What Will Happen To the US Embassy In Russia?

When a Russian journalist called me in the evening last week to ask what I thought about the US Embassy in Russia closing, I thought it was a joke, and I told him as much.

The idea of the US Embassy in Russia “closing” is an exaggeration to be sure, but there have been difficulties, even for US citizens over the past year.

For example, last spring, we wrote the US Consulate in Moscow that our 15-year old son’s passport was about to expire and that we needed to come in to renew it. We immediately received an automated message that the consulate was only receiving folks like us on an emergency basis and that we should basically give up on ever hoping to grace the premises of the US State Department’s headquarters in Moscow. My wife countered that disconcerting message with a somewhat drily worded dispatch: “A 15-year-old American will be living in Russia without a passport. What needs to happen to constitute an emergency?” To the consulate’s credit, we were in for an appointment about 2 weeks later.

American flag close-up on the beautiful historic building of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow Russia. I’ll never understand why it is perpetually twisted around the pole like this.

It was a strange visit. The State Department seemed to spare no expense when building the new consulate in Moscow. And the glass windows for receiving lines of Russians, eager to visit the “land of the free and the home of the brave” seemed to stretch into the horizon in the gleaming modern interior.

Unfortunately, the queues of eager visa-seekers could only be seen in my imagination, as the whole area was occupied by my wife, me, and an elderly gentleman who seemed to be somewhat lost. Of course, there was the usual security at the front gate with the (how do these people get these jobs?!?) outrageously crabby Russian guard.

When we knocked at one of the windows to announce our arrival, I could swear the echo went off to somewhere just shy of Kamchatka as I watched some tumbleweed blowing through the office in the back. Well, to be serious, it was very odd to see maybe 5 staff working in such a massive office complex.

Off-topic: I just made the mistake of looking up information on the new office building. It cost us $281 million USD, according to this page on the embassy site. On the positive side (if there is any), I have used this particular building as an argument to show my Russian friends that closing up visa service to Russia was most certainly not in the plans of the US State Department.

In any case, we were happy to get our son his passport, and the whole episode was quickly forgotten until I received the call from this Russian journalist.

I tried to diplomatically tell the journalist that he was full of baloney for even suggesting a closing of the US Embassy. He then asked me to say how a US Embassy closing in Russia would affect me hypothetically. And other than needing to renew passports every ten years, I couldn’t think of a single blessed effect on me.

You see, most embassies in Russia have some sort of relationship with their citizens who live locally, creating national holiday events, for example. But not the US Embassy. I’ve lived in Russia for nearly 23 years and can say, except for a dinner in Perm when the US ambassador visited about 20 years ago, the Embassy has made no effort to build a relationship. It’s sort of like the US State Department and Americans in Russia live in parallel universes, our paths never crossing, as we move through space and time. They do send out alarmist e-mails about the dangers of even thinking about Russia, but I unsubscribed from that list about 15 years ago. Too much stress and ado about nothing.

The Russian consulates are currently processing visas for Americans to come to Russia. Meanwhile, the State Department has given Russia “homeless status”, perhaps with the thought that this monicker would improve relations, and recommended that Russians apply for visas to America in Warsaw.

The situation isn’t simple and has to do with a limited number of allowed employees in some sort of squabble between our two nations that Bloomberg can explain better than I can. But it’s also sort of strange that it matters to Russians more than Americans living locally.

My thoughts on the matter, together with some of my fellow Americans’ (where do they find these guys lol?) views can be found here. The article is in Russian, but Google can help you with translation if you need it.

In my humble opinion, the relationship between our two countries has all too often been based on reciprocity, without one country or another taking the lead. That is why I find it refreshing that the Russian consulates are processing visas for Americans. That is good both for the Americans, and for Russia, as literally every American I have met in Russia has stated that it is way better than they had been told or thought before. That is soft power.

And here’s to us putting this spat behind us, and the US Embassy in Moscow returning to normal… at least for the next time one of my kids needs a passport.

Russia’s Formula for Coronavirus Easing

Russia is currently number two in the world for confirmed coronavirus cases. But with the statistics starting to show a welcome drop in new cases, it’s time to turn our attention to how Russia will begin to ease from the current “self-isolation” to life as usual.

Russia’s Rospotrebodnazor (fabulously translated on their own web-site as the Russian Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing) is largely responsible for this process.

