American On Lockdown In Russia

This is a guest-post. There is plenty of information out there about the self-isolation situation in Russia, and particularly in Moscow.  So, I thought it would be interesting to catch the point of view of an American who is far away from the capital city, in the city of Ekaterinburg.

Stefan is a retired Respiratory Therapist who started coming to Russia in 2005. While he lived in Perm full time for several years, he now splits his time between Bangkok, Penang, and Ekaterinburg. As a hobby, he tours around the Ural region as a Blues singer with a band of local musicians.

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Stefan continues to smile from his flat in Ekat.

Stefan Goes To The Moon – And Stays There, Thanks To The ‘Rona
So when I first started coming to Russia in 2005 (on the advice of a Russian colleague), my friends were understandably amazed – they had no concept of traveling that far, or to that place. I used to joke with them, ‘hey, it’s not like I’m going to the moon’, though it seemed they thought I was.
After I’d been to Perm a few times, and established contacts and an ‘alternate life’ there, I became known as ‘The American In Town’ (Perm was a closed city during Soviet times, and they didn’t have a big experience with foreigners). Several times the local media would want to interview me, to get an American’s perspective on life in Russia. I told one reporter the story about how my US friends thought I was going to the moon when I came to Perm, which she thought was quite funny. When the story came out in the local paper (this was pre easy access to the internet in Russia) I saw that the title of the article was ‘Stefan Goes To The Moon’. I and all my Russian friends got a big kick out of that, surely.
Fast forward 15 years, and I find myself back in the Urals, ostensibly to do a 10 week Spring Blues Tour with my guys. I’d originally planned to come on 19 March, but when some shows in Kirov got booked, I saw that I needed to come a week earlier. This turned out to be highly fortunate, since Russia got locked down 18 March, and If I’d followed the original plan, I would not have been able to come at all, and I’d be stuck in Thailand.

Stefan displays his blues skills on a local Russia morning TV show in 2018:

So here I am in Ekaterinburg, 6 weeks in, with no shows, in a locked-down city, in a locked-down country. No meetings with friends, no going out to eat in a nice restaurant, etc. As with everyone else in the world, I’m having to adjust to being Sheltered In Place.
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Downtown Ekaterinburg

My agent here in Russia hooked me up with a studio flat in Eburg’s city center. Close to shopping and our rehearsal studio. It has a shop onsite the has all the food essential. It’s a new building, and very clean. The staff is excellent, and they even have hand sanitizer in the lobby. Two-minute walk to McDs, Blues, and the all-important ‘Red & White’ shop.
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A shot of Stefan’s lockdown quarters.

It’s not unlike getting on a train in St. Petersburg, on a trip to Vladivostok. Oh, and when you get there, you sleep through the layover, and the train heads back west with you on it. Or you can say it’s like going on a trip to the moon.
Listen to Stefan tell the story of his “trip to the moon” and then enjoy his “flying to Russia song”. His mellow vibes serve as a beacon to fellow expats around Russia, learning to live a new life with coronavirus.

How I Got An Unlimited Russian Residence Permit

You might be thinking of getting a Russian residence permit if things are starting to get serious between you and the Motherland.

I will tell you the story of how I got an unlimited Russian residency permit.  By unlimited, I mean a Russian residence permit “with no expiration date”.  This is the result of a new law that came into effect on November 1, 2019, simplifying both the requirements for residency permits in Russia and also making these permits free of expiration dates.

I won’t tell you every single step, because that would require much more than a blog post.  That would be sort of like doing an interview with Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface and asking, “How does a man get on the moon?”.

If you are looking for a to-do list on getting a Russian residence permit, there are plenty of good resources online.  If you would like someone to guide you through the process, I will provide a recommendation at the end of this post.  Because I’m not that guy.

Here are a few points to get started with for applying for your Russian residence permit.  There are exceptions to nearly every point, but in most cases:

  • In order to get a permanent residence permit in Russia, you will first need to get a temporary residency permit.
  • In order to get a temporary residence permit, you will first need to already be in Russia, which in most cases, will mean you need a visa.
  • Owning real estate in Russia does not guarantee residency, but it does simplify the process.  Because otherwise, you will need to find a good friend who will register you in their home.  Not always an easy task.  As a point of product placement in this blog post, I might mention that I run a real estate agency in Moscow, and we are seeing a rapidly growing number of foreigners make the decision to buy their own home.  This will certainly ease the residence application for them if they choose to follow that route.
  • You will need to pass a Russian language, history and law test (more on that later)
  • You will also need to pass various medical tests (such as TB, HIV).
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I’m smiling on the inside, like a Russian, after receiving my unlimited residence permit.

