Teaching in Russia

Location: North Eastern Europe/North Asia
Capital City: Moscow
Population: 143.5 million
Government: Federal semi-presidential republic. The President is the head of state and the Prime Minister is head of Government.

Currency: text to go here
Main Language: Russian. There are 35 other official languages
Main Religions: Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism

Russia – officially the Federation of Russia – is the largest country on earth and covers one-eighth (6.6 million square miles) of the world’s inhabited land area. It has a population of 143.5 million people and its territory extends from Eastern Europe to Northern Asia, sharing borders with 14 countries and covering nine time zones. Russia’s geography is as diverse as its culture – with landscape that includes forests, vast tundra plains, subtropical beaches and arctic mountain ranges. The country is divided into 83 federal ‘Subjects’ (constituent entities of Russia), which can be divided into republics, territories, provinces and cities. Following the partition of the Soviet Union (USSR), 15 independent states have been acknowledged. Russia has since emerged from a decade of post-Soviet economic turmoil to reassert itself as a world power.

Russia, in all its guises, has had significant cultural, economic, political and artistic influence worldwide. The country boasts some of the world’s most stunning architecture with thousands of visitors flocking to see the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg and the ice-cream shaped towers of St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. Russia has also produced legendary literary figures such as Trotsky and Dostoevsky as well as the internationally-acclaimed Bolshoi Ballet.  

Russia has a rich cultural history which has influenced classical music, art, literature, architecture, dance and philosophy for centuries. The family and loyalty to one’s country are central to Russian culture and Russians are exceedingly proud of their ancient and modern traditions. Russia is home to at least 190 ethnic groups which have created unparalleled diversity and cultural traditions throughout the Federation and the rest of the world. Present day Russian culture is still greatly influenced by the collective spirit which was forged in the Soviet era, with hospitality and sharing with one another being central to everyday life.

Unsurprisingly due its vast size, Russia incorporates almost all leisure pursuits from high-energy to the more sedate. There are endless opportunities for outdoor activities such as cycling, mountaineering, skiing and water sports. Russians are passionate about angling, particularly Atlantic salmon fishing and winter spearfishing. Football is the national sport and is followed fanatically, particularly in the capital which is home to Spartak Moscow FC. Russia is known for its world-leading cultural activities, with Moscow being home to the Bolshoi Opera and Ballet company and a huge range of museums, opera houses and theatres. The world-famous Moscow State Circus is also high on many visitors’ lists of must-see activities. Many of Russia’s traditional festivals, such as the Russian Winter Festival afford opportunities to enjoy folk dancing, music and arts as well as much vodka drinking! Russians are also passionate about chess, with a succession of Grandmasters, such as Garry Kasparov , hailing from the country.

Russia has a diverse cuisine which represents its many cultural, political and ethnic influences throughout the centuries. One of the most well-known Russian dishes is borscht a beetroot soup with vegetables, meat and soured cream; its composition varying according to different areas. Staples of the Russian diet are meat, potatoes, cabbage and a huge variety of soups. Pirozhkis (small buns filled with potatoes, meat or cheese) are considered a national dish as well as caviar (ikra) and blini (small pancakes).

The most popular drinks are vodka – of which there are 3,000 varieties – and beer, which has only recently been classified by the Russian government as alcoholic (previously, any drink with less than 10% alcohol was considered a foodstuff).

It is thought that over 80% of Russia’s 143 million people speak Russian as their first language. There are over 100 minority languages with Tatar, Chuvash, Ukrainian, Bashi, Mordvin, Circassion and Chechen among the more widely spoken, although most speakers of minority languages also speak Russian. The Russian alphabet uses letters from Cyrillic script so the language can seem daunting for beginners. However, a number of letters are written and pronounced roughly the same as English. Many Russians speak a good level of English but learning Russian is a must for those who wish to move there, as English is not used in daily life. 

Despite Russia’s size and ethnic diversity, the Russian language has few variations in dialect. Standard Russian, in both written and spoken form, is used in almost every area of the country. This can be explained by the historical and present influence of centralised rule from Moscow and also by 20th Century mass migration from rural to urban areas. There is likewise very little difference in accent and pronunciation across the country. A number of dialects still exist in Russia, termed ‘Northern’ and ‘Southern’ but they are not widely spoken.

