Saint Petersburg also has a range of options, from particular teaching styles (like the International Montessori School) to schools directed at certain nationalities (such as the Deutsche Schule Sankt Petersburg) and more general international schools (like the International Academy of St. Petersburg). Outside of Russia’s two biggest cities, the selection is more limited, although there are still options available, such as the Vladivostok International Secondary School. Make sure to do your research beforehand!
As waiting lists and times can be quite long, make sure to enrol your child in your preferred international school as soon as you know you’re going to move to Russia. A word of warning: tuition for these schools can be steep, so if you are on a budget, you might want to look into other possibilities.
Driving Your Car — Or Do You Prefer an Alternative?
Generally, road conditions in the major Russian cities are fairly good, although they deteriorate once you move outside urban areas. However, due to the immense size of the country and harsh weather conditions in large stretches of its territory, cars are rarely used for long-distance travel. All larger cities are accessible by plane, and there are a range of Russian passenger airlines — but remember to check their passenger safety record first, which you can through Airline Ratings. Many larger cities (i.e. Moscow, St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, and Samara) also use subway (metro) systems and have sufficient public transportation options.
Driving can be quite time-consuming in those cities, as many roads are hopelessly congested most of the day. If you are not dependent on your car, try to either use alternative means of transport or pick your route for your commute to work very carefully.
Please keep in mind that your driver’s license is usually only valid for the first 60 days of your new life in Russia, although this is worth checking with your local Russian embassy. After a certain period of time, you will need to apply for a Russian driving license at the nearest office of the Russian General Administration of Traffic Safety (GIBDD). For this, you must provide your passport, Russian visa, medical certificate, and original driving license: all of these require notarized translations. If your original driving license is still valid, you only need to pass a theoretical driving test. However, if it has expired, you must also pass a practical test — and both tests are conducted in Russian! It is also mandatory to have car insurance.
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