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Russia:  Living in Russia

Covering 11 different time zones, Russia is the world’s largest nation and one of the most populated. ESL teachers will find Russia affords them the opportunity to teach in a nation eager to learn the English language.

What to Know About Living in Russia
Transportation in Russia
Etiquette in Russia
Language in Russia
Eating in Russia
Climate in Russia
Holidays in Russia 


What to Know About Living in Russia

Russia shares its borders with a total of 16 different nations; this produces a wide range of culture, cuisine, holidays, and climates for ESL teachers to enjoy. Monthly ESL teaching salaries range from 25,000 RUB to 100,000 RUB. The ESL market has increased somewhat over the last few years, however the cost of living is still quite high. This means that teaching in Russia is not as profitable as teaching in other ESL markets; however, with some careful budgeting, a Russian teaching salary is enough to pay the bills and properly experience what the country has to offer.


Many schools offer to pay for a portion or sometimes all of their teachers' accommodations as part of their contract; however, some expect their ESL teachers to pay these expenses out of pocket. Usually, teachers who have their apartments provided for them are asked to share their living space with another ESL teacher. This is a great way for an ESL teacher to learn about their new home and meet some new friends.

The price range for accommodations in Russia varies depending on the location. Apartments in Russia can be a lot less expensive than those in North America. A small, one-bedroom flat will usually cost around 21,000 RUB. This price can double or more if a teacher is moving to a popular area of Moscow or Saint Petersburg. Anyone looking to rent a Russian apartment can expect to pay a deposit, usually equal to one month's rent. Leases can be written in Russian and English; however, the Russian contract is the only one that is legally binding. There are few leases which include a time-frame of how long the tenant must hold the apartment, so anyone can move out at any time, providing they have offered the standard four months' notice.


Depending on the job, ESL teachers may have some or all of their airfare paid for, but many will need to pay for their own transportation to Russia. Regardless of whether or not airfare is included in a contract, teachers will usually be responsible for the initial purchase of their plane ticket.

In addition to researching airline travel, it is also important to plan for and make any needed land-travel arrangements for when you arrive on Russian soil ahead of time.

Health Benefits

The Russian healthcare system employs a high number of medical professionals per capita, and all Russian citizens have access to free healthcare. However, there are many concerns about the Russian healthcare system and it constantly faces public and global criticisms. Statistics for life expectancy are far lower than most developed nations in the world. Many experts claim this is a result of an underperforming healthcare system as well as poor lifestyle choices (smoking, alcohol abuse, and frequent traffic accidents, among other factors) made by some Russians.

ESL teachers will need to purchase medical insurance prior to their departure that will cover any expenses which could occur while teaching English in Russia. This is a pre-requisite to obtaining a visa. Rates can often be expensive, as private healthcare is only readily available in Moscow or St. Petersburg. A typical consultation with a doctor will need to be paid for at the time of treatment, costing an average of 2,000 - 3,000 RUB.

Retirement Age

Russians are able to receive a pension at the age of 61.5 for men and 56.5 for women. Like many nations around the world, the Russian government is having a difficult time maintaining their current pension plan. As a result, the retirement age may change again in the near future. The current life expectancy of Russian men is 68.2, while for women it is 78.

Technology and Advancement

Those teaching English in Russia will not need to worry about roughing it. There are 15 cities with a population of over one million people, the largest five being Moscow, St Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, and Kazan. Many find that Russia offers the same technologies that English teachers are familiar with back home. 4G cell phone coverage is fairly reliable in most areas of the country. North American cell phones will work in Russia, but purchasing a Russian phone may be much cheaper than using an existing plan. Landline service is also very accessible and affordable.

There are a wide range of Internet connection options in Russia, and Moscow has one of the largest wireless Internet networks in the world. However, in more rural areas of Russia, ESL teachers may only have access to dial-up Internet or no Internet at all.

Transportation in Russia

With Russia being the largest nation in the world, it is very important that it features an equally massive transportation system: a combination of rail travel, roadways, bus, air, bicycling, and other transportation options. In addition, the Russian rail system not only provides travel throughout Russia, but also connects to 13 other nations.