Due to Russia’s enormous size, the country incorporates most of the world’s climate zones so generalising about the weather is difficult. However, on the whole Russia’s weather is characterised by mild to hot summers and very cold winters, with temperatures plummeting to below -35°C in Siberia. Northern and Central European Russia has the mildest climate, with mostly dry summers. Russian winters generally bring a large amount of snowfall, so heavyweight clothing is essential.

Popular opinion and hype about Russia’s high crime rate is slightly misplaced. In reality it is only marginally higher than the UK and USA. Moscow sees high levels of violent crime, although no more than London and New York. Bribery and corruption constitute Russia’s most widespread criminal activity. Visitors to Russia should feel relatively safe in the main tourist areas, although care should be taken in large cities such as Moscow, where it is not advisable to venture out after dark alone. Alcohol-related crime and violence are a particular problem so it is best to stay with a group when going out and keep an eye on personal possessions. Terrorist threats and attacks in Russia have seen an increase in recent years so check Foreign Office advice before travelling.

Russia has traditionally invested heavily in education, which is considered to be of a high standard. It is estimated that the country has an adult literacy rate of 99.7% and the education system was ranked 13th in the world in 2014 (OECD). Education in Russia is compulsory for all children between the age of 6 and 15. On completion of primary school at age 10, children continue to secondary school until age 15. At this point pupils have the option to carry on in further education to gain the diploma necessary for university admission. All schools in Russia are state-funded and managed by the Ministry of Education and Science. There are very few private schools (less than 1%) although major cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg have a choice of international schools for expat children.

The Russian school year starts in September and is divided into four terms. Each term ends with a holiday (the first week of November, the first two weeks of January, the last week of March and three months in summer) and the school year finishes at the end of May. The school day generally begins at 8.30 am and ends at 4pm. Children have their lunch at school. The university academic year begins in September and ends in May, with two semesters (Autumn and Spring).

Russia has around 650 public higher education institutions and over 200 private universities. Higher education is highly accessible – a UNESCO report estimated that more than half of the country’s adult population has attained a tertiary education, twice as high as the OECD average. Russia’s highest ranked universities are the Lomonosov Moscow State University and Saint Petersburg State University, which ranks 15th among the BRIC countries. University courses are taught in Russian, although some institutions have introduced some courses (usually Master’s degrees) taught in English in order to attract international students, who comprise around 5% of the student body. Most Russian universities have individual admissions requirements and there is no central application process. International students who do not speak Russian are required to complete a ‘pre-academic year’ and pass an entrance exam in order to enrol.

State higher education is free to Russian citizens, with the exception of some courses. Foreign students are required to pay tuition fees which are relatively low – around £2,500 to £5,000 per year – compared to the UK and USA. Tuition fees may vary from one institution to another. A number of scholarships are available to foreign students such as the Russian Federation State Scholarship which can help cover fees and living expenses.

Russian universities offer a wide range of courses, from law, arts and languages to computing, mathematics and sciences. Higher education in Russia has undergone significant reform since the country signed up to the Bologna Process in 2003, bringing the system in line with the majority of European countries. There are now two levels of higher education: Bachelors (Bakalavrs) degrees, which take around 4 years to complete and Masters (Magistrs) degrees, taking 2 years to complete. After a Master’s degree students can continue to study towards a doctoral degree:  Kandidat Nauk (the first level, equivalent to a PhD) and Doktor Nauk degree (the highest level).

Research is well funded in Russia, with particular investment in scientific and technology fields. The major funding body is the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR) which is a self-governed state organisation supporting scientific research.

Children begin primary education at age 6 and follow a core curriculum of Russian, mathematics, science, foreign languages, history, politics, arts and sport. On completion of primary school (around age 10), students continue their basic general education at secondary school which are divided into; general secondary schools and vocational/technical schools (Technikum Kolledz Uchilishe). Upon completion of upper-secondary school (age 17/18), students are awarded the Attestat o Srednem (Polnom) Obshchem Obrazovanii (Certificate of Secondary Complete General Education, School Leaving Certificate), which is necessary for admission into university.

