Counting the cost. Image from RT.coms

Cost of living in Vladivostok is cheaper in almost all cases than similar items or services in the Southeastern United States. The downturn in the value of the ruble over the past two years has increased this gap as well, making living, even on a tight dollar budget, relatively comfortable. In this article, I will try to cover the most important aspects of daily living in Vladivostok. All prices are converted from today’s ruble-dollar conversion rate of about 75 rubles to a dollar. You can check what the current rate is at the Central Bank’s website. http://cbr.ru/

 

Food

Shopping at the local supermarkets in Vladivostok is a fairly similar experience to shopping at supermarkets in America. In general, the same types of items can be found, but do not expect to find the same brands and packaging in most cases.

Cost wise, grocery shopping is quite affordable. I can go one week on about $20 and keep a balanced diet. A few examples of cost:

Milk (1 liter): $1.00

Loaf of bread: $0.38

Chicken breasts (boneless, skinless), (1 kg): $3.30

Apples (1 kg): $1.84.

I should also say that living at the dormitory makes frugal grocery shopping a little bit more difficult due to limited space in the refrigerator/freezer and the lack of an oven. I do not really have the option of freezing leftovers or buying in bulk. The kitchens at VSUES are outfitted only with stoves and microwaves. So, while I am somewhat limited, It still allows me to cook most dishes.

One other point worth mentioning for students at VSUES are the cafes on campus. Between full-blown cafes and smaller kiosk style vendors, there are seven places at the university to purchase prepared food. All of them serve essentially the same selection of items, except for the two full cafeterias, which also serve hot soup, chicken, fish, rice, and other dishes. No matter what you get, these cafes are inexpensive. For example, a meal of borsht, rice, chicken, and pizza (not real pizza, more like a round piece of cheese bread) costs about $2.30. Certainly, it does not break the bank.

Restaurants

From the start, it important to know that portion sizes tend to be smaller in Russia than in the US and that almost everything is served a la carte. This gives more flexibility in purchasing the meal.

Vladivostok does not have a McDonalds, but Burger King and the Finnish chain, Hesburger, fill the gap. A standard combo meal will cost $2.50-3.50.

A normal restaurant can vary quite a bit in my experience. A restaurant at a prominent location downtown will cost $8-12. If you are willing to go off the main thoroughfare a little bit, a complete meal can easily be had for $6-9. This will include a salad, bread, main course, side dish, and drink.

A beer will cost about $2.00 for a domestic draft.

A cappuccino at a coffee shop will run about $1.25.

Chinese Market

One option that deserves special attention for shopping in Vladivostok (food or otherwise) is the Sportivnaya Market located on Sportivnaya Street. This is often locally referred to as the Chinese Market. Whatever prices are ‘normal’ elsewhere in the city cease to apply here. Probably well over 100 shops are contained within the market carry everything you could want. Food, tools, appliances, books, movies, clothes, etcetera, etcetera. If you’re not interested in name brand, this is the place to go. Prices tend to be cheaper across the board, and haggling is very commonplace. Even if you don’t speak Russian very well, numbers are all you need to strike a deal. Just be willing to walk away if you don’t like the price.

The Sportivnaya "Chinese" Market. Image courtesy of Ian Blair.

The Sportivnaya “Chinese” Market. Image courtesy of Ian Blair.

Entertainment

A movie ticket costs on average $4.00, but paying more or less is an option depending on how good of a seat you want at the theater.

Most clubs in the city do not have a cover charge. Drinks tend to be slightly more expensive in the clubs than in a restaurant. Mixed drinks start at about $4 and beers go for about $2.65 for a bottled import brew.

For an activity such as bowling, the prices can vary a lot based on the day and the time. The bowling alley in Vladivostok does not rent individually based on number of games, but rather by lane per hour. Peak times on a weekend evening cost $13 for an hour. But it can get as cheap as $5.30 for an hour during a weekday afternoon. Since each lane can be split up to six ways, it never gets too expensive as long as you go with a group.

A ticket to a performance, such as a ballet or opera costs $13-20 per ticket for an average seat.

The several museums around the city are relatively inexpensive. Student discounts usually offer a slight reduction in cost. Expect to pay $2-8.

