So you have decided to study in Russia! Now what? Well first things first, you need to secure yourself some accommodation that suits your budget and your living style. If you have never been to Russia before then, it is likely that you do not speak the language. So this will limit your entry into the rental market significantly for you since Russians tend not to speak other languages for the most part.

So how can you solve the issue of moving to a new country where you will be unable to communicate for some time? It would be ideal for you to be able to speak Russian before you go or at least do a bit of language study to learn some of the basics to help yourself once you land. But as a student, you have the unique opportunity to have the support and help of your local university and the Russian university that you will be studying in.

Student exchange has been going on since ancient times, and exchange programs have become quite good at solving cross-cultural issues to do with living, language and culture for students who enrol on study abroad programs. As an exchange student no matter whether you plan on studying abroad to get your bachelor degree, improve your language skills and proficiency or just to get an international education for the academic year. You will have support every step of the way, the education system will guide you from the applying stages to the student visas, to the language skills that you need to settle into your semester with your international university.

Once you are enrolled and have your funding, whether from an internship, scholarships or other sources. You will be given a sort of checklist of things that need to be completed or provided for you to be able to go abroad. Things like having your passport, having funds to cover your stay etc. A counsellor at your school will be able to help get through the checklist by the deadline. Different countries have different rules for exchange students, and your eligibility will depend on you completing the requirements.

Once you have done everything required of you it will be time to think about where to live in the Russian Federation; Moscow and Saint Petersburg are popular options. But of course, only one thing can dictate where you live, and that is where the Russian university is that has accepted you. Even though you are overseas, you can look at a map to get a good idea of the area that you might live in. You can also do some research to find out whether students tend on campus or around your university.

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You want to study in Russia
Russian is always easier to learn if you are in contact with the locals. Photo Source: Unsplash

The Best Russian Cities For Students

As we've mentioned, you may not get the luxury option of choosing where abouts you study in Russia, but if you do, then you may be interested to know which are the best cities for pupils like you.


The capital of Russia, Moscow is bound to be a popular choice due to its multi-cultural global appeal. What's more though is that the city is often ranked high in the charts of great cities for students, for example, it was listed in the top 40 by QS Best Student Cities 2017 survey.

Moscow is both a contemporary city and an ancient place of importance, steeped in history. Students living in or near to the capital can enjoy a range of cultural features like museums, galleries, monuments and buildings, as well as some great social attractions like restaurants, cafes, operas, theatres, pubs and clubs.

While living costs may be higher, nothing beats walking around the famous Red Square, where stands the Kremlin, and not forgetting strolling past the breathtaking St Basil's Cathedral, one of Moscow's most colourful sights. The affordability of food and drink along with the lower tuition fees offset the expensive accommodation prices, offering you a pretty good deal all in all when compared to student life in London or Paris.

Moscow is also home to many of the country’s top universities, including Lomonosov Moscow State University, National Research University - Higher School of Economics (HSE), Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University), Bauman Moscow State Technical University, People's Friendship University of Russia, Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), National Research Nuclear University "MEPhI" (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute), National University of Science and Technology (MISiS) and Plekhanov Russian University of Economics.

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Saint Petersburg

Once known as the capital city of Russia, Saint Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia and the third largest in Europe (after Moscow and London). The city also appeared in the QS Best Student Cities 2017, featuring at number 78. This equally popular city is sometimes referred to as the Venice of the North or Paris of the East, because of its beauty and what it offers its visitors.

St Petersburg is, in effect, a city on an island, built on 42 islands in the mouth of the Neva River and connected by hundreds of bridges. The city is jam-packed with cultural sights of interest: museums, operas, theatres, galleries, and of course the many monuments dotted around the city that are so famous today.

Some of the most notable universities in St Petersburg are Saint Petersburg State University and St. Petersburg Polytechnic University.


For a slightly more 'Russian' experience, then you might choose to head deeper into the nation, to snowy Tomsk.

Tomsk is a small city in the centre of Siberia, where the winters are very cold and white. If this is an attraction to you rather than a menace, then it could be the best student town for you!

What's more, prospective students can rest assured that Tomsk will provide them with a great programme of study, as the city has a long history of educational excellence, with particular emphasis on science and IT subjects.

Today there are half a dozen universities in Tomsk, including Tomsk State University and National Research Tomsk Polytechnic University. Worried that you won't meet as many fellow students in this more rural city of Russia? Don't fret, an estimated 20% of the city's population is made up of students, all from different countries and backgrounds so you will not be alone as a foreigner. That said, there's also much more emphasis on Russian here than in the previous two cities discussed, plus a range of places to explore – it is a charming town with bustling arts, music and café scenes.

