Exploring the Cost of Living in Russia for ESL Teachers
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When you think about teaching English abroad, what countries come to mind? I guarantee you didn’t think of Russia. We don’t blame you. Teaching in Russia is not as popular as many Asian countries so you probably didn’t know that Russia is now ranked among the world’s most affordable countries.
Most people still associate Moscow with a high cost of living. This is because, in 2006 and 2007, ECA International ranked Moscow as the world’s most expensive city. For expats, the cost of living in Moscow was eye-watering.
However, the collapse of the Russian Ruble in 2014 has made Russia, and Moscow, a much cheaper place to live. As of 2019, Moscow isn’t even in the list of top 100 most expensive cities in the world.
On top of this, salaries are on par with or greater than English teaching positions in most Asian cities. This means that the cost of living in Russia is very favorable for English teachers. Generally, the cost of transportation, food, restaurants, and rent is considerably lower than in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, or Australia. It is probably even fair to say the cost of living, even in Moscow, is less than half of any Western city.
There is one caveat though. The cost of living in Russia can still be high for people who want to live an expat lifestyle purchasing imported goods and foods regularly. Fortunately, living like a local is very cheap.
The following guide will give you a good estimate of what to expect regarding the kind of lifestyle you can afford in Russia as an English teacher.
Moving to Russia
Typically the largest English schools will provide visa support, many may also pay for your flight and provide assistance finding a place to stay.
On the other hand, many of the smaller schools may not provide this assistance, but it is always worth asking.
Fortunately, for those of you who have to pay your way to get to Russia, flights are quite cheap from the US and Europe. The only exception is if you are flying in June or July. Even then, a one-way flight from the US will rarely be more than $500 from a major city.
Before moving to Russia, regardless of what the English school offers in terms of benefits, it is important to have some savings to hold you over until your first paycheck comes. This can be up to a month in some instances.
We recommend having around $2500 saved up before heading to Russia. Of course, this isn’t a requirement, but you will be thankful that you have some money to buy a few things for your apartment. In most larger Russian cities, you can find an IKEA (there are 6 in Moscow alone), which is a great place to buy these items.
Any reputable English school will provide you with a Russian work visa, especially if you accept the job from outside of Russia.
That being said, some English schools will only provide you with the invitation to apply for a work visa, leaving you to apply for it at a Russian consulate in your home country. This is quite common, and it isn’t necessarily a red flag.
If you need to apply for the visa, the cost is around $200 if you take the documents to the Russian consulate yourself. In the event that you live far away from the consulate, there are many agencies, which will deliver the documents on your behalf, and they typically charge around $100-200 in addition to the visa fees. The total cost for sending your passport to the Russian consulate to obtain a work visa is about $400. Some English schools will reimburse you for these expenses, so it is always worth asking about visa support.
It is important to note that these numbers are for US citizens based in the US. If you are based in Europe, the fees are typically lower but may be higher depending on your country of citizenship.
Once you have arrived in Russia, you will have to find an apartment. Even if the school isn’t paying for it, most English schools should provide you with assistance in finding a place to stay.
The most popular website for apartment hunting in Russia is Cian.ru. Of course, the site is only in Russian, and most landlords will not speak English. As stated before, most English schools will be able to assist you.
The average rent in Moscow is cheap by international standards. In smaller cities, it is even less, sometimes considerably cheaper depending on the city. Apartments are usually divided into two categories, typical Soviet-style apartments, and “evro-remont” apartments. The latter is usually what expats are looking for as they are more modern.
In Moscow, the average price for a one-room “evro-remont” apartment (one room and a separate kitchen) is about $700. Do note, however, that a one-room apartment is not one bedroom, but one room, though the kitchen is separate. If you are willing to live with roommates a room can be found in a larger apartment for about $350-400.
If the second option interests you, the language school should be able to help you find accommodation with other teachers.
Alternatively, you can reach check out to expat communities for more information regarding finding a roommate. The Moscow Expats group on Facebook is a great place to start.
Of course, if you are willing to live in an old Soviet-style apartment, you can cut costs even further.
Two important things to note are that almost all apartments available in Russia are already furnished. So the furniture is a cost you don’t need to worry about. Additionally, while leases are typically signed for one year in Russia, it is much easier to give one month’s notice and move.
Partly due to its Soviet past, utilities in Russia are very cheap. For a typical apartment, the water and electric bill will rarely exceed 3000 rubles ($50) a month. This does depend on your building though. Some newer buildings have concierge service, which can add a bit more to your monthly bill.
Internet service in Russia is extremely cheap. In Moscow, the typical price for a 300 Mb/s connection is 500 rubles ($8). There are usually bundles as well to include TV service for 600 rubles ($9) total per month.
Mobile service is also incredibly affordable. There are 4 main carriers in Russia and they all compete heavily for business. For example, 10 GB with 400 minutes and 400 SMS is currently 525 rubles ($8) per month on the top carrier in Moscow, MTS.
Public transportation is extremely well developed even in small Russian cities. Moscow and St. Petersburg have world-class transportation systems that are vastly more developed than any Western city.
In Moscow, for example, You can buy a transport card that will reduce the cost of one trip on the metro or bus from 55 rubles ($0.90) to 38 rubles ($0.60). A monthly pass for unlimited travel costs 2170 rubles ($34) at the time of writing.
