Moscow, Russia Report of what it's like to live there - 09/12/08

Personal Experiences from Moscow, Russia

Moscow, Russia 09/12/08

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. I have lived in various cities in Hungary and Slovakia, as well as in St. Petersburg, Russia.

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2. How long have you lived here?

I lived in Moscow for ten months total (September 2007 -- June 2008).

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

There are several direct flights to Moscow from American cities (Atlanta, New York, Chicago).

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Graduate student.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Most students live in dormitories, the disadvantage of which is that the majority of them are located far from the city center.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Grocery stores are everywhere.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Everything is available in Moscow, just at a higher cost.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Although McDonald's is EVERYWHERE, it is almost always impossibly crowded (Russians love it). A number of other Western chains are also present (Subway, Sbarro's, KFC, Papa John's), but the best and cheapest fast food can be found at the street kiosks usually located near metro stops. I recommend Kroszka Kartoshka and Stardogs. Moscow is also home to several coffeehouse chains, including Kofe Khaus, Shokoladnitsa, and now Starbucks!

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

I received mail at my dormitory.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

ATMs are everywhere; I never had any problems withdrawing money using my American ATM card. Credit cards are more widely accepted (the more expensive the restaurant/store, the more likely it is that you can pay with a credit card) but many places still only take cash.

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4. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes. Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, and some others, I believe. I attended the Protestant services and was very happy with the church.

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5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes. The Moscow Times comes out daily and is free (it can be found at a number of restaurants, shops, and bars). Other English-language publications are also around, but the quality is questionable. There are English-language bookshops that carry American magazines and newspapers in addition to books.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

I speak Russian quite well, and I can't really imagine getting by without it (especially outside of Moscow). At the very least, you need to know the Cyrillic alphabet, if only to recognize your metro stop.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Moscow is not a good place for people with physical disabilities. It is next to impossible to get around on public transportation, and few establishments make any effort at all to accommodate disabled people.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

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2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes! Public transportation is cheap (a ride on the metro is still under US$1) and very, very efficient. The metro will take you most places in the city, and you rarely have to wait more than two minutes for a train. Buses and trollies are also very efficient, although most are stuck in traffic during rush hour. Marshrutki (small buses that look like vans) are the better option, as they are quicker and travel almost anywhere. Chastniki (gypsy cabs) are another option favored by Muscovites (especially those who want to get around in the middle of the night when public transportation doesn't run), but you must speak some Russian in order to negotiate with the driver. They are very affordable but occasionally unsafe (I never had any problems and took them quite frequently).

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3. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes. I paid about US$35/month for mine, but this was a deal for students.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

There are three major cell phone providers: Beeline, MTS, and Megaphone. I picked Beeline (just because it was recommended to me by the cell phone sales girl) and was always satisfied with it.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Skype. Otherwise, have people call you. I had a cell phone plan that charged me nothing for incoming calls from abroad.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Yes. Tutoring/teaching English is very, very lucrative and usually doesn't require anything beyond the ability to speak the language. There are many foreign companies in the city and most have entry-level job openings occasionally that don't require much knowledge of Russian.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Varies. Russians are more formally dressed in public than Americans (no one would ever dare wear sweatpants, even if it was just to pick up some milk at the corner grocery store) but often less formally dressed at work, although it depends on the office dress code. I was shocked by how casually Russians dress for the theater (jeans are perfectly acceptable at the opera) as compared to people in New York or Washington, DC.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

The city does have some pollution issues, but I was never bothered by them.

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

I always felt safe in Moscow and never encountered any problems at all, but I speak Russian and look Slavic. Minorities (especially those from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East) have to be careful, as they are likely to face harassment from police and skinheads alike. Pickpocketing/minor theft is a concern, but not as long as you keep an eye on your belongings.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Long, cold winters; short, cool summers (with an occasional heat wave).

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Large, but very concentrated in the center. I lived on the outskirts of the city and hardly ever ran into Americans there.

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2. Morale among expats:

Varies. Many expats have a love/hate relationship with the city, and a number end up staying (voluntarily) for years and years.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

I can't complain about anything besides the cost! Moscow has more bars, clubs, restaurants, etc. than anyone could ever hope to visit.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

This is definitely a good city for young people in general, regardless of whether they are single or married.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Probably not. Homosexuality is still frowned upon (Moscow's mayor has repeatedly denied requests to hold a gay pride parade in the city, calling the organizers some very insulting names) and gays/lesbians still have to hide their sexual identities for the most part.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Yes. Racial minorities face a number of of serious problems, from harassment by the police to attacks by skinheads. They have to be careful when out in the city, especially at night.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Moscow is chock-full of wonderful museums and amazing theaters (the Bolshoi presents some of the best opera and ballet performances in the world). Russians take great pride in their cultural achievements, and visitors to the country should take advantage of the high quality of the arts in the city. There are also many places of historical interest both in and around Moscow (churches, monasteries, homes of important historical figures, etc.)

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Russian souvenirs: matrioshki, wooden toys and boxes, icons, Soviet memorabilia, etc.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes!!!

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Most definitely!

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Summer clothes, flip flops, baseball caps.

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3. But don't forget your:

Hand sanitizer! And electrical outlet converters.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

I would read the Russian classics (even those that take place in other cities) in order to gain a better understanding of the country.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

I would read the Russian classics (even those that take place in other cities) in order to gain a better understanding of the country.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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