The Realities of Expat Living in Moscow 2016

By | January 13, 2016

The main thing about living anywhere in the world is your attitude.

How easily you can adapt to living outside your “comfort” zone, to how willing you are in accepting a new reality.

There are advantages and disadvantages to living anywhere. I think this goes without saying, but I obviously have to say it to put things into perspective for some.

I have often said that you cannot compare Russia to the established Western world. One has emerged from 75 years of Communism, not to mention a whole host of tragic historical and cultural norms, to a meshing of free market policies and a new world order in the 21st century.

25 years of a market economy does not allow itself to compete in the same manner as 250+ years in such; just that simple.

One would think this fact alone would be enough for even the most egregious of Russophobes to understand the absurdity of apple to apple comparisons. I digress.

The advantages of living in Russia for me are:

1) the women plain and simple. I’d be lying if I say that part of my decision to move here didn’t involve the possibilities imagined with the opposite sex.

I’m a man and a rather decent one at that if I may say so myself , and I knew I would be in the “catbird seat”. Let me put it another way; I have seen the most heinous of male embodiment date normal women here.

2) say what you will about comfort, but nothing promotes personal growth like the uncomfortable. There are many ways to get out of your comfort zone and grow as a person, but nothing compares to moving to another country.

The growth I have personally experienced from my move here would take pages to express and has far exceeded my expectations.

And while moving to another country similar to the one I left would have provided me with a nice diversion from my normalcy, I really don’t think it would have been in the same diametrically opposed reality of life in Russia.

I seriously doubt I’d be anywhere close to the person I am now if I had stayed in America and continued to live in that existence.

3) the freedom I feel here, real or imagined. Being a foreigner in Russia gives one the advantage of leaving if one so desires. Although things are changing with respect to laws and legislation, the simple fact is there are just fewer restrictions/rules one has to live by. For me, it is a plus.

4) relationships have become much more of a priority for me over the years. The bonds I have formed here are stronger than what I had experienced in my country.

I find Russians in general to be more genuine than my countrymen.

5) the nature of my work has introduced me to people beyond even my wildest dreams. It’s not the work in and of itself that drives this, but the dynamics of everything involved with it that makes it fascinating. I really like what I do, and this is mostly because of the relationships I form through my work.

I hope I never have to work for an Amerian corporation again, period!!

6) I now speak decent Russian. I can’t put into words what this means to me to be able to speak another language, especially Russian. I seriously doubt this would have been possible if I still lived in America.

Disadvantages of living in Russia. Well, relatively speaking, I can only say that the weather is worse here than what I was accustomed to; that’s it.

The above is just scratching the surface.

We have seen what oil prices, and to a much lesser degree, the sanctions have done as it stands now.

I’m sure there are people in Russia who are somewhat worse off than before, as I’m sure there are Americans worse off now than before.

I thought some of you might like to know how life is for someone living in Moscow.

Here in Moscow life goes on pretty much as usual. While no one wants their currency to take a 50% hit, as long as you’re not exchanging money, the ruble is still the ruble if you get my drift.

My monthly nut hasn’t gone up that much, but yes, it has gone up.

There is always a percentage of expats who hightail it once things tighten up in Russia. The herd (expats) has thinned quite a bit over the years for the reasons I have given before (e.g. previous recession, visa rule changes, long winters etc.), not to mention the progressive replacement of foreigners at Multinationals by Russians.

On average nominal costs are less compared to the West; as much as 30% factoring the country as a whole.

You also have to look at this from an expat perspective, as the biggest expense is housing which might not be a concern for the locals, and paid for by an employer should you be here on a contract working for a Multinational (but this segment of expat is nowhere near the biggest).

Obviously, an expat’s money is not “taxed” in the same way as it would be in the States.

Make no mistake about it, there are still plenty of foreigners under contract here. Anyone who thinks otherwise just doesn’t know what they are talking about. People from Germany, America, Italy, France and Hungary still work under contract here in Moscow (just to name a few countries).

Do I want to leave because of all that has happened?

Of course not. And it doesn’t matter about the money because it won’t be any sweeter money-wise back in America.

I thought I would break it down using 200K as a starting point because it was suggested (indirectly by another expat as too little to live on), and use my expenses as real numbers to show how knee-jerk that statement is.

I’ll use an average yearly exchange rate of 60/1 rubles to the dollar which is very close to the average year-to-date. This comes to about $40k a year, or $3300 a month. Yes, quite a hit from the $6600 it was prior, but easily workable nonetheless.

If you’re not exchanging money, rubles are rubles.

One would need to find a job making roughly the equivalent of $60K (taxable income) to match that. And for a 45+ yr old expat out of the workforce 10+ years, certainly no easy feat.

Let’s break down some metrics:

I live in a 2-room flat less than a 10-minute car ride to the city center (Prospect Mira for those of you who know the area).

It’s Western renovated and ran about $1330 (40k rubles) before the ruble devalued. Concurrently, most apartments in Moscow have either kept the same rental price, or have actually decreased in price in order to find tenants.

