Daniel Brooks

I have recently been reading about places to retire. On various websites, such countries as Spain, Costa Rica, Thailand, and Peru are given high ratings. Russia is nowhere to be found. That’s not fair. If those countries are great places to retire, Russia can be one, too. 

Much is written about the Russian winter which admittedly is long and cold. A few whiners have said a long winter is a bad thing. Seen from a more positive angle, it isn’t. In Russia, you can cross country ski from your front door, impossible in Thailand. Walking on the icy sidewalks improves your balance and strengthens the leg muscles, important for elderly pensioners. The Russian winter provides bragging rights. While the rest of the world is enjoying warm weather, anyone in Moscow can send pictures to friends and relatives of a blizzard as early as October or as late as April. Top that, Spain. There is little risk of skin cancer being caused by too much Russian sun, a big problem in countries like Thailand. The weather is never boring. One day it might be sunny, albeit -15 Celsius outside. The next day, the wind can be blowing like the last day on earth. This might be followed by a lot of snow again, or sleet. It makes you resilient. Variety is the spice of life. When I was in Spain for a month last year, I woke up every day to clear blue skies and sunshine. It about drove me out of my mind. 

If you retire in Russia, you will get more kilometers for your buck than in any other country. Costa Rica might be sunny and have gorgeous beaches, but the country has only 51,000 square kilometers within its borders. Russia is a lot bigger, coming in at 17.1 million square kilometers, giving the pensioner 353 times more space to move around in, compared to Costa Rica. It takes about six hours to drive from the north of Costa Rica to its southernmost city. To fly from Moscow to Vladivostok in the far east takes 8.5 hours, crossing six time zones. The train ride between these cities takes six days and nine hours. Much of Russia is nearly empty, giving the retiree plenty of elbow room and best of all, few irritating people. In fact, in many parts of the country, there are no people at all. A pensioner could spend the rest of his life wandering around the country and only see a fraction of it.

One way to become a Russian resident is to marry a gorgeous Russian woman, provided you are a man. Older foreign women can marry a Russian husband as well, although for some reason it happens less often. Russian women are ideal in every way. They are beautiful, never complain, prepare all the food and do whatever they are told by their husbands. Many of them are wage earners. All the male pensioner has to do is stay home and watch TV all day long, then go to sleep afterwards with a stomach full of delicious food. There are some exceptions of course and should a retired foreign man find himself washing the dishes and eating cabbage soup every day, he can take refuge in knowing that having a Russian spouse allows him to gain residency. One caveat though. Any foreigner younger than 65 with a Russian spouse will need to take a tricky language test to get a residency visa. If you are over 65, all you will need to do is make the application and you are home free.

Applying for residency is one way to meet a lot of interesting people and have a great time doing it. While standing in line at the migration office for hours on end with a large quantity of documents in hand, the retiree can share his experiences with other applicants from all over the world. After becoming a resident, an application can be made for senior citizen discounts such as a pass allowing free public transport. You might not get the pass, but you can have fun trying. Many pensioners in Russia socialize by visiting the pension office to get more benefits, or any benefits at all, a perfect chance to make new friends.

It is possible to take vacation at one of Russia’s many health facilities scattered around the country. Many of them were built in the Soviet era. They offer hotel rooms that date from 1963 and outdoor exercise such as walking around. Mud baths are popular at these resorts, known as a “Homes of Rest”. People of all ages visit such places, but they are especially popular among the aged, providing many opportunities to socialize and discuss the Brezhnev era. Many of the facilities are located in the middle of nowhere, preventing escape if the guest doesn’t have a car. The food emphasizes soup, which is healthy. With a Russian wife, you’ll have become fond of soup, by the time you visit your favorite Home of Rest.

Russian medical care is free and of a high caliber. Bear in mind that there might be a waiting list. If you have a hernia, you might have to wait for a month or two for an operation but give it time, you will have one. Be aware of local practices. Someone I know broke her arm on New Year’s Eve and had to wait in the public hospital for several days to get it set because most of the doctors were off duty due to the holiday period. She did eventually get it taken care of and made new friends in the hospital while she was waiting. Dental care is also free. It’s usually provided once something goes wrong, taking away the need for preventative check-ups. When your teeth start falling out, a Russian dentist will take you in hand, eventually.

Private medical treatment is also available at a fraction of the cost for insurance, care and medicine that you might pay in such countries as the US. Few know that Russia is a place where one’s health often improves, perhaps because the alternative is local care, a preventative effect in its own right.   

More and more people are speaking English in Russia all the time. A shortage of street signs in English or the lack of clarity about just about everything that has to do with daily life can be compensated by asking people daft questions. Russians love foreigners, especially if you are from Europe or are of European origin. The Russians will go out of their way to provide