This guide was written prior to Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine and is therefore not reflective of the current situation. Travel to Russia is currently not advisable due to the area's volatile political situation.
With an extensive public transport network, getting around in Russia is relatively easy. It’s not necessary for expats living in the major cities to own a car, as public transport is reliable and cheap. That said, those living in more remote towns may find it easier to have their own vehicle.
Driving in Russia
Expats living in Russia should consider their need for a car carefully. Traffic congestion is common in Russian cities. Drivers can be reckless, and the police are notorious for issuing fines for very minor offences. Winter weather can add to the hazards of driving in Russia. Some expats hire a driver or have one provided by their company.
Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road in Russia. Speed limits are 37 miles per hour (60km/h) in urban built-up areas and 62 miles per hour (110km/h) on highways. Road signs are almost all in Cyrillic so expats driving in Russia would do well to learn the local alphabet.
Foreigners wishing to drive in Russia can use their national driver’s licence for up to six months but also require an international driver's licence. Expats should also carry their passport, visa and migration card with them at all times when driving a vehicle.
Public transport in Russia
A number of Russian cities, including Moscow and St Petersburg, have metro systems. These offer the best means of getting around, but overcrowding is common, particularly during peak hours. To use the metro, passengers need to buy a ticket (single or return) or purchase a Troika smart card that can be topped up as needed. This card is more convenient and allows transfers from the metro to buses within 30 minutes.
Buses, trolleys and trams
When the metro can't connect with where one needs to go, buses, trams and trolleybuses provide an alternative way of getting around many Russian cities, albeit slightly less comfortably.
Buses offer the cheapest way of getting around Russia. For short trips between major cities, buses sometimes have more convenient routes and schedules. Purchasing tickets can be done at the bus station ticket offices themselves the same day or online if expats prefer to buy the ticket in advance.
Russia has an extensive rail network. Long-distance trains connect most Russian towns and cities. Moscow and St Petersburg are linked by a high-speed train which completes the journey in about four hours. It’s best to arrange train tickets online well ahead of time. Even though this may be the more expensive option, it saves time standing in queues.
Train travel is the most comfortable means of travelling around Russia, but pickpockets are known to operate on long-distance trains and expats should keep a close eye on their valuables at all times.
The Trans-Siberian Express
Russia is home to the Trans-Siberian Express, a network of railways linking Russia to China, Mongolia and North Korea. There are three routes traversing Siberia from Moscow, accommodating the longest rail trip in the world. The main terminals for the Trans-Siberian Express are Moscow, Beijing and Vladivostok, and there's also a weekly connection from Moscow to Pyongyang.
The Trans-Siberian proper travels from Moscow to Vladivostok. It then links with the Trans-Mongolian Express from Moscow to Beijing via Ulaanbaatar and the Trans-Manchurian Express which travels through Siberia and Chinese Manchuria to Beijing. Tickets can be purchased through a travel agent, online or at the relevant train station.
Taxis in Russia
Several different taxi companies operate across Russia. Private cabs can be hailed in the street, booked via the telephone or hailed at a taxi rank. Hailing taxis from the street is now much less common as mobile apps have become popular. It’s best to negotiate the fare with the driver before getting in the vehicle.
Minibus shuttle taxis known as marshrutka can normally carry about 16 passengers and travel set routes in towns and cities. They're usually numbered the same way as the buses they share routes with. Routes are normally displayed on the front or side window of the vehicle. To get on an approaching marshrutka, just wave it down like an ordinary taxi.
Ride-sharing services and apps are readily available in most Russian cities. These are a good option for expats who can't speak the local language and want to avoid miscommunications with taxi drivers.
Air travel in Russia
Due to the vast distances between popular destinations, it can be more convenient to fly between Russian cities. The main airports in the country include Moscow’s Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo airports and St Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport.
Regular flights in and out of Russia are operated by Aeroflot, which is Russia’s national airline, as well as Emirates, KLM, Air France, Alitalia and British Airways, amongst others.