In my suitcase: what to bring to Moscow

Image credit: flickr

I’ve posted before on what not to buy in Russia since there can tend to be a big sticker shock on both expensive and inexpensive items in Russia. However, I very rarely do much more than complain about how expensive things are and end up forgetting to buy them in America. No more! This year I’m taking charge and making a valiant attempt to predict what I’ll be using in Moscow during the upcoming months. Maybe this will help someone new when figuring out what to bring to Moscow.

Small ticket items

This is the trickier bit as, even after four years in Moscow, it’s always a little hard to predict what specialty products I can find and at what prices. Here’s what I know 100% is worth bringing:

Food. For all you US citizens, you’re going to want peanut butter (about 100-150% more expensive) and Reece’s peanut butter cups (I’ve heard rumors they’re becoming available!). I’ve heard of people bringing maple syrup as it’s also very expensive. If you like baking, it’s worth tossing in a set of measuring cups, food dyes, and/or cupcake liners, neither of which I’ve seen in Moscow.

Cosmetics. Maybe this is just of more concern to me because I’m vain, but seriously: if you ever think you might wear makeup while in Moscow, bring it from home. When I was in Kaliningrad in 2009, even Maybelline was touted as a ‘luxury’ brand! Prices are extremely high for everything and new products usually arrive in Russia months after they’ve been released in the UK or US. For me personally, makeup is the one thing I do tend to spend a lot of money on since I use it every day. Buy. It. At. Home. My two must-have high end products are the Bobbi Brown gel eyeliner ($30 in US; around $50 in Russia) and Kiehl’s ultra facial cream ($26 in the US; I spent about $65 on it). Don’t buy nice cosmetics in Russia – learn from my idiocy.

Clothes. Whether you’re shopping at H&M or Gucci, I promise you prices will be much, much higher in Moscow. Buy at home.

Big ticket items

Electronics. Again, do as I say, not as I do. I bought my first DSLR and two tablets in Russia (OK, I bought one in Kyrgyzstan). They were significantly more expensive but I went ahead anyway because I didn’t foresee going home within the next few months so it was just logical to spend the extra money. (DO NOT SHIP FROM ABROAD TO RUSSIA! Packages have taken from 1 to 3 months to arrive for me. Don’t trust Pochta Rossii or Russian customs with your mail!). That being said, I finally had the foresight to realize I’d need a new camera in the upcoming year, so I went ahead and got the Canon EOS Rebel SL1. Yay! I may or may not be staring at the front door, willing the post man into existence right now.

Medicines. It may not be big ticket, but it is really important. While the Russian healthcare system has a lot of problems, the availability of drugs is actually pretty decent. You won’t often find American brand names but the generics will be readily available. However, it’s probably not worth your time trying to navigate a doctor’s office and apteka (pharmacy, chemist) if you have a very specific need. Bring it from home! (I’d also suggest this for birth control if you’re doing a pill – you can easily ask your doctor to write a year’s prescription for you.)

Because I’m still stuck on the peanut butter, what’s the one snack you’d bring along with you if you knew you couldn’t get it otherwise?

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48 Responses

  1. This is really interesting to read. I can’t believe packages can take up to 3 months to arrive! I think the longest I’ve had to wait for a US-UK package is 1 1/2 months

    • Polly says:

      I learned really quickly just to decline any offers of care packages. One even made it back to the States AFTER I had already returned. Russian post works in strange ways…

  2. Jessie says:

    So does this mean you’re coming back to Russia for another year? I agree with all of these, though I will say I became addicted to Natura Siberica for moisturizing products and banya stuff. Caviar eye cream? Moose milk lotion? At reasonable prices in Moscow? Yes, please.

    I might bring my own spices this time around, but only because I hate the fact that you can’t reseal Russian spice envelopes.

    • Polly says:

      All I’m going to commit to is that we’ll be back for a few months. And I do look forward to buying Natura Siberica, that stuff is amazing!

  3. Mascara is so expensive here! I have definitely not purchased any makeup since I have moved here. And I am so missing butterfingers which have yet to make an appearance in Iceland! I can’t wait to be back home to purchase a new camera.

    • Polly says:

      Mascara does seem to somehow be the most expensive of all. No idea why.

      Russia also hasn’t been converted to the magic of Butterfingers :( They’re missing out!

  4. Sarah says:

    For baking supplies, someone recommended Interpekar by Molodezhnaya (http://www.deco-pro.ru/). It’s worth a visit for specialty stuff. And also, one thing that I found weirdly cheap–like half the price of here– was hair dye. At least the kind I use, that is.