Here’s the great news.  In the past, the “permanent” Russia residence permits needed to be renewed every 5 years.  Not the end of the world, but also not my favorite procedure.

But as of December 1, 2019, all Russia permanent residence permits are now without an expiration date.  That means if you already have a Russia permanent residence permit, the next time you need to get a renewal, it will be for a shiny new residence permit, happily free of any expiration date.

3 Unusual Russian Investment Ideas

If you are going for renewal, here is the list of necessary documents, according to my local immigration office:

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This notice reads that in order to renew your Russia residence permit you will need:

  • To write an appeal letter for renewal (an example is found in the bottom third of this page).
  • Your passport and notarized passport translation.
  • Your current residence permit.
  • A document proving that you passed the Russian language, history, and law tests.
  • 2 photos, 35X45 on non-glossy photo paper.
  • And your receipt of paying the related fees.  Currently, that amount is 5000 rubles.  Which means if you have 4 kids and 1 wife, like this blogger, the total fees will be 30,000 rubles.

If you have already received your temporary residence permit you will agree with me- this could not possibly be any simpler.  But if you have renewed before, the new system might make you uneasy, just like it did me.  You see, in the past, you had to apply for renewal no later than 2 months before your residence permit was due for expiration.

However, the wording of the law under the renewal/no expiration date reform states that you can apply during the validity period of your current residence permit.  I hate keeping anything until the last minute.  So, in all, I paid 11 visits to my local immigration office over a period of 2 months.  Each time, I found a bit more useful information that was helpful in the process and was told to come back last minute.

If you are from a country that requires a visa to enter Russia, it is strongly recommended that you apply further in advance than we did!

How Much Does It Cost To Rent An Apartment In Moscow?

It’s probably worth mentioning that the lines in the immigration offices have become much more organized, much less desperate, and happily shorter, due to many people making appointments online.  It’s a much better system.  The lines didn’t really bother me during those 11 visits.  I do have queue experience, and I’ve learned that these types of situations in Russia are much more about a journey than a formula.  Once you learn that philosophical truth you will find life to be much more enjoyable.

And I do have a little experience with queues in Russia. 🙂

Long story short, two weeks of relative uneasiness, and yesterday we received our unlimited Russia residence permits.  Of course, this story is not over, because you have 7 days to get registered, so will be scrambling to do that after I write this blog post.

The Russian Language, History, and Law Test

This is sort of a side-show that perhaps deserves its own blog post.  If you have already done the test in the past 5 years, you shouldn’t have to do it again.  I had never done the test before.  Here are a few points that I still remember.

  • The year that the Romanov dynasty began.
  • If you adopt a child in Russia, you can’t marry them later.  I think if you fail that question you should not be allowed to get a residence permit anywhere.
  • There was an uprising in 1825.  Not sure what the kerfuffle was all about, but I know the year.
  • Your employer in Russia does not have the right to take away your passport.  There were quite a few points about labor law, presumably to protect new immigrants.
  • There is a fish festival in Moscow every year.  We listened to an audio segment about this and then answered questions.
  • I wrote a letter to an imaginary friend describing how I had taken part in a dance competition in Moscow.

Come to think of it, that’s all I remember!  Which is sort of surprising because I think I answered 100% of the answers right.  I’m not bragging.  I’m just saying.

Try a Sample Russian Language Test

Try a Sample Russian History Test

Try a Sample Russian Law Test

If you speak Russian and can memorize facts, it’s not too difficult.  Much easier than a Russian driver’s license test.

If you are serious about getting Russian residency, and want a guide, you can contact my friend Dmitry Phillipov here.  Dmitry is great and has helped a lot of folks. Dmitry’s consultations start at 250 euros, so only serious inquiries.   If you are at the beginning of your journey to Russia, I recommend that you start off with some time on Google and a visa.  

