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Teaching English in Russia

The idea of teaching ESL in Russia, the largest country in the world, can be intimidating to some simply because of the vast size, geographical location, and at one time a less-than-favorable place in history. Yet, Russia is famous for great writers, brilliant scientists, and talented inventors. If you are adventurous and looking for a very different experience in a country with one of the best education systems in the world, there are various opportunities for ESL teachers to earn good money among friendly people in a fascinating culture. The Russian Federation maintains a strong global presence with socioeconomic development, technological advances, and extensive natural resources, which has resulted in English fast becoming a first language in the business world. ESL teachers can find jobs at public and private schools, business schools, universities, and colleges. International language chain schools are good options for the ESL teacher with little to no experience.

Credentials/ Qualifications/ Documentation / Hiring process

Schools start in September and January, with hiring done year round to meet the demand. Russia accepts applications for ESL teaching jobs from both EU and non-EU citizens who have a 4-year degree and TESL/TEFL, Cambridge Celta, or Trinity TESOL certification. Applicants should submit their CV, proof of relevant teaching experience, and necessary documentation to the school and arrange a personal interview (sometimes by phone or e-mail). A working knowledge of the Russian language is advisable to teach at universities and colleges.

Candidates for ESL teaching jobs must have a valid passport (good for at least six months after leaving Russia), the job offer letter, a negative HIV report, clear police record, and proof of medical insurance to obtain a working visa. The visa is processed by the nearest Russian Embassy or Consulate within 15 business days.

Contracts, typically nine months or one year, are essential to work legally in Russia. The contract must include salary, hours, and any benefits such as airfare, paid holidays, vacation time, health care, and housing arrangements. Other perks such as a monthly Metro pass or end-of-year contract bonus may be included. The contract should also specify the percentage of your salary to be deducted for income tax.

Work Schedules & Salaries

Salaries for ESL teachers are not phenomenal as they are in the UAE for example, but they vary considerably, with private schools averaging $1500-$2000/month for a typical 24-30 teaching hours/week. A school may offer a salary of $900/month with paid overtime for a 22-hour weekly schedule. Salaries are always higher at a university or college for the more experienced and better qualified teachers, which is true of most countries. Classroom hours at universities are actually 45 minutes, the time allotted for a lecture or seminar, and don't include preparation time. Class size ranges from 25 to 30 students at public schools to 10 or less at private ones. ESL teachers should have some knowledge of the Russian language since students often revert to this in their enthusiasm to learn English. In addition to the 4-week break in August, some schools have up to 3 months downtime.

ESL teachers can supplement their income and earn from $15-$40/hour with private lessons for Russian families. Language schools such as IPT and Denis frequently allow teachers to name their own hourly rate to teach English. Online forums, newspapers, and through the grapevine, are a good way to advertise your services. You can also work during summer vacation at one of the school's day camps for extra money.

Advantages

Housing, an allowance, or the school's assistance is usually provided; however, single ESL teachers frequently economize by sharing accommodations. The overall cost of living in Moscow is understandably high, but this is a cosmopolitan city with about the same or slightly below average costs of New York City, London, or Paris. For comparison purposes, it is still less expensive to live in Moscow than in Seoul, South Korea, with one exception, dining out is much cheaper in South Korea. (Visit numbeo.com for cost of living information.)

Rent, food, transportation, and other living expenses depend on location, always more expensive to live within the city center. For example, the average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Moscow is $1500 and $900 for one outside the city. ESL teachers with families would have to pay about $3,000/month for a 3-bedroom apartment in the city, and $1700 for outside city limits. Monthly basic utilities average $150. On the other hand, the cost of living in St Petersburg (2nd largest by population) is much lower, with 1-bedroom apartments renting for $500-$700, and 3-bedrooms for less than half of those in Moscow.

Food prices at grocery stores and local markets are quite reasonable, but a 3-course dinner at a mid-scale restaurant will be $65 and up. Beer, wine, and cigarettes are inexpensive; prices for such products in foreign countries are usually much less than those in the U.S.

Some schools pay for a monthly pass on the busy Metro subway system. This is a real advantage since taxis, although convenient and readily available, can be expensive - about $13 for a 20-minute ride unless you choose to bargain with the taxi driver.

Possible disadvantages (or things to remember)

If you're coming from a country with a warm or seasonal climate, it will take time to adjust to the long, cold winters and short summers in Russia. Since the average annual temperature is a cold 42 degrees, heat is essential. Be prepared for intermittent heating, as most apartments do not have thermostats and the heat is controlled by the apartment owner.

Airfare, medical insurance, visa processing, either in full or in part, may not be paid by the school. Again, this depends on your position and the contract.

Usually, your income will be enough to ensure a comfortable lifestyle, but it will take some serious budgeting and don't expect to save a lot of money if you're living and working in the city.

Job Outlook

There is an ongoing demand for ESL teachers in Russia, primarily in the larger cities of Moscow, St Petersburg, and Volgograd. Jobs are also available in smaller towns such as Troitsk, Zelenograd, and Poldolsk, all within 50 miles of the Kremlin, even in Siberia which is probably too remote and forbidding for most to consider. Although experienced teachers are preferred, the demand is high and some of the less experienced are hired by schools offering on-the-job training. Of course, these jobs have shorter contracts, less pay, and fewer benefits. Good online sources for locating jobs and information on working and living conditions in Russia include eslcafe, eslemployment, teachaway, and gooverseas. Internationalteflacademy.com has a world comparison chart of 50 countries with information on visas, salaries, cost of living, etc.

Conclusion

Russia may not have as many jobs for ESL teachers as China, Japan, or South Korea, but it does offer a wonderful opportunity to experience the natural beauty and magnificent scenery of a country rich in history and culture. You'll appreciate the hospitality of its people, the splendid art, classical music, and the ballet in cosmopolitan cities. You'll have the opportunity for day trips to interesting rural towns, and perhaps an exciting vacation to Valdivostok on the historic Trans-Siberian Railway, a 7-day journey from Moscow. If you have the necessary qualifications, are open to new challenges, and adaptable to old customs and traditions, you may want to pursue an ESL teaching job in Russia.

Sharon L Slayton

March 2014

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