Finding suitable housing in Moscow is certainly no easy task. Sure a teacher new to Moscow could be lucky and have a friend or a built-in social circle ready to help them navigate the various options available. For most of us though, this is simply not an option and we have to arrange housing on our own or with help from our school or employer. It’s a very dynamic market and requires patience, persistence, and a good understanding of your priorities in the choice of housing. All of this is further complicated by the need to be fluent in Russian, which is, of course, rarely the case for ESL teachers who are new to Russia. There is a multitude of websites, resources, agents, and companies an ESL teacher can go through in the search for viable properties. Unfortunately, there are also scams, fake listings, and untrustworthy agents who can result in financial loss and frustration.
As a group of current and former teachers in Moscow, we have had to deal with this stressful process many times over. Sometimes we were lucky and found a flat the same day that fit most of our requirements. Other times, we lost a lot of time and money chasing false leads or dealing with very unusual landlords. We are here to provide you with a comprehensive guide to Moscow housing which we hope will assist you in finding your ideal home.
Shared housing or independent?
To start off, one must decide if they are willing to live with roommates and share an apartment or if they are determined to rent their own place.
For those who are not too fussed about shared accommodation, the search will generally be easier and the rental cost will certainly be lower. The best resource available to expat teachers in the search for roommates and shared housing (besides friends and colleagues) is Facebook. More specifically, you can find specific expat housing groups that are active with posts from fellow teachers looking for flatmates and/or looking for someone to team up within the search for an apartment. One of the most active and relevant groups can be found here
A private room in a shared apartment with 2 other teachers should cost 20,000-40,000 Rub per month (depending on the distance from the center, condition, etc). Typically there will be an additional expense of 2000-3000 Rub per month for utilities and internet. Most listings will ask for a 1-month damage deposit but this can often be negotiated and sometimes may be overlook entirely if you really hit it off with your new roommates. As is the case in many other countries, one of the tenants will be the main point of contact with the landlord and as such will have the final say on who lives in the apartment and/or house rules.
Obviously many people are not keen on sharing their housing for any number of reasons. In this case, one must undertake an independent search for suitable apartment options. By far the largest and undisputed leader of online of apartment listings is Cian. Their database is vast and the number of listings in Moscow is seemingly endless. One can certainly become a bit overwhelmed by all the choices and the search will not be fruitful without a good idea of the desired area, price, size, etc of the apartment. Thankfully, Cian makes the search easier with a wide range of filter options including an option to search specifically by the walking distance (in minutes) to a specific metro station. Unfortunately, the Cian platform is currently only available in Russian, so you will need to get help from a Russian friend or colleague to successfully navigate the website. Cian also has a handy app which can be downloaded here.
The following are the main criteria to consider during your search:
Your budget. One room apartments start at about 25,000 Rub/month and is its Moscow, the sky is the limit! At the lower end of the budget you will have to compromise on some or many of the other preferred apartment criteria. The median rental price for a decent, one room apartment in a good neighborhood and walking distance from the metro is 35,000 - 40,000 Rub.
Size of the apartment. Almost all one room apartments are what would be considered a ‘studio’ in western countries but with a separate room for the kitchen. Effectively you will have 2 rooms: one serving as the main living space and one for the kitchen. The concept of a separate living room is almost unheard of in Russia. Every room will normally serve as sleeping space in all cases except in housing for the very wealthy. 2 room apartments start at around 40,000 Rub and a large 3 room apartment will start at about 60,000 Rub per month.
Neighborhood. New arrivals in Moscow will be relieved to know that almost all neighborhoods are generally safe and there are no dangerous or no-go red zone areas. You can read more about staying safe in Moscow here. Having said that, there are more desirable areas to live in and ones which will seem a bit sketchy, especially at night. The center within the main metro circle line is often the area expats strive to live in. The appeal is understandable: easy access to most of the historical sights, museums, and the best restaurants/nightlife in the city has a distinct advantage. However, after living in Moscow for some time, many teachers find that living in the center just doesn’t make sense. First of all, one can expect to pay at least 30% more for the same type of apartment if its located within the circle line. Secondly, the center is very crowded with tourists, heavy traffic which results in almost endless traffic jams and increased pollution. Another aspect to consider is that regular grocery shopping is much more affordable and easier to do in the suburbs due to the lack of large and affordable supermarkets in the center. Living in the center will usually result in higher rent, more expensive shops, and higher prices for almost all services.
Condition. The lower end apartment listings will often have soviet-era renovations and give off the distinct impression that at least several generations have lived there without updating the furniture or apartment at all. Its quite remarkable how many of these apartments are still available at this time and age. You can expect Soviet style wallpaper, carpets on the walls, and furniture which should surely belong in a museum! Often the appliances and bathroom will be very old as well. Of course, not everyone wants to live in an old flat and sleep in a bed which was surely served as the last resting place for several grandmothers. In fact, this type of apartment is commonly referred to as “babushkin variant” or simply, grandma’s option. In general, the newer the building, the less likely you are to come across these options and many older building will also have plenty of newly renovated apartments although for a higher rental price.
Distance from metro/public transport. The distance from the metro is one the most important factors which make up the rental price. Simply put, the closer you are to the metro, the higher the rent will be. Apartments which are located in buildings directly outside of the metro are especially prized even if the metro station itself is quite far from the center. Most ESL teachers in Moscow do not drive and don’t ever plan to drive a car to work due to the insane traffic and lack of parking. This makes the metro a daily part of teachers’ lives and as a result the distance one lives from the metro will greatly influence their standard of living. The last thing you want to be doing after a long day at work and a commute on the metro is having to get on a bus which will often be stuck in traffic just to get home.
Shops and other conveniences nearby. As mentioned in the neighborhood section, the downtown or center of Moscow, will not have a good selection of affordable supermarkets. The suburbs will almost always have plenty of cheaper, better, and larger supermarkets for your everyday grocery shopping.The suburbs will also have plenty of shopping centers and entertainment complexes which will serve you well for other types of shopping. When looking at a listing, its a good idea to check on the map how far these conveniences are from the apartment and whether you will have to use public transportation to get to them or they are within walking distance. You might be lucky and even have an Auchan or Metro cash and carry nearby!
Registration. Depending on your employer, this may be a crucial consideration when choosing an apartment. As explained on our visa information page, all foreigners must be registered at their residence within 7 days of arrival in Russia. Unfortunately, far from all landlords are prepared to go through the registration process and its often just easier for them to deal with a Russian tenant instead. If you cannot be registered at your residence, your school or employer should help you with this process.