What drew me to study the Rospotrebodnazor details was some comments by Moscow regional Governor Andrey Vorobyev, mentioning that the region was ready to begin the easing process because, “We create hospital beds every day, therefore, most likely, by all three indicators we will be ready (for the start of easing) by Monday.”

In the midst of the madness that the world has found itself in, I love a formula.  So, here are the three phases, and three key indicators to ease to each phase, according to this May 8th document from Rospotrebadnozor, with my best attempt at explaining them.  It is important to note that, given Russia’s enormous land area, this will be controlled and processed on a regional level.

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It seems it will be a long time before we return to life with scenes like this from Red Square.  But there is a formula on how to move in that direction.

Phase 1:

In this first phase of easing, you are permitted to:

  • Exercise outside (until now prohibited), but not more than 2 people in one place, and they must be 5 meters apart.
  • You may walk outside (until now, also prohibited, unless you are walking to essential work, the grocery store, or a pharmacy), but not in groups of more than 2 people while maintaining social distancing.  During your walk, you must avoid “places of mass congregation”, including playgrounds.
  • Service-based businesses can re-open.  I’m unsure which services might qualify or not.
  • Non-grocery stores may open if they have their own separate entrance, if their space is 400 square meters or less, and if they can control that there is not more than one shopper in the store per 4 square meters.
  • What I do NOT see in Phase 1: Construction and manufacturing.  Both of these were re-instated in Moscow on May 12th, and my assumption is that they are considered pre-Phase 1.  Please correct me in the comments, if I’m wrong! 🙂

And now, perhaps more interesting, the criteria to enter Phase 1:

  • The Rt Index must not be greater than 1.  My understanding is that this means that one infected person must not infect more than one other person on average.
  • “Availability of free bed capacity at least 50% of the normative need for infectious beds.”  I understand this to mean that there needs to be a certain percentage of open hospital beds ready to treat COVID-19 patients.  This is why I found Governor Vorobyev’s comments to be interesting.  There certainly is the feeling that they are creating as many beds as possible in order to expedite the ability to enter Phase 1.
  • There must be a daily average of not less than 70 PCR tests per 100,000 population (taken over a 7-day average).

Phase-2:

In Phase 2, you are permitted to:

  • Open stores of up to 800 square meters, provided there is a separate entrance and you control that there is not more than one customer per 4 square meters.  Street markets and points of sale may also open at this point.
  • Certain educational institutions will open.  The document does not specify which ones.

Phase-2 criteria:

  • The Rt Index must not be greater than 0.8.  My understanding is that this means that one infected person must not infect more than one other person on average.
  • “Availability of free bed capacity at least 50% of the normative need for infectious beds.”
  • There must be a daily average of not less than 90 PCR tests per 100,000 population (taken over a 7-day average).

Phase-3:

In Phase-3, the restrictions are relaxed to:

  • All shopping centers are opened, with no restriction on the number of shoppers or floor space.
  • All public eateries are opened, with the restriction that tables must be 1.5-2 meters apart.
  • All educational institutions re-opened.
  • All hotels open.
  • Public “rest” areas: parks, squares, etc. re-opened.

During all phases:

  • People with health risk-factors and anyone 65 years of age or older must remain self-isolated.
  • Masks must be worn in all public spaces, including public transport.
  • Social distancing must be maintained (1.5 meters).
  • Upon re-opening, businesses and other organizations are required to hold health safety meetings with their employees.

My understanding is that if there is a degrading of the COVID-19 situation that there will be a return to full self-isolation or perhaps a step back in the phasing.

Most interesting is what appears to be a determination on the part of Governor Vorobyev to reach these criteria as quickly as possible through the enforcement of social distancing, health care, and continued increase in available hospital beds.

DISCLAIMER:

I am no expert in these area.  This is my attempt to cut through the coronavirus information overload and share my understanding of Russia’s formula for easing the current restrictions.  If you speak Russian and really want to geek out on the formula, you can either check out the document yourself or just take a quick look at the exact formula here:

Снимок экрана 2020-05-18 в 14.19.02 As always, be sure to use the comment section to let me know where I have made mistakes! 🙂

And most importantly, stay healthy!

