It may surprise many to know that UN statistics point to Russia as the #2 spot for immigration in the world. It is second only to the US for the number of people relocating permanently to its many cities and towns, for a lot of different reasons. The country’s economy has been rising and falling over the past few years, however, there is an ongoing need for labor, higher wages, and an overall better standard of living.
The thought of living in Russia may seem daunting at first,
but the cost of living in Russia is a pleasant surprise, as is the overall experience.
With a tremendous amount of culture and history, it provides citizens and travelers with an amazing range cultural entertainment. This ranges from museums, monuments, and buildings, to natural wonders, amazing food, art, and so much more.
Of course, the climate can be a shock and the crime rate surprising.
But as a temporary “expat” you can find secure housing and enjoy a nice standard of living. You also have access to great healthcare and good schools. An expensive country, what I found was this: If you let go of your Westernized standards and live like a local, the cost of living in Russia is amazingly affordable.
Learning to speak Russian is very helpful too.
I will discuss prices in dollars to give you an easier understanding of actual expenses. The Russian Federation uses the Ruble as their currency, which currently exchanges at:
$1 = 63 rubles.
To make things as clear as possible, I’ll convert pricing to dollars.
Here is a breakdown of the cost of living in Russia by category:
Unlike countries like Mexico or South Korea, you will not want to offset the cost of living in Russia by opting for a rural or suburban accommodation if you need to be in a city daily. Russian transportation and traffic is extremely stressful to those unaccustomed to it. Because of this, I would say that if you work in a specific area of the city, relocate as efficiently as you can.
Also, take the most common bit of advice from anyone who has lived in Russia: work with a good real estate agent. As is the case anywhere, housing varies widely, and the closer to a city center the higher the cost. However, finding a quality accommodation in a good location takes some doing. A fluent speaker knowledgeable in the property market is your key to success.
Moscow has the highest prices in the country, even in the suburbs,
so negotiations are usually part of the deal.
Furnished and unfurnished apartments are the most commonly chosen types of housing. If you are only staying for a relatively brief visit (a few weeks to a few months), a hostel or even a hotel may be a good option.
Prices are going to vary, but the most common are:
Hostel dorm bed in Moscow — $25 per night
Hostel dorm bed in the rest of Russia — $12 per night
Budget hotel in Moscow — $42 per night
Budget hotel in the rest of Russia — $20 per night
Medium-comfort hotel in Moscow — $121 per night
Medium-comfort hotel in the rest of Russia — $70 per night
Luxury hotel in Moscow — $235 per night
Luxury hotel in the rest of Russia — $145 per night
Naturally, anyone staying for the longer term is better off renting an apartment.
Here’s what you can expect to pay for housing in Moscow or outside of a major city (per month):
1 bedroom apartment in Moscow — $995
1 bedroom apartment in the rest of Russia — $620
2 bedroom apartment in Moscow — $2800 – $6500
2 bedroom apartment in the rest of Russia — $900
3 bedroom apartment in Moscow — $2100 – $12000
3 bedroom apartment in the rest of Russia — $1100
You can find apartments for half that price in the outer areas, but you may have to commute an hour or two each way, especially if you’re driving. During good weather, it may be fine, but in the brutal winter months, it could be dangerous.
If you live in town you will not need to own transportation. You can rely on the extensive transport systems throughout the largest Russian cities and towns. There is a national transportation system as well, but if you live remotely you will require a car.
Your public transport option includes a metro in the major cities of St. Petersburg, Moscow and Yekaterinburg.
These are usually very crowded and a monthly pass is wiser than purchasing tokens at the gate. There are also many trams, buses and trolleys. Ideal for getting around a city, a bus is a common way of going between cities too. Again, prepaying for the pass or fare is a good way to avoid lines.
The rail system in Russia is comparable to that in the US and you can get anywhere rather quickly.
Buying tickets online saves time, but is a rare example of costing more to plan ahead!
In the city or even rural areas, taxis are available. You can also wave down minivans, but remember that means that riding one may lengthen your commute because of frequent stops.
Here is the typical cost of transportation in Russia:
Taxi per km – $ 0.30
Bus fare in a city – $0.50
Public transport pass (monthly) – $32
Overnight bus – $25
Overnight train – $55 (3rd class), $95 (2nd class), $155 (1st class)
Trans-Syberian Railway – $600-$1,200
Gas/petrol – $2.30 per gallon
While your cost of living in Russia can be reduced by opting for the cheapest transportation, “time is money” and any lengthy daily commute may be timely as well as frustrating.
Communications are the main source for technology in Russia and your cost of living in Russia must include a few budget items in this area. Generally, mobile phones, Internet access and cable TV are the main items you will have to acquire.
Most apartments are ready for Internet connectivity, saving you on installation.
