Living in Russia - A Guide for PhD Students
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Living in Russia - A Guide for PhD Students

Moving to Russia can come with plenty of surprises, not least the extreme temperatures that in some regions can regularly drop to below -30 degrees Celsius. Despite this, there is plenty to discover and much to enjoy while studying in Russia.

This guide has been put together to help prepare you for moving to Russia and contains helpful information on the costs of accommodation and living as well as details on banking, traveling and working a part-time job as a PhD student in the country.

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Student life

As a student in Russia you will have a host of things to see and do while you are there. Spanning nine time zones and being the largest country in the world there is almost limitless scope for exploration. Whether you are interested in the rich cultural history of the country or would like to explore some of the many natural wonders its more remote regions have to offer, you are bound to find something to excite you.

Though there are many great things to do in Russia it also comes with a number of challenges. You will definitely want to brush up on your Russian if you want to experience the culture, since many locals don’t speak English. In the same vein being able to read the Cyrillic script will be very helpful with day-to-day life in the country.

Culture and tourism

Whether it’s the Red Square in Moscow, a symbol of the country, or the historical centre of Saint Petersburg, Russia is home to a great number of cultural locations to visit.

The cites of Moscow and Saint Petersburg have several world-renowned museums and galleries. These include the Tretyakov Gallery, a must-see if you’re a fan of Russian fine art, and the State Historical Museum, a collection of artefacts telling the story of Russia from prehistoric times to the present day.

Russia is also home to more than 20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites including several cathedrals, the aforementioned Red Square in Moscow and a huge variety of natural wonders. These range from volcanoes and lakes to mountains and forests offering fantastic views for those willing to make the journey to see them.

The Russian people are very proud of their national heritage and you will find that being able to talk to them about major historical figures or events is a good way to ingratiate yourself with the locals. It’s well worth taking some time to brush up on Russian culture before you arrive.

Sport and leisure

With the huge variety of terrain and weather, Russia comes with a corresponding variety of opportunities for sports and leisure.

The achievements of athletes in Russia are a source of national pride and many sports get extensive government support.

While studying in the country you’ll have the opportunity to get involved in any number of the more familiar sports like football, hockey and basketball, as well as the highly popular winter sports in Russia like skiing, ice skating and ice hockey, sports in which Russia frequently win medals at the Olympics.

Should you prefer less physical competition, Russia has an exceptional history in international chess competitions, producing many of the world’s greatest players. As a result the game is very popular in the country, with public parks often being the venue for daily contests.

Food and drink

As ever with such a large and multi-ethnic country the food on offer in Russia is diverse. You’ll find food with influences ranging from Northern Europe to East Asia and everything in between.

Although most Russian dishes are not internationally renowned (with a few notable exceptions) much of it is nonetheless delicious. As might be expected in a country where the winters can be bitterly cold, their food is typically of the hearty variety, with staples including potatoes, pastry and cabbage.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that vodka is a popular drink in Russia, with it served alongside many meals and often flavoured and coloured with herbs and spices. Vodka is by no means the only drink available however, with chai tea and Nastoika (a fortified wine of herbs and fruit) among other popular choices.

Accommodation

Student accommodation in Russia comes in the form of university dormitories and privately rented accommodation. Depending on the university you have chosen and what type of accommodation you are looking for, it is possible to find a room fairly cheaply.

University dormitories

This is usually the most cost-effective option for international students. You will normally be allocated a place in a dormitory if requested, provided you are studying a full time PhD. Typical accommodation includes a shared bedroom and kitchen facilities. Many also feature gyms and recreational rooms.

The cost of university accommodation can be between 500 to 5,000 roubles a month (€7-70), depending on the city. It’s almost always cheaper than privately rented apartments in the same region.

You should make an application for university accommodation directly to the university at which you’ll be studying for your PhD. This can be done once you have been accepted onto doctoral programme.

Private rentals

If you are not able to secure university accommodation or you want more than university dorms provide, you can look for an apartment or privately rented room. This is more expensive that university dorms but gives you a greater amount of choice when it comes to location and comfort.

In Moscow and St. Petersburg an apartment can cost upwards of 35,000 roubles a month (€491), though cheaper options can be found further out from the city centre.

Living costs

Living in Russia is relatively inexpensive when compared to other major countries. The living costs in Russian cities are typically around half that of equivalent cities in the UK or America. Average monthly costs for a student living in a dormitory are around 20,195 roubles (€283), including rent.

Prices in Russia

The following table gives an indication of prices for some common expenses during a PhD in Russia.


Student Cost of Living in Russia - 2019
Restaurant Meal 1,250 roubles (€17.50)
Cinema Ticket 400 roubles (€5.60)
Monthly Travel Pass 2,100 roubles (€29)
Monthly Utilities 8,600 roubles (€120)
Based on crowdsourced data published by Numbeo.

Working during your PhD

As an international student living in Russia you will have the opportunity for part-time work in the country but you’ll need a permit from the state to be able to work legally. This permit is available to students studying full-time at state universities.

The downside is that acquiring a work permit from the state can be a lengthy and complicated process (as, sadly, are most bureaucratic procedures in Russia). Furthermore, if you can’t speak fluent Russian, you may struggle to find a job even with a permit.

Alternatively, you can find work with your university. This work doesn’t need a permit and many universities hire PhD students as teaching or research assistants. If you are interested in this, you might want to contact your supervisor in advance to find out about any opportunities.

You may also be able to find a job as a language tutor. In many of the larger cities in Russia there is a high demand for native speaking tutors, and many are willing to pay quite well for the privilege.

Banking

It is often advisable for internationals moving to a new country to open a local bank account as this often simplifies the process of getting paid, and can help you to avoid exorbitant international transfer fees.

Luckily, opening a bank account in Russia as an international student is straightforward. You will need to present the following at a local bank:

  • Photo ID (usually a passport)
  • Residence permit
  • Proof of address (a utility bill for example)
  • Some banks may also require a reference from your university

Depending on the bank you choose to open your account with you may be able to start the process from abroad, but most banks will require you to visit the bank in person to activate it. It’s also worth knowing that your details will only be stored at the branch where you register. This means that if you need to amend any personal information, you’ll need to visit the same branch again to do so.

Transport

Russia is a truly massive country, but the transport network in much of the country makes it easy to get from one place to another. There are also good international links via either air or rail, and tickets for travel are generally cost effective.

Rail travel

The rail network in Russia is the third largest in the world with over 50,000 miles of track having criss-crossing the country. All the major cities are linked by rail, as are many of the more remote destinations.

Additionally, most major airports offer an express rail service to the nearest city centre, which is a fast alternative to bus travel. The cost of the express service is often little more than the bus, making it an attractive option for many visiting the country.

Air travel

There are several major Russian airlines that make getting around the country a lot faster, offering many internal flights as well as flights to cities across the world. Most major airports are well equipped offering most of the expected amenities, but the smaller local airports are often very spartan.

Inner city travel

Russian cities have many options for transport including, metro, bus, tram, trolleybus and private fixed-route taxies. The largest of the cities also have extensive underground train networks that, provided you get yourself a good network map, make travel around the city much faster.

Most public transport offers discounts on travel for university students, reducing the price of a monthly travel pass to a fifth of its regular price.

Find a PhD in Russia

Ready to start browsing some current PhD opportunities in Russia? Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad.

Last updated - 01/11/2019

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