 

 

A Moscow Herbal Steam Barrel and “Normal” Massage

I mean, I guess there are folks who specifically go for a massage because they want it to be “weird” (if you know what I mean).  And this concern can be doubly troubling when one is sojourning in foreign lands.  But it is because of fear of weirdness that I’ve only gone for a massage on personal recommendation.

But when a friend called and told me that she had just gotten a job at a new Moscow massage salon, I knew that it wouldn’t be that kind of weird.  She had done massage for my family in the past.  But it was when she told me about the Herbal Steam Barrel, I knew I was going.

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Herbal Steam Barrel Ready For Business

Actually, I was only told that it was something like a Herbal Barrel, and I only found out upon arrival that it was a Steam Barrel.  I had thought about how it would be filled with water… and cleaned between customers.  But no worries on that, much to my relief. 🙂

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Wondering what happens next, also glad you can’t see the disposable “pants” they gave me to wear

I love the Russian banya experience, and since this is Russia, I expected the heat to be extreme.  Would I be less of a man to admit that I was happy that it wasn’t overly hot? They told me that the Herbal Steam Barrel was first invented in ancient times, but only came into it’s modern form in Russia during the 1970’s.

They also told me about the mix of herbs in the steam, now removing the toxins from my body.  There was a whole list that I can’t remember, mostly from the Altai region of Russia.

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During the procedure, I did work up a sweat.  But Vitaliy was kind to offer me some bottled water.

There is a shower stall right there in the room, so I thought that I would jump in for a rinse before the massage, but they informed me that I was to immediately get on the massage table.  Because that’s how it works.

They turned down the lights and put on some relaxing music.  The lyrics of this particular song did cause me to chuckle a bit.

The massage was well, relaxing, and this affected my eloquence, but this is what I had to say.

I had lots more work to do that day, so I am happy to report that after some “reviving tea”, I felt great and ready to go.

I am thrilled to find a massage salon in my neighborhood in Moscow (it’s located between the Universitet and Profsoyuznaya metro stations) that is clean, professional, has some Russian uniqueness, but is also free of the “weird”.

What Russian spa treatments, other than the Herbal Steam barrel do I need to try?  Let me know in the comments.

The Soviet Arcade Museum

My kids like video games, and I like history.

When you’re 42, have 4 kids, it’s raining, and your wife is gone for the week, you start to think about stuff, you know?

The main thing you think about is how to get the kids out of the house!  This can be one of the challenges of raising kids in Russia.  The weather isn’t always delightful in the Motherland, and you want to stay active.

After doing a quick internet search, I was happy to be reminded of the Soviet Arcade Museum.

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The Soviet Arcade Museum is currently located at VDNKH

The Soviet Arcade Museum is located at the VDNKH park complex.  From what I understand, it has moved from the city center, due to renovations, so not sure how permanent the location is.

VDNKH is one of my favorite places to takes guests when they come to Moscow, and it’s a bit strange to me that I don’t see more tourists there.  But I’m not complaining, because the crowds there can be overwhelming, particularly on the weekends.  The complex has some of the most fantastic architecture in Moscow, a fascinating history, a huge aquarium, a robotics museum, and much more.

Point is, the Soviet Arcade Museum can be a great part of a day spent at the VDNKH complex.

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The “Sea Battle” puts you in command through a submarine periscope

The entry cost is 450₽ per person, or if you’re like me and have 3 children or more, it is 350₽.  The admission cost also includes 15 tokens (in this case, 15 Soviet kopecks) for game play.

So, if you’re keeping score, my kids and I had a total of 75 game plays ahead of us.

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Success:  4 kids happily playing, in this case soccer and basketball

There are, of course, plenty of racing games, some ultra-simple “Pong” style games, sports, and war.  Our favorite though, was the simple basketball game in the above photo.

Here’s a “Prove Your Strength” attraction that just might leave your back aching.

It seemed that either a few of the games weren’t working, or we didn’t understand how to use them.  There was a kind and talkative gentleman, walking around and fixing the games.  I assume we could have asked for a refund for some of those games, but we didn’t as 75 total game plays was more than enough.

IMPORTANT:  Game instructions are provided in English, and the staff also speak great English.

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A Hunting Game

I was thrilled that the kids liked my idea for afternoon fun, as that is probably the exception more than the rule.  I think it was fun for them to play games where you can actually see how it works mechanically.