As for me, I guess the next step for me is to apply for Russian citizenship.  Because when it comes to love for the Motherland… it’s all about the journey.

 

 

 

The Fiddler on the Roof or Moskva-City? | Russian Real Estate Investment

An updated version of this post is available HERE.

Is it possible for foreigners to own real estate in Russia?  The answer is YES!

This blogger works in the area of real estate, and I can say that there is a rapidly growing interest in real estate investment in Russia.  I thought it would be interesting to share a few of the investment opportunities in Russia that have crossed my desk in recent weeks:

The Fiddler on the Roof

You can learn how to play the balalaika, buy a cow, move to the village, and build your very own banya. I guess this is an investment mainly in the sense that you would be investing in something like peace and quiet… or unforgettable life experience.

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Do you like carrying water and chopping wood?  Then this is for you!

Here’s a brick house for sale in a village in the Rostov region.

A Real Estate Investment/Medical Business

Not only is Russian law very open to the foreign purchase of real estate, it is also very open to foreign ownership of local businesses.

Here’s a clinic in the city of Perm, Russia that is selling both the facility, and also the licensing and business documents.  The clinic claims to have an annual stream of about 15,000 patients.

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You can own a functioning medical clinic in near Siberia for under $400,000 USD

There are a large number of real estate/business offers ranging from medical clinics to factories to stores or even small apartment buildings with long-term renters.  The latter has become a popular option among foreign university students, presumably financed by relatives from back home.

The “Apart-Hotel”

This is perhaps my favorite.  You can essentially buy an efficiency apartment in a hotel facility and either live there, rent it out yourself, or sign a contract with the hotel management in which they operate your apartment and you split the profits with them, often an 80/20 split.  There are many such options in Moscow and St. Petersburg, often located in high demand areas of the city.

For example, the Tverskaya Residence complex in downtown Moscow offers both penthouses (at $5 million USD and up) and also smaller efficiency apartments (starting at around $267,000) in the hotel portion of the building.  It offers a guaranteed annual return on investment of 10%, creating a true passive income with your real estate investment.

It’s the hotel’s responsibility to attract customers, service the room during their stay, clean, fix any damages… and transfer money to your bank account.Снимок экрана 2020-01-22 в 20.51.47.png

These 3 Russian Real Estate Investment options are only the tip of the iceberg.  It has been encouraging to see this uptick of serious long-term interest from foreigners from all around the world.

It’s cool to be a part of options with such a strong upside, help provide management options for the foreigner if they don’t plan to live in Russia, and also steer them away from dubious investment situations.

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It’s easy to forget about the villages when you visit Moscow’s vibrant Moskva-City district

Whether you are looking for an office in Moskva-City or have always dreamed of living in a Russian village, the doors are open, and you can start making steps towards a more serious long-term relationship with Russia today. And perhaps nothing shows how vast and diverse Russia is than all of its real estate investment opportunities.

And as I work in real estate, I enjoy being a small part of opening the potential of Russia to the world.  Welcome to Russia!

 

 

 

American Football 🏈 In Russia

The city of Izhevsk, Russia is probably best known as being the birthplace of the AK-47.  But the hidden surprise for me in my visit to this industrial city located a 16-hour train ride east of Moscow was the local American Football team.

Russians are known both for their love and mastery in sports from hockey and gymnastics, to weight-lifting and cross-country skiing.  But in 20 years of living in Russia, I had no idea that there was a small, but incredibly enthusiastic American football movement around Russia.  These are men who have taken the effort and time to learn the rules of American football, train, acquire the necessary equipment, and even travel around Russia to compete with similarly fanatical teams.

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A muscular Rafis looks more like a linebacker than nose guard to me, but as he happily exclaims “It’s fun to beat up people!”.

We caught up with the team during an evening practice and were able to hear their views on playing a completely obscure sport that they love, and also their views on their favorite NFL teams.

It was fun to ask them their opinion on my beloved, yet historically beleaguered Cleveland Browns, and be pleasantly surprised as they rattled off some of the Browns’ players’ names.

The team’s defensive coordinator gave an interesting viewpoint, saying that for the team members, playing football is a fight, and seemed to suggest that it is metaphorical for the fight that they face every day in their jobs and other life circumstances.