A Good Living Option For Living Abroad

When you arrive in your new country even if you will only be there for a few months, you will need help and support to know how to live in the Russian culture which may be entirely different from the culture in your home country. While other students might be of help, they may to be new to the area in which case having help from local experts will be great.

Host families have become very popular, and this will certainly be an option offered to you by your university. A host family as the name suggests will be like your family during your time in Russia. They will be happy to help you with any issues that you are having, support your learning Russian as a second language, They will support any rules that you need to follow and can help you understand how to get by in Russia. Host families are an invaluable resource for the student transferring to Russia to study.

As a host family they will likely have experience living with other students, and although they may or may not speak the English language, they will be experienced in finding ways to communicate with you to make you feel comfortable.  With their help and support, you won't have to become distressed and wonder why you came to study abroad in the first place.  They will help you enjoy the process and even if you are homesick having your Russian family will help immensely. While living in a Russian speaking host family, you will progress quickly!

Student visas are given as single entry
You have to get a student visa, Photo Source: Unsplash

Getting Around In Russia

No matter where you decide to settle, you will, at some point, want to travel around and explore your surroundings. You may even want to venture further afield during your breaks and possibly go to visit friends or family in Russia and beyond.

Furthermore, you can't rely on finding a host family or other accommodation that is on your university's doorstep, which means you'll have to get to know the transport systems in Russia and learn the best ways to get around during your stay.

As you can imagine, with Russia being as big as it is, you can pretty much make use of every type of transport when travelling from one side of the country to the other: planes, trains, buses, metro, taxis, cars, bikes, etc...

Public transport systems in Russia tend to work fairly faultlessly but remember that you will need to decipher some Cyrillic to use them successfully. Although timely, frequent and relatively affordable public transport systems, like in most large cities, tend to get crowded during the rush hour.


Trains are one of the most practical ways to travel around Russia – they can quickly get you through the countryside. One standout journey that many visitors take, almost like a pilgrimage, when they arrive in Russia, is an adventure on the Trans Siberian Express to Vladivostok or the Trans Mongolian through to Beijing, passing by the breathtaking Lake Baikal. Trains are more often than not cheaper than planes and, at times, faster, with some trains reaching speeds of up to 250 miles an hour.

You can browse train ticket prices on websites such as Russian Train.


Travelling by metro is too an easy and affordable way to explore the city in which you are in, and is in place in seven Russian cities. For tips on how to use the metro in Russia, take a look at Irena Domingo's blog which details the process and which stations to visit.


Surprisingly not too expensive either is the taxi option, with Uber and the likes popping up globally. You can even download apps to book taxis with securely.

Hire Car

Your last option for making your way through the country will probably be driving, especially if you have no knowledge of Russia and its language. Driving in Russia requires the Cyrillic alphabet, so consider this before hiring or buying a car when you get out there!


Of course, some journeys do need to be taken by aeroplane, which you can research online and find the best ticket prices for before booking. It's always worth looking at comparison sites like Sky Scanner and Expedia to find the best deals on flights to, from and around Russia.

Learning About Russian Culture

We are not talking about traditional holidays and the likes here. If you plan to stay in the home of a Russian family, then you must learn and accept their social and family rituals.

In Russia, family is of the utmost importance to individuals. Families are normally very close, including siblings and other relatives, relying on one another for all types of support and with extended family members also being very involved with people’s lives. Grandparents often play a big part in raising children, so don't be surprised to meet many older relatives during your stay.

Houses in Russia are quite crowded, as sometimes grandparents live in the household too.

Both parents usually work in Russian families, however, it is more commonly seen as the woman’s job to care for the children and do the housework. Today, women tend to work to increase the household income while men continue to dominate the professional world.

Cultural Atlas states that: "Russian culture generally possesses very strong conceptions about femininity and masculinity. Women are expected to be well groomed, reserved and have a feminine look. Meanwhile, though men are also expected to present themselves tidily, it's more acceptable for them to be unshaved, slightly unkempt and out of shape. If a Russian man is too well groomed, it may raise questions about his masculinity."

Etiquette is also a really important thing to understand when visiting any country. Here, we consider how you communicate and generally act around the people of Russia:

According to Cultural Atlas:

  • The common greeting among strangers usually involves a firmly held handshake with direct eye contact.
  • Take off your gloves to shake someone else’s hand.
  • You should not greet across a threshold. This is seen as impolite, giving the impression that the person is not allowed to enter.
  • Women generally kiss people three times on alternating cheeks starting on the left.
  • Male friends may hug one another or give each other a pat on the back.
  • People give the appropriate formal greeting depending on what time of day it is: “Dobroe utro” (Good morning), “Dobriy den” (Good afternoon) or “Dobriy vecher” (Good evening).
  • A more casual greeting is “Privet” (Hi).
  • Address a person using their first name and patronymic (middle) name if they are older or of higher status than yourself.

