Russia: Full of birch trees. True story.

This particular post about TEFL in Russia has been sitting in my draft box for quite some time, racking up questions as they come into my inbox. I decided to finally pull some of these questions into one handy post that could hopefully help someone else as they begin their (crazy) quest to become an ESL teacher in Russia.

I’ve never taught English before. Can I still just hop over to Russia? Yup. No problem. That’s exactly what I did. Russia for better or worse is a lot more lax about certification than in Europe, Asia, or anywhere else really. The fact that you’re a native speaker basically vouches for you and schools will TEFL train you before you start teaching. I came in with Language Link. (Other options are BKC and English First.) Like most large schools, there are some definite drawbacks but overall LL is pretty solid. There are inconveniences, certainly, but all of the horror stories I’ve heard are basically people doing dumb things and getting caught.

What’s the deal with the visa? The visa process isn’t really that difficult once you’ve been hired by a school. And FYI — don’t go with a school unless they arrange a visa for you! You’ll apply for a single-entry, three-month work visa which will be extended by your school after you’ve arrived in Russia. You’ll receive a packet of documents with some information and a letter of invitation. All you have to do is apply online, pay, and drop off your passport at the embassy. I’m on my seventh Russian visa; I’ve arranged three myself (some are extensions) and it’s really no trouble once you have a job set up.

cathedral moscow

Will I make a lot of money teaching English in Russia? The first year? Nope. TEFL in Russia is not a moneymaker. Money is pretty crap in the big schools, but they do provide housing which in Moscow is worth a lot. If you’re a certified teacher with experience, the money gets a lot better but it isn’t really comparable to the money in the Middle East or Asia. You’ve got to want to come to Russia.

So really — the money’s that bad? At most schools, yes. They offer totally livable wages but doesn’t really allow you to save any money. International schools can pay a lot, but they’re pretty competitive to get into and require several years of experience. The best way to make money is through private lessons. I’ll be bold and throw out my price: 1500 rubles per 45 minutes. (That’s about $50.) That’s way better than you’ll do in any school and there will be no shortage of clients. If you’re willing to travel outside of Moscow to some of the luxury villages, prices can start at 2000+ rubles.

So where do I find private students? Word-of-mouth. Speaking English on the streets (seriously, I’ve gotten several students this way). Also put up a resume on and watch the requests roll in.

What about nannying? I don’t know much about this. The money’s great (I’ve seen salaries start at 800 GBP a week for mildly qualified candidates). Unfortunately, I don’t really know anyone who’s had a long term experience here so I can’t comment.

What does it take to be a good teacher in Russia? Your students will generally not be the problem. (OK, you’ll occasionally have a class full of the worst teenagers you’ve ever met, but most of them are good.) Being flexible and patient is key. Your schedule will change, your administration will screw you over, something in your flat will break and the landlord will disappear. The people who wash out here are not usually worn down by the teaching aspect, but rather Russian life itself. I love Russia, but life in Moscow can be unpredictable and depressing. Remember that this is not Europe. Don’t expect European standards.

I hate to end this on a depressing note so instead I’ll say: yes, sometimes life in Russia is a bit torturous but I’m actually excited to go back! Cute Russian dude, a new apartment, and restaurants open later than 9 PM! What’s not to love?

Did I miss something about TEFL in Russia? Got any other burning questions? Drop me a comment here, send me an email, or check out my new contact form in the header!