St. Petersburg, Russia
Last updated on Sep 17, 2022
Summary: Russia's second largest city, St. Petersburg, is home to approximately 5.5. million people. The city has cold winters and cool summers (highs in upper 60s to low 70s). The cost of living in St. Petersburg is relatively low, but you will find some rentals that compare with New York and London rates (don't fall for them). If you're moving here, find a trustworthy Russian friend to help you search for an apartment and get settled.
What do I need to know before moving to St. Petersburg?
When we asked people what advice they would give someone preparing to move to St. Petersburg, they said:
"Moving your personal effects: Don't! Air freight costs are outrageous and boat shipments aren't much better. Buying comparable items here has worked quite well for me. The prices for many articles are about 50% higher than USA prices but without the customs duty, VAT, paperwork and forwarding nightmare of dealing with shippers, delays, and local trucking co's. Choosing the neighborhood: Locate a real estate agent who can speak at least some English, it isn't difficult if you ask around. Expect to see many different properties! And watch your step! (literally!) In the US we don't think much about our footing because the floors are all level from room to room, or from street to entry. Here in SPb it is very easy for the tourist to fall because the streets and floors are all at different levels! Expect to step up and down often. Laundries are rare, indoor personal washers and clothes driers are rare but becoming more commonplace. You can pay to have a bought W/D unit installed but there may not be a heat outlet vent for the dryer. The bathtub becomes the usual instrument for washing one's clothes, air drying is common," said another person in St. Petersburg.
"You should have a trustworthy Russian mentor... someone affiliated with your company, or somehow known to someone you know. Either that or a very experienced expat contact. Deal only with a well-established reputable house agency recommended by your trusted contact. Don't be dazzled by an amazing-looking flat in a historic district without first checking out what'a available for groceries etc. nearby. Find out what public transport is available nearby. Try to locate walking distance to a subway (tube)," remarked another expat in St. Petersburg.
How do I find a place to live in St. Petersburg?
We asked expats how they chose their neighborhood and found a place to live. They answered:
"I have been lucky enough to converse with some Russian people online and to later meet them in SPb. The city varies widely in terms of housing. Some areas are industrial and you'll find smoke pouring into your windows at odd times. The better areas tend to be near universities, metro, large shopping malls ("magazines"). One advantage here is that for a small sum of aboout $0.50 US (20 ruble) you can take a bus and travel the city while seeing it's various facets," explained one expat.
"My wife is Russian, so I'm not typical of most expats. She always wanted to live on Vassilievsky Island, and a few years ago she negotiated a very complex chain of stae-owned flat trades to end up with a completely trashed empty 5-room communal flat in the neighborhood. I don't know how she did it (and I don't think I want to). We subsequently gutted the place and renovated it," said another person in St. Petersburg.
What is a typical expat home or apartment like in St. Petersburg?
"I am in what Americans might consider a "condo", here it is a flat or apartment. The rents here are comparable to USA major city rents on a per square footage basis (here it is square meters of space). The quality of construction leaves much to be desired, exposed water and sewage pipes, occasional outages of water, and other minor annoyances, but this is typical for SPb. Get accustomed to hearing many car alarms at night, especially on the weekends. Here they are LOUD! Not like the dainty alarms found in the yuppie neighborhoods of America. Most heating here in water heat from the exposed pipes and radiators. Air conditioners are rare but seldom really needed," said another expat in St. Petersburg.
"A 3-bedroom flat (5-room) apartment of about 95 sq. meters. Tiny by American standards, but good for Russian. It feels roomy due to the atypical open floor plan we designed when we renovated. A "eurostandard" remodel is fairly typical for expats now, but as a rental. Most expats tend to live in the historic central districts," added another person living in St. Petersburg.
What is the average cost of housing in St. Petersburg?
If you are thinking about moving to St. Petersburg, cost of living in probably a key consideration. Expats commented about the cost of housing:
"This is the grand question indeed! Rentals are fair priced at about $10-$20 SqM/month. You get what you pay for! Buying an apartment here is expensive and getting more expensive. The best areas here for ex-pats are usually near to tourist areas and these are going for up to $3000 SqM. As mentioned above, the quality is not the best. Most buildings are from the Stalin era (1930)," said another expat in St. Petersburg.
"Well, you can run the gamut. Compared to NYC or SF, it's generally a lot less, though you can find somebody who'll happily try to get that kind of price out of you. Probably comparable with midwestern cities. Average costs for foreigners and Russians is very different. If the price seems about comparable to your home area, it's probably too high. Try dickering," added another person living in St. Petersburg.
What should I bring when moving to St. Petersburg?
People living in St. Petersburg were asked what three things they wish they had brought and three they wish they had left behind. They wrote:
"Bring with: 1. Several electrical plug adapters, they convert the US flat pins to the round pins usable in Russia. Bring more dual-voltage electrical appliances (240 VAC here). 2: Money pouch, money belt, or ankle wallet. 3. Laptop computer internet enabled. 4. Comfortable house slippers. Leave at home: 1. Heavy voltage convertor box. 2. Second pair of shoes. 3. More than 3 changes of clothes," said another person in St. Petersburg.
"When we moved here 7-1/2 years ago I could say I wish I had brought EVERYTHING and then some. Now most everything is available that one could find in say Stockholm or Prague. Luxury goods are still overinflated price-wise, but day to day things are comparable or cheaper than in Western Europe unless you shop in places strictly catering to foreigners. Computer gear is much cheaper in the States than here or Europe generally. Bring quality clothing to last for your stay. Here it's generally Wal-Mart quality at Nieman-Marcus prices," remarked another expat in St. Petersburg.
What do expats in St. Petersburg appreciate most about the local culture?
"Adventure, learning, growth, new foods, new experiences, new people, newness, change... I can go on and on," said another expat in St. Petersburg.
About the Author
Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.
Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.