Gym costs are one thing that is not much cheaper in Vladivostok versus in the US. I pay approximately $45 each month for access to the facility connected to the university. Although it has a partnership with VSUES and many students have memberships, plenty of people with no association to the university also use the gym as well. Although pricey, the monthly fee does include access to indoor tennis courts, a swimming pool, a fully equipped weight room, treadmills and ellipticals, and locker rooms with showers. Specifically for students, this gym does offer some reduced rates, however these rates also come with limited access times, blacking out evenings and weekends.

Transportation

The city buses are the most commonplace form of transportation. Every trip on a bus costs 20 rubles (about $0.25), almost always paid to the driver when you exit the bus. Exact change is preferable for payment, but the drivers will make change off a 50- or 100-ruble note. I wouldn’t advise trying anything larger. Most buses also have card readers for payment, but I very rarely see anyone try to use them, and I would recommend against using these because they take longer to use and drivers are typically anxious to continue on their routes.

Buses stop running between 10 and 11 pm every day. If you plan on going anywhere after 10:00, there will be no guarantee that the bus will come. Instead, the nights belong to the taxi drivers.

Taxis come in two flavors: marked, official taxis and unofficial, often unmarked taxis. The best choice is a prearranged taxi from an official company. Calling ahead or arranging through an app such as Yandex’s “Такси” will allow you to agree on the price ahead of time and specify a pickup location. The start fee is $1.50. The per-kilometer rate is $0.30.

It’s also common for people to tip their cab drivers. Short hops skip this nicety, but if the driver has driven a fair distance and dropped several people off at different locations, a $2.00 tip is usually in order.

A couple of examples of trips:

The 50-kilometer ride from the airport to the university was $19.00. I tipped an extra $2.00.

A short ride of five kilometers within the city is $3.00. No tip.

Textbooks

My textbooks at the university have all been very reasonably priced. The textbook formatting and content is rather basic compared to most US textbooks I have used, but the cost runs between $2.50-5.00. For both semesters combined, I’ve spent less than $20.

 

Telephone

Mobile telephone rates are pay as you go. The initial SIM card will set you back about $7.00, which includes a small amount of data/minutes to get started. After that, the data rates are quite reasonable, especially compared to the US. Monthly, I spend about $6.50 for LTE coverage, which is enough for my approximate usage of 1Gb. It should be noted that SMS messaging caps are substantially lower than a US plan. Most people use their data plans for messaging anyway with WhatsApp and Viber. It’s also worth noting that the standard Russian mobile plans are regional. This means that my plan in Vladivostok will incur much higher rates if I travel outside of the region. It will still work, but it would be wise to scale back on your mobile web surfing if you get the chance to visit another city.

Housing

I will be up front and say that I lack firsthand knowledge in this area. Since I live in the dormitories, I have not had to deal with anything related to apartment hunting. I did talk to some of my Vladivostok native friends and search online to at least get a general idea of prices for this article, however.

A one room flat near the city center will start at around $200 per month. A more average price will probably run around $275. The website baza.farpost.ru has listings for all kinds of apartments and flats and was recommended to me as a place to look. For a foreigner looking to rent, the one thing that I’ve heard again and again is to ask a local friend for help. Having a personal connection is almost always going to be better than trying to rent on a cold call. Vladivostok, from my experience, is a very friendly city, and people are very willing to share what information they know.

Summary

For a big picture view, I tracked my expenses for my first semester in Russia. This consisted of 97 days in country. From the day I entered Russia until my plane left for New York in December, I spent $1,250. So, somewhere around $400 a month for food, entertainment, and the type of costs of living I’ve outlined here.  This includes everything spent in Russia, except for the cost of plane tickets, dormitory housing, and my study program. I wasn’t living extravagantly by any means, but I also was not counting my kopeks. For the second semester here, I expect to be able to come out slightly lower due to the lack of ‘startup’ expenses like pots and pans, getting my phone plan set up, and also the fact that I now know where to shop for better deals.

Jonathan Rainey

Jonathan Rainey

Jonathan Rainey majored in History and English at Francis Marion University in Florence, SC. While at Francis Marion, he was a member of Phi Alpha Theta, National History Honors Society and worked as a reporter for The Patriot, the university’s newspaper. Jonathan will be serving as an SRAS Home and Abroad Scholar in Vladivostok for the 2015-2016 school year. He is pictured here at Vladivostok’s annual celebration of “Tiger Day.”

Jonathan is attending Home and Abroad: Security
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