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Choosing the right place to live in Russia depends on many factors. There are practical considerations such as purchase and rental prices, the cost of living, availability of local amenities. Then there are emotional criteria, such as the desirability of a place – whether what you desire is happiness, safety, friendly locals or an active social life. In Russia, due to the huge distances involved, the degree of isolation may also be a factor.
The main reasons people immigrate to Russia are financial and aspirational; more than 75% of expats move to Russia due to the high wages and to get experience. Most of the opportunities available for these endeavours are to be found in Moscow. The Russian capital is the largest, most important, and, since the demise of the USSR, increasingly the most cosmopolitan city in the country.
Moscow is generally rated in the top twenty most expensive cities in the world. For example, Moscow comes second in the Mercer 2013 Cost of Living Rankings. Accommodation takes up a large portion of this expense, though Moscow is still cheaper than cities such as London and New York. Prices may be pushed up by other expats, who are the richest expats in the world.
If you can afford it, you might want to try living in one of the gated expat compounds. Otherwise, you may need to just get by with what you can afford. The great expense of living in Moscow (and some other Russian cities) is offset by the very high wages many expats command; more than a third of expats earn US$250,000 or more. Nevertheless, the terrible traffic, poor air quality and impoliteness of Muscovites may put you off.
St Petersburg is also expensive for property, but only around half as expensive as Moscow. The city was originally purpose-built as a gateway to Europe in 1703 and has always been cosmopolitan. Most expats live in the city centre, where most of the job opportunities – and some splendid architecture – are to be found.
If you drive and are planning on living in a large city such as Moscow or St Petersburg, it is advisable to try to find a place close to work, to avoid too long a commute, as traffic can be very bad in these cities. In big cities there is a trade-off between having a large, comfortable house and making commuting more bearable.
Other cities are cheaper still. At only 280 miles south-east of Moscow – a stone’s throw by Russian standards – Nizhny Novgorod, (formerly Gorky) is developing and increasingly welcoming expats. Accommodation prices in this city are approximately a third of those in Moscow. Nizhny Novgorod is particularly rich in vehicle manufacture, engineering and IT-related job opportunities.
Yekaterinburg (formerly Sverdlovsk) is just to the east of the Ural Mountains (and hence in Asia.) The city is a major centre for metal extraction and its related heavy industries. Accommodation prices here are somewhat more expensive than those in Nizhny Novgorod. It is a rather remote city, though there is a small but lively expat community.
The third largest city in Russia is Novosibirsk. It is deep in Asian Russia, in south-western Siberia, meaning that it is even more remote than Yekaterinburg, and isolation may be a factor. If your expertise is in science, industry or IT, this city is worth considering. It would probably be a good idea to be fluent in Russian, as, though there are expats in the city, the locals do not speak foreign languages much.
Thousands of miles further east lies the port city of Vladivostok. There are opportunities for expats here, and Western expats tend to live well. However, they live in a (mafia-sponsored) bubble with no real contact with the poor locals, or the even poorer Chinese and Korean expat labourers. So despite its splendid name (‘Eastern Overlord’) Vladivostok cannot really be recommended.
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If you are considering moving to Russia or are soon to depart, you can find helpful information and advice in the Expat Briefing dedicated Russian section including; details of immigration and visas, Russian forums, Russian event listings and service providers in Russia.
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