If you're planning on moving to Russia , поздравляю (congratulations)!

The biggest country in the world has an enormous range of cultures, climates, and culinary delights within its borders, which encompass 11.5% of all land on Earth.

From the stunning architecture to incredible natural wonders like the Psychedelic Salt Mines, the mysterious Dancing Forest, and the Lena Stone Pillars, you'll never run out of fascinating sights to see.

But before you join the 3,077 American expats enjoying life in Russia (United Nations, 2019), you'll want to understand what kind of healthcare you'll have access to once you arrive.

Russian healthcare: key stats

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    % of Russia’s GDP is spent on public healthcare
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    average life expectancy
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    doctors per 10,000 people
map of russian life expectancies

How does Russia’s healthcare system work?

Since 1996, all citizens and residents – including temporary residents – have had access to Russia’s universal healthcare system.

This service is regulated by the Ministry of Health, and paid for by the Federal Compulsory Medical Insurance Fund.

Employed people in Russia pay towards the system, while children, pensioners, unemployed people, and anyone who’s too ill to work can access it for free.

If you register for public healthcare, you’ll have access to the following free services:

  • Visits to a doctor or clinic
  • Inpatient care that requires an overnight hospital stay
  • Outpatient care
  • Emergency medical care
  • Referrals to specialised care
  • Basic dental care

Is healthcare free in Russia?

No. Universal healthcare systems lower medical costs for everyone, but they are never truly free, as they’re paid for with taxes.

Your employer in Russia will pass 2 to 3% of your salary to the government as a social security tax, and part of this funds the healthcare system.

And you should bear in mind that out-of-pocket payments make up 38.3% of healthcare expenditure in Russia.

That’s 3.5 times more than the US, where 10.8% of spending is out of pocket.

Quality of healthcare in Russia

Russia’s healthcare system ranks 58th in the world, according to a 2018 study published in The Lancet and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

That puts the country below relatively poor nations like Albania, Cuba, and Belarus – and 29 spots behind the US, which places 29th.

The average life expectancy in Russia is 73.2, which means the 11th-richest country in the world ranks below the global average in 97th, trailing nations like Bangladesh, Cape Verde, and Libya.

Saint Basil's Cathedral, moscow

Sort out your health insurance, and enjoy Saint Basil's Cathedral with peace of mind

Why is the healthcare service so bad in Russia?

The poor quality of health provisions is almost certainly down to the dire level of federal funding.

The Russian government spends 5.32% of its GDP on its healthcare system, according to the World Bank – a frankly negligent amount that places the country below Botswana, Cambodia, and South Sudan.

For context, The US spends 16.89% of its GDP on healthcare, while the world average is 9.85%.

As a result of this funding shortfall, 17,500 towns and villages in Russia have no medical infrastructure, according to Audit Chamber official Alexander Filipenko.

All of this contributes to some terrible health outcomes.

What are the consequences for people in Russia?

If you give birth in Russia, you have a one in 5,882 chance of dying, according to the World Bank, and life expectancies across the country are shockingly low.

A man in Chukotka, the easternmost region of Russia, has a life expectancy of 59.2 years.

The average across the genders is 63.6, placing this area – which is in one of the richest, most powerful nations on the planet – below countries including Haiti, Liberia, and Sudan.

In fact, men in Sudan live longer on average than men in 50 of Russia’s 82 regions.

COVID-19 has also hit Russia harder than almost every nation on Earth, according to The BMJ, resulting in more deaths per capita than all but five countries – a fact that’s emerged despite the country’s health ministry providing inaccurate figures.

For these and other reasons, Russians have little faith in their healthcare system, with 25% of people who’ve purchased private healthcare saying they did so for an accurate diagnosis.

Just 2% of Russians are proud of their healthcare system, according to the Levada Centre polling organisation – which has led many to explore alternative, fraudulent treatments.

In 2010, there were 800,000 people purporting to be occult and faith healers, compared to 620,000 doctors, according to parliamentary health committee member Tatyana Yakovleva.

It’s unclear whether this oft-repeated statistic has changed in the more than decade since, but it demonstrates how little trust Russians have in their healthcare system.

Healthcare in Russia for foreigners

All residents in Russia can access the public healthcare system – including you.

Your company will usually sign you up for public healthcare, but you can also do this yourself by visiting a local doctor’s surgery or health center – though if you’re not fluent in Russian, we would advise taking someone who is.

Make sure you have your passport or other widely accepted form of ID, proof of your address in Russia, and your residence permit.

You can also register your children for public healthcare, though you’ll need to send their passports, residence permits, and birth certificates to the Ministry of Health.

5% of Russia’s population – 7.2 million people – are covered by private medical insurance.

Do I need health insurance in Russia?

Almost certainly. To get a work visa, you must either sign up to the public healthcare system or acquire private medical insurance that covers you in Russia.

You may still be able to access the full breadth of state healthcare provisions without a work visa or a job. Check with a Russian medical insurance company if you’re in this situation.

In either case though, you should strongly consider taking out a private policy. The Russian public healthcare system is overburdened, underfunded, and filled with underpaid, overworked staff.

As ever, you can get the best coverage and treatment possible by going private.

Benefits of private medical cover in Russia

  • Shorter waiting times
  • Peace of mind
  • You’ll receive the highest level of care available
  • The overall quality of health services is low, making it more important that you get the best care around
  • Medical equipment is typically much more technologically advanced
  • Fewer unexpected out-of-pocket expenses means you can budget your healthcare in advance
  • The staff will be more likely to speak English
  • The paperwork is also more likely to be in English

How much does health insurance cost in Russia?

For an individual

You should expect to pay around $1,150 per year for private cover in Russia, which comes to $96 per month.

It’s worth getting a few different quotes though, as prices can vary massively.

For a family

To cover a family of four in Russia, it’ll cost you around $4,285 per year.

That means you’ll pay about $3 per day, per person to secure peace of mind – and the best level of care in the country, ready if you ever need it.