St. Petersburg, Russia Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia 04/02/17

Background:

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

No, I have also lived in Moscow.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Northern Virginia. Usually one flies from Dulles to Amsterdam or Frankfurt and then onto St. Petersburg. There are no US direct flights to/from St. Petersburg. Total traveling time is around 15-18 hours depending on layover time.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Nine months.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is spread out amongst the city center and everyone lives in an apartment. Some of the apartments are more modern than others. The older, historic apartments are owned directly by the USG and are well maintained by GSO. The more modern apartments are privately owned and maintained by the landlords. Overall most are pleased with the housing assignments though some places are definitely better than others. Most apartments are located within a 15- to 20-minute walk to the consulate so most walk to work but a few drive.

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

Aside from real dairy products, most everything is available. The sanctions have caused a problem with the importation of EU dairy products and Russia has filled the gap with subpar, and sometimes counterfeit, butter, cheese, milk, etc. There are some acceptable brands - it's really trial and error to find what is good. The Finnish border is not that far to stock up on items as well as trips outside of Russia where you can always pick up a small cheese supply. A large variety of fresh fruits during the winter is harder to come by. During the warmer months the supply is better. There are some decent grocery stores around town as well as a big box store similar to Costco. There's also Peter Justessen's from which the consulate places orders on occasion for liquor, wine, etc. There are also wine stores around town that have a decent selection (the sanctions have not affected the importation of EU wines).

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

There's the standard "ship a lot of liquids": salsa, maple syrup, olive oil, peanut butter. You can find a lot here, but it will just be more expensive and may not be as tasty so why not ship a supply. There's a decent variety of Asian and Indian food supplies, less so for Mexican products.

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

There is a wide array of restaurants that vary in price range. You can go out for a decent Georgian dinner for $15 per person or a fancier place for $25-$30 with wine and a few courses. There are also some very high end places that are over the top. There is a delivery service that people use, but I have yet to try it. Most places we have tried have been good and the service is better than what we expected. Quite often English menus are available at restaurants. The usual fast food places like McDonald's. Burger King, Starbucks and Subway are here.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Mosquitoes are an issue during the warmer months. Other than that nothing really of concern, maybe the occasional housefly. If bugs are not your thing, Russia is a good place for you!

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Daily Life:

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

Only through diplomatic pouch. Remember the 16 oz liquid rule and issue with lithium batteries. It takes about two to three weeks for things to arrive from the States. I have no experience using the local postal service, but would probably not recommend it if you have other options.

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

Both nannies and cleaning help are available. Personally we don't employ household help.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There is a small gym at the consulate that is adequate. Also there are some gym facilities located around the city that are pricey, but not completely outrageous especially compared to DC gym/studio prices. We brought some home exercise equipment that we use.

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

Cards are accepted. We don't use them that often just at major retailers. We find it easier to use cash (as long as you have exact change!).

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

None that I know of. There are plenty of orthodox houses of worship, a large mosque here, some Catholic and protestant churches as well.

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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?

Knowledge of Russian is definitely helpful. St. Petersburg seems to have more English speakers than other parts of Russia due to the amount of foreign tourists who visit the city. Many local restaurants have menus in English. The younger the person, the more likely they know some English. When shopping and out and about, it is quite useful to at least know how to read the Cyrillic alphabet.

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

Yes, it is not ADA compliant by any means! It would be tough to navigate the city with any type of physical disability.

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Transportation:

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

All are available and safe. The metro and buses are less than a dollar to take around the city and both are safe (as long as you are aware of your surroundings and personal belongings). Taxis/Uber are also quite affordable and reliable.

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2. 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?

We have a 4WD SUV, which has been nice to have during the more inclement weather. I think a small SUV would be best here. We use our car about twice a month, mostly to go to the big box store to stock up on groceries . We have not driven outside the city so cannot speak to the quality of roads.

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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, the internet is pretty decent. Though some sites are not accessible even with a VPN. We are able to stream easily and the speed is good.

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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 quite a few providers and the cost is relatively inexpensive for unlimited data and texts. Currently less than $10/month for service. I brought an unlocked iPhone from the States and just replaced the SIM card. Personally I have had a good experience with YOTA. If you are a consulate employee, you will be issued a phone.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No quarantine is necessary and it is pretty easy to get pets into Russia. The vet care is better than some places in the world, but still not the most advanced. I brought a supply of medications from the States for our dog. Vets make house calls here and the cost is reasonable. If you go to a clinic it is even cheaper, 500 rubles for an office visit. Nail clippings are more than reasonable at 100 rubles (approximately $1.75 - I used to pay $25 back home!). Some people use a local kennel for boarding and there are mixed reviews. People also trade pet-sitting duties with consulate friends.

