My Budget for Irkutsk
Irkutsk is a very affordable city especially in comparison to Moscow, St. Petersburg, and American cities. Most students in Irkutsk can live on average of 30-50 dollars per week. I am very frugal and spend about 30-35 dollars per week but depending on your shopping habits, that can vary widely.
Note: The ruble during my time abroad was approximately 57 to $1; I’ve given estimated prices below in dollars. Note as well that there is a lot of outdated information online listing much lower prices than are actually available. The information I’ve listed below is accurate as of December 2017.
I am living with a host family and therefore am not responsible for breakfast or dinner, but for lunch I cook for myself or go out to eat. Some general prices:
Water (1.5 liter) $0.98
Bread (500g) $0.96
Apples (1kg) $1.30
Potatoes (1kg) $0.55
Lettuce (1 head) $0.65
Beer (.5 liter bottle) $1.00
Rice (1kg) $0.95
Milk (1 liter) $0.98
The cheapest option is the university cafeteria or one of the small cafés on Lenin Street. Most meals total about 2.50$ and are quite filling. Oftentimes restaurants have a “business lunch” deal and you get a few different dishes for around 2-4 dollars.
Restaurants in Irkutsk are much cheaper than in America and it is difficult to find anything that costs more than 10$ for a full meal, drinks, and dessert unless you visit a few of the fanciest restaurants or steakhouses. Most times I order side dishes, appetizers, or the smaller portion section of the menu. This is usually the cheapest option and provides more than enough food, sometimes so much I cannot even finish. There are also a few small fast food style places like Zakucity and Pozy 38 which serve local, on-the-go style meals for a few dollars.
Coffee is an expense that can really add up if you choose not to make it yourself. A plain black coffee is usually around $1-2, but if you are like me and prefer the fancier coffees, it is more like $2-3. There is a blue van located in the 130th Kvartal which sells the best coffee in Irkutsk (in my opinion) and is around $1.50 for most all drinks. A cup of tea is usually around $1-2 as well.
Overall, food can be cheap if you shop smartly. I recommend Slata (Слата) for things that are harder to find, but it is much more expensive than the other stores. The cheapest is Svetofor (Светофор) or the locally owned shops in smaller neighborhoods.
Entertainment in Irkutsk is way cheaper than in the US. The drama theaters, for instance, sell tickets for most shows for $5-10, and the quality of the productions is great. A pricier entertainment option would be a movie at the 3D IMAX theatre, which will run about 7-10$ depending on where you sit. Usually at smaller theaters or at non-3D places like Caramel (Карамель) prices average $3-4.
Bars are generally very reasonably priced. Beer, mixed drinks, and shots cost between $2-4. There are places that sell cheaper drinks but they tend to be a bit rowdy and dangerous, especially on weekends. Bars that only sell specialty drinks are slightly more expensive. For example, the Dekabrist Bar (Бар Декабрист) sells German and Belgian beers for about $8 a liter.
Bowling is about $3 to $10 per hour at Zvezdny Bowling Center, depending on time of day; ski rental at Dinamo (Динамо) is only $3.50 per hour. Ice skating, including skate rental, averages $1-5. There are many free attractions and often in Irkutsk there are events and activities that won’t cost a penny.
Daily Life and General Expenses
Public transportation is always 15 rubles (about 25 cents), whether trolleybus, marshrutka, or tram. Irkutsk has no subway system. Marshrutkas running to ИСХИ now cost around 20 rubles (35 cents). Taxi Maxim has an app I use and I’ve never taken a ride that cost over 200 rubles ($3.40) but usually they are around 130-150 rubles ($2.20-2.50).
Sadly, toiletries are not much cheaper than in America. However, if you are like me and are not super picky about brands you can use the Russian brands for about half the price of what you would see in America. Office supplies and craft supplies are available at lots of stores and the cheapest can be found at the Lermontov Mall (Торговый центр Лермонтов).
Board games and books can be found for around $1.50-5. However, books can really weigh down your bags for a flight back home. Past SRAS students have sent themselves boxes of books back via post – if you are interested in stocking up. So far, nearly everyone who has done this has gotten their books (although it might take several weeks). The best places for books are Chitay Gorod (Читай Город) and Kinizhny Magazine (Книжный магазин). In addition, at Castro Café there are books on the walls to read for free and no purchase is necessary to spend time there.
Haircuts and salon services are much cheaper here. One of the most expensive places is Art Salon which costs about $12. I’ve used it and have heard great reviews from friends as well. There are many salons that cost around $3-4 but I am not at a language level yet where I can trust myself to not ruin my hair, and Art Salon has pictures to choose from. Manicures, pedicures, and other services are half the price – if not less – than in the US.
Fashion clothing shopping options vary widely. The most expensive would be Modniy Kvartal (Модный квартал), the mall in 130 Kvartal. While prices range from mid to high, the prices are almost the same as in the US and not much money will be saved. Shanghai City (Шанхай Сити), near the Central Market, is cheaper and lower quality, but be prepared to haggle. The best place in my opinion is the Lermontov Mall (ТЦ Лермонтов) which sells mid-high quality products for a very low price. There is also a place in the basement which is similar to a wholesale store in America. Around the city there are numerous malls and thrift stores that are well priced and won’t break the budget.
There are lots of gyms around the city but they are very expensive. Expect to pay similar prices to the US for membership. There are lots of ways to work out without a gym. There is a nice part on Youth Island (Остров Юности) which is a nice place to walk, run, and do some pull ups with the bars. This is also the best place to bike if you have the opportunity. At the university on the second floor is a small basketball gym which is nice for the winter. There are also sports teams available to join that can be a great source of exercise and entertainment.
Usually it is cheaper to buy souvenirs from Irkutsk rather than the more touristy villages along Lake Baikal. If it is jewels you are looking for, my host mom and friends have said that the cheapest place for those is on the corner of Lenin Street and Karl Marx Street, in the basement of a store called Bookingem (Магазин Букингем). The Central Market has a huge selection where you can find lots of stuff and bargaining is usually acceptable at these places. However, these places sometimes sell lower quality objects so be careful to really look at everything you buy. Don’t buy from the little kiosks as they usually charge more. For most souvenirs, it is good to shop around and look at the more obscure locations because they are less likely to have inflated prices.