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TORPEDO ATTACK!  (Not sure how this is different from “Sea Battle”)

If you’re looking to get out of the house with kids.  I also did overhear my teenage offspring comment that “this would be a great place for a date”.  The Soviet Arcade is in Pavilion 57 at VDNKH, which is in the very back of the park complex, in a large building that is mainly devoted to Russian history.  Point is, you might not see the signs, so best to know which Pavilion.

And there is also a Soviet Arcade Museum in St. Petersburg.  Enjoy, and let me know what other ideas you have to get the kids out of the house.  With this one we all won, I enjoyed the history, and they enjoyed the games.

Can Foreigners Buy Real Estate Property In Russia?

 

And updated version of this post is available here.

The simple answer is “Absolutely!”.  It’s sometimes surprising to me how often I hear the question of whether foreigners can buy real estate in Russia.

But there are also many other questions that arise, such as whether it is possible for foreigners to secure mortgages towards their real estate purchase in Russia.  The quick answer on that is, yes it is also possible.

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Some real estate in Russia will surprise you as it breaks some of the stereotypes you might have, like this modern loft-style apartment in Moscow, in the Paveletskaya neighborhood.

Blogging is my hobby, both with this Planet Russia blog and also with The American blog and YouTube channel, both in Russian.  But one of my main sources of income is the real estate company I founded some years ago, called Expat Flat, which provides real estate service for foreigners in Russia.

I really enjoy both sharing about life in Russia with the blogs, but also making foreigners feel at home in Russia through the real estate service.

I recently made a quick and simple video about foreigners owning real estate in Russia for the Expat Flat Facebook page.  Check it out, and then let’s look at some of the details of buying real estate in Russia.

Now, let’s look through some of the details:

Mortgages

It is possible for foreigners to secure mortgages in Russia.  Generally speaking, you will need to prove a steady official income.  And in most cases, you will need a down payment of 15-20%.  The interest rate can be 10-12% annual.  It is best to find a reputable mortgage broker or real estate agency to help you in this process.  I also recommend only working with major banks, because as a rule of thumb they are less likely to nickel and dime you with the small print.

Commercial Property

If you are looking for real estate investment opportunity in Russia, I would strongly recommend that you consider looking at commercial property options.  The return can be higher than residential real estate.  And you can hire a property manager to take care of all of the details, so that you can live your life comfortably either in Russia or abroad.

Quite often, commercial property that is for sale already has a long-term reliable tenant, so that you can be immediately guaranteed a continuing source of income.

Of course, there are many types of commercial property in Russia.  I highlighted some office space, located directly across the street from the Kremlin, in this video:

Land

As with all the points in this post, there are plenty of exceptions and nuance.  But as a foreigner you can also own land in Russia.  I own a few small plots of residential land.  And I think this can be one of the most intriguing options if you are in Moscow long-term on a budget or in a smaller city around Russia.

In the Moscow region, for example, it is possible to buy a piece of land and build a small, simple house, altogether for under $35,000 USD.  Of course, if you are new to Russia, you will most certainly want a reliable partner to help you through all of the building process and red tape.  Hiring someone reliable will save you money… and nerves!

Residential Property

In most cases, the simplest thing to do is buy an apartment.  The process is simple, but again, it is strongly recommended to hire someone to work with you, and to make sure that all of the documentation is correct and above board, and to help you analyze the best deals on the market, and perhaps offer a few options that you might not have thought of before.

Here’s another video of a flat in Moscow that again shows that there are many unexpected real estate options in Russia.

Taxes

This is where things get interesting.  The property tax is shockingly cheap, but most importantly, Russia changed the law on real estate sale for non-residents at the beginning of this year.  This is important because in the past, there was a heavy tax on the sale if you were not a resident of Russia at the time of the sale.  But now, with the changes in the law, if you have held the property for five years or more, there is ZERO tax in Russia on the sale.  This is important to understand if you are looking at being in Russia long-term and want to avoid paying rent, or if you are looking at investment opportunities.

Hope that information helps!  If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to comment below or to contact me at Expat Flat.  I look forward to continuing to open Russia to you a bit at a time through this blog, and if you are serious about living in Russia long-term, perhaps I can be of some assistance with real estate.