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Even acquiring the necessary equipment is no easy task as it must be sourced from the United States.

My Russian friend Zhenya is also a big American football fan.  He and I run the Russian language “The Amerikanets” YouTube channel.  I even wrote a blog post on why my YouTube channel is in Russian, instead of English.

But the passion of these American football players in Russia challenged Zhenya and me to start another very big project:  an English-language YouTube channel about life in Russia.

With that, here is our English-language video report from our time with the Izhevsk American Football Team:

I love the fact that every Russian city holds so many hidden surprises, and I hope that we can continue to show them to you as we travel around the nation.  Who knows, we might even break some stereotypes as we journey together.

And we will continue to create Russian language videos as well.  Here is our Russian video report of the same team:

I would love to hear your ideas for future videos.  What would you love for me to not just write about, but show?

BONUS: Check out the Izhevsk team in action as they take on the American football team from Perm, Russia.

 

Soviet Medical Treatment Finds Rebirth With Foreign Patients

“Those who have had lymphedema know how it feels.”

I’m talking to Natalia in a clinic in the city of Perm, a two-hour flight from Moscow.  She is describing the 14 years of pain and swelling in her legs that no doctors had been able to alleviate until she came in for treatment with the Lymphatech Clinic.

Natalia probably has no idea that this “miraculous” treatment began many years earlier during Soviet times.  It was already in 1986 that the Soviet medical authorities first approved further development of medical treatment through the lymphatic system.

Natalia’s story of lymphedema being treated with lymphatic methods is perhaps unsurprising, but surprising are the results that the clinic is now seeing treating arthritis, diabetes, certain types of cancers, pneumonia, asthma, and even mouth-breathing and snoring.

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The Lymphatech Clinic’s chief doctor, Professor Nadezhda Garyaeva, or as most of her foreign patients affectionately refer to her, “Doctor Nadya”.

The Lymphatech Clinic is housed in an unassuming two-story brick building not far from the center of the city of Perm.  Nobody would pick out this city on the edge of Siberia as the birthplace of innovative medical treatment.

But the Lymphatech clinic’s chief doctor, Professor Nadezhda Garyaeva, begins to tell her story:

In 1983, I went to Professor Borisov in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) to start a scientific career in lymphology – a branch of medicine about which many knew almost nothing. Namely, the lymphatic system largely determines the course and outcome of almost all diseases. We conducted research on the lymphatic vessels – I wrote a doctoral dissertation on this topic. I met with the academician Yuri Borodin, who headed the valuable Institute of Lymphology in Siberia. I was inspired by the possibilities that the lymphatic system offers to the doctor – a completely different approach to the treatment of the entire spectrum of diseases.

It is, of course, more than a little interesting that the lymphatic system, which affects so much of our health has remained largely ignored.

It is also unfortunate that the political and economic events in the Soviet Union, and then Russia, in many ways hampered the further development of these ideas.  During the 1990’s, although Professor Garyaeva headed the largest department of the Perm Medical Academy, there was no funding for research, so she bravely created a private research institution that carried on this important work. As a result, 9 medical method patents were developed. 

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A Soviet medical document from 1987, related to lymphatic treatment.

For many years, the Lymphatech Clinic both successfully and quietly handled its work among local patients and was mostly known for its cutting-edge cancer treatment.  However, it is now starting to receive some international attention, and patients are making the trek internationally to this city in the heart of Russia.

Mike French has suffered from asthma and chronic sinus issues for many years.  Listen as he tells his story of visiting the Lymphatech Clinic in Perm.

Susanne Trokhymenko of England talks about how she was unable to find relief from her lymphedema, even after seeking medical attention for many years.  But at the Lymphatech Clinic, she was able to find relief after just two treatments.

Wee Tiong Howe is the head of an investment capital company in Singapore.  He describes his time at the Lymphatech Clinic as “Amazing. They were able to solve all of my issues in an extraordinarily short period of time.”

Patients are surprised to learn the benefits of this innovative treatment and how the lymphatic system affects so much of our health. But even more surprising is how the Lymphatec Clinic doctors take the time to thoroughly study their situation before moving into the treatment phase.  A first visit with Professor Garyaeva generally lasts at least two hours, as she is careful to look through all of the details and listen to the patient attentively.  The treatment itself is outpatient and usually involves a daily injection with the purpose of bringing health through the lymphatic system.  Since the injection is targeted, the dosage is lower and more effective than what a patient would experience elsewhere in the world.

