How to retire to Russia: A complete guide

12.07.17
9 minute read
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Whether you’re a Brit, an American or an Australian, you should consider Russia when choosing where to settle after retirement. Straddling Europe and Asia, the country has a unique national character and rich cultural heritage, as well as spectacular natural wonders. Russia is the largest country in the world by a wide margin - it spans nine time zones - and is packed with sights and activities for retirees. Between the urbane cities in the west, mountains in the east, Black Sea resorts in the south and a whole lot of blue sky in between, there’s more than enough to keep retirees busy.

While it can have a tricky bureaucracy and tough winters, there’s much to enjoy about Russian life for seniors on a pension.

What’s the money like there?

Russia isn't a member of the EU, and so it still uses the ruble as its unit of currency.

So you can use the local currency once you make the move, you’ll want to open a bank account soon after you arrive.

Exchange rates rise and fall, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the market so you know what your money will be worth in Russia. You can always get the most up-to-date figures by using an online currency converter, but at the moment, here are some general, rounded figures to give you a basic understanding: Currently, as of mid-year 2017, the ruble trades for the following amounts:

  • $1.7 U.S. cents
  • $2.2 Australian cents
  • €1.5 Euro cents
  • £1.3 British pence

What's the cost of living?

For years, Moscow was routinely listed as one of the most expensive cities in the world, and Russian is one of the top countries in the whole in terms of total immigration. Moscow - and Russia as a whole - have gotten more affordable in recent years as the value of the ruble has fallen due to the crash in oil prices. Though the standard of living has dropped for the average Russian, this has made Russia more attractive for immigrants, including expat retirees. Nonetheless, Russia can still be an expensive country to live in, especially in terms of housing costs and clothes. On the other hand, if you’re trying to live cheaply, essentials such as groceries, public transportation and gas are relatively inexpensive.

Some of the food that Westerners see as delicacies, such as caviar and smoked fish, are cheaper in country than as exports, while the fresh, high-quality foods and drinks are relatively more expensive. As in other countries, for retirees on a budget, it’s best to live like a local. Don’t hunt for Western brands, and eat the foods that everyone around you eats. While premium ingredients can be expensive, Russian “peasant food” (don’t be thrown by the name!) is healthy, hearty and cheap. Learn to prepare and love dishes such as dumplings, soups and vegetable salads.

A word to the wise, Russians are known to sometimes charge expats more for certain goods and services, so try to build a social network and drop your outsider vibe as soon as you can.

Buying property in Moscow or St. Petersburg is out of reach for those who aren’t wealthy, so if you want to buy and not rent, look beyond the two largest cities in the country to smaller, popular cities like Sochi, Tyumen, or Yekaterinburg.

The following table lists average prices for common goods in Moscow, the large Ural capital of Yekaterinburg, and the Black Sea resort town of Sochi. This should give you a clearer sense of the day-to-day costs of living in different regions of the country.

Moscow Yekaterinburg Sochi
Rent (one-bedroom apartment in city center) €850 €312 €314
Rent (three-bedroom apartment in city center) €1,775 €537.50 €371
Price per square foot in city center €450 €117 €161
Utilities (for 915 sq ft apartment) €107 €97 €91
Internet €5.50 €5.62 €5.76
Milk €3.50 €2.80 €2.81
Meal for two (mid-range restaurant) €37 €24.50 €30
Gas (one gallon) €2.18 €2.02 €2.23
Bottle of wine (mid-range) €7.50 €7.50 €4.50
Car (Volkswagen Golf) €18,000 €17,400 €18,455
One-way ticket (city transit) €0.75 €0.39 €0.28
One pair of jeans (mid-range) €80 €75 €76

Source: Numbeo.com

If you need to transfer money to Russia or even back home, you’ll want to be aware of the fees and exchange rates charged by different financial institutions. Most banks and transfer services charge low up-front fees, but take advantage of you by using a higher exchange rate than the average and skimming the difference.

To transfer money and have the largest amount left over when you collect it, give TransferWise a try. That way, your money will be converted at the real exchange rate - the same one you’ll find on Google - and that should put more money back in your pocket.

How much money do I need to retire in Russia?

Your ability to retire comfortably in Russia depends largely on where you choose to live, but as it's a expensive country to live in, having a steady monthly retirement income of over $3,000 from is best to be able to live comfortably. If you stick to a budget and live outside the city center, it's possible to live in a city on a modest salary or pension. If you want to live cheaply you can buy property in the country, start a garden and live on just a few hundred Euro a month.

What about taxes and healthcare in Russia?

Like many Western countries, Russia has had national health service that offers free hospital stays and medical care, as well as cheap prescriptions, called the Federal Compulsory Medical Insurance Fund, since 1996. Public hospitals have issues with long wait times, overcrowding and low-quality, inefficient of care (unlike Western nations that also have national health services, life expectancy is decreasing in Russia). Public hospitals can also be difficult to find outside of large cities. Given the state of the Russian health care system, you may want to purchase private insurance in Russia, or an international health insurance policy.

You’re considered a resident if you spend more than six months of the year in Russia. Even if all of your income comes from abroad, you'll still need to file an annual tax return with Russia, and are taxed at a rate of 13%. When they file their taxes, expats may be required to complete additional filings and be subject to specific reporting requirements. Taxation regulations vary between countries, so consult an accountant for advice on how to remain tax compliant back home and in your new country.