Public Transportation


Most ESL teachers in Russia find that calling an official taxi is the safest and most convenient way to get around. These taxis will usually arrive after a few minutes of being called on the phone. Official cabs are more expensive than private taxis, but they are much safer and feature standardized rates. Since official taxi drivers will not likely speak English, be sure to know the destination in Russian or have a native friend write it out in Cyrillic.

Riding in a private Russian taxi is not recommended, as scams are common and your safety is not guaranteed. Never enter a cab already occupied by someone else.

Train and Subway

Nearly all Russian railroads are operated and maintained by the state-owned company, Russian Railways. It is estimated that Russian Railways is one of the largest rail companies in the world. With 800,000 employees, the railway business generates an estimated 2.5 percent of Russia's entire GDP. There are several types of trains to choose from for long-distance travel:

  • Firmenny - For those who like to travel in style and want a little extra privacy, the Firmenny train is the best way to travel. A Firmenny ticket will cost more than other tickets, but many travelers do not mind the price difference. These trains feature "Spalny Vagon" lodgings (see below), decent meals, air conditioning, and will sometimes include televisions and DVD players. These trains offer the fastest routes with the fewest stops.
  • Skory - The Skory train is the most popular long-distance train in the Russian railway system. Its tickets are more affordable than the Firmenny and it is a large step up from the Passazhirsky. Featuring both "Spalny Vagon" and "Kupé" sleeping quarters (see below), a Skory ticket will include the use of washrooms and an option to purchase meals.
  • Passazhirsky - For the more budget-cautious traveler, a Passazhirsky ticket is the most affordable train ticket in Russia. The Passazhirsky trains are usually older and move much slower than the other trains, making many stops. There is not nearly as much privacy on a Passazhirsky, as they only offer "Kupé" and "Platskartny" sleeping options (see below).

Types of Sleeping Quarters on Russian Trains

  • Spalny Vagon (first class) - Also known as 'myagky' or 'lyux', Spalny Vagon lodgings are found on all Firmenny trains and some Skory trains. These quarters have two beds in one compartment and there are washrooms on each corridor. When purchasing a ticket, commuters can decline to have food and bedding added to their ticket price.
  • Kupé/Kupeny (second class) - Kupé compartments feature room for four passengers to sleep. There are usually nine Kupé rooms on a train. Sometimes Kupé means a Firmenny ticket without food and bedding included.
  • Platskartny (third class) - Sleeping on a Platskartny train is not for those looking for privacy. There are no closed-in sleeping quarters on these trains; instead, bunks are lined up along the side. There are usually 54 bunks in a car.


Like in most foreign urban areas, the subway can be an easy and cost-effective way to travel throughout the city. Russia features seven subway systems, located in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Samara, Yekaterinburg, and Kazan. In addition to the seven existing subway systems, there are new metros being built in Omsk, Chelyabinsk, and Krasnoyarsk.

With 17 lines, over 200 stations, and a daily average of nearly 7 million riders, the Moscow Metro is the largest subway in Russia and the most heavily used metro system in Europe. The stations of the Moscow Metro are well-known for their breathtaking designs and heavy use of early 20th Century Russian architecture.


The bus is another popular way to get around Russia. A bus can take passengers to both short- and long-distance destinations. Commuting on a bus is usually more cost-effective than taking a train. The buses on most routes are packed full of people. This sometimes makes buying a ticket a very slow process and it is not unusual for tickets to sell out. Bus drivers do not usually speak English, which can make traveling by bus an unpleasant experience for some ESL teachers.

Other Modes of Transportation

Motor Vehicles

Driving a car in Russia is similar to driving a car in America in that, unlike most European drivers, Russian motorists drive on the right-hand side of the road. It is forbidden to honk a car horn unless it is meant to stop an accident. Driving in larger cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg can be a little more stressful than cruising in the Russian countryside, as Russian law does not require people in accidents to report the events to police if no one was hurt or killed.

Winter weather can be dangerous for those not experienced in driving in extreme winter conditions. Rural areas in Russia often have roads that are nearly impossible to drive on due to poor maintenance. Be sure to research the condition of roadways before planning to travel on them.