You will have to pay for a package, which tends to include landline phone, TV and Internet.
Mobile phones are often a package that includes the phone and the service. The primary suppliers are MTS, Megafon, and Beeline. They don’t vary much by price or even by reception. They do make different plans available, and you’ll want to be sure you are not double-paying for a landline. Overall, you’ll find cell service to be cheap in Russia.
The average prices for technologies are:
USB/Wifi internet (unlimited) – $20 per month
Mobile cellular internet – $0.16 per day
Mobile package – $15 (includes 5 GB Data, 1000 local minutes, 600 texts)
International minute (US) – $0.50
International minute (EU) – $0.10
International text (US) – $0.16
International text (EU) – $0.10
Though you’ll hear about social media blackouts or other such controls, they are not all that common (I found the same to be true in Vietnam). If you are worried, purchase access to a VNP that will allow you to surf anywhere by giving you a private IP address. I use ExpressVPN.
Food & Drink
If you are a gourmet, your cost of living in Russia will increase substantially. Though some of the foods that Westerners view as gourmet (caviar, smoked fish, etc.) are common in Russia, the highest quality foods and alcohol are very expensive. Good grocery stores struggle to keep fresh fruits and vegetables in abundance during winters. As an example, I once paid close to $25 for a small container of strawberries during the winter.
Don’t scout around for Western brands.
Try to live like a local and you’ll enjoy a lower cost of living in Russia.
That means comparison shopping for everything from toilet paper and toothpaste to canned goods and meat.
Dining out is still a big expense, even though there are tons of high-end restaurants in Moscow and St. Petersburg. However, people with children will be pleased to discover that there are affordable fast food chains in many areas.
The prices average at:
Chicken breasts (1lb) — $2
Bottle of red table wine — $9
Bread – $0.52
Cheese – $3.50 (1b)
Lunch in a café (per person) — $10
Fast food meal — $5
Fancier restaurant dinner, including alcohol (1 person) – $50
I learned to love “real” Russian food, the hearty “peasant” foods that included dark bread, all kinds of dumplings, many soups, heftier vegetable salads, and lots of potatoes.
All of these foods were affordable to make, and you could find them at smaller cafes and vendors.
Like the wonderful folk in Brazil, I found Russians to be a noted sporting people. There are an abundance of athletic events, on TV or live. Major cities have sporting venues, but so too do the smaller towns.
Sporting clubs are also popular gathering spots.
While sports are big, culture is important to Russians and you’ll find theater events, museums, concerts, and the ballet are commonly-enjoyed activities. This is not to say that cinemas and discos are in limited supply, but they can be very expensive.
When calculating the cost of living in Russia, try to be firm on the budgeted amounts.
A single night on the town can seriously ding your monthly budget. The average prices are:
Movie ticket — $6
Theater/concert ticket — $50
Admission to the Kremlin Museums — $7.75
Tennis court rental (per hour) — $25
One cocktail drink in a nightclub — $7
One pint of beer in a bar or pub — $3.50
Don’t overlook the fact that Russians have festivals of all kinds throughout the year. I found music festivals, winter festivals, and even a White Nights Festival that were free and unforgettable.
Just like so many other expats discover, I learned of those one-off expenses that you totally overlook when planning for the cost of living in Russia. From the out of pocket costs for private health treatment to the items listed below, you will want to make sure you have a bit extra money set aside.
Consider what I learned when I had to pay for these sorts of “other” expenses:
Pair of jeans (Levis or similar brand) — $77
Sneakers (Nike or Adidas) — $78
Standard haircut — $15 (can get way more expensive)
Microwave — $77
Gym membership (per month) — $95
Living in cities is a good way to maintain your sanity, but the cost of living in Russia can skyrocket if you don’t keep a tight lid on your finances. The above expenses are not luxuries, but may not have figured into your budget.
Cost of Living in Russia–Grand Total:
The average cost for a single month looks like this:
Accommodations — $995 – 1,200
Food and drink — $400
Technology — $70
Entertainment — $100
Transportation — $50
Other costs — $150
Grand Total — $1,970
You can try to find accommodations with a colleague or housemate to cut the costs in half.
This is a common enough way to keep the cost of living in Russia under control. Keep in mind that your utilities may not be included, and long winters of heating a living space can add up. The country isn’t quite a digital nomad hotspot yet, but it definitely possesses the infrastructure to deliver high-speed internet.
Don’t be daunted by a chance to live in Russia. It has a durable economy and a lot of promising opportunities for those with select skills. It is a vast country of great beauty and multiculturalism, and if you have a chance to explore it, you will count yourself among the luck few!
Have you ever lived in Russia? What was your monthly cost of living like? What did you find surprisingly cheaper or more expensive?