 

Business in Russia | How to have a successful ‘first date’ with your Russian partner

Russians will often want a very quick and frank discussion so that they can understand whether the business relationship is worth their time, shares Andy Frecka, an experienced business negotiator living in Russia.

As an American who has now called Russia home for 19 years, I love negotiating on behalf of Russian businesses with their Western counterparts.

 

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Lately, I’ve taken special notice of the question “Do they have money?” often within 15 minutes of the beginning of the meeting. This question can take different forms such as “Are they ready to sign?” or “Do they understand why we are meeting?” but the point is the same, the Russian businessperson will want to quickly understand whether their Western counterpart is worth their time.

I may not know much, but I am well aware that it’s not usually a good idea to ask a girl to marry you on the first date. With that, I often find myself encouraging my Russian friends to not rush things, but to simply enjoy the process.

Unfortunately, it is often a misunderstanding early on a first date that can spell the end of what could be a fantastic romantic relationship, and the same is true in business.

Based on the first date question “Do they have money?” here’s a pair of paradoxes I have learned while working for Russian businesses:

1. Russians aren’t famous for punctuality, but once the meeting starts, they will want to move forward quickly

Russians will often want a very quick and frank discussion so that they can understand whether the business relationship is worth their time. Americans, on the other hand, will usually show up to the meeting on time, but will want to create a trust building process that will seem bafflingly lengthy to the Russians. The problem is that the Russians will understand this process to be a signal of disinterest by the Western partners.

2. Russians are well known for bureaucracy, but are more spontaneous than their Western counterparts

Relating to the previous point, if they understood that the Westerner is not interested in partnership, they will often simply begin looking for other partners, without completing the process. With all that Russia has to offer the world, I think this is incredibly unfortunate. This is why I am spending more and more time working with Russians in better understanding how to relate to Westerners.

So, what can you do if the timing between you and your Russian counterpart is out of sync?  Before judging and walking away after just the first date, consider the following.

Both the Western and Russian points of view are incredibly pragmatic… in their own way

You want transparency, the Russian wants to get to work and make sure they will get paid. Fortunately, these two points do not conflict with each other.

Russians value authority over transparency

You will put them at ease if you start the meeting showing what you are capable of, rather than using “small talk” to get a feel of who they are. “Small talk” can always come later, but it is often confusing to Russians if it is used towards the beginning of the talks. (Alternatively, I teach Russians to relax and enjoy the small talk at the beginning of meetings, if that is the way the Westerner wants to start.)

Explain your company’s process by using stories

I was recently working for a Russian company which was in partnership talks with an American company. The American who had come for the talks did a fantastic job of explaining how his company had worked out a similar arrangement already with a company in China. This gave us an idea of how they viewed the process of partnership formation, showed us that it was already working, and also gave us a good understanding of the length of the process.

Stay engaged with your Russian counterpart as your company goes through its process

If you keep silent, the Russians might understand you are not interested, and look elsewhere for potential partners, and you might lose a fantastic deal.

Russia has much to offer the world, of course, in natural resources, manufacturing, and technology. I have also been intrigued as of late, in how much Russia has to offer in educational systems, the arts, and mind-blowing tourism destinations.

So, don’t miss out on what could be years of mutually beneficial relationship for your business, simply because of a small misunderstanding on your first date.

Andy Frecka was born and raised in the great state of Ohio in the USA, but for the past 19 years is proud to call Russia his home. He is the founder and marketing director of Expat Flat, a Moscow real estate agency, and in recent years has enjoyed working in negotiations between various Russian and Western businesses. Andy also runs the Russian language blog “Amerikanets,”speaks frequently on foreign business relations, and is the author of Matryoshka: Как вести бизнес с иностранцами (How to do business with foreigners).

 

This post originally appeared in Russia Beyond.  You can check it out here.

Visas to Russia for Americans and Canadians

As an American who has made Russia my home for the past 20 years, I am often asked about how best to get a visa to Russia. Truth be told, I have been here so long that I have lost track of many of the visa requirement changes for newcomers to Russia.

With that, I have found myself frequently recommending the services of Marcus Hudson of Let’s Russia for Americans and Canadians who are looking to get visas to Russia.

I asked Marcus what some of the most frequently asked questions are for folks who are looking to apply for Russian visas and how he would answer. Here they are. Please keep in mind that the Russia visa application process can vary per country, so these questions and answers are at times specific to Americans and Canadians who wish to apply for visas to Russia.

