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Living in Russia, Saint-Petersburg as an Expat. What was it really like?

Updated: Jul 19, 2021

What first comes to your mind, when you think of Russia? Vodka, bears, cold? But, Russia is so much more than that. It is a ginormous cosmopolitan country, stretching from Europe all the way to the Americas. One of the most beautiful cities of Russia is St. Petersburg or like locals like to call it simply Peter.


Peter is a historic (it used to be the capital of the Russian Empire till 1917)

and cultural capital of Russia. Its population is about over 5 million people and it's the fourth biggest city in Europe – after Istanbul, Moscow, and London.


I stayed in St. Petersburg for about 9 months in 2020 with my husband during the global pandemic. In this article, I share my personal experiences of living and working in Peter from the perspective of the female expat. From this article, you will find out about the living cost, safety, healthcare, and many other aspects of living in Peter.


Cost of Living.


Our monthly expense for two in Saint Petersburg was around $ 1500-1600 (109,000-116,000rubles) and it included both the rent and food. We were easily able to afford to live in downtown Saint Petersburg, go out once a week, and fully cover our groceries expenses. Here is the breakdown:


- Apartment $ 600-700 (two-bedroom apartment in downtown with good internet)



- Groceries: $ 600-700



- Other expenses: $ 300


We were on a monthly budget of $ 1600 cap and were easily able to afford to dine out once a week, I would monthly visit beauty salons to do my nails, hair, and lash extensions, buy some extra clothing from time to time, and use a Comfort + taxies on Yandex app. So basically we were both living very comfortably.


Why Saint Petersburg?


Saint-Petersburg is a gorgeous historic city located in western Russia. It has a colossal amount of monuments and things to do and see. Locals even say that every stone here breathes with history. Here you can find gorgeous WinterPalace, SaintIsaacCathedral, KazanCathedral, the houses of famous Russian writers like Dostoevsky, Pushkin, and Bulgakov, and many other exciting places.



Moreover, Saint Petersburg is nicely located, It has an international airport, with daily flights to most of the major cities of the world, within one or two hours you can get to any European capital, within four or five hours you can get to any city in the CIS space, flights to the US are obviously longer taking up to 13 hours, depending on where in the US you are flying to.



What Did We Eat?


Quite frankly Russian cuisine is nothing to be excited about. Except, perhaps for Russian pancakes and Russian pastry. Good Russian pancakes you can try in the local franchise called Teremok (Теремок) and the pastry in pretty much any coffee shop or bakery in the city, our personal favorites were Lyudi Lyubad (Булочная Люди любят) and Bulochnaya Volcheka (Булочная Вольчека).


In the city, they also have a big number of international restaurants, the most popular cuisines are Georgian, Japanese, Uzbek, and Italian. All the prices were fairly cheap and the food was extremely fresh and tasty. When we were there we loved visiting small restaurants like Market Place , Pkhali Khinkali (Пхали Хинкали), Chaiykhana Chabrets (Чайхана Чабрец), Tokio City, and many others.



Beauty Industry.


Ladies, if you are visiting Russia, make sure to pay a visit to local beauty salons. Prices here are extremely cheap compared to the EU and US, but the quality you get is 10 times better. When we were living in Russian I would monthly pay a visit to the local beauty salons to get my nails, lashes (lash extensions), and my hair done. Of course, not all the local salons are great, so you still have to choose carefully. Here are my personal top picks:



Nail Saloon Pilki (average price $ 30-40 ), Hair Salon Beauty Room 47 (make sure to go to the one on Gorokhovaya St, 47)(average price $ 30-40), lash extensions at saloon Naked (average price $ 50).


Drunk Culture?


Despite what you might think, not all Russians like drinking, and not all of them like vodka. And no, vodka is not the only available drink in Russia. It is a huge misconception. In Peter, they have a lot of small shops (Krasnoye Beloye (Красное Белое), Napitki Mira (Напитки мира), etc) where you can find any type of alcohol. The most popular ones are the Aperol and white and red wines from Spain, Chile Italy, France, and Georgia. But keep in mind that drinking in public places in Russian is prohibited and from 10 PM till 10 AM sharp every day you won’t be able to buy any alcohol.



Safety in Saint Petersburg.


St. Petersburg is a fairly safe city and we never had any troubles there. However, the locals say it's better to stay away from certain districts of the city. If you are living in downtown you should be very safe, but just in case make sure to don’t display any signs of wealth in public and remember to always keep your phone in the front pockets.


Yandex for Everything?


Yandex is a Russian service provider similar to Uber, but has many more extra features like medicine and grocery delivery, paying for the utility bills, ordering flights, listening to music, reading news, and many more. We especially enjoyed using Yandex taxi and Yandex Maps.


In Yandex taxi, for instance, you can choose the class of the car, so you can get anything in between regular Nisan and Toyota to luxurious Lexus and Mercedes to pick you up, moreover, you can also choose the size of the car, which is really helpful, when going from/to the airport. However, the greatest news is that the difference between the fairs is only about $ 2-4 (150 to 300 rubles). Also when ordering the taxi you can add extra tips for the drivers, this feature is helpful especially if you are trying to get a cab during the rush hours.


Yandex Maps are extremely accurate, when driving they tell you about the location of all the traffic lights, police cars, traffics, road signs and many others. We found Yandex Maps to be much more accurate than Google maps.


And finally, both Yandex Taxi and Maps are available in English. So you don’t have to struggle with language there.


How Did Russia Handle Covid-19?


To our big surprise, Russia handled the whole Covid situation pretty well. There were Covid tests available throughout the entire period we stayed there, almost from the beginning of the pandemic. There were cheap, efficient, and super easy to do. Anyone could order them online within 24 hours the fully sealed test kit would be delivered to your doorstep by the currier, who would wait till you do the test and then deliver the package back to the laboratory. The results were ready ether in the same-day on the next day and were sent to you by email. The whole service cost was only $ 20 and the name of the company we used was Helix Lab. It was one of the most efficient and cheapest companies to do Covid test in Peter.


Moreover in Helix Lab they provide other medical services, like doctor appointments ($17-20 or 1200-1500 rubles/ per appointment), different medical tests (price depended on the test), etc. If you want to know more about the prices click here. All the test results can be provided in English, if requested. Helix Lab would be great if you can speak at least basic Russian. If not then you need to check out clinic Euromed.


Their Website has an English version and most of the doctors speak decent English as well. In fact, when we have visited the clinic we noticed that most of the costumers there were foreigners. Prices there are twice higher than in Helix, one doctor appointement there costs around $40 (3000 rubles) and more, but the variety and the quality of services is equally good.



Things We Didn’t Like.


The only thing we didn’t like was the WEATHER! It's absolutely horrible. You could barely see the sun, even during the summer months, which in Russia are from the beginning of June till the end of August. It is also quite cold outside in the winter months (December, January, February) and the temperature can drop down to negative 10-15°C (14-5°F). But mercifully almost all the houses are equipped with a central heating system, which works perfectly in Russia. It gets so warm in the house during the winter, that you can wear summer clothes indoors and feel perfectly comfortable.



Overall it was a great experience living in Peter, we enjoyed almost every aspect of our daily lives: food, accommodation, healthcare. While living in Peter you get a feeling of you living in the heart of the European capital with gorgeous historic monuments and cosmopolitan culture.





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