Finally, the same website offers a very handy list of things NOT to do or say when involved in conversations with Russian nationals. They are as follows:

  • Avoid critiquing or offering your opinion on Russia, its politics or the president unless you are well informed.
  • Avoid mentioning past failures of the Soviet Union or Russian state. Conversations around communism are generally acceptable, but straight criticism is unlikely to be unappreciated. Similarly, respect any tributes to Soviet achievements. Russian pride of this era may be affected by a revisionist history, but a core patriotic feeling remains.
  • Do not make jokes about Russians being drunks or women being mail-order brides for foreign men. Such comments can become insulting if delivered insensitively or too often.
  • Avoid bringing up wars Russia has been involved in. If the topic arises, consider that many Russians would’ve have had family members that participated in the conflict. Also, be aware that the Russian account of history may differ from your own. The country’s involvement in conflict has been seen as a necessary defence against aggressive neighbours.
  • Do not make comments that could be perceived to have a disrespectful undertone. Russians can be sensitive to condescending remarks.

Tips For Living Well With Your Russian Host Family

Here are all of our tips to finding and living well in a homestay in Russia.  Here is what to know before leaving, how to choose, what criteria to remember?

Living With Your Host Family

To be totally immersed, both linguistically and culturally, one solution is to find a Russian or Russian-speaking host family, as they would be in your own country. This family can consist of:

  • Parents and children,
  • A retired couple,
  • A young couple,

Every kind of family is valuable, and each member of the host family will be different. As an exchange program student and a guest, you will need to respect and learn how to live with your host family so that everyone can enjoy the experience.

Benefits Of Having A Host Family

There are many benefits to living with a Russian host family:

  1. You can improve your Russian language daily.
  2. You can live and see real Russian culture.
  3. Help with getting by day to day; from buying bus tickets to submitting papers to the authorities should, it be
  4. Having a family at home when you return from school who can support or celebrate with you.
  5. Host families cost much less than renting privately
  6. You can also choose to have a full board option where your new Russian mother will cook for you.
  7. You are may be able to get a discount if you stay for a longer time.
  8. You may be able to make some extra pocket money by offering to do chores like babysitting or cleaning for the family.
  9. You will form a life long connection with a new family.
  10. Your family will be used to hosting so they will be friendly, approachable and understand how to take care of you.
  11. A benefit or a disadvantage is that your host family may or may not speak English. The benefits of them speaking only Russian are that you will have to learn Russian to be able to communicate. The disadvantage of that, however, is that in first months until you learn might be difficult. While they will know how to help and of course be kind, you won't be able to communicate. Hosts having low English language proficiency will be just the pressure you need to help you to learn faster.
Russian Higher Education For International Students
You can choose to study Russian. Photo Source: Unsplash

Polite Gestures When Staying In A Russian Household

Russian culture like all culture is distinct, there may be lots of things that you notice and may not be able to understand. You should take this as a positive thing and make an effort to learn about the people and culture. Of course, this multicultural interaction can at times be tiring and feel like hard work. But the beautiful thing about different cultures is that you have to open your mind to welcome them into your heart as they are doing of you and your weird cultural norms. Remember you are in Russia, so you are the weird one even if it feels the other way around. Take the opportunity to do research about the culture and join in with these new ways to express yourself.

  1. Bring a small gift to your host family to thank them for agreeing to host you.
  2. Families spend a lot of time together and can even stay awake late into the night just enjoying each other company. Join in if you can.
  3. Maybe the family sleep in 1 room instead of having their own rooms like you may be used to.
  4. People may not smile as much with strangers, which may appear cold but it is just the Russian way.

When Should You Start To Look For Your Host Family?

It is advisable to look for your host family as soon as possible as your application is approved to study abroad. Because you will need an address in Russia to be approved for the visa. Your university must help you with this as they are experts in the process. There are many ways to find a host family in Russia such as:

  1. Your universities international student centre
  2. Language schools or a language program,
  3. Volunteering organisations,
  4. Au pair organisations,
  5. Organised trip companies,

If you follow common sense given by your university on the matter. In the end, the host family that you stay with will be an experience that you never forget. Living in a host family is an enriching experience: ready to embark on your search for a perfect Russian family?

Agencies Which Help You To Settle In Russia

One of the possible agencies to look at when considering a move to Russia for study purposes is Ribttes. Ribttes declares itself as “the company giving services in three major categories, we specialize only in Russia for these categories services, Study in Russia, Business in Russia and Travel to Russia.”

Their services for students include a number of guides and information sheets regarding visas, education, work permits and much, much more, plus they have  phone line that you can contact Monday to Friday 10am-6pm with any relevant queries.

We wish you luck finding your temporary home in Russia!

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