On occasion, people who are planning to come to Russia for adventure, education and a new life write to me as a notable foreigner in the country with many big questions. One of the most popular by far is the question of “what do I need to bring with me to Russia?” The short answer to this these days is, thankfully, “nothing” - if you have time, money and a bit of determination!
When I arrived in Russia in 2006 it was a much different country. There were far more expats all over Moscow, many of them here against their will, working in big foreign companies. I remember hearing many a tale of how they would scramble about, searching for ‘exotic’ things like peanut butter, or HP steak sauce. When someone would see one of these rarities at a store they would call all their friends or post online to see if anyone would like them to pick up a few jars/bottles/bags of whatever unique treat they found.
Back then for Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving and for Brits to have a proper Christmas the hunt to find a turkey was just as hard as shooting one in the wild. I have met people who used to make deals to have a turkey slaughtered in the village just in time to get it stuffed and baked to watch the Cowboys play the Packers from a torrented file.
This is why many, if not all expats, who would visit home from time to time - or who would simply leave Russia for a bit - would bring back full suitcases of home comforts: anything from shampoos to snacks to electronic goods to clothes, and would naturally become a demigod for the few days after triumphantly returning with his or her case of ‘booty’ from abroad! But as times changed - and Russia as a whole - those suitcases became smaller and smaller still.
Because that was then and this is now. Russians have become more wealthy, have more opportunity to travel and have more connections with the outside world than ever before, which makes them want to bring home tasty things and cool items from the countries they spend time in - which are now the countries where all those foreigners came from. Russians have become more worldly after Communism ended meaning more of the world’s stuff is readily available and in high demand.
What was once a distant dream is now a reality in modern Russia. Suddenly, anything and everything you once sought after can be found - and bought. In addition, Russians have become more wealthy, have more opportunity to travel and have more connections with the outside world than ever before, meaning their desire for new foods, clothes and technology has resulted in local grocery and retail stores to increasingly cater to these needs - much to the joy of every expat!
Now, at the cheap grocery store near where I live, burrito seasoning, soy sauce and curry powder are staples that you can always find. The days of expat adventures to hunt down rare and unique things are over. The epic Yeltsin era quest to find a Rugby ball or American football is gone forever, as there is always at least one of both at every sporting goods store.
So in today’s Moscow and St. Petersburg there is nothing you can’t find somewhere if you are willing to pay for it and take the time to find it. Obviously things with low popularity like Rugby and American Football equipment are going to be more pricey than in countries where these sports are huge - yes, they will be more expensive, but they are now readily available. In terms of the rest of the country beyond the two biggest cities, you can order anything you like online and have it delivered to you just like in your home nation. Furthermore, everything that happens in Moscow eventually spreads to the rest of the country, including demand for ingredients to cook provincial Thai food at home.
So, if you are looking for…
Rare International Foods:Azbuka Vkusa (“Alphabet of Taste”)
This grocery store seems to cater to exotic and expat tastes, it is pricey but they will have that boxed macaroni and cheese that you want so badly.
More International foods:Globus Gourmet
This service allows you to order a bunch of clothes online, which are delivered to a pickup point near you. You can try the clothes on, pay for the ones you like and return the others free of charge. It is basically online shopping that has a “dressing room.”
Grocery Deliveries:Utkonos (Platypus)
This service with a weird name will deliver groceries to your home for a small charge or sometimes for free if they can come at an odd time. Huge time saver.
Walmart/Tesco analogs:Auchan (pronounced A-shan)
If you really want to feel like you are still in an America, then go to Ashan… it is exactly the same type of big box megamarket, except it’s French - and in Russia!
This store is super cheap but has great quality, my soccer star son wears all their stuff and it lasts a long time. And most importantly they do have American footballs. Life in Russia is good my friends.
Russians love IKEA and it is very affordable and offers delivery options and a surprising amount of it is made in Russia - plus it offers home delivery, something that simply was not available in the past!
More tools & building materials: MosHozTorg
You know, all those services like AliExpress, Amazon and eBay… well they all work for Russia, too, plus you can look for literally anything on Yandex Market, or search for something used on Avito which is basically like Craigslist.
In short, you don’t need to bring anything with you anymore, because the days of bare-shelved Russia are over. You can order a cutting edge gaming laptop to be delivered to some village in the middle of nowhere. If you are willing to learn to read Russian, even if on a primitive level, you will be able to order anything you want online or find a store in your area that sells it.
Sadly, that super annoying ‘romantic’ time, when American expats would hunt for Tabasco sauce, is over. The joy of seeing that ultra rare bag of marshmallows has faded away. Yes, because marshmallows are a bit rare, they may be more expensive than in your country, but is it really worth hauling a supply of them from the U.S. to save 50-ish cents on a bag? No it isn’t!
The 90s in Russia are officially over, my readers, which means living here as an immigrant or expat is a million times easier, but not nearly as adventurous. Sadly, I no longer have the instinct to call other Americans when I see a jar of peanut butter… oh those were the days!
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