Moving to Russia

Many expats think of moving to Russia as embarking on a mysterious and potentially dangerous adventure. The world’s largest country, spanning 11 time zones, is often exclusively credited with cruel dictators, a fearsome mafia and vodka-tinged depths of despair. Many imagine that its greatest historical achievements are wars waged on both international and domestic fronts.

But in truth, many foreigners seem to have little notion of what the present-day Russian Federation is really like. The oppressive Soviet state was dissolved in 1991 and, although the country is still very much overshadowed by its turbulent past, it has emerged as a proud country prepared to assert its place as a global superpower.

Most expats relocate to Russia for a senior or managerial position, and to take advantage of the accompanying attractive salary packages. After all, the country is one of the most notable wealth hotspots for those from abroad. Others come to teach English, or to expose themselves to a rich, interesting and complex culture.

But regardless of what motivates the move to Russia, it’s important that expats prepare for an overseas experience like none other.

Russia, and especially the heavily expat-favoured economic centres of Moscow and St Petersburg, has a high cost of living, and most of the services that appeal to Westernised foreigners tend to levy higher fees than the local equivalent.

Furthermore, the government-provided versions of certain systems, like education, banking and healthcare, will fall far short of the standard that many expats expect. It’s important to recognise this when negotiating a contract, or creating a budget.

Lifestyle adjustments will also almost certainly have to be made. Most Russian accommodation comes in the form of small, disproportionately expensive apartments. Furthermore, Russia’s former isolation has limited its populace’s exposure to foreigners, and many expats report that they find the locals unapproachable and cold. The sizeable language barrier (very few Russians speak a second language) also creates a tangible divide.

Russia is famed for its extremely harsh, cold, dark and long winters, and the severity of the weather cannot be denied. However, summers can also be very hot and pleasant, with plants and other wildlife going through impressive growth spurts in the warmer months. The further north one goes, the colder the weather and the longer the winter. Areas of southern Russia, like the resort city of Sochi, have much more temperate climates.

Overall, Russia is a vast and varied country, and expats would be wise to learn as much as they can to prepare before they relocate.