Can I do business on a tourist visa? Can I travel around Russia on a business visa?
Yes and yes. But if you have a tourist visa and you’re doing some business, have intentions to do tourism as well. It’s best if can prove your intentions in the rare case you’re asked by passport control.

Will I be at risk of visa denial or getting arrested in Russia if I have served in the US military?
You will if you are a spy or if you are involved in spy activities. In all other cases, no. Having served in the military does not disqualify you from getting a visa to Russia. In circumstances when you have or had high security clearance to sensitive information or highly-qualified specialist in military technology, the Russian government most likely already knows about you.

I’m going to Russia to start doing business. I understand I need an invitation letter from a Russian organization. How can I get a business invitation letter to Russia if I haven’t establish business contacts in Russia yet?
This is a common question from small businesses, entrepreneurs, self-employed and digital nomads. In order to make business contacts you need to travel to Russia. In order to travel to Russia, you need an invitation from a business contact. And around it goes….
The best option is order a business invitation letter from an intermediary like Let’s Russia because we have contacts in Russia that will legitimately invite you as a potential business partner of theirs. We also assist in drafting the accompanying business letter to reflect actual intentions and plans for your trip. Some Russian consulates have been requiring an explanatory letter from the Russian organization inviting guests.

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Marcus Hudson of Let’s Russia

How can I get a visa transferred to a new passport if my old one has been damaged or I’ve run out of pages?
You can have a visa transferred in Houston for $69 if the original visa was issued in Houston. Otherwise, you would need to apply for a new visa.

I was adopted from Russia and never had a Russian passport. How can I get a Russian visa?
Typically, you don’t. You have to apply for your Russian passport. This takes awhile because you’ll need to gather proof of your citizenship first. Russian children who are adopted from Russia do not lose their citizenship.

In which situations should an American apply for a 3 year multiple entry visa?
There’s no reason not to apply for the multiple entry visa! Starting March 2019, the consulate fees are all the same price, regardless of visa type or number of entries. With this change, we recommend applying for the multi-entry visa up to 3 years. If you’re passport is expiring before then, you can still apply for a multi-entry visa up to 6 months before your passport expires.

Can members of the same family travel to Russia on different visa types?
Yes. But minors accompanying parents usually need to have the same visa type as their parents.

How do I decide which visa to apply for?
Many people want to travel to Russia for a specific period of time. That’s their priority. They don’t care so much about the purpose of travel. We’ve created a specific tool to help people through this process. Check it out here. This is useful for most passport holders, not just Americans.
This way, you can decide on the type of visa based on the time they want to spend in Russia rather than the other way around, and you are not limited by time based on your purpose of visit.
However, we recommend all our customers that the rule of thumb is that when going through passport control, you need to be prepared to answer, “What’s the purpose of your visit?” You should not get a business visa if you do not intend to do business.

These questions are perhaps just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to applying for a visa to Russia. That is why I always recommend using a visa service to take away any stress related to the red tape. I am happy to recommend Marcus and the Let’s Russia team as I have personally seen both their professionalism and patience in answering the many questions that can arise before and during the Russia visa application process. You can begin the visa application process with Let’s Russia by filling out this quick form here.

Russia is open for tourism and business. To simplify the visa process, I recommend a service like Let’s Russia.  Your situation might be unique and it is helpful to have someone working with you and answering your questions as you apply. We look forward to seeing you in the Motherland! 🙂

Couch Potatoes Cheer For Food Delivery In Russia

If you thought the McDonald’s drive-thru was lazy, Russia has brought the art of apathy to a whole new level with automated food delivery service.

There are two main food delivery services in Russia:  Yandex Food and Delivery Club.

Yandex Food is in 24 Russian cities while Delivery Club, is only in Moscow, from what I see.

In the end, Yandex will win… at everything, in Russia.  They are taking over, from taxis to money transfer systems, now real estate, and much more.  If you think of Yandex just as “Russia’s search engine”, you are missing out.  It is much more.

And that now includes swarms of young men with thermos-box backpacks, hustling and bustling through the streets of major Russian cities, rushing steaming victuals to the famished masses, who are too lazy to do anything more than stand up from their couch and open their front door.