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The blue highlights in this heart mark the lymphatic system.  When most patients see how significant the lymphatic system is for human health, their only question is “Why haven’t we heard about this before?”.

John is a retired plumbing contractor from the State of Ohio in the USA who was diagnosed with chronic leukemia a few years ago.  His latest tests showed a spike in his white blood cell count, but his American doctors offered him no options except to wait.

John decided to send his tests to the Lymphatech Clinic.  Three oncologists at the clinic, including Professor Garyaeva, spent 4 hours each, studying John’s test results.  They then sent him a detailed report in English. It was surprising for John to learn as the Lymphatech doctors explained that as they are members of both the Russian and American Cancer Societies, that they understand the approach to cancer treatments in both nations.  They then explained that with his present white blood count, that in Russia, chemotherapy treatments would have already been prescribed.  

The Lymphatech doctors’ report for John then explained that they had a high level of confidence that they could at least positively affect John’s situation, with a lymphatic system treatment.

Pleasantly surprised both by the doctors’ thoroughness, the price, and also simply an option other than “just waiting”, John immediately made plans to fly to Perm.  Listen as John describes his experience at the Lymphatech Clinic in detail on the clinic’s Facebook page.

Much of the clinic’s results can only be treated as anecdotal as there is not a large enough sample size to predict future results.  But the list is more than fascinating: Alzheimer’s, Type 2 Diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arteriosclerosis, and much more.

If you just have a question or are looking for a second opinion, you can contact the Lymphatech Clinic.  

On a personal note, I am proud to say that I am working with the Lymphatech Clinic.  And it is without reservation that I can say that this is one of the most both intriguing and useful of Russia’s gems that I have been able to uncover in 20 years of living in this great nation.

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.

Russia’s Authentic Pop-Star Babushkas (VIDEO)

“Party for Everybody, Dance! Come on and dance!”

It was 2012, and a ensemble of babushkas from an unknown Russian village were taking the Europe pop-music scene by storm.

Eurovision is an annual song competition, where each country in Europe can submit one song and then vote for the other countries.  In recent years, it has offered a mix of some quality music, but also some bizarre performances.

But no one saw the babushkas from the village of Buranovo coming.  Their smiles, glowing faces, and mix of English, Russian and native Udmurt language lyrics disarmed the audiences.

In the end, they won 2nd place in the Eurovision contest with their hit “Party For Everybody”

Fast-forward 7 years later.  A couple of weeks ago I was traveling through the Udmurtia Republic with our YouTube channel, and was told that the Buranovo Babushkas were only a 60-kilometer drive away.

To be honest, I thought it might just be a cute or entertaining story, but then I met the Babushkas of Buranovo.

Not only are they incredibly authentic, but their story and continued drive to serve those around them with what they have is a direct challenge to everyone they meet.

As it turns out, their dream was for a church for the village of Buranovo.  And with proceeds from Eurovision and other concerts, they built that church.

The babushkas are all now 80 years old or older, but they are not stopping with the church.  Their new project is building an assisted-living facility for the elderly in the area.

Be sure to watch this video until the end, and allow yourself to be challenged by the Buranovo Babushkas.

“It is only the love of the people that supports us and we continue to live…”

How US Sanctions Against Russia (Don’t) Work And Hurt Americans

“Russia will not change its course because of sanctions”.

It was nearly two years ago, and I agreed to go on a Russian political talk show.  Little did I know that this situation would become very personal for me.

At that time, Russia and the United States seemed to be caught in a game of who could do the most petty trick against the other.  Shutting down diplomatic presence, for example, really means nothing to anyone except for those who are simply trying to live their lives, and happen to have a connection between the two countries.

To put it simply on how sanctions don’t work: Regardless of your political views, I think it’s clear:  Russia has ZERO intention of giving up Crimea, or apologizing for any alleged interference in any election process, even if it did buy some Facebook ads.

If you’re American and reading this, you also know that the US government has ZERO intention of changing its opinion of Russia anytime in the near future.  And to give you an idea of how ineffective sanctions are, some of you are only right now learning that Russia has also created sanctions against the US.

