An expat’s guide to living in Moscow

Financial Times

JANUARY 22, 2020

The culturally abundant Russian capital is welcoming to foreigners

By Julie Shin

Julie Shin moved to Moscow from Seoul, South Korea in November 2019, to do a Russian language course at Moscow State University of Technology, which runs until June 2020.

In terms of culture, Moscow is heaven. In Britain, art might be a class signifier and what divides society, but in Moscow it is incorporated into the daily lives of the general population. Great literary figures such as Tolstoy and Pushkin are casually mentioned in daily conversation. Art is what binds society. No matter where you stand on the socio-educational-economic scale, in Russia talking about how enchanting The Nutcracker is will be a great conversation starter. This is similar to talking about the weather in Britain.

However, the quality and cost of living in Moscow are pretty much on a par with other prominent global cities. Everything depends on how much you are willing to pay.

Koptevo District is a quiet residential area suitable for families

So far, I have lived near the metro stations of Mendeleevskaya and Koptevo. The former is more central and therefore more suitable for urban singles who enjoy culture. Koptevo District is a quiet residential area for families.

I like going to museums, galleries and the theatre in my free time. If, like me, you are interested in contemporary art, do visit Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Lumiere Brothers Gallery, Moscow Museum of Modern Art and the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow. They all address the role of art in current issues such as sustainability.

Sculptures by Zurab Tsereteli at Moscow Museum of Modern Art

It is impossible to get good seats at the Bolshoi Theatre unless you purchase tickets months in advance. The Bolshoi offers ballet and opera, and tickets for the latter are slightly easier to secure. I saw the ballet Nureyev and opera Manon; both were progressive in their use of a traditional form to reflect modern society.

In winter, public parks and plazas such as Gorky Park turn into ice skating rinks with illuminations. Office social gatherings might involve curling, similar to going to the pub for beer and billiards after work in other countries.

Moscow’s Gorky Park is popular with office workers

I tried skiing with a group of friends at Volen resort near Moscow, which can be done as a day trip. Further afield, the Big Wood resort in the Khibiny mountains at Kirovsk, north-west Russia, has amazing natural snow. The skiing was similar to that in Switzerland — but cheaper.

Kirovsk’s Big Wood ski resort is a two-hour flight from Moscow

As a relatively young Asian woman who has been educated and lived in many countries, racism was one of the prominent factors to be considered in my relocation plan. In Russia, I felt comfortable that race is not a big deal, probably because it is a Eurasian country with vast land, cohabited by more than 100 ethnicities. I guess it has long been established that racial differences are a normal part of daily lives in Russia. Also, it’s my experience that Russians seem to have greater patience and are more understanding than western Europeans when it comes to those who do not speak their language well.

It was easy to settle and make friends in Moscow. Russians traditionally offer hospitality to guests. Such values lead to expats being considered as guests in their country, so Russians will be nice to you.

The downside of Moscow is the infamous Soviet bureaucracy that is still present. Apart from that, pretty much everything in Russia is digital, fast and accurate. Most citizens of Moscow use mobile payment so many coffee shops or taxi drivers are likely to not have much change.

The White House government building in Moscow

I would recommend expats planning to relocate to Moscow to be relaxed and take things easy. Everything gets sorted out one way or the other. Russians might be portrayed in western media as cold and distant, but citizens of Moscow are generally friendly.

Befriend Russians by talking about Leo Tolstoy and make sure to drink vodka.