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Official Name: Russian Federation, Russia

Capital City: Moscow

Official Languages: Russian

Area: 17,075,400 sq. km/6,592,850 sq. mi.

Population: 141 million

Religion: Russian Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish, Baptist, Lutheran and Roman Catholic

Currency: Ruble (Rb)

Number of Time Zones: 11

Moscow and St. Petersburg are EST + 8 hrs and GMT +3 hrs. Daylight Savings time is observed from the last Saturday of March until the last Saturday of October.

Weights and Measures: Metric system

Country Domain: .ru

Country Tel Code: 7


Expatriates relocating to Russia today can expect to encounter a country much different from that which existed a decade ago. The Russian people are still learning to adapt to their new environment. Visitors should also be ready to deal with the additional opportunities and challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead.


Following the breakup of the USSR, a new and smaller Russia officially became the Russian Republic. Boris Yeltsin became the Republic’s first democratically elected president, taking office in 1991.

Yeltsin appointed a relative political unknown – former KGB intelligence service agent Vladimir Putin – as his prime minister in 1999. Putin succeeded Yeltsin as president in 2000, and won a landslide reelection victory in an election that lacked a strong rival for a second term in 2004. His administration is expected to institute further economic reforms, while challenging the power of Russia’s oligarchs and its Kremlin era bureaucracy.

Power is divided among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The Head of State is the President. He is elected for a four-year term. He can dissolve the legislature, declare war, appoint ministers, and issue a wide range of presidential decrees independent of parliament. The bicameral legislature consists of the State Duma and the Federal Council. The Duma has 450 deputies who are elected by direct popular vote and others by proportional representation from the national parties. The Federal Council, with 178 elected representatives, has two delegates from each of 89 republics, regions, districts, and the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg.


Both politically and economically, change is at the core of modern Russia. The remarkable changes that have occurred since the demise of the old central Communist government have created opportunity and disillusion at the same time. For some Russians, especially the older generations, change has come too quickly. With freedom has come the reality of unstable economy, a reduced standard of living, and crime. For younger generations, change has meant breaking out of old stereotypes, participation in the political process and optimism about the economic future.

Western goods and consumer services are increasingly available, particularly in Moscow, which is at the epicenter of economic and commercial growth. Expatriates living in downtown Moscow can expect a lifestyle comparable to other major international cities.

Many years of restructuring, hard work, and belt-tightening are ahead to achieve a stable economy. The current high rate of economic growth, fueled by high oil prices and the relatively cheap currency, is driving consumer demand and foreign investment.

The unreliability of the banking system, need for economic reform, increased crime, corruption, and political instability has meant foreign investment has proceeded at a cautious rate. At the same time, Russia’s abundance of natural resources and its skilled, educated workforce make it a promising environment for future economic investment and growth.


Transitioning into the new democracy and its freedoms has not been easy for Russians and for some, not a welcome change. The fall of Communism brought with it freedom that many were not prepared to exercise.

Because the Russian personality has so many faces, it is difficult to define. Defeated by harsh weather, tumultuous history and the general malaise that ensued, they seem to value the status quo and are reluctant to change. Security, stability and conservatism are held in high regard. Many foreigners find the Russian people an enigma – surprisingly nostalgic about their past yet cautiously optimistic about the future – patient but curious about the possibilities of freedom.

The Russians are a strong people, able to endure hardship and extreme climate with submission and patience. Most are not far removed from the status of worker and peasant. Although many are now living and working in cities and are employed by modern companies, they are the children of those who depended on the soil and the government for subsistence. The vast majority live in European Russia in and around Moscow and St. Petersburg, and most families have only one child, who is the center of the family focus.

The Russian people have been molded and directed from cradle to grave, creating individuals who assumed little responsibility for themselves. They are slowly learning how to take charge of their own lives, but the chasm between rich and poor, healthy and sick, and skilled and unskilled continues to widen.

The “New Russian”

As a result, there is a class of “new Russians” who have acquired fast wealth and have become somewhat conscious consumers. Very western in their dress and manner, these new captains of Russian commerce are demanding, and getting, the attention of the people, many of who do not approve of their flamboyance.

There is also a developing business, or middle class characterized by technical skills, good education and entrepreneurial endeavors.

On the whole, Russians are very well educated. Nearly all continue their education after the compulsory age of 16, making for a very competitive university system.

Ethnic makeup

Russia is surprisingly multi-national, having assimilated people of other nations as the country expanded over the centuries. Roughly 18 percent of the population is made up of non-Russian minorities, most of whom live in Russia’s former autonomous regions or republics.

There are approximately 120 different ethnic groups, the largest being the ethnic Russians, a Slavic people, who account for approximately 82 percent of the country’s population. Tatars, Russia’s largest ethnic minority, compose 4 percent of the population.

Tartars, descended from the Mongol-Tatar armies of Ghengis Khan and earlier settlers of the middle Volga, are primarily Muslim. The Tatars in the Russian region of Tatarstan have voted in favor of seceding from Russia.