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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?

No bilateral work agreement so either work from home for a US based firm or for the consulate. The EFM jobs available (before the freeze) are all part-time and there are only a handful. It is a small post. There are also some opportunities at the Anglo-American School on occasion.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are volunteer opportunities through the International Women's Club: orphanages, homeless shelters, etc.

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

Business dress at the consulate. Russians tend to dress more formally, especially women. Cocktail and formal dress may be necessary for special events, but not required too frequently.

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Health & Safety:

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

Pickpocketing is a problem especially during the summer at the touristy spots around town and on public transportation. There are also some other post- specific issues...

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

SAD is an issue here with the super-long, gray winters. St. Petersburg definitely lacks sun. Vitamin D deficiency is also prevalent (take a supplement). The med unit issues SAD lamps. Also respiratory issues are frequent here with the pollution. Medical evacuations, if necessary, are usually to Helsinki or London. There are visits from the US doctors posted in Moscow on a regular basis. The health unit at the consulate is staffed by a local doctor and nurse.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

The air quality is not the best. There are quite a few that have a constant cough and respiratory problems. I would recommend stocking up on any inhalers since they can't get through pouch. Also an air purifier is helpful. Post will supply humidifiers for the winter.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

There are gluten-free products available. If you can speak Russian, you can probably explain any issues when out at restaurants.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

SAD definitely exists. The RMO-P visits fairly regularly and is available to handle any issues.

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

Winter is long! It starts in October and ends in April or so. The summer is beautiful particularly during the "white nights." Spring and fall are fairly short as is summer. Winter isn't too bad as long as you are prepared both mentally and with the proper clothing. Also it is good to travel during either January or February to get out of the Russian dreariness. St. Petersburg doesn't receive as much snow as other parts of Russia, but it is cold and damp and of course very dark during the winter.

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Schools & Children:

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

People use the Anglo-American School as well as local Russian schools. In the past the German school has also been attended by consulate kids. I believe there is also a French school. I don't have firsthand knowledge of any of the options.

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2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Through the Anglo-American School and also some local options are available.

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Expat Life:

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

Small- to medium-sized expat community. It really depends on the personnel/leadership at the consulate since it is such a small post.

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

People tend to socialize with others from the consulate. The International Women's Club is quite active and has events nearly every week. It is a good way to meet others outside the US mission.

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

Good for all. Probably most difficult for single women though as are many posts.

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

No. Read the news....

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

Darker-skinned people may face some discrimination. It is a more patriarchal society. First-hand, I have not experienced any issues and feel quite safe walking around the city center by myself.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

The culture! There is more ballet and opera than you can shake a stick at. Of course there is the Hermitage as well as other great museums and palaces around the area. St. Petersburg is truly the cultural capital of Russia.

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

Plenty of museums, palaces and historical sites to visit. The city is so walkable and accessible - there's never a shortage of places to visit or explore.

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

There's the typical Russian lacquer boxes, amber and matryoshka dolls. There are also some beautiful, traditional woolen scarves. Of course there is all sorts of fur -- hats, scarves, coats. Also porcelain from the St. Petersburg Imperial Porcelain is quite beautiful.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

The culture. It is a very manageable-sized city, easily accessible and walkable. There is so much to do and see. The city is just filled with history and beauty.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

How easy it would be to live in St. Petersburg. We had a previous Russian experience in Moscow and it is nothing like our time there. St. Petersburg is friendlier and overall a nicer city in which to live. We were prepared for the Russian idiosyncrasies and knew the challenges that this post presented. Do your research and know what to expect so that you are not surprised by things.

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

Definitely! There is so much to see and do here.

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

Most of your summer wardrobe and sense of privacy.

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4. But don't forget your:

Warm, walkable boots, Vitamin D supplements and a good translation app.

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

Leningrad by Anna Reid (about the Siege in WWII), Catherine the Great by Robert Massie, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Any of the current political books on Russia and its leadership (there are plenty just search Amazon).

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6. Do you have any other comments?

St. Petersburg is by far the most intriguing city where US diplomacy resides in Russia. It is a wonderful city, and if you are able to accept the challenges of living in Russia as an American diplomat, this is the best choice out of the four options.