Preschools in Russia generally accept children from the age of two and a half, although some private nurseries will accept younger children. Russia has a number of free, municipal kindergartens, however these are heavily oversubscribed. Most expats choose to send their children to one of the many private international preschools situated in the larger cities. You can find more information about private preschools in Russia here.

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 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)

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.


Russia’s huge expanse is well connected by a network of motorways and secondary roads. However, roads outside of Moscow and Saint Petersburg can be poorly maintained so care should be taken to avoid potholes and fissures in the road surface. Russian drivers are famous for their chaotic and aggressive driving style, so only confident expat drivers should consider taking to the road. Federal motorways connect all major cities and towns and can be identified by the ‘M’ prefix, although some more remote places are better reached by rail or aeroplane.

Motorways in and around Moscow and Saint Petersburg are heavily congested, with lengthy traffic jams in rush hour. Using the country’s efficient public transport is the preferred choice for those in a hurry. Speed limits are 100km/h (60mph) on motorways, 90km/h (50mph) on secondary roads and 60km/h (40mph) in built up areas. Foreigners staying in Russia for up to six months are permitted to drive with an International Driving Permit (IDP). All foreign nationals intending to stay longer must apply for a Russian driving licence. More information can be found here

Taxis are widely available in Russia although many are unlicensed. The government has taken steps to regulate drivers, however the lack of official taxis continues to be a problem, with unsafe vehicles transporting passengers at inflated prices (particularly foreigners). Official taxis cannot be stopped in the street so the best way to avoid being ripped off by unscrupulous drivers is to pre-book your taxi from a reputable company such as Welcome Taxi and agree on a price before starting your journey.

Russia’s extensive bus services are run by a mix of private and public companies. Buses are a cheap way to get around Russia’s major cities. Information about timetables and routes tends to be scant so if in doubt, you can ask about bus schedules at the local tourist information office or in train stations. Tickets can be bought on board (with cash only) or from the many kiosks marked with the ‘proezdnyve bilety’ (public transport tickets) sign located outside metro and train stations. Bus tickets are also valid for metro and tram networks.

Coach travel is a cheap and basic way to see the sights in Russia. However, due to Russia’s size, reaching your destination by coach may take many days. There are a number of coach tour operators which connect some European countries to Russia, such as Eurolines, who operate in the west of the country and Leger.

The Russian rail network is the second longest and most extensive in the world (after China), with trains serving almost every town and city. Russia’s vast rail infrastructure is divided into 17 regional railways running fast intercity trains and local services which although slower, are punctual to the second. The state-owned Russian Railways (RZD) is the largest rail company and runs services across vast distances, connecting Russia with the rest of Europe. Discounted tickets can be bought in advance at the RZD website.

For the more adventurous, the Trans-Siberian Railway – the longest single railway in the world – offers an epic six-day journey connecting Moscow to the Russian Far East, Mongolia and China. 

Metro is the most popular form of urban transport in Russia and there are extensive underground systems in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Samara and Yekaterinburg. Tickets can be bought from kiosks or manned booths situated inside and outside stations. Most large cities are covered by efficient tram and trolleybus networks which offer a low cost way to get around.  

Due to Russia’s size, air travel is the quickest way to travel between cities. There are 270 airports in Russia, with Moscow’s Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo International Airports being the largest and busiest. Aeroflot is the country’s largest airline and there are over 100 other international and domestic airlines to choose from, such as Rossiya, offering cheap internal flights between all major cities. The average price of a one-way plane ticket between Moscow and Saint Petersburg is 5,200 RUB (£46) with a journey time of around 1.5 hours.

Russia is connected by ferry to Finland, Sweden, Korea, and Japan and tickets can be booked through AFerry. Although Russia is a vast country, cycling is becoming an ever more popular way to beat the horrendous traffic in cities. Moscow’s Department of Transport has recently pledged to install 700km of bike lanes across the city, although those choosing to cycle in Russia should be acutely aware of the country’s rather erratic drivers.

Cover People will offer a Hints and Tips supplement for anyone moving abroad making sure you are equipped to deal with the different cultures. For more information about teaching in Russia contact the Overseas Team for more information.