The cost of living in Russia is considered low compared to many western nations. However, living costs depend entirely on where (and how) you live in Russia. Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Volgograd are the most expensive places to live. Even those on generous international salaries will find they pay through the nose for luxury apartments, eating out and socialising in these cities. Accommodation takes the largest chunk of salaries, although rental prices are low compared to some parts of Europe. The Russian Ministry of Education and Science estimates that international students, teaching staff and academics would need 23,650 RUB (£209) month to cover living costs (not including rent) in Russia. Most western expats will find food, utilities and transport in Russia to be significantly lower than what they are used to.
There are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in Russia, however most expats choose to rent a property before tackling the rather bureaucratic property market. Rental prices depend on the area and type of property but as a general rule, properties will be significantly more expensive the closer they are to the city centre, particularly in Moscow. Expats should get used to the idea of apartment living in Russia, as most detached houses are reserved either for the very wealthy or those living in remote areas. Apartments in Russia range from pre-revolutionary style (with larger rooms and antique fixtures), Soviet-era apartments (small, often communal apartments in large tower blocks) or ‘western-style’ apartments (renovated apartments with ‘western’ fittings and less emphasis on communal living).
Depending on the property, rental prices in Russia are low compared to some European countries. An average apartment in Moscow or Saint Petersburg city centre will cost around 40,000 RUB (£350) per month and a more luxurious ‘western’ apartment around 113,215 RUB (£1000 per month). To rent or buy property in Russia, it is almost essential to use an estate agent, so expect to pay a hefty percentage in fees.
A deposit of one month’s rent is usually required by Russian landlords, to insure against damages to the property. In fixed period rental contracts, a tenant must give one to three months’ notice before vacating the property.
All homeowners are liable to pay a property tax of around 2.2% of the market value of their property in Russia. However, this is covered by the landlord so no payments are necessary for those renting a property.
The cost of utilities is comparably high in Russia, particularly in Moscow. There are a number of electricity and gas providers, such as Moscow Region Energy Company and Mosgaz. Electricity and gas are calculated by meter and paid monthly. Water is supplied by state-run and private companies such as Rosvodkanal. Tap water is not considered suitable to drink so most people use a filter or buy bottled water. The majority of urban apartments are well set up for broadband connections and most Russian providers offer a range of combined broadband/phone/TV packages.
The cost of basic utilities (electricity, gas, water, refuse removal) for an expat living alone in an 85m² apartment in Russia is around 7,385 RUB (£64.31) per month, with 477.61 RUB (£4.16) per month for a broadband connection.
Russia has no TV licence fee. Russian TV is dominated by channels that are either run directly by the state or owned by companies with close links to government. However, most major cable and satellite TV providers offer English-language channels along with some standard local Russian channels. You will typically find BBC, CNN, Eurosport and Discovery within most TV packages.
Healthcare and medical costs
Healthcare in Russia is considered to be of poor quality, with a lack of facilities and long waiting times for medical treatment. Although the government has introduced positive reforms in recent years, Russia’s healthcare system has been deigned one of the worst in the industrialised world by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In theory, healthcare is universally free to all Russian citizens and expats with permanent residency. However, the system has been beset by corruption in recent years and many find themselves paying for preferential treatment. There are a number of private hospitals and medical facilities in larger cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg which offer a higher standard of care. All those without permanent residency status should take out a private health insurance policy before travelling to Russia.
The retail landscape in Russia has undergone huge changes in recent years, with modern shopping malls and designer stores springing up all over the country. There is now a wealth of western chain stores in Russian cities, such as Marks and Spencer, Zara, Topshop and Mango, but expats may find prices for clothing and accessories to be much higher than at home. Grocery shopping in Russia has likewise gone through enormous transformation and there is now a vast range of supermarket chains to choose from such as Karusel, Auchan and DIXY. Shoppers should be aware that the price of imported produce, alcohol and groceries will be significantly higher than home-grown Russian brands.
The standard VAT rate charged on goods and services in Russia is 18%. Certain goods are exempt from VAT, such as basic food staples (bread, milk, etc.), children’s clothing and shoes, medicines and some printed publications.
- Rent 1-bedroom apartment in city centre – 40,412 RUB (£351.90)
- Rent 1-bedroom apartment outside city centre – 27,750 RUB (£241.64)
- Price of apartment per square metre in city centre – 134,316 RUB (£1,169)
- Price of apartment per square metre outside city centre – 91,307 RUB (£795)
- Loaf of bread – 37.82 RUB (£0.33)
- Milk (1 litre) – 68.01 RUB (£0.59)
- Bottled water (1.5 litre) – 46.26 RUB (£0.40)
- Draught beer (0.5 litre) – 69.86 RUB (£0.61)
- Packet of cigarettes – 118.36 RUB (£1.03)
- Petrol (1 litre) – 44.48 RUB (£0.39)
- Cinema ticket – 417.97 RUB (£3.64)
Source: www.numbeo.com (accessed January 2016)
Budgeting and Savings
It is possible to living frugally in Russia by shopping around, buying Russian brands and groceries and avoiding tourist and/or expats areas. Russians do not eat out often so restaurants can be very expensive, although many offer cheaper lunch deals.