The depressing truth about the expat job scene

The expat job market in Moscow can truly be a depressing place in my opinion. I'm not talking about the lack of jobs, no, I'm talking about the type of jobs on offer.

Media is always talking about the US and European job markets and how there is no work anywhere, but in contrast, jobs in Moscow (and most likely Russia too), are very, very easy to find for expats - especially glorious tax fee work on the side.
That is of course, if you like teaching and editing.

Take a minute to repeat those words to yourself because they will be the majority of your professional life in Russia.

From the minute you touch down you will be seen as a teaching and editing machine. Fuck that degree in rocket science, your MBA in PlayStation 3 or any of the other skills you might have. All you are here is a body that can teach a business English class. Or you might take a job as a play toy for rich children. Remember those pull-sting dolls that have different catchphrases? That's what you'll be.

The exception to this is the highly-skilled expat who has been sent here. They are flown in, get paid huge salaries and can often be found in Hudson, working on their bear bellies and lack of game with the ladies. I say good for them. I have no bitterness against these guys. They work long hours, party fairly hard and, and at the end of the day, get respect and compensation for their skills. This is a good thing.

Although few are as bad-ass as Charlie Sheen in Wall Street

On the other side of the coin are people that come here to study, get married or just the stragglers that just end up sticking around – rugged, handsome stragglers like me.
But it grinds me that, as expat, the only thing people think you are fit to do is teach and edit. It’s as if no other skills exist.

I was lucky enough to get away from this wagon three years ago owing to a combination of luck and effort. Teaching for me was always extra depressing. You could be the best teacher of English around, and yet you’re still on the same level as someone who just ‘graduated’ a month ago from teacher 'school'. Of course, by school I mean EFL business factory and by graduated I mean paid a thousand dollars to get a teaching certificate.

                                                         1000 bucks buys one hell of a shiny badge 

Of course, some places pay a lot of money for teaching (live in governors (i.e. chew toys) get up to 50k roubles a week), and others, like where my friend works, pay a measly 30,000 roubles per month - the same as a Russian MacDonald’s worker. But, most of the teaching rackets have you by the balls because they give you a visa and free accommodation. 

Naturally, the accommodation is usually some crack nest, located in the far-out wasteland that is the light blue line (sorry light-blue residents). A shit apartment is bad enough, but you also have the luxury of being landed with a flatmate, if he/she is douche city - too bad. You're stuck with them since you won't be making enough to rent a better place.

Other jobs are editing and maybe translation for the small percent of expats who have the Russian skills to handle it. From time to time I take editing and translation work on the side, but only because I charge European rates.

Anyhow, I always keep an eye on the job market, just in case, but this is the usual picture I see, click on the image and really take it in:

Hot diggity! Massage masseur, Filipino house made, teacher or translator for 300 roubles a page…

Coming to the job offer section of these popular forums is like being in a chicken pen with a small grain bowl, expect the grains are actually tears of depression. All these big chicken expats are in there roosting around, fighting over the scraps of teaching and translation work.

This flaccid grain fest is a fine stop-gap solution while you find your feet. Also, it’s a good way to move to another country and experience a different life, but long term – it sucks chicken-pen expat ass.

If you stay on the teaching hamster wheel for too long you will be murdering your professional skill set (unless you truly do love to teach and want to do EFL back home). Having spent years teaching, you will emerge with how many marketable skills?

Years teaching ‘business English’ and fucking the other big expat roosters online might as well have been spent in prison spooning your totally non-gay cell mate and doing other prison stereotype things. 

Nobody will care about the awesome travel you did and you’ll have zero skills and no competitive edge to land a job outside a cubicle or MacDonald’s. Since many of the expats don’t take the time to learn Russian either, their skill set is frozen in time
The graveyard for former EFL teachers 

To avoid this harrowing fate, It’s better to keep the big picture in mind always and remember that you probably won’t be teaching English forever and you probably won’t be in Russia for ever either. So develop new skills and contacts.

To use Arnold Schwarzenegger as an example, while he was dominating the bodybuilding scene (and everything else he did), he was always positing himself to closer the movies – the main priority was always there in his periphery. Also he was a millionaire in real estate, because that's how much of a boss he was.

The common success examples I see in Russia are the expats who went on to do great or interesting things: start businesses, form partnerships, shit, even set up teaching companies! These are the expats I respect the most, because they've made it, in my view at least. They came, learned and they took a scary new market by the balls.  

                                                                      Just pretend those are balls

Now this is what I'm aiming for in Russia. I've always been determined not to become one of those guys who lived a great life of travel, only to return to some brutally menial existence. This is something I'm still working on and so far I've taught myself basic coding in 5 languages, have some top-quality SEO software and just launched my first big web project.

Next I'm looking for a business mentor that I can learn from here – let me know if that might be you, but no sex offenders please!

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Daniel on July 30, 2014 at 4:00 PM said...

Well, in my book you should just write satire. Very funny and amusing entry. I wound up on this page because I'm an English teacher and July is painfully slow for me this year. I'm not sure which depressing keywords I punched into Google, but it was something along the lines of "get out of teaching English in Russia" or "Landing a good job in Russia" or something like that. Glad to hear that you've managed to teach yourself coding. That's great. I'm willing to work hard to change my position in life, but I don't have many prospects right now. I'm married and here for the long run. :)

Lt. Columbo on July 31, 2014 at 1:01 PM said...

Thanks and hang in here, just got married myself, although i havnt gotten around to blogging about it just yet.
i just did the coding basics to get an overall idea, i wouldnt want to code sites though, too much fannying about with clients! the job market here and pay really arent great tho, that;s for sho

Anastasia on October 21, 2014 at 4:21 PM said...

Why wouldn't you try something on, if you speak a good Russian (as I understand from your blog)? There are many IT positions... Often people are posting job offers on their FB pages, so I'd advise to get involved with fairly known in IT scene people, e.g. Oleg Tinkoff, Eugene Gordeev, or communities like Цукерберг Позвонит ( on their website you'll find lots of IT positions). Check Digital October and The Village - there are creative minds who often open their own businesses and may look for partners or a team.

Lt. Columbo on October 21, 2014 at 9:35 PM said...

Hey Nastya, thanks for the tips! i do keep an eye on, although usually the pay is so low i dont end up applying for anything. will stick to the business route for the mean time though, plus being around to help with the baby is a big plus on July 28, 2015 at 7:53 PM said...

Great article. If you are a Brit moving to Russia or a Russian who has worked in the UK and returning to live in Russia, we can help you avoid all UK taxes on your pension.

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