Most student live in dormitories or apartments provided by universities, and this is the least expensive option. Other options include home stay (great for even more immersion and a look at Russian life!) or renting an apartment alone or with roommates. The program organizers can generally assist with the first two options, but apartment rentals is more specific. You can check www.locals.ru to find an apartment or a room or join the Facebook group Flats for friends. Be sure to inform your program organizers of your housing plans as it can sometimes be an issue with your visa registration (which is tied to your residence).
This is a very basic kind of accommodation and it allows to save a lot of money and provides an easy way to meet a lot of young people.
The quality of accommodation really depends on the university. In Moscow (especially MGU) and St. Petersburg dormitories are quite good and can be compared to the ones in American universities (though in Russia they are much less expensive). In smaller towns dorms may be quite run-down, so it's better to check before what you will be getting with your university. Check also if there are any problems with hot water.
If you're staying for 3-4 months it is just too much headache and expense to run around for an apartment, so getting a dorm is the best option (unless you find a shared apartment).
If you're planning to stay longer than a year, then you can still get a dorm room for a month or two and directly when you arrive to Russia start looking for an apartment or a roommate to share an apartment with.
The price is usually about $100 per month for quite a small room with catering facilities and showers outside.
Allows you to get the feel of what life in Russia is like, but may be slightly expensive for what there is, because most homestay owners (in Moscow and St. Petersburg especially) are used to charging $10-$15 per night for a room. You may be interested in living there for a week or two, but after that period you may also start feeling like being pissed off by your neighbors, because you will be tired of their presence and want some younger people around (because most homestays are run by people in their 40s).
So, if you want to get all the good stuff that homestay can have, but not to feel as if you're visiting your parents, check out the next option:
Finding roommates is the most budget-friendly option, plus you get the advantage of meeting Russian people and living with them. The best website to find a roommate is www.locals.ru you can also try to join the Facebook group Flats for friends (for Moscow).
Renting an Apartment Alone
This is the only option that will allow you complete privacy. Renting an apartment in Russia is not as cheap as most people think. For example, it's simply impossible to rent a one-room apartment in Moscow suburbs (the cheapest it could be!) for less than €400 per month. Apartments in the center of the city start at €700 a month. Plus, you'll have to pay a service fee to the real-estate agent who finds it for you (usually, 70%-100% of one-month rent). And if you try to find it by yourself, most likely it will be some sort of scam, so don't even try.
If you want a decent western-style apartment in a good comfortable area in Moscow, it will cost about €1100 per month. If you agree for a compromise (that is, something not completely awful and not necessarily central), then you may be able to settle for €700 US per month, if you know how to bargain.
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