These food delivery guys are improving their physical condition, while the rest of the population is rapidly degrading.  If I were into conspiracy theories…

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In the event of a zombie apocalypse, these will be the only survivors in Moscow

Not only is pushing buttons on your cell phone easier than brushing your teeth, combing your hair, and changing out of your pajamas… it’s also usually quite a bit cheaper.

A Burger King bacon cheeseburger, 3 Whoppers (w/cheese), 3 medium fries, one order of “village-style” fries and 15 chicken nuggets for 500 rubles.  That’s about $7.69 (USD).  And the best part is, that’s the price only if it’s delivered.  If you made the effort to put on your shoes and coat and walk outside and breathe fresh air, the price would be considerably more.

All the nutrition, without all of the cost and exercise:  Here’s how my wife bought all of that fantastic food, delivered to our home, for our kids, on an evening when she and I were out.  Delivery Club was having a promotional sale:  If you spent 800 rubles or more, they would subtract 300 rubles from the total and give you 15 chicken nuggets.  And yes, the delivery itself is included in the cost.

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How did the creators of the movie Wall-E see our future so clearly?

These food delivery services aren’t limited to fast food.  It seems any restaurant that wants to stay in business had better link itself to the service, including even some of the lesser-known establishments, like this small Indian restaurant.  So, whether you fancy sushi, pizza, shish-kabobs, vegan, or a steak, you can just push a few buttons on your iPhone and lay back and wait for the doorbell to ring.

And because these food delivery systems are incredibly efficient and convenient, they are also very disruptive.  It will be very interesting to see how it affects the restaurant business, and over time real estate value, particularly for restaurant locations.

And the other night when my wife and I were out and our kids were devouring Burger King at home?  Well, she and I were sitting with some friends in Vokrug Sveta, which I sort of refer to as a “trendy international food court”, and watching the food delivery guys rush past, with their thermos boxes.

And that’s when we got a fantastic Moscow money-saving idea:  why not walk into a busy Moscow food court, sit down at a table, and then order delivery from the restaurant of your choice to your table.  Pretty sure it would work, you would save money, and maybe some time.  And why embark on that arduous expedition to the cash register when you can just sit in a chair and look at your cell phone?

If you try that genius idea, please be sure to let me know how it goes.  As for now, I’m feeling hungry, and if I were to go into the kitchen, I might need to put food into the microwave to warm it up and then put my plate in the dishwasher.  Seems pretty complicated.  I might as well just pick up my phone and see what sales Delivery Club is offering today…

 

 

 

Moving To Russia? What NOT To Wear

Russia does not boast the mildest of climates for a winter visit, so many people when coming to Russia want to know what clothes to wear.

If you are coming for a week visit, you can mostly ignore the advice of this short article, but if you are moving to a major city in Russia for the long-term, then pay close attention.

In this blogger’s day job, I regularly meet folks from around the world who have just made the move to Russia.  Surprisingly, it is during the winter that they complain the most about not packing the right clothes for Russia.  And usually, the complaint is that they packed too much.

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You can usually pick out an American tourist in a crowd by the clothes he is wearing.

In the past, I would encourage folks to buy their winter clothes before coming.  But that is because it used to be that the price of clothes in Russia was higher than in the United States, for example.  But that has now changed, and you can find clothes in Russia on all ends of the budget spectrum.

Here are few thoughts for packing clothes if you are moving to Russia during the winter:

  1. It’s cold, but it’s not that cold.  Trust me on this one.  Yes, Russia is cold, BUT it is highly unlikely that you will spend all of your time outside.  And because it is cold, you will most likely be moving when you are outside, not just standing around.  You will most likely be outside walking, then on a bus or taxi, then in a building.  When your days become a series of walking, public transportation, and being inside you will highly regret your purchase of high end BULKY clothes.
  2. Your American boots are way too big.  For most of the Russian winter I wear what I would call “winter sneakers”, even when it’s snowing outside.  These are not winter boots.  There are people in Russia who shovel the sidewalks.  I do have some fantastic winter boots, but they are only brought out of the closet for very special occasions. 
  3. Upon arrival, observe the Russians’ winter apparel.  It is sort of an exaggeration that anyone is used to the cold.  I remember once hearing “Russians aren’t warmer, they just dress warmer”.  The Russians didn’t buy their winter clothes back in Hoboken, New Jersey.  AND they don’t all look like Sir Edmund Hillary ascending Everest.