Prices are similar or lower in other Russian cities depending on their size. Once you see how developed the transportation system is, you will see this is incredibly cheap.
Taxis are another affordable mode of transportation in Russia. Typically, a trip of 25 minutes in Moscow costs about 400 rubles ($6). Uber does not work in Russia, they merged with Yandex.Taxi. The Uber app will prompt you to download Yandex.Taxi. Gett Taxi also operates in Russia and the prices are about the same as Yandex.Taxi depending on the weather and traffic.
If you are looking to get out of your city, travel between cities in Russia is also quite cheap by Western Standards. To go from Moscow to Vladimir, a wonderful tourist city 200 km from Moscow, the trip takes 1 hour 45 minutes and costs about 600 rubles ($9) on the express train.
Getting to further destinations usually requires an overnight train, which is an experience in itself. It is hard to give an estimate, but these trains have varying levels of service and the cheapest options are very affordable.
Dining at Restaurants and Buying Food
Generally, eating out in Russia is extremely affordable compared to Western countries, but of course, there are world-class restaurants as well.
Typical meals in a restaurant in Russia rarely exceed 650 rubles ($10) for an entree and an entire dinner usually is less than $15 at a mid to high-level restaurant.
Almost all restaurants in Moscow offer a “business lunch” option during weekdays, which can be had for about 350 rubles ($5). This almost always includes a salad or soup, entree, side dish, and a drink.
Moscow also offers an endless variety of fast meals and street food. You will rarely find that food is more than $10 for an extensive meal in most establishments.
Groceries are also very affordable in Russia. Almost all foods cost significantly less than in most Western countries.
In every Russian city, there are markets or “rynoks” as they are called in Russian. They have an extensive variety of food and most of the food is brought in daily from local farms.
These markets are typically more expensive than grocery stores, but the quality is much better. On nearly every street corner in Russian cities, there are small grocery stores. In every neighborhood, there is usually a major supermarket as well.
It is quite easy to find European and Asian staple food at many of the large grocery stores. Some of the largest grocery stores in Moscow are Perekrestok, Auchan, Lenta, and Azbuka Vkusa. For more unique food, there are specialty shops in the larger Russian cities. Even fans of Thai, Chinese, and Indian food should have no problem tracking down ingredients in Moscow.
A typical food budget would be between 3000-4000 rubles ($50-65) per week. This includes a few splurges on imported ingredients.
For those of you who like to enjoy a night out, Russia is a great time. It can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. If you are out drinking Czech beer and Mexican tequila, it can get expensive fast.
Fortunately, Russian vodka is world-renowned and the beer, for the most part, isn’t bad. A typical drink at a bar is 300 rubles or less for Russian made alcohol and many international breweries have domestic production in Russia, so some international beers are popular and cheap in Russia.
The craft beer scene is also huge in Russia. Many Russian microbreweries have their beer all over the country and the prices are cheaper than imported beer.
For a night out, expect to spend about 3000 rubles ($50) for drinks and a meal.
In a megacity such as Moscow, there are many things to do for free. Most Russians love to go to one of the many parks in the city and barbecue with their friends. All of the public parks are free to enter and have areas where people can relax and hang out with their friends.
If you are into museums and exhibitions, these are also very cheap. The average cost is around 400 rubles ($7) at the high-end except for the major tourist attractions. Even those are quite cheap by Western standards though.
One area of entertainment that is more expensive than it should be is gyms. In Russia, the gyms are of very high quality and usually include a pool.
The prices are also very high compared to local salaries. It isn’t uncommon for a gym membership to cost around 6000 rubles ($90) per month. Many offer discounts if you are willing to pay for a year upfront. Cheaper gyms are starting to pop up, but they are still expensive. It is difficult to find a quality gym for less than $50 a month in Moscow.
Russia is a very developed market for buying consumer goods and electronics. This means that the prices are usually quite competitive with the prices in the United States. If you are looking to buy tech goods, you can compare prices on Yandex.Market. The site is only in Russian, but it isn’t difficult to search and compare prices without knowing Russian.
Clothing from international labels is more expensive than in the West and sometimes of lower quality, so it doesn’t make much sense to buy clothing in Russia unless you have to. That being said, it isn’t wildly expensive compared to what you are used to.
You will also find that shopping malls in Russia are everywhere. So it is never hard to find what you need. Most major metro stations in Moscow and St. Petersburg have a shopping mall nearby.
Overall Monthly Costs in Russia
Most expats will be able to live a comfortable life in Moscow on the standard English teaching salary of 80,000-100,000 rubles ($1200 – $1500). Note, that this doesn’t take into account the additional income you can earn by teaching private lessons to students outside of your English school, which is quite common.
Expenses for a modest life should not exceed $1000 unless you have expensive tastes, in which case, teaching English probably isn’t the right career choice!
As you get settled into life in Russia, your fellow teachers and expat friends will tell you about the tricks to saving money living in Russia as well as where you can find students for private lessons.
Matt Shannon is Co-founder at Expatriant. Matt spent 5 years in Russia and did just about every job you can imagine, he worked as an English teacher, in marketing at a Russian tech company, as a freelance translator, and in business development at an international law firm. He loves to share his experience in networking and searching for jobs abroad. Expatriant came about as a way to help anyone turn their dream of working abroad into a reality whether that be as a digital nomad, and English teacher, or a lawyer. If you are interested in hearing about our experience, check out our blog.