3 ways to move to Russia, navigate the bureaucracy and not go insane

Read our guide and go packing!

Read our guide and go packing!

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So you decided to move to Russia. Congratulations! Welcome to our country! However, you won't be spared the red tape unless you're someone like Gerard Depardieu, who became Russian in 2013 by personal decree of Vladimir Putin.

Educational visa takes a few years

The easiest way to live in Russia is to study. You should be able to study at no cost and easily get a dorm room. Many universities have quotas for foreigners, and if you’re accepted, you’ll receive an invitation for a free educational visa.

For example, Jiyoon Choi is from Korea and studies at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. He dreams of becoming an Orthodox priest and returning to Seoul to conduct religious services for local Russians. He speak almost perfect Russian, and studies it zealously, as well as lives in a dormitory with both foreign students and Russians.

In spite of his unusual specialization, the ordinary visa rules apply for his educational institution. 

“We foreign students at the SPTA receive a single visa for a month and then extend it for a year. Our Father superior goes to an agency to prolong the visas,” said Choi.

At other universities it’s possible to get a multi-entry visa for a year and then to extend it every year.

Advantages: 1. You can live in Russia four years (the time to get a bachelor degree), and see if you like it here. Or, you can receive a temporary residency permit through a slightly simplified procedure.

2. With a student ID, you can visit museums cheaply, whereas foreigners usually pay much more to enter. Also, a public transportation pass is half the price.

Disadvantages: You don’t have the right to work officially with a student visa.

Find a job and sign a three-year contract

Another possibility to live in Russia without burning your passport is officially to find a job. There are two ways.

1. A work permit and work visa

This option is not for those who don’t care what job they're offered. When planning to land a job as a foreigner, a company should really want to hire you. There is a quota for hiring foreign workers, and it's necessary to register with the Office of the Director General for Migration, which issues an accreditation and an invitation.

Or you can skip the first point if you're a highly qualified specialist earning more than 2 million rubles ($33,700) a year.

You should find a job BEFORE migrating, get a visa invitation from your employer, notarize a translated copy of your passport and diploma, take a medical examination, and prove your knowledge of Russian. The work visa is granted for up to 3 years, but if you suddenly decide to leave company A and take a new job in company B, then you need a new invitation and visa.

"I looked for, and found, formal employment in St. Petersburg," says Anna from Lithuania. "The boss was willing to hire me, but when she found out how much time she'd have to spend going to different government offices, she instead offered me to work illegally. So, I worked illegally."

2. 'Work patent'

A 'work patent' is a type of work permit given ONLY to visa-free migrants from the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). There are a number of restrictions, however. First, you can only perform the professional tasks stated in the permit. If it says you are a mechanic and you sew clothes, then you'll have to pay a fine and will be deported.

Second, this permit has a territorial restriction; for example, you can’t get a permit in a small Siberian town and work in Moscow. Moreover, you can’t obtain this permit in the Moscow Region and work in the city of Moscow, but you can get this permit for work in both places.

Not much fun, right? Well at least this permit is easy to obtain, costing only $20 a month and you don’t pay income tax.

Aleksey came to work in Russia from Ukraine, and was issued a 'work patent' for just 10 days without any problems.

“There was only a problem when I went to extend it. I went to the migration office 10 days before the expiration date and they told me it was too late! So I had to go back to Ukraine and then once again come to Russia.”

Advantages: You don’t have to burn your passport.

Disadvantages: If you lose your job you'll have to leave the country. If you change employers then you'll have to start all over again.

Obtain a temporary residency permit and then a permanent residency permit

“If I knew how difficult it would be, I'd just make a new visa four times a year," says Anastasia, a migrant from Latvia. "A one-year visa allows you to be in Russia 90 days out of every 180 days, as well as to work legally. Now I don’t have the right to work officially for half a year anyway and moreover, I’m stuck here until they give me a temporary residence permit.”