After staying in Russia for more than six months, a Russian license is required in order to drive. The application process for getting a Russian license requires ESL teachers to have a valid passport and a certificate of good health from a known clinic. People who have a valid driver's license in their home country will only need to write a test; otherwise, they may be asked to attend a driving school.

Etiquette in Russia

General Etiquette

  • Russians enjoy shaking hands as a greeting, but be sure to remove any gloves before shaking hands with another.
  • Speaking or laughing loudly is considered rude in Russia.
  • If invited to a dinner party, it is acceptable to bring a present such as flowers, chocolate, or wine.
  • Russians do their best to not let anyone see the soles of their shoes.
  • In Russia, most people have three names: the first is a given name and the last name is the person's family name. A Russian middle name is composed of the name of the person's father, with 'evich' or 'ovich' added for men and 'avna' or 'ovna' added for women. If a man named Ivan had a son and daughter, the son's middle name would be Ivanovich; the daughter's, Ivanovna.
  • It is bad luck to buy anything for a baby before it is born.
  • Russians take a lot of pride in their nation and its history.

Business Etiquette in Russia

  • Foreigners should never be late for a business meeting with a Russian. However, it is acceptable for native Russians to be late when meeting each other.
  • Business attire is very formal in Russia. Men and women usually wear conservative suits.
  • Russians are known to sometimes have explosive tempers; usually there is no need to take offense.
  • It is best to respect the hierarchy of a workplace, and to follow the office's protocol for talking to management and proposing ideas.
  • Russia is a 'nation of business cards'; many business relationships are formed from the exchange of business cards.

Russian Eating Etiquette

  • The rules are a little less formal when dining in Russian family homes, but it is still recommended to arrive on time and dress formally; this is a way of showing respect to the host and their family.
  • Ask to help with the preparation of a meal or the clean-up. More often than not the host will reject any offer of help, but it is a nice gesture.
  • The oldest or honored guest is always served first at a Russian dinner party.
  • Always try to leave a small amount of food on your plate to show the host that there was plenty of food offered at the table.
  • Russians consider it normal to use bread to soak up any sauce or gravy from their plates.
  • Remain seated until the host invites diners to leave the table.

Russian Superstitions

Throughout their history, Russians have been known as a very superstitious group of people. Many of these superstitions have faded away with modern times, but some still exist; others have been incorporated with general Russian etiquette.

  • One of the oldest superstitions in Russia is to avoid sitting on a cold surface. Sitting on a cold surface was widely believed to cause fertility issues for women.
  • When suffering from a cold, Russians generally avoid drinking cold liquids, and prefer overall to drink hot beverages like tea.
  • Traditionally, Russian women did not show a newborn baby to anyone other than the father for the first month after the baby's birth, though this is considered very outdated today.
  • Many Russian superstitions focus on the philosophy that complimenting or drawing attention to something positive can have a negative effect. It is considered bad luck to comment that a baby is cute; this could cause the baby to become ugly.
  • Russians will typically avoid talking about pending successes. They believe that it is bad luck to talk about upcoming success before it actually occurs.
  • It is considered bad luck to celebrate someone's birthday before the date, but acceptable to recognize it after the birthday has arrived.
  • If someone accidentally has their foot stepped on, it is expected that the other person should lightly step on the person's foot as a way to make things even and avoid future conflict.
  • Always cut bread with a knife and never break it by hand.

Language in Russia

ESL teachers may be a little overwhelmed when they first hear the Russian language or see its text. The Russian language is a Slavic language and it belongs in the Indo-European languages family. With Russia's status as a world superpower and the nation's large population, the Russian language is one of the most commonly used languages in the world and is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. In addition to being the official language of Russia, Russian is also an official language in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Belarus. Other countries such as Ukraine have a large population of Russian speakers; the same can be said in some American and Canadian communities.

The history of the modern Russian language is much like the history of Russia itself. Political trends, the multiple redrafts of the Russian map, and various leaders have all directly influenced the evolution of the language. The beginnings of the Russian language can be traced back to the 14th Century.