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I’m no Trump supporter, but he does make for a great GIF. 🙂

With the background of flooding in Houston, I suggested a constructive approach on the talk show but was fairly quickly shouted down.  The man I argue with in this short clip is Greg Weiner.  He moved from Russia to the States, lived there for some time, and now represents the USA on Russian political talk shows.:

I didn’t last long as a political talk show personality.  It seems I didn’t have a strong enough position for or against America or Russia.  My stance of judging each situation separately, not taking sides, and offering constructive solutions apparently didn’t make for very good television.

If you want more in-depth political analysis on how sanctions don’t work, you can check out this Forbes article that I just stumbled upon.  Because this is now about how this became personal for me, an American in Russia.

Again, at the time of my talk show adventures, I didn’t take the sanctions very seriously.  I saw that the sanctions were pointed at a small group of people and businesses, none of which I have any relation to, and to repeat myself: why take anything seriously if it produces zero result?

As regular readers know, I don’t just blog:  I run a Moscow real estate agency, wrote a book in Russian, run a Russian language YouTube channel, and help Russian businesses grow their business in the West.

But my view on sanctions changed this year when I decided to also start a small trucking company in Russia.  Together with a Russian business partner, we created a business plan, and I quickly saw the clear upside.  I then showed it to my brother Tim back in Ohio, and he also saw the potential.  Tim’s LLC, that he had used for various side hustles in the past, became a partner in the Russian trucking company, and made a no-interest loan to the Russian company.  The amount wasn’t small or big, but we saw that leveraging the amount through Russian bank financing, we could start our small business off with three 18-wheel tractor-trailer trucks.  That’s when the problems began.

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Our first truck, but we currently have no way to make any payments back to our US partner… because of American regulations that have caused our American partner’s bank accounts to be shut down.

We were put under some fairly heavy scrutiny in Russia.  Although it was stressful at the time, in retrospect, the Russian tax authorities’ concerns were not baseless, and actually had our American partner’s interests in mind.  It seemed they were mainly concerned that we were really going to do business with the money that came in from the no loan contract and not planning some fraud like bankrupting the company and running away with cash.

After we had worked through all of this on the Russian side, problems began for Tim.  The bank that he used in Ohio, and asked him to close his accounts.  He asked why, and they refused to give an answer.

We realized that something strange was afoot, but weren’t sure how to proceed.  Tim then went to 3 or 4 more banks in Ohio, and they all refused to open an account for him.  Again, they refused to give an explanation.  This was maddening for me.  If nothing else, this is not the America that I know.  If a business is refusing to serve its customers, it should be able, or even required, to give a reason.

We found out about an organization called OFAC.  This is the Office of Foreign Assets Control.  Tim called OFAC.  In short, after that phone call we were relieved to understand that we were not somehow unwittingly involved in anything illegal, but concerned to hear that because of regulations, banks simply do not want to have anything to do with servicing any business account with any connection to Russia.

My conclusion:  Neither government has changed its views one iota because of the sanctions.  There are issues for businesses, but big business is mostly unfazed.  But here we are, small business, working to develop a life for ourselves and our families, and to create jobs, and we are the ones suffering the most because of the sanctions.

I do not even blame OFAC for this.  They are simply following the procedures created by legislators.

What I am suggesting is dialog.  And I strongly recommend and even beg US legislators to re-consider how your legislation is hurting small business ventures between our nations.  This serves no purpose for business, and I dare say serves no purpose even for your supposed agenda of spreading “American democratic values”.  You have failed, and you need to set it right.

Because when you have no qualms with buying Russian gas and oil, but Americans in both in the USA and in Russia become the main victims of your half-baked policy, your hypocritical absurdity becomes clear to all.  You are involved in a series of “petty tricks” that serve no purpose except to save face in front of your constituents, and in the end hurt small business and those folks who genuinely want to develop constructive ties between our nations.

P.S.  This situation has forced me to pay more attention to politics than I really care to.  But while the lawmakers do what they do, we have a business to run and obligations to fulfill, so this text is also a request for help.  If you have experienced a similar situation with US banks and know how to navigate the way out, I would really appreciate any tips or insight.  Thanks!

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.