What’s daily life like?

Russia is a northern country and even has significant portions of its territory above the Arctic circle. Winters are long and harsh in many regions of the country, especially in Moscow, St. Petersburg and the other large cities where most people live. Average winter temperatures can vary between -50°C (-58°F) and 5°C (41°F). Summers are sunny and lovely, though. The average summertime high temperature in Moscow, for example, ranges from 24°C (75°F) to 28°C (82°F). The warmest area in the country is in the south, near the Black Sea. The resort city of Sochi, for example, has a mild subtropical climate.

Russians are family-focused, and typically head home right after work to spend time with loved ones and cook dinner instead of going out. As such, it may take some time to form a social circle. But once you’re in, you’re in.

Russians love sports, you can see numerous athletic events on TV or in person, and “sporting clubs,” where you can have a drink and watch hockey with excited fans, are popular social hubs.

The country is culturally rich, and the cities have many art museums, galleries and opera and symphony performances for seniors to enjoy. Russians are proud of their contributions to civilization, and love to discuss the great painters, novelists and classical composers that hail from there.

There are many music festivals, winter festivals - like the famous White Night festival - throughout the year, most of which have free entry, so there’s almost always something to go out and do.

While you may find that Russians aren't the friendliest on the street, they have a reputation for hospitality and warmth, and you'll likely be invited over for social time at someone’s home. Just know that it’s customary for guests to bring flowers or wine when they visit a home for the first time.

What are the best places to retire to?

You’ll find the big cities have the best services, amenities, as well as shopping that suits Western tastes. So, it's probably best to live in one of them and occasionally travel in the countryside.

Moscow is the largest city in the country and, indeed, the largest city in Europe. The bustling capital has been known lately for a burgeoning restaurant scene that emphasizes local ingredients and modern takes on traditional Russian dishes and a raucous nightlife. But for a retiree looking for slower pace of life, there are historical sites to see like the Kremlin, Red Square and Saint Basil’s Cathedral. There are also numerous walking tours, as well as several art museums, aquariums, colorful parks, antique stores and homes of famous Russian artists and writers that have been turned into museums..

St. Petersburg was recently named the best travel destination in Europe for the second year in a row by the World Travel Awards. The Baltic port metropolis was built by Peter the Great to be the Western-facing city of the Russian Empire, and has the most European feel of any city in the country. The imperial city boasts beautiful, ornate architecture and contains The Hermitage, considered one of the greatest art museums in the world, as well as the palaces and gardens of Peterhof, sometimes called the “Russian Versailles.” St. Petersburg offers plentiful art, museums, delicious food, nightlife along with much more to keep an outgoing retiree occupied. Additionally, here you can find a more affordable cost of living than Moscow.

If access to healthcare is a concern, settle in or around Moscow. It has the highest-quality healthcare in the country.

In any city, the best housing (and highest quality of construction) will be near universities, metro stations and shopping malls.

The quality of your housing can vary greatly, and the real estate market can be difficult for a newcomer to manage, especially if he or she doesn’t speak Russian. If you’re looking to buy property, it’s your best bet to find a good real estate agent when you move to a city and let them guide you.

You may not need to buy a car. Moscow, St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg all have extensive, high-quality subway systems, as well as busses, trams and trolleys, that make getting around these metropolises easy. Moscow has one of the largest subway systems in the world, and it’s many stations are themselves great works of art. There are also often bus routes between cities.

Moscow and St. Petersburg do have higher crime rates than many Western cities, so it’s important to educate yourself on the more high-risk areas to avoid, and find housing in safer parts of town. Traffic can also be dangerous and some roads may have unmarked potholes, so exercise caution when crossing streets. If you're able to retire comfortably in Russia, you can choose to live in a gated community, which offers greater security.

If you want to avoid the cold as much as possible, find a home in the south of the country, specifically around the Black Sea. For example, the resort town of Sochi (where Putin owns a grand dacha) allows you access to water-based activities and fresh seafood.

If you’re looking to have an active retirement and want to take advantage of wintertime activities, consider settling in Yekaterinburg, the large city outside of the Ural mountains. There you can take advantage of skiing, snowmobiling, hiking and other snow-based hobbies.

What are the visa requirements for me?

US, UK and Australian citizens must have a valid passport and apply for a visa well in advance (at least six months, though a year or two wouldn’t hurt) of traveling to Russia to have access to the healthcare system. If you're a US citizen with an expired visa, Russian authorities won't allow you to leave the country. You may be unable to leave the country for 20 days while you wait for the government to grant you an exit visa. Visa laws can change quickly, and the changes aren't always widely and clearly communicated. As citizens who don't comply with visa laws are subject to fines, arrest and/or deportation, it’s important to keep yourself knowledgeable on the current statutes.

Russia does not offer a retirement visa. Retirees should apply for a temporary residence visa, which lasts for three years, but must be re-authorized every year.

To obtain a temporary residence permit, you must fulfill one of the following obligations:

  • Been born in Russia
  • Be related to a Russian citizen
  • Be married to a Russian citizen
  • Have invested a certain amount of money in a Russian business

After you have obtained a residency, you can apply for a permanent residence visa.

Best of luck with this process and adventure and enjoy planning your retirement in Russia.

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