Some useful examples of the Russian language can be found below:

  • Yes
  • No
  • Do you speak English?
    Vy gavareeteh pa anglisky?
  • My Russian is bad
    Ya ploha gavaru pa Ruski
  • What's your name?
    Kak tebya zavut?
  • Bus
  • Taxi
  • Hello
  • Good bye
  • How much is it?
    skol'ka stoy-eet?
  • Where is _____?

Eating in Russia

Russian Cuisine

Throughout their history, Russians have learned to be adaptive people. Recipes in Russia can be easily reworked to account for a lack of a specific meat or vegetable. The cuisine of Russia is unpretentious, featuring fresh vegetables (cabbage and root vegetables preferred), sauerkraut, mustard, and meats. A meal in Russia usually includes a soup or stew. The many nations that Russia borders have all played a role in defining Russian cuisine as very diverse and interesting food.

There is a wide variety of soups in Russia, featuring everything from light broths to thick stews filled with meats, vegetables, and grains. Soup is typically reserved for the afternoon, and diners can often choose between enjoying it hot or cold. ESL teachers will quickly become accustomed to trying the many flavors and varieties of Russian soups.

The vast amount of wilderness leaves its own impression on Russia's food. In addition to domestic meats such as beef, pork, and chicken, many Russians devote a large portion of their diet to fish and wild meats. Dishes which include deer, wild fowl, and bear can be found on the tables of many Russian families. Russians also have many dishes which feature wild berries and mushrooms, both of which are abundant across the Russian landscape.

Some of Russia's more popular dishes include:

  • Beef Stroganoff - Beef Stroganoff is a fusion of traditional Russian and French cuisines. Traditionally the dish simply featured beef and sauce. Many countries around the world, including the United States, have adopted the meal, adding their own unique ingredients.
  • Borscht - Served hot or cold, Borscht is one of Russia's most traditional and popular soups. The main ingredient in Borscht is beetroot, which gives the soup a distinctive red color and a unique taste. Popular additions to Russian Borscht include meats, cabbage, and potatoes.
  • Pelmeni - Pelmeni is enjoyed both in Russia and by many of its neighbors. The traditional Russian Pelmeni consists of minced meat (pork, beef, or sheep) wrapped in a layer of thin dough. Pelmenis are boiled and served immediately after they are cooked.
  • Kvass - It is hard to avoid seeing a Kvass vendor on any busy Russian street. The history of Kvass can be traced back to the 16th Century. This slightly alcoholic drink is made by fermenting bread. Various fruits and herbs can be added into the mix to create a different taste. Kvass is bottled and mass-produced like many soft drinks in North America.
  • Bliny - These are thin pancakes, similar to crepes, traditionally made from yeasty batter and baked in an oven; today's blintz is pan-fried to save time, much like pancakes. First served during Maslenitsa to symbolize the return of the sun, these can be rolled and filled with fruit, cheese, potatoes, caviar, or jam.

It is recommended that ESL teachers avoid drinking Russian tap water due to the filtering systems in Russia being far below North American standards. In some areas, it may be safe to drink after boiling, however proper research is highly recommended before trying.

American Food

It is not uncommon for many ESL teachers in Russia to have a craving for food that reminds them of home. Finding a restaurant that serves American food is a fairly simple task in a large Russian city. Usually, American restaurants in a foreign nation can be classified as either a fast-food burger chain or a barbeque steakhouse. ESL teachers can dine at familiar Russian versions of McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and other North American restaurant chains. There are also plenty of independent diners that offer traditional American barbequed food.

Supermarkets in large urban centers often provide foreign food choices for those ESL teachers looking to make their favorite recipes. These large grocery stores can be quite expensive, particularly in the off-season. A rynok, or open market, is used by many native Russians for in-season produce. A loaf of fresh bread sold by a vendor at such places can be as little as 35 RUB.

Climate in Russia

Russia takes up approximately one-eighth of the world’s total landscape and stretches across two continents. With so much area to cover, Russia also claims one of the most diverse range of climates. The main climate is continental (snow in the winter and rain in the spring), with much of Russia located in the Northern parts of both Europe and Asia. Russia’s landscape is influenced by the waters of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, since mountain ranges block any tropical Southern air from moving northward. Depending on where ESL teachers decide to travel, there are regions of tundra, coniferous forests, mixed and broad-leaf forests, grasslands, and semi-desert; the Sochi region on the coast of the Black Sea is considered subtropical.

