Moscow often tops lists of most expensive cities in the world for expats and people visiting on business and as tourists also often complain of high prices. This is also the case for locals and Russians who have moved to the capital from the provinces. However, Russia is fairly called a land of extremes and this is also true for prices; in the capital the rich and poor live side by side and depending on where you look you will see in Moscow a whole range of prices from dirt cheap to extortionate.
Moscow property prices and rent are very high and considerably more expensive than other Russian cities. I live just out of the centre – three metro stops from Red Square – in an approximately 50 square metre two-roomed flat and pay $850 USD a month. The flat is fully furnished with a relatively modern design and a rather large bathroom and kitchen.
The rent includes water and gas, but I pay on average $15 USD a month on electricity and around $12 USD on internet (12mb speed, unlimited).
For the area, the rent is considered around average. You could probably find a cheaper alternative further out of the centre, away from the metro or in an older or smaller apartment. Rent within the central ring of the Moscow Metro is considerably higher, often double, depending on the condition of the apartment.
And of course if you want to pay thousands on a luxurious apartment, then you can find this in Moscow too.
Transport on the whole is very cheap in Russia. The terrible traffic jams in Moscow means that the best way of travelling around the capital is by the beautiful and efficient metro – whose central stations are often deservedly described as underground palaces. It is also very cheap. Unlike many European metro systems, the Moscow Metro has no zones so one trip to any station costs just under a dollar.
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I buy a year-long unlimited card for $400 USD. All metro cards can also be used on buses, trams and trolleybuses within the city. Trains are also fairly cheap in Russia, as an example a berth in a four-berth compartment on an overnight train from Moscow to St Petersburg will cost you around $60 USD (around half that price for a berth in an open carriage). But as is so often the case in Russia – a luxury alternative is available which will set you back $350 USD.
You will see the biggest range of prices for food and drinks. Moscow has many high-end restaurants if that is your thing where a meal for two could easily set you back $250 USD if not more.
There are also many rather standard places that are terribly overpriced. However, even within the centre, there are many places, especially chains of restaurants, where you can get a tasty meal without breaking the bank. This is especially true on weekdays when most restaurants offer a discounted price “business lunch”.
For around $7 USD you can enjoy a soup, salad, main and a drink. For those on tighter budgets there are also several chains of canteens around the city where you can get tasty traditional Russian food for a small price. This includes the Mu-Mu and Grabli chains of canteens, plus the Soviet-style canteen right on Red Square in the GUM shopping centre. Here a three course meal with a drink can cost you around $8-$10 USD. On the whole a cup of coffee costs about $6 USD and a beer can be anything from $2.50 USD to $12 USD.
I normally cook for myself rather than eat in restaurants. If you are shopping for food, the cheapest place to do so is at the hypermarkets or food markets, but these are not located out of the centre.
However it is worth the trip as their prices are considerably lower than supermarkets in the centre and convenient shops. On average I do a big monthly shop at a hypermarket for two and spend around $100 USD and spend an additional $25 USD a week on meat and vegetables at the market.
One area for which Russia is much cheaper than many Western countries is tax. There is just one level of income tax in Russia no matter how much you earn. Currently the rate is 13% which is considerably lower than most European countries. However there are ongoing talks about increasing this rate and introducing a tier system of taxation.