Why Settling In Russia and How to Find Friends, Job, and Accommodation

Author: Dimitry Paranyushkin (on 11 Jan 2010)
Not that long ago people would write off Russia. They said the country had failed to take to capitalism as it should have and was insignificant on the world stage. Learning the language was pointless, working or doing business there was fraught with risk and the visa regime was too strict to make travel worthwhile. But whether this was true or not, it would be a brave person who would say such things now. 

Hermitage in St. Petersburg / photo by sminor@FlickR

Hermitage in St. Petersburg / photo by sminor@FlickR

With stable, steady growth and huge energy resources, Russia has once again emerged as a world power, one that will become even more important in the next decades. Russia has now attained a status it hasn't enjoyed since the Soviet Union fell. Whether you come here to work or study, having lived in Russia and/or being able to speak Russian is a major bonus to have on any CV.

But that's just the pragmatic side of making the choice to live in Russia. Or maybe a good justification (and a genuine one) for having the chance to experience what is a remarkable country. The legacies of Russia's recent history as the USSR, fascinating to so many people, are still a major part of the country. The culture is unlike anything you will experience in the rest of Europe. The sheer size of the country is mind-blowing, home to so many natural wonders and such diverse peoples. Living in Russia is a life-changing experience. It's not always easy and it's often an incredibly frustrating place to live, but there is always something new to see, something new to do and something new to learn from living here.

Practicalities, Accommodation, and Work

Once you made your decision to move to Russia, the next consideration could be finding appropriate accommodation and work. 

In terms of accommodation, your best choice is to start with a room. Try posting on our forum or Expat.Ru as well as the English-language roommate matching service FlatMates.Ru and also ask around your friends and on Facebook. Normally, a decent room in the center of Moscow would cost you about $300-$500 / month. After several months you may consider moving into your own apartment, but keep in mind that the real-estate prices in Moscow are too high: you won't get anything worth living in for less than $1300 US / month. 

Finding a job is not such a big problem. The obvious choice is to teach English or do nannying – these jobs are relatively easy to get and may even pay well. Doing translation jobs or other freelance work is also a good option, but this way you'll be less integrated and it may be difficult sometimes. If you want to work for a big company, there's a whole question of work permits and other legal stuff. If you want to set up your own business in Russia, that's more or less possible and there's still lots of niches, especially service-related businesses, where you could thrive. Taxes are some of the lowest in Europe, but the amount of red tape is frightening and you will definitely need a qualified accountant (starts at $200 / month), to do all the paperwork and stuff.

For those who wish to study Russian language in Russia, there are a wide variety of schools in a number of different cities to choose from. It is also possible to obtain a full degree at one of the country's universities. Some, like Moscow State University, have an outstanding international reputation. 


Watching the Russians

Russian Character: Don't expect Russians to be like other Europeans. Two main things will strike you when you first arrive: firstly, customer service is atrocious and, secondly, Russians can appear very blunt and/or rude people. And while you'll probably never get used to the bad service (the incompetence will still have you pulling your hair out after years in the country) you will come to grips with the Russian mentality much more quickly.

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At the start of the your time here the frustrations will mount quickly: the inability of Russians to queue in a straight line,

their tendency to push in front of you in queues, the fact that people in any position of authority will do their best not to help you but will instead use their meager amount of power to make things difficult for you. To new arrivals it may seem shocking to be greeted at a shop with the word, "Speak." Or to have a cashier reply, "Why do you care" when you ask them how they are. Or to be unapologetically pushed and shoved as you walk along the streets or in the metro. But soon enough you get used to it and adopt the old "When in Rome" adage. It's a different culture and a different way of looking at the world. Instead of letting it frustrate you, try to enjoy it, try to understand it, and try to learn from it.

A very good way to get an insight about Russian mentality is to read our Russian People Interviews and to read our thorough research on Russian culture in What is Russia section.

Blending In: The chances are you will always stand out as a foreigner in Russia no matter how hard you try. Russians say they can tell a foreigner by their eyes and after being in Russia for long enough you will be able to do the same. Trying to attain the Russian appearance cannot be simplified to statements like, "Don't smile," or "Look angry all the time." But study the faces of the locals and over time it's not impossible to adopt the same expression. For what? Well, there's no point really except that it's hard to feel like you belong in a country when people are always staring at you, no matter how harmless their intentions might be. And it's always a kick the first time someone gets a shock when they find out you're not Russian.

Safety: Russia is a surprisingly safe place. It is very rare to be physically threatened, there are not a lot of pickpockets and the scams running here aren't particularly clever. However, people of smaller build or stature tend to get hassled more than the larger variety. Whenever you hear of a foreigner being mugged in Moscow, it's generally a little guy. And, although it's a shame to have to say so, racist attacks on people with darker skin are a problem in Russia. While the chances of it ever happening to you might be marginal, it does need to be mentioned. Just keep in mind that there are only a handful of attacks on dark-skinned people in all of Russia each year (not including attacks on people from Central Asian countries).



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