The transitions from winter temperatures to those of summer happen rather quickly, and vice versa. Winters in Russia can be particularly harsh even for ESL teachers with winter weather experience; with temperatures averaging around 14°F (-10°C) in the major cities, it is much colder in Northern Russia. Summer temperatures in Moscow usually do not reach higher than 86°F (30°C).

Natural Disasters in Russia

Although earthquakes, blizzards, and flooding do occur in Russia, they are not as dangerous as many countries around the world. Russians have shown heavy resilience through the multiple droughts and famines that have hit the country since its beginning. These tend to happen fairly regularly in Russia, with a famine usually occurring every 10 to 13 years, and a major drought typically hitting every five to seven years.

Overall, natural disasters are not very common in Russia. Extremely cold temperatures are the most noticeable weather-related inconvenience for most ESL teachers in Russia, and should be handled with caution.

Holidays in Russia

One of the great things about being an ESL teacher in a country like Russia is the number of relatively new holidays particular to that nation. Many businesses and schools will be closed during official holidays. Most Russians work during unofficial holidays.

Official Holidays in Russia

  • January 1st-5th - New Year Holiday
    For almost 100 years, Russians have celebrated the New Year on the same day as Americans. However, Russian workers enjoy public holidays right through to January 5th.
  • January 7th - Orthodox Christmas
    Following the New Year Holiday, Christmas in Russia is celebrated in January.
  • February 23rd - Defender of the Fatherland Day
    Formerly called Red Army Day, this is a day when Russians can pay tribute to their soldiers, both those serving presently and their ancestors who served in the past.
  • March 8th - International Women's Day
    A national holiday, Russia has celebrated International Women's Day on the global date since 1913.
  • May 1st - Spring and Labor Day
    In the days of the former Soviet Union, Labor Day was a day of celebration and large military parades to recognize the Russian workforce. Today the holiday is more low-key and is usually reserved as a day of rest and relaxation.
  • May 9th - Victory Day
    A full military parade celebrates the Russian veterans who fought in WWII against Nazi Germany. The holiday is celebrated in May to mark the anniversary of Germany's surrender.
  • June 12th - Russia Day 
    A day of national pride to celebrate Russia's declaration of sovereignty in 1991.
  • November 4th - Unity Day (Consolidation Day) 
    This holiday made its comeback to Russia in 2005. First celebrated in 1649 as a tribute to the uprising that led to evacuation of Polish invaders from Moscow in 1612, the holiday disappeared during the Soviet Union days before recently returning.

Unofficial Holidays in Russia

  • January 12th - Tatiana Day 
    A traditional religious holiday in Russia celebrated to honor Saint Tatiana, the patron saint of students. It is commonly referred to as "Russian Students Day."
  • January 13th - Russian New Year's Day
    Some Russians still celebrate the traditional date of the Russian New Year in accordance with the Gregorian calendar.
  • Week before the Orthodox Lent – Maslenitsa
    With the upcoming Lent, Russians use the Maslenitsa as time to do things that will soon be restricted. Families usually feast together on many traditional Russian dishes, including bliny. This week is similar in atmosphere to Western Carnival celebrations.
  • Moving Holiday - Pascha (Easter)
    A religious holiday widely celebrated in Russia but not an official national holiday.
  • April 12th - Cosmonautics Day 
    Russians use Cosmonautics Day to commemorate the first manned Earth orbit, completed by Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin. Regarded as national hero, Gagarin was killed in a plane crash in 1968.
  • May 7th - Radio Day
    Most of Eastern Europe considers Russian inventor Alexander Popov to be the man behind the creation of the radio. Radio Day is held to recognize Popov's first public demonstration of his radio to the Russian people in 1895.
  • July 7th - Ivan Kupala Day 
    This was traditionally the first day of the year when the church sanctioned bathing and swimming in rivers and ponds, nicely coinciding with summer solstice celebrations. Therefore, many of the rites associated with this holiday are connected with the role of water in fertility and purification. This holiday is still celebrated by Russia's youth and widely regarded as a time for mischief.
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