    • Polly says:

      What?! I lived two minutes from there last year and walked by there all the time. How did I miss that? This may require a reinvestigation…

  5. Rhea Marie says:

    Organic boxed mac and cheese, to answer your last question. I’d expect IKEA to have some of the baking stuff you mentioned. Or you can work on honing your skills of approximation, I think it makes you a better baker in the end ;) Totally agree about everything else. Also, natura siberica is amazing. I brought back some shampoo and conditioner of theirs.

    • Polly says:

      I went without measuring cups last year and it was fine, but they are nice to have if you like following directions. We’re not all rebels like you, Rhea ;)

  6. Annie says:

    haha i have a post in draft that i created right when we moved to brussels and i realized how ignorant i was in my packing endeavors. although, my list includes nail polish because that fancy $8 bottle will cost you $15 here and drying your towels one more time because you won’t feel that softness after the shower for a looooong time. at least our priorities are clear, right?! and yayyy for a new camera! exciting times!

    • Polly says:

      Oh the lack of a dryer! Seriously the worst. I’m always so thrilled to be able to do a huge load of laundry the first time I get home and finally feel like everything’s really clean!

  7. Amy R says:

    I got all my baking stuff at Ikea. I was quite impressed with what I found, although I never looked for food colouring.

    I think the price difference for make up and clothes might be different if you’re coming from the UK. I managed to get most of my make up at L’etoile for the same as British prices I believe so didn’t seem that disappointed. I don’t think I struggled to find anything I wanted – I even managed some high end organic face wash in AFI Mall which wasn’t significantly more expensive than it would have been in the UK (although stock options were not only limited, but also inconsistent). Even shopping for clothes the prices in places like Zara and H&M were very close to UK prices, although I did get caught out in Accessorize where I ended up spending nearly £40 ($70)on a purse (wallet – not sure what you call them in the states, but not a handbag, the bit you keep you put your cards and money in)!! That was painful!

    • Polly says:

      Interesting! I was always under the impression that, while UK prices were probably higher than in the States, they didn’t come clear to matching Moscow. Well, I stand corrected. And would like to express my condolences for having to pay that much!

  8. Phillip says:

    Cheezits

  9. Michelle says:

    Have fun on your trip! ^.^

  10. Michelle says:

    Oops, ignore that first comment from me. I got confused XD But regardless, interesting things to bring. I’ll sure read the things not to bring list. Good job on getting a new camera!

  11. Sophie says:

    This is so interesting – I would actually recommend buying a lot of the same things before coming to NL! Not peanut butter, thank goodness – they have AMAZING PB here and are apparently the world’s second biggest consumer after the US – but definitely baking supplies. Dutch people think baking = adding water to a box mix. Seriously. (Ok it’s slowly starting to change but still) I couldn’t find baking soda and powder until I went into a specialty expat store, and there I paid probably triple what it would have cost at home.
    Also, same deal with the makeup – Maybelline and Revlon are luxury items here! So bizarre! As much as possible I buy all my necessities whenever I’m home.

    • Polly says:

      No baking soda or powder?! That’s crazy! At least Russians do a lot of baking, if not necessarily with exactly the same things we use in the States.

  12. I can confirm that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and various other Reese’s products (bars, etc) are available at Perekrestok, but straight up peanut butter is only at select expat groceries, from what I can tell.

    • As for a snack, I would love a poutine. Everyone in Russia just thinks I’m talking about Putin!

      • Polly says:

        I’ll have to check at Perekrostok when I’m back- that’s really exciting! Though I actually find peanut butter readily available – bar a produkti, of course.

        LOL @ poutine. I hadn’t thought of that before :)

  13. Kerri says:

    When we go home to the UK from Belgium we always stock up on instant noodles and Cadbury’s hot chocolate :)

  14. Charlie says:

    I take peanut butter with me everywhere! I’m British, but whatever, we Brits also need nutty, buttery goodness :) A lot of places I travel don’t have it, and if they do they have the bad American brands with all the sugar and salt added, the ones with hydrogenated fats – or the ones with palm oil, which is not okay of course =/

  15. Anna says:

    On my trip to Florida I realized there was one thing I miss more than Bud Light – Vitamin Water, Energy-flavor only. I crave it so bad, and there’s nothing similar (meanwhile I’ve made peace with regular Bud and cheap light Russian beer).

    I ONLY by electronics in the US – not just for the massive price benefit, but bc I wouldnt be able to function with a Russian operating system.

    • Polly says:

      Vitamin Water? Hmm I’ve never actually tried it and I can’t imagine I’d yearn for it. Better not try so I don’t get hooked.