Other significant minorities are Ukrainians, totaling 3 percent, Chuvashes,1 percent, and Belarusians, less than 1 percent.

There are over 30 indigenous peoples and nationalities living in Siberia and the Far East alone. Two of the smaller ethnic groups in Russia are the Aleuts, a nation of 700 who live on the Commander Islands in the Russian Far East, and Yukagirs, a group of 1,100 from northeaster Siberia whose language does not belong to any linguistic group.

Over 20 million Russians live outside the country in former Soviet republics. As these republics have become independent, many ethnic Russians have returned, and continue to return to Russia.

Cultural traditions

There is a widely accepted notion in Russia that there is a “soul” that makes Russians different – a sort of sadness born of oppression that demands a different social order. Whether or not this proud melancholia is fact or fiction is arguable, and may be threatened by a younger generation and new democratic society.

In a continuing preoccupation with the richness of the period of the Czars, there is great pride and appreciation for the fine arts of historical “Mother Russia.”

Taking advantage of the liberty that the government now affords, the Russian artists, driven underground during the Soviet era, are emerging and the tradition of excellent art, music and literature has been resumed.


An age-old maxim is” “To be Russian is to be Orthodox.” Before the Revolution of 1917, when the Communists shunned religion, the state and the church were closely interwoven. The Russian Orthodox Church is now regaining its strength and is supported by government leaders. Today religious freedom is assured by law, and nearly half of all Russians claim a religious affiliation according to Western estimates. The Orthodox Church is headed by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, who is elected by the Local Council, a body of bishops, clergymen and laity.

Other sizable religious denominations in Russia include Muslims, Jews, Lutherans, Baptists, and Roman Catholics, but nearly every major religion has members in the large cities of Russia.


Russian is the official language of Russia and is spoken as a native language by about 98 percent of the population. There are dozens of languages spoken by ethnic minorities. English, French, Spanish and German are the most common second languages.

The Russian language is expressed in the Cyrillic alphabet, similar to the Greek alphabet, which differs from the Roman alphabet of English.

General attitudes

The Russian mindset is not as much pro-anything, as it is anti-Communist. Difficult times, shortages of goods and general uncertainty are overshadowed by the feeling that democracy is better. That doesn’t mean that Russians are not complaining. They are critical of the slow pace of reform and of the new leaders, but they are nonetheless loyal and optimistic about the “Mother” Russia.

Making the transition from a society completely dependent upon the state to one in which the individual shares responsibility, the Russian people don’t seem to yet have a clear picture of themselves. The demise of communism has hugely affected life in Russia, but the sometimes-halting democracy that has taken its place is still emerging.

Under Communist rule, the state was responsible for everything. Today people must make decisions and take responsibility for them – not an easy task for those who have been raised to follow, not to lead.

Attitudes toward human rights

Although the 1993 Constitution guarantees basic human rights, the progress toward internationally recognized human rights for all citizens is not yet complete. Large gains have been made on the domestic side, but the U.S. Department of State reports that some abuses have been reported within the military and police forces, and during the protracted conflict in Chechnya.

Conditions in Russian detention facilities are far below acceptable standards, due to the as yet unresolved government financial shortages.

Reforms are slow to come about in many sectors of the new government. Although a new Criminal Code that guarantees judicial rights was passed in 1995, it did not go into effect until 1997.

Attitudes toward women

The Communists maintained the equal status of men and women in the classless society, but within most Russian families, the woman stays at home to care for the well being of the family, and the man earns the money.

In the workplace, the opportunities for women have been slow to surface. Women in Russia have the opportunity to pursue higher education and do so, but they do not typically fill leadership positions in most organization, particularly in the business world.

Women can be found in high positions in science and the arts, however. There are many Russian men who, in all likelihood, will never be able to take a woman leader seriously; however, younger men seem more willing to accept women in positions of power. Attitudes change slowly.

Russian women have reached managerial positions; and foreigners, who have worked in Russia, believe that these women are more serious, harder working and more creative than their Russian male counterparts.

Radical changes must occur, though, for the Russian mentality to accept women in positions superior to men. The male network in business is unwilling to allow women to progress. Women, thus far, have served a mostly “decorative” function, and those who have achieved success are considered masculine.

Since there are a few social groups fighting against this form of prejudice, it is likely to take some time to see any significant changes. Russian society has a great many challenges in the next few years, and women’s rights will have to wait its turn.

Foreign businesswomen will encounter some resistance. Conservative dress and demeanor and a serious attitude will be helpful in dealing with Russian men. Keeping a certain distance rather than being too friendly is advisable. It is also best to ignore the inequality between the sexes that exists in Russia, instead behaving as if business were being transacted in the West.

Men are still the “dominant” gender in Russia, and Russians become uncomfortable with very strong women. A woman who stays aloof will be respected, whereas overly-friendly behavior may be interpreted as promiscuous. Be very careful about going out with male colleagues after hours. Not only can this be personally damaging, but professionally ruinous.