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St. Petersburg, Russia 02/05/16

Background:

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

No, several others, mostly in former Soviet Union.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Florida. Connections and travel time took about 22 hours door to door.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2014-2015

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

US Govt.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Co-workers and I were all housed in apartments around town. Some are older apartments with lovely old world details, and some were modern. Most with a 20 - 30 minute walking distance to work. I know that sounds like a lot, but metro, other public transport, or driving could sometimes take as long, or longer than walking. Plus the city is so walkable, it's a pleasant 30 minutes.

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

Good range. There are small shops on corners for quick supply runs (milk, butter, eggs), and there are big, even enormous places at the hyper-mega markets that sell in bulk. Costs are comparable to the States.

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

We shipped a bunch of personal preference items. But if you forget something, you'll probably be able to find it locally.

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

US fast food--KFC, BK, McDonald's, Subway, Pizza Hut. Tons of decent restaurants ranging from fast to fancy. Cost range from dollars to hundreds of dollars.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None that bothered me. Some flies in the summer.

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Daily Life:

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

Pouch. It takes about 2 weeks.

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

Somewhat available for about US$10 an hour.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

I guess so.

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

You'll want the credit card with the chip. Most places/ATMs wont accept one without it. Mostly we paid in cash.

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

Several, as at work.

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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?

Most tourist friendly places will speak some English, but the basics will come in handy everywhere else. Once you get outside of the center bubble, there's little patience for bad grammar.

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

Might have some difficulty getting around on metro. There are no elevators to go down to the train platforms, only escalators. Some apartment building elevators are so small, they are barely big enough for two standing adults to fit.

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Transportation:

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

Public buses and vans are plentiful and regular. Mind super crowded buses as this is how much pick pocketing takes place. Don't stand on a street corner and expect a taxi to come by. It's easier to order them online. You can select the type of car needed and know how much the fare will be depending on your destination.

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2. 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?

We parked our car the day it was delivered to us, and drove it all of one time in 8 months--to go to the airport. City center parking is a pain, and again, public transport is very good and reliable.

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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?

Internet speed was good. A bit pricier than other places.

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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?

We bought a local sim card for our phone from the States.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No. Just have vaccinations and good bill of health record from your US vet when you come in.

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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?

None.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Many--especially through IWC.

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

Work-Business, public--varied.

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Health & Safety:

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

Pick pocketing and petty theft. I know folks who had wallets stolen while waiting to board the bus, or while pinned in a tight crowd on a bus.

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

We were fortunate to never need emergency medical care. Co-workers left town to have babies.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

It's not terrible. Traffic can be congested/as expected which contributes to some pollution.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

It can be done. We found a few spots that were allergy friendly. Again, I think this comes from experience dealing with tourists for most of the year. We brought our own epi pens though, and had to get new ones from Finland when they expired.

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

I found it to be pleasant from April - November. The winter wasn't terrible, but I think it was considered a mild winter that year. Things do calm down during the off season, and it's nice to not have the chains of tourist buses rolling around.

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Schools & Children:

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

The international school -Anglo American School of St. Petersburg--is new and small. Our children enjoyed going there and we were happy with staff and curriculum (young elementary grades).

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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?

There are various options for preschools, some very close to work. I want to say that the average cost was in the US$600/month range, which includes meals.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

There are a few after school activities at the school, but not as readily available as other posts we've been to.

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Expat Life:

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

At work--small. In town-medium, bigger if you're part of the school. Good International Women's Club. Morale varied.

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

GO outside and walk, you'll run into something to do without trying.

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

Good city for all. There are many parks and open areas for kids to play. Lots of night life. Walking a dog can be a challenge as a good grassy area might be a block away, and people don't usually clean up after their pets, but other than that, it was ok.

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

I can't say I saw a lot of open sexual expression. Definitely no public display of affection--but that's true for everybody.

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

If you're in any way different, you will be stared at, but I think this being the tourist destination that it is, helps.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

The Hermitage, canal boat rides, concerts, etc. Also the city center is very walkable.

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

The whole city is a hidden gem. But private party canal boat rides can be fun (our group of 10 split a ride so that everyone ended up paying about US$5 for an hour tour). If you're going to live here for 2, even 3 years, you won't run out of things to do.

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

There are some nice artisans out there, you just have to find them.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

St. Petersburg is a lovely, lively city. A popular tourist destination during the warmer spring and summer months, it's easy to get swept away in its many sights, sounds, and activities--and going back to your own place, rather than a hotel room makes it that much better.

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10. Can you save money?

Maybe. If you're a smart shopper.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

No matter how much time you're scheduled to live here, it's not going to be long enough to feel like you got to do and see everything.