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    You are an English teacher in St. Petersburg NOT Sir Edmund Hillary on Mt. Everest

  4. Don’t buy this hat.  The only people wearing this hat in Moscow are newly arrived villagers from the provinces, American tourists, or the hyper-fashionable (like the guy in this picture).  And although you might be an American tourist, do you really want to be picked out in a crowd?download-1.jpg5. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” -Leonardo da Vinci.  Don’t pay for a second bag on your flight to Moscow.  Save yourself the time, money, and stress of shopping for something you know nothing about.  Leave your thermal underwear, electric socks, hand warming packets, scarves, and mittens all back in your storage unit in Memphis.  Put on the coat you presently own and come to Russia.  There are heated buildings, cars, clothing stores, and shoveled sidewalks.

Visas to Russia for Canadians and Americans

You can thank me later.  But for now, you will enjoy Russia (and even the cold!) more if you aren’t constantly fumbling around with clothes and warming accessories and lacing up your boots as if you are about to embark on the first Iditarod and deliver that serum to Nome, Alaska.

Just turn off the inner monologue about the weather, and go about your day.  And if you need a scarf or hat, just visit your local Sportmaster store.  And if you’re moving to a Russian village, I recommend packing heavy, but in the long term, you might do best to make friends with some of the local villagers and learn where they are doing their shopping.

Do you live in Russia?  I would be sincerely interested to hear from you.  Is there any piece of winter clothing that is not available here that you wish you had bought at home before coming?  Comment below.

Having A Baby In Russia? How Much Does It Cost? (VIDEO)

While many wealthy Russians are choosing Miami as the place of birth for their children, many expats in Russia are questioning whether the birth experience really requires a trip home.

This is a very personal decision for the parents to be, and ultimately will depend on their comfort level with giving birth in Russia.

This humble blogger is the father of four.  For our oldest, we decided to go back to the States.  When my wife became pregnant again, she asked, “Why should we fly to America for four months for a one-day experience?”.   And we subsequently had our three boys born in the city of Perm.  For each of them, we chose a pay option that was incredibly inexpensive, but also gave us the opportunity to make use of some more comfortable facilities and services.

The truth is that medical service quality in Russia is steadily improving, yet remains widely varied across the nation.  This coupled with the fact that it is far from guaranteed that your doctor would speak English at a comfortable level.

Many expectant expat mothers are comfortable in their home in Russia and do not get excited about the idea of international travel being a part of their birth experience.  Often the grandparents and other loved ones are excited to use this as an opportunity to both enjoy a trip to Russia and support the young family during this exciting time.

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This man-blogger decided to learn more about the birth experience in Russia

The cost of having a baby in Russia will depend on whether you choose to use a government or private clinic.  The cost, can literally be free, or it can run into many thousands of dollars for a high-end private clinic.  But paying for the most expensive clinic does not always guarantee the most comfortable birth experience.

If you are in a major Russian city, it is a great idea to find an English-speaking doula  so that you do not need to go through this incredibly significant process alone.  A good doula will listen to your goals and birth plan and also provide information on which hospitals and doctors in the area might be a good fit for you, so that you do not need to feel that the important choice of the place of birth is a “shot in the dark”.

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When making this video “Having A Baby In Moscow | How Much Does It Cost?” I intentionally chose a professional European level birthing center in Moscow.  It was interesting that some folks on social media were surprised at how affordable it was, and others said it was too expensive, and that they had given birth in Russia for significantly less.  It’s interesting that some of the other birthing centers in Moscow provide the same service for twice the price, and more.

Here’s the video:

You can absolutely have a baby in Russia for less than $3250, but after visiting the Perinatal Center in Moscow, I almost wanted to have another baby, just to enjoy their facilities at what is an reasonable cost, particularly given the services provided.

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Perhaps, most importantly, I appreciated Dr. Maria’s point in the video that they will listen carefully to your birth plan and follow it.  Perhaps the most concerning point about giving birth in Russia is that the situation might suddenly slip out of control.

With that in mind, there are many who will want to go back home for the birth experience, but there are also many who are asking the question that my wife asked 15 years ago… “Why go back for four months for a one day event?”.

Did you have a baby in Russia?  I would love to hear about your birth experience in Russia.  Comment below!