  16. Emmi says:

    the famous american peanut butter…. while in UK i did get to try it as well as reeses peanut butter cups. it tastes good but not to die for. not smth I would greatly miss or bring home to Austria in larrge supplies. the Russian sgushenka however is pretty amazing and I miss it greatly. my favourite snacks are german milka chocolate and ritter sport which are thankfully available everywhere!
    will you write a list of Russian things you crave while you are in america? I would definetely include russian crab flavoured and caviar flavoured chips as well as eggplant and the mini cheesecake in chocolate coating and the delicious ice cream…mmm…

    • Polly says:

      I looove sgushenka (especially in tea) – do you not have sweetened condensed milk in Austria? We do in America, even if it is a little old fashioned.

      And thank you for the new post idea about what I miss about Russia while in the States!

      • Emmi says:

        oh we have condensed milk in Austria but its liquid and awfull quality. In Russia there s not just the sgushenka itself but also sgushenka flavoured products such as glazed mini cheescakes and ice cream and what not.

        1 of the things I definetely miss when back in Europe is russian 24/7 corner shops and kiosks. when I had lived in Russia I used to find them shabby and ugly, on every street but how do I miss them now! the ability to just buy a pair of new nylons in the subway on your way to work if yours got ripped or when you re hungry and just turn around – at least a few feet from you there s always a street vendor selling some yummi food, or the fact that you can buy anything from eggs to pliers at 1 PM on your way home – thats what I miss!

        • Polly says:

          I absolutely agree with you! Even in big American cities you might have to go pretty far to get to a 24/7 store – in Russia, they’re everywhere, even in smaller towns. One of the things I love most about Moscow is how there’s always something interesting going on, no matter the time.

  17. Kaley says:

    I always crave Ranch dressing, which is weird, since I don’t eat it all that much in the US. And I being Orbit gum. Th have it in Spain, but it’s different (worse).

    • Polly says:

      I’m not a big ranch person, but I definitely miss the availability of premade dressings. In Russia you’ve got… mayonnaise :) (Or $15 bottles of dressing)

  18. bevchen says:

    Or you could just use European recipes that use actual weihts/measurements instead of cups of everything ;-)

    I always bring medicines back from the UK with me. Not prescription stuff, but over the counter medicines which you can only get at chemists here, if at all (the German version of Lemsip tastes awful and doesn’t work!).

    The snack(s) I miss the most are crisps of all kinds. Germans are OBSESSED with paprika flavour… I want Prawn Cocktail and Cheese & Onion and BBQ, and also Skips, Wotsits, Monster Munch… aaaah, I’m making myself hungry now!

    • Polly says:

      Nooo! Get away from me with your imperial measurements! USA!

      Also, the more I hear, the more I want to visit England just to try the sweets.

    • Emmi says:

      thats true every single freaking crisp brand in germany sells mostly just paprika. try chio or funny frish chips, they have bacon and barbecue flavour. oh but the british crisps are awefull quality in my opinion…. even lays brand that is supposed to be international tastes yucki in UK. Russian lays chips are some of the best ive tasted. My favourite flavours: caviar, crab, shahslik, horseradish and meat jelly (the weirdest one and the yummiest), salmon with cream sauce, roast mushrooms, pickled cucumbers…. yes they have it all in russia!

  19. I think Kind bars. They are a great travel snack, and I like to keep them around the house…I try to eat that instead of candy. I would have never thought about baking supplies…not cupcake liners! I just got the same camera for my birthday! I love how light it is.

  20. I remember what an adventure it was to make do in Senegal especially when we wanted things to celebrate American holidays like Thanksgiving! We could either pay an absurd amount of money at the American/European grocery store or get local stuff and make our own approximations, which is what we ended up doing.

    Are there any Russian goodies that you now love bringing back to the US with you?

    • Polly says:

      Same! I’m thankfully vegetarian so I never cared about a turkey hunt, but it took me ages (and a good chunk of cash) to find sweet potatoes.

      I’m formulating the opposite post now, but I will say that I really miss smoked cheese from Russia. Weird but delicious!

  21. Julie says:

    Same for Brazil. The import prices are so high everything is so expensive. I had all my friends bring me tampons because it’s rare to find them there and they’re super expensive. But my asthma medicine was SO cheap in Brazil and I didn’t need a prescription, so I actually brought a few inhalers back with me lol

    • Polly says:

      Huh. It’s so fascinating to figure out what’s cheap/expensive in various areas of the world. I was shocked by how expensive sunscreen was in Central America!

  1. July 8, 2014

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