So, while someone’s income has decreased because of the exchange rate in dollar terms, so has relative housing cost; over $8k a year in my case (roughly $675 a month). That 40k includes gas, electricity, landline, cableTV/internet, trash, water and my Tajik Concierge. Great guy, and very helpful.

If I were to go back and live in a comparable flat in Los Angeles, the same cost would double, minimum.

I would also have to buy a car, so we’d be talking conservatively about another $600 for car payments, gas, insurance and maintenance for an average $20K ride. My transportation costs average about $150 a month (metro, taxis, g/f’s car, etc.).

The next biggest expense is of course food. I spend at most 1000 rubles a day. I really can’t see spending more than this, and 1000 could probably be chopped in half if push comes to shove. But for the sake of argument, let’s double it to 2000 and use this for reference.

Housing, utilities cable and WiFi internet – 40000

Transportation – 10000. Remember I’m an expat and don’t need a car here.

Food – 60000, and believe me that is an ambitious sum, more like 30-40000 at most, but again for the sake of reference. We’ll use 60k to include entertainment such as eating out, movies, theatre, etc., and a daily 300 ruble Starbuck mocha that I could easily do without, etc. This factors in a 35% rise in food costs during the devaluation period.

Restaurants/cafes prices have only increased about 5-10% during this time; closer to 5% all things considered.

Pretty much covers about everything and we’re looking at 106,000 rubles.

Now I understand that it would be nice if you could still stash away about $3k a month, but times they do change. And if you were someone who hasn’t saved for a rainy day (time), then that’s on you.

Nevertheless, that leaves us with 94000 rubles and that is still close to $1500; not bad all things considered.

If you think that things will not improve, or that your time back in the States will be better, I say don’t let the customs agent kick you in the ass on your way out. And good luck with those American women.

All I know is, given the situation, there’s no way I’m heading back, and really, why would I? Simply put, I have a wonderful life here, despite all the oppression I [don’t] feel from Putin.

Contrary to popular belief, life is good here. And it’s especially good if you’re lucky enough to be making 200k rubles a month. 98% of the working population in Moscow would love to make that kind of money. And if you’re one of the very fortunate expats to be making 200k a month or more, then count your blessings.

Flat in Moscow – $675 (2-room) including all utilities, cable/internet, land line.
Food and entertainment – $1000 (in reality I spend about 70% of that).
Transportation – $150
Total – $1825

Flat in LA – $2000 (1-bedroom) including utilities, cable/internet
food and entertainment – $1000
Transportation – $600
Total – $3600

Better make that a job pulling $75k minimum when you return to the States.

P.S. I wrote this post about 2 months ago, and most, if not all of it relates to 2015. I used a base of 60 ru to the dollar, so anyone can do the math as the numbers skew a bit at present. Keep in mind that oil can eventually go up this year so that on average we can still be looking at around a 60 to 1 ruble to dollar ratio by the end of 2016.

One thought on “The Realities of Expat Living in Moscow 2016

  1. Andrew

    One needs to understand the differences in how pricing works though.
    If one wants to recreate one’s suburban (or rural?) US lifestyle over here [Russia] then it will cost a fortune.

    It was pointed out to me by a very nice woman I met in Moldova – although I was already living abroad at the time I had not given this issue much thought:

    Local goods can be purchased very cheaply in a low cost economy and the more that one can use local goods the further one’s money will go.

    What she called ‘world goods’ though, well they cost ‘world prices’ and may be even more expensive than in one’s home market for all sorts of reasons I won’t go into here.

    It is the world goods that make non-bubble expat living costly.

    When we take on local products and services and fit our lives to the environment then we can save buckets of money and put that money to things we consider important. The article author gave an example of his apartment. Now, he saves big against what he’d spend back home BUT he is living in a two room apartment. (That’s probably a living room with a kitchen corner, a bedroom, a bathroom and separate toilet. If he’s lucky he might have a small hallway.)

    Here’s the thing though, if he were in his home town he’d not even dream of living in such conditions. That’s not what middle class, middle aged blokes do in the US.

    The article author has fitted to local conditions and by doing so freed up a bucket load of disposable income.

    I’d lay odds that if he were to go out and find a place that emulates his expectations for a home in the US he’d be spending most of his income on his housing and not around a third of it.

    This is why I have written on expat sites about how ‘Russian’ blokes can afford to outspend their American counterparts.

    Look at the article author’s budget!

    Look at his disposable income.

    I’d lay odds that there’s more than a few blokes will read this from the US who have significantly less money to blow on a whim than this guy. If this guy can afford, on any given month, to blow $1000 on pleasing some young bit of totty then how is Mr Middle aged American going to compete?

    That’s why facile comparisons of income mean little, just as comparisons of the ‘toys’ one has mean little. Put it this way: I’d much prefer to spend a couple of weekends a month away in a nice spa hotel with my best bird than be making payments on a car!

    The car won’t keep me warm at night. The car won’t tell me what a stud I am. The car won’t cook my breakfast ‘just because’!

    And then there’s all the other trappings of US/UK/etc life – there’s a reason we call the pretty toys we surround ourselves with ‘trappings’ – its because they all serve to trap us, to keep us in place, to enable us to be controlled!

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