Anastasia was lucky – she received a permit according to quotas for displaced persons. In addition to displaced persons, the following have the right to such a status:

– Those born in the USSR

– Spouses or parents of Russian citizens

– Children of disabled Russian citizens

– Juveniles

– Those enrolled in a voluntary compatriot resettlement program

Quotas were issued just after the New Year and end in a few days. Even in cold weather, people queue the whole night, sometimes even several nights, in order to be the happy bearer of an official passport stamp. There are no guaranteed ways to obtain a place in the quota. If you see an ad that promises you a quota spot for 200,000 rubles ($3,500) you can be sure it's fraudulent.

As a rule, the following factors can help to obtain a place in the quota:

– Close relatives in Russia

– Ownership of real estate in Russia

– A very large sum of money in a Russian bank

– Choice of a region: moving to a big city is much more difficult than moving to a place where there's a lack of manpower

– If applications from companies, organizations, diasporas, national-culture autonomies, public authorities are available

In order to obtain a temporary residency permit by quota, or for any other reason, you should take a medical examination. For about $50 you undergo a whole array of medical, psychiatric and drug examinations, and even have to take an STD test. This takes about 3-4 hours.

Then you take an exam for Russian language, history and legislation (about $60), all in the same building. If your knowledge of Russian is at least at the B1 level, you will pass. The answers to history and legislation questions can be found on the Internet. Children, retirees and those who graduated in Russia are exempt from the exam.

In a week, when the test results are ready and a language certificate is granted, you can apply for a temporary residency permit. You should arrive two hours before opening, otherwise queue tickets will run out and you will have to come another day.

Be ready to wait your turn until evening. Don’t forget to make a notarized translation of your passport and a certificate of criminal record from your home country.

Fill out the form in advance. If when filling it out you aren't sure of something, it’s better to print another blank copy just in case. Your application might be turned down because of the slightest mistake. As a rule, migration centers often offer help in filling out forms for 3,000 rubles ($50). It’s better not to pass up this opportunity.

Immediately after obtaining a temporary residence permit, you should register at the place of residence and apply for a multiple-entry visa in order to be able to leave the country and return again without any hassle. The temporary residency permit allows you to live in Russia for 3 years, although in a year you can apply for a residency permit.

If you have been staying in Russia most of the time, register at your place of residence, keep an official income above subsistence levels for each person in the family, and don’t break the law, then you will get the residency permit for five years, and you can extend it, or eventually get citizenship.

Advantages: The temporary residency permit, and the permanent residency permit, allow you to live in the country with the same rights as a citizen. You’ll be entitled to free medical care, to work anywhere in the country that you want, and to send your child to a nursery or a school.

Disadvantages: During the first six months you'll have to pay not 13 percent but 31 percent income tax. You must file income taxes every year, and if you don’t then you won’t get a permanent residency permit in three years.

In 2016, the Russian government issued 9.5 million passports, 1.5 million work permits, 323,000 temporary residency permits, and 185,000 permanent residency permits. Most people who migrate for a long stay are originally coming from Central Asia, Ukraine, and Belarus. However, residents of other countries are also among the happy new Russian residents. 

You'll have to give up your place of residence at home, and you might lose your right to free medical treatment there, so better to clarify this matter first. While you are waiting for a temporary residency permit, you won’t get free medical treatment in Russia as well. So don't get sick!

During the wait you also have no right to work. Some can’t wait, however, and take a job illegally.

If you don’t have friends or relatives in Russia it’ll be difficult for you to find an accommodation needed to get a temporary residency permit. You can register your residence at so called “bubble flats” for money, but it’s illegal. Otherwise, if you have the money it’s best to buy your own real estate.

Read more:

6 weird things Russians do that baffle foreigners

13 bizarre (real) job offers that will make you move to Russia

7 key factors in choosing a Russian university

5 easy ways to learn Russian

Survival guide: How to stay sane while driving in Russia


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