Attitudes in the workplace

Russian workers although well educated, hard working and disciplined, are products of the Communist system, when workers were not rewarded for personal incentives nor punished for being nonproductive. Not having been raised to “get ahead” and to amass personal fortunes, they may respect that trait in Westerners, but they generally abhor it in their Russian colleagues.

There is no government agency in place to enforce compliance with safety and environmental concerns.

Many workers who have specialized skills are starting their own private companies.

Attitude toward foreigners

Russians generally respect and admire the business expertise and technology skills and tools of European and North American firms and are interested in doing business with them. In some quarters, Russians tend to blame western influence for the hard times brought about by reform. The economic disparity between foreigners and themselves also raises the hurdle to understanding.

Russians historically have feared and distrusted foreigners, but today’s foreign community lives in relative harmony with Russian citizens. Some Russians may resent their presence, but most appreciate the efforts of foreigners to modernize the local economy. In spite of extremists and political populists, the attitude of most Russians toward foreigners is generally positive.

The Russian government, in an effort to attract more foreign investment, has various legal and economic reforms in place and additional measures are under discussion.



The business and political capital, Moscow is known as the “heart of Russia,” and is by far the country’s largest city with a population of around 10.4 million people. While it is home to some of the country’s wealthiest citizens, many of them new entrepreneurs, the vast majority of people struggle to live on meager incomes.

Moscow has grown outward from the Kremlin since the 12th century; its growth is marked by concentric boulevards or ring roads. Smaller streets and avenues connect the rings like a spider’s web. There are two major rings, the Boulevard Ring and the Garden Ring. A circular highway, the Outer Ring Road, about 28 km/16 mi from the city center and 100 km/67 mi long, marks its present boundary. The metro system also follows a ring around the city.

Moscow is divided into 35 districts, including Zelenograd, a town 36 km/22 mi northeast of Moscow. Serious traffic problems are a concern, especially in the center of town.

Business and politics predominate in Moscow, which is likely to remain Russia’s chief business city for many years. Political demonstrations are a regular event; motorcades of Russian politicos are often seen; and Pushkin Square remains a hotbed of political discussion. A thriving service industry caters to the business community.


With a population of 1.4 million, Novosibirsk is the largest city in Siberia, and the third-largest city in Russia. Most of the city’s industrial jobs are in metal manufacturing and metallurgy.

The city was founded in 1893, as the location where the Trans-Siberian Railway would cross over the Ob river. Later, the completion of the Turkestan-Siberia Railway turned Novosibirsk into the commercial center of Siberia, where goods arrived from Central Asia, Russia, and Eastern Europe. Today, Novosibirsk remains the cultural, economic and political capital of the region.

St. Petersburg

During the Soviet period, St. Petersburg was also known as Petrograd and Leningrad. Some Russians call it Sankt Petrburg, others Piter. The second largest city in Russia is home to about 4.7 million people and the famed “white nights,” the long days of early summer when the sun never seems to set.

Often called the “Venice of the North” because of its canals, the city was built on marshland under the guidance of Peter the Great. St. Petersburg was founded to secure Russian possession of the mouth of the Neva River and to be Russia’s “window on Europe” – its capital and its showcase city.

Though much of this city has fallen into architectural disrepair, St. Petersburg still retains its charm. Almost every downtown building seems to contain a plaque indicating its historical significance. It is Russia’s premier cultural city with an active art, theater, ballet, and literary life.

A cultural haven, St. Petersburg is also a formidable industrial and scientific center. The city’s well-educated workforce and its thriving port and ship-building industry are attracting international business interests. St. Petersburg is known for machine building, power generators, tractors, TV sets, and other sophisticated goods, as well as being home to the country’s leading rubber factory.


Located in the Russian Far East’s Primorskiy Territory, Vladivostok has a population of approximately 600,000, including some expatriates drawn there by the telecommunications industry.

The largest city in the East, and an important port city, it is best known as the starting point of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Also known as a resort city, it enjoys good beaches and medicinal mud.


Newcomers to Russia are often stunned by its mammoth size and its incredible cold weather. Physically the largest country in the world, Russia is nearly twice the size of the United States, and in most of the country winter begins in October and lasts until June.
There is less diversity in climate than one might expect of so vast a land mass as Russia. Summer temperatures are usually moderate, but may reach 90F/32C. Winter temperatures average 15F/-10C, but may reach as low as -40. The wind chill factor drops the level of discomfort even lower.

The mildest climate is along the Black Sea coast. St. Petersburg and Vladivostok have milder climates than does Moscow due to their proximity to the oceans.

Hours of daylight vary in Moscow from 7 hours in December to 17.5 hours in June, while St. Petersburg experiences its famous “white nights” in June with 19 hours of daylight.

Snow begins to fall in October and usually continues through April, although some snow may fall in May and June. The heaviest rain falls between May and October. Because Russians are adept at coping with inclement weather, heavy snow does not halt transportation or activities. Foreigners unused to severe cold weather may be uncomfortable outdoors during the coldest months of January and February, but will find buildings well heated.

Information provided in association with Living Abroad