Working in Russia
The job market
What are your chances of getting a job?
The main opportunities are working for an international firm, teaching English, or working for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) – though the latter are often voluntary positions.
Applying for a visa to live and work in Russia for longer than a year is a lengthy and difficult process. Russia has more academic graduates than any country in Europe, so there is no shortage of candidates to fill graduate positions.
English is the main business language so there is a high demand among Russians to learn English and a strong TEFL market. An excellent knowledge of Russian is crucial, particularly outside Moscow.
Other areas that offer opportunities for foreign graduates include finance, construction and energy.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against travel to certain parts of Russia due to political unrest so it's important to check details of this before deciding to move.
Where can you work?
- Major industries: oil, natural gas, metals (particularly steel) and timber. Other large industries include manufacturing, defence, electronics, IT outsourcing, mobile technology, banking and the service sector.
- Industries in decline: traditional farming and textiles.
- Shortage occupations: transport, construction, IT, engineering and teaching.
- Major companies: Gazprom, Rosneft, LukOil, Surgutneftegas, Novatek (all oil and gas operations), Sberbank and VTB Banks (regional banks), Transneft (oil services and equipment), Sistema (telecommunications), Norilsk Nickel (diversified metals and mining).
What’s it like working in Russia?
- Average working hours: 40 hours a week.
- Holidays: typically 28 days per year. There are additional public holidays in Russia, including New Year, Russian Orthodox Christmas (7 January) and National Unity Day (4 November).
- Tax rates: 13% flat tax rate for residents, 30% for non-residents. Permanent residents (defined as anyone living in Russia for at least 183 days in any calendar tax year) are required to pay tax on their earnings in Russia and overseas, while non-residents working in Russia only have to pay tax on their income earned in Russia. Don't forget to check your UK tax and National Insurance position with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to ensure that you are not losing any UK pension rights.
Applying for jobs
Although some multinational companies use online application forms, a CV and covering letter is the most typical way of applying for an advertised job. The Russian covering letter is often a more important tool than the CV for convincing an employer. The style should be formal and factual without appearing too persistent, and it should refer to your present and future plans. It is essential to include details of your language skills. Ideally your letter should be written in Russian although some recruitment agencies may accept applications in English. Check details of this before sending anything.
CVs tend to be similar to those in the UK and shouldn't be longer than two pages of A4. An example CV can be found at Eurograduate – The European Graduate Career Guide.
The style and number of interviews varies between companies. In general, take along copies of certificates in case they're requested and try to show your understanding of the Russian language and culture.
Networking is an essential skill for job hunting in Russia. Developing and using personal contacts should be an important part of your strategy. Get more applications and CV advice.
Will your UK qualifications be recognised?
UK qualifications are generally well recognised around the world, but check with the employer or the relevant professional body prior to applying for work.
Most job websites are in Russian including:
Networking is important when trying to find a job in Russia. Try to make use of any contacts you may have. Involvement with expatriate groups in Russia may help you find information on vacancies.
Getting work experience
Work placements and internships
Russia does not have many work experience opportunities for foreigners. Almost all the available schemes are for teaching English, and opportunities to take paid or voluntary work in conservation or local communities are scarce. If you wish to gain experience in areas such as journalism, law, medicine, tourism, voluntary and NGOs, check for short-term opportunities with an organisation that has a branch in your own country first.
- AIESEC (Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales) offers exchange programmes for students and recent graduates who are interested in business, development or education, or who are from an IT or engineering background.
- IAESTE (The International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience) arranges paid, reciprocal exchange summer placements for science, engineering and technology students for a small fee.
There is a high demand for English teachers in Russia. Most teaching positions ask for a TEFL qualification, and are in schools in large towns and cities. Many only offer part-time jobs and don't pay particularly well, so teachers often work for several different schools at the same time. Live-in teaching opportunities are offered by GeoVisions. English-speaking foreigners are partnered with a family for one to three months in exchange for teaching them English for 15 hours a week.
Language Link Russia offers teacher-intern placements for those who wish to teach in Russia but do not have a TEFL qualification.
EF: English First also arranges teaching placements in Russia.
Gap year and volunteering opportunities
There are a number of international gap year companies that organise placements in Russia, such as Gap Year Directory. The Overseas Job Centre has an extensive A-Z list of contacts and articles for gap year opportunities around the world.
Links to a number of organisations running volunteer projects in Russia can be found at Volunteer Abroad.
Do you need a visa?
All foreign nationals need a visa to travel to Russia. Visas for various circumstances are available and you must obtain the correct one that relates to your purpose for entering the country. It is crucial that you follow the guidelines issued by the Embassy of the Russian Federation in the UK. If your stay in Russia is to be longer than seven days, you must register with the local office of the Russian Federal Migration Service within seven working days of your arrival.
To get a visa for Russia, you need to be invited to stay there by a sponsor such as an employer, relative, university, travel agency or other independent agency.
All visas must be applied for via the Russian embassy or consulate in the country where you are (in the UK, this is outsourced to M/S VFS Services (UK) Ltd in London or Edinburgh). Processing times vary depending on the applicant's country of origin.
A work visa is valid for between 90 days and three years and can be issued for multiple entries. Documents that need to be submitted with the visa application include a HIV test certificate and copy of employment contract.
Russian companies wishing to employ foreign workers must apply for a general permit from the Ministry of Ethnic and Migration Policy. This does not apply to employees of embassies, scientists or artists working in institutions established in accordance with international agreements.
If you are not a UK national, contact the Russian embassy in the country where you are currently residing about how to obtain visas and work permits. If you are living in the UK, go to the Embassy of the Russian Federation in the UK.
How do you become a permanent resident?
Once you are living and working in Russia, you can apply for a temporary residence permit. The permit may take up to six months to be issued, and lasts for three years.
A permanent residence permit can be applied for after one year of living in Russia on a temporary permit. The permit is issued for five years, and can be renewed at five-year intervals. This permit allows travel in and out of Russia without a visa.
Both types of permit are notoriously difficult to obtain, are applicable only to the region in Russia where you live, and are subject to a quota system similar to the USA’s Green Card system. You have to collate up to 15 documents for your application, including a letter from a police authority from your home country and HIV test results.
Living in Russia
- Cost of living: although the cost of living in Russia has increased over the last few years, everyday living costs remain comparably low. Accommodation is affordable, transportation is cheap and convenient and utilities are reasonable.
- Internet domain: .ru
- Currency: the ruble (RUB)
- Health: there is a reciprocal healthcare agreement with the UK entitling UK citizens to free hospital treatment. Any treatment is likely to be limited though so you should make sure you have suitable travel insurance as well.
- Type of government: federal republic.
- Laws and customs: long sentences may be imposed for possession of even small quantities of drugs. You should carry your passport with you at all times, copies won't be accepted and if you can't produce your passport for an ID check when asked you may be fined. Homosexuality is no longer illegal in Russia, but attitudes are slow to change and compared with many European countries there remains some prejudice. A law came into force in June 2013 that bans the promotion of 'non-traditional sexual relationships' and while it remains unclear how this will be applied it does include tougher penalties including arrest, fines and deportation. Photographing military establishments and airports is banned.
- Emergency numbers: 112 can be used for any emergency service in Russia. UK citizens can get help in an emergency from the British Embassy Russia.
- People: 78% Russian, 4% Tatar and numerous ethnic minorities.
- Major religion: Russian Orthodox. Muslims also make up a considerable minority.