I've been legally working in Moscow for years, I've studied here and have also had interesting 'grey' periods. But I've got some info for anyone who is interested in getting over here. If you're interested in finding out the process for official work, check out my post on getting a work permit.
To start off you should know that without a work permit or long-term study visa, you will be hard pushed to stay in Russia. Sure, you can apply for a temp residency permit, but you need to be in Russia and employed for this. This leaves you with the following options in the mean time:
Endless study visas or endless three month business trips until you get legal work permit. If you're American you can get even longer visas, but you won't legally be allowed to work on them. (For more info on visas, hit up the visa posts).
The other option is buying work permits (you can also buy residence permits, but you'll need serious contacts for this).
Of course, this is Russia so the fact that you can buy a work permit is nothing surprising. Let's just say this is something I now about and I know a few people who have been doing this for years.
But let me tell you - it costs time, money and involves incompetence. Getting these work permits is like living in a prison shower cubicle that's floor is permanently covered in soap. While you burn that thought into your head I'll go ahead and try to break it down the best way I can.
Once upon a time it was easy to stay here and do your own thing- something any American or EU passport holder used to enjoy. You would buy a year multi-entry exit business visa for $250 and you were set for a relativity free and relaxed year in Russia. But, alas, no more.
Now, the multi-entry exit year business visa will only allow you to stay for 3 months, then you have to leave for 3 months (this essentially makes it a 6 month visa). Americans can now get longer tourist and business visas, but it's still not as easy as it was back in the day.
Essentially, these are your base options:
A) Get a student visa and take some classes, but select the minimal amount to keep costs down
B) Arrive on a business or tourist visa and then buy a work permit. You will need a contact for this but if you ask me nicely, I might be able to point you in the right direction.
That's essentially it, but there are many downsides to this and they are:
Buying a work permit is costly. Last time I checked, the flat cost was 35000 roubles but there are many other associated costs, not to mention flights back to your home country (to deal with the embassy and processing).
Also, it takes forever, think 3 or 4 months for them to get the permit. Then, if you're not in Russia, you can expect to wait in England for another 6 weeks for the invitation (first you get issued a work permit, then the work invitation).
Once you receive the invitation, you need to wait however long to get it processed (the quicker, the more expensive) and come back to Moscow.
Then you can expect to pay the second half of the cost (usually you pay 15 or more upfront and the rest later), then after some more waiting you finally get the stupid visa which actually ends up being valid for about 9 months. But if you really want to get to Moscow and really want to stay, this may be your only option until you can get official work.
Allow me to recall the process a friend went through, we'll call him Boris.
Boris gives all the necessary documents to his contact (an old, ex KGB guy called Pavel who often wore a fake X-box t-shit and forgot things). Documents included a copy of a university diploma that was forged (NB since this has become more tricky), copy of passport page, 15000 roubles and 4 passport photos.
IMPORTANT: If you don't have a university diploma, don't worry. Go read the education cert part of this post.
Next Boris would wait 3 months, leave for his home country and wait for another 6 weeks for the invitation.
Next Boris would send his invitation and visa application form to a visa processing company (check this post to find out more ), get his passport with visa and return to Russia.These days, if you apply from the UK, you can no longer use middle men for the work permits. You need to go to the processing centre and do it yourself. Although middlemen can advise you on the documents you need, for a cost (not that you really need to pay).
The processing centre in London though is excellent.
Next, Boris meets Pavel again and gives him another 15000 plus some other bullshit-cost associated money, more pictures, copy of passport and immigration card (a white small form thing you fill out on the plane) and his passport.
Next, Boris waits three weeks get his stuff back, along with a plastic work permit card and new visa. I should mention, he would also get registration for a year along with the visa and permit.
Yes, it is a nightmare.
Also, the work permit does not allow you to seek out a new employer just work for one (and if you bought it, it wont be a real company ). This means that you will have to work illegally (which is easy in Russia) but you will have zero rights to do anything officially.
If you want to change jobs or become official, you have to get the whole visa process going all over again.
The only thing you can do in this case, is have your new employer start the visa process as quickly as possible to eliminate the down time.
If you dream about coming to Russia and just doing your own thing, don't worry. Just do yourself a favour, get a study visa and take the minimal amount of lessons. Work in your home country, save up and pay for your courses. Often your cost will include accommodation too, which is a big plus. There are many places you can use but the one I used was www.cie.ru. Nothing amazing, but it will be fine for getting a visa.
If when you arrive you find you really like it and want to stay, it's time to bend over and think about the work permit, you just need, cash, patience and a contact.
Additionally, if you want to just fly over for a month or three, you can get either a tourist visa or single-entry exit business visa, the former lasts for 30 days and the latter - 90 days for UK citizens. Some countries like Brazil can arrive without a visa for three months.
Another thing to try is getting a teaching job. There are companies that will arrange your visa support before you arrive, but the pay isn't always good of course.
Still, if you just want to get over here and get legal, this is a way to do it.
Once you're here, you are free to search out new jobs.