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

Yup.

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

Notion of how standing in line works--cutting in line is just no big whoop here.

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4. But don't forget your:

Camera, warm hat.

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St. Petersburg, Russia 08/07/11

Background:

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

Bucharest, Paris, Kabul, Port of Spain.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Texas is my home base. I travel Texas-Washington DC-Frankfurt-St. Petersburg

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3. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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

U.S. Consulate employee.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Diplomats live in apartments within walking distance to work. The apartments I've seen are nice.

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

I'm not familiar with traditional "kid's food" but since Stockmanns opened, you can find almost anything here. There are small mom and pop stores (Producti's) and larger grocery stores such as Auchan and Okei. It's helpful to have a car to go to the larger grocery stores, but Stockmanns is only a metro stop or two away! The only products I buy online are Tex-mex products. Diplomats can also order some items through Peter Justesen and the Helsinki commissary.

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

You can buy almost anything here or online but if you want to plan ahead, ship winter clothes, sofa covers since you never know if you will have a lovely green, blue or beige sofa, kitchen appliances (crockpot, etc), typical American spices not found locally and baking supplies, ethnic items. Again, you can buy almost anything online that doesn't violate diplomatic pouch rules.

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

There are many restaurants here from fast food to restaurants with world class chefs. Fast food restaurants include (but not limited to) Papa Johns, Pizza Hut, Carl's Junior, McDonald's, KFC, Subway and Cinnabon. There are decent priced ethnic restaurants and many fine dining restaurants. You can spend US$6-7 at a fast food restaurant or US$100 at the Astoria!

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

It is possible to buy organic produce and meat-substitute products - the selection is probably limited though.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

There is a mild mosquito season and some people complain of mosquitoes coming in their apartments but I leave my windows closed until the weather really turns cold and don't have a problem. You can purchase mosquito repellent plug-ins and a few people who are extremely sensitive or concerned about the effect on their children sleep under a mosquito net. If your bedroom has A/C, closing the window is easy.

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Daily Life:

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

Diplomats use DPO or the pouch, so normal restrictions apply.

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

I don't use domestic help but many do; it is definitely available, probably for the same prices you'd pay in Washington.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There are gyms available - a few nicer ones some expats use, but many diplomats have treadmills or other home-gym equipment.

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

I have not used an ATM card in town - I cash a check at work, but people do use ATM cards. You have to be careful which machines you use. It is ok to use credit cards at larger department stores, restaurants and grocery stores, but I wouldn't advise using them to the same extent they are used in the US.

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

I know there are Catholic services available, but am not familiar with the other denominations.

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

St. Petersburg Times is available in English. I read the American news online. I don't believe other English-language papers are available locally.

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

Your quality of life will be much better if you have a basic Russian course (i.e. Russian 'Fast'). Without this, you can't read anything! Some people come to post without Russian and Russian classes are available at work but life is much better if you can read Cyrillic.

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

This city is not designed for people with physical difficulties, would be difficult for someone with walking difficulties, and impossible for wheelchair use.

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Transportation:

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

Metros are safe and taxis from the center of town and other popular expat/tourist areas are also safe. Taxis are not metered so you need to agree upon a price before getting in the vehicle. Gypsi taxis are not a good idea for a single female unless you speak good Russian, and not a good idea to use alone at night. If you use the same common sense you would use in a large American city, you should be OK.

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2. 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?

I don't have a car. Several singles walk, take taxis and use the metro. If you do bring a car, you will want to bring something that is good on the snow and ice. I don't believe diplomats have many restrictions importing vehicles.

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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?

High-speed internet is available. Internet service varies with the building you live in. Often, you don't have a choice regarding the internet provider. Some people have excellent service with no interruptions, mine is sometimes spotty. Sometimes there is interference when trying to download too much information such as online television, etc. After a while, your system just freezes. There usually isn't any troubles when just surfing the net.

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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?

Diplomats are provided cell phones through work, but I've heard it is relatively easy to find local cell phones / cell phone plans. You can pay the bills at machines around the city.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

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2. 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?

No.

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

At work, you dress the same way you would dress if working in Washington. Local females dress extremely provocatively. When attending official or cultural events - dress appropriately (no jeans).

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Health & Safety:

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

Pick-pockets are the main concern. There are highly trained groups of pickpockets who seemingly go 'unnoticed' by the local police. Many people are pick-pocketed once during their tour and never realized it was happening at the time.

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

There are high TB-HIV rates here. The water isn't safe or good to drink, but we have filters at home and bottled water at work and in restaurants. You don't have to wash produce with bleach water, but do need to wash it as you would in the US. Be careful when buying meat/fish - go to larger grocery stores and always check expiration dates - even though they are sometimes altered. There are three medical clinics where Americans/expats can go, although if I had any major issues I would not want to go to a local hospital - I would insist on going to Helsinki for treatment! Russian doctors are highly skilled, but nursing care is scary and most care usually involves bribes if you want good care, or someone from the diplomatic community to constantly monitor the quality of care you get.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

The air quality in St. Petersburg is below average, but if you don't have allergies, you don't realize it until you travel to the countryside or other small towns.

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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?

There are long, dark, cold winters here. The first light snow last year was around Halloween and the snow didn't melt until the end of April. There are a few weeks of hot, humid weather starting mid-July. In August, there are warm days mixed with mild days and by 1 September, the weather is pleasantly cool. October has heavy rain, lasting until the snow starts. When the weather changes, it changes fast, which can lead to sinus-pressure headaches, but there are remedies for that too.

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Schools & Children:

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

I don't have experience with the International Schools, but I understand the teachers are top notch!

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

I don't know, but the AAS (school) staff are helpful and friendly so please contact them.

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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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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

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

Small.

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2. Morale among expats:

Pretty good. Some people love it of course and others hate it. If you stay inside all winter, your morale will take a hit since the winters are long and dark. People from traditionally cold environments in the US don't have as much of a problem.

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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?

There are many cultural opportunities here. Diplomats often socialize together. If you want to go clubbing, you can find plenty of opportunities. Locals drink heavily too. Diplomats do a lot of home entertaining here due to the long, cold winters. If you don't speak Russian, it can be difficult to socialize with the locals. It is difficult to establish friendships with Russians if you don't speak the language.

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

I think this is a good post for families and singles/couples. When I initially arrived to post, there were more families than singles, but with the recent personnel change, there are many singles here. Since the American diplomatic community is small, most families and singles often socialize together.

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

I've heard the city is slowly becoming more accepting in this area, but generally, gays and lesbians can't be as open as they are in the U.S. Gay and lesbian expats have worked here with minimal difficulties.

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

People with darker skin color have experienced prejudices by Russian extremists and police.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

The highlights of my tour so far have been the cultural opportunities and rich history Russia has to offer. Through my work, I've been fortunate to attend many cultural events.

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

There are so many cultural opportunities here - museums, ballet and opera, musical performances, world class restaurants and great ethnic cuisine. If you are a military or history buff, there are many places to visit too. The movie theaters don't show movies in English (they are dubbed over) so Netflix is heavily used. There is an active International Women's Club which is popular with many spouses. There are great ice hockey and soccer games to attend too. The difficult part is forcing yourself outside during the cold winters.

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

There are no 'cheap' shopping deals here, but there are unique and nice items to buy - Russian china, samovars, icons, matrushka dolls, amber jewelry, fur hats, Faberge eggs.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Russia is a fascinating country with a fascinating history. St. Petersburg is a good assignment, but does have difficulties too. The cultural opportunities are fabulous and it is possible to save money, depending upon your lifestyle.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes if you are single or married and don't go out to eat a lot. This is not a cheap post, but it depends upon your lifestyle; if you bring your lunch to work and eat out once a week for dinner, you can save money. If you are single and travel to other parts of Europe every holiday, probably not too much money will be saved.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes. Due to the security concerns and bureaucracy, I personally would not stay longer than a two year tour, but many people extend for a third year here. It is a good assignment and I would recommend it.

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

camping gear, lawn chairs and most summer gear, excess amounts of anything since many apartments don't have a lot of storage space.

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3. But don't forget your:

Yaktrax , winter coats, boots and clothes, specialty cooking items, unique cosmetic brands. Try to have patience - Russians don't like 'ques' and often will cut in front of you. They are tough with anything involving a line (driving, walking, shopping, etc.,) but generally friendly otherwise.

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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 don't have specific titles but books on Russian folk belief, traditional fairy tales, and classic stories from Tolstoy and Pushkin would be helpful. Russians are superstitious and traditional, and continue to use bits and pieces of folklore and traditional stories in their everyday lives.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Anything that would give you a glimpse of Russian daily life or culture.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

St. Petersburg is not a typical 'cushy' assignment such like Paris, London, or Rome, but the size of the Consulate make it friendlier than larger posts. Winters are long, dark, and cold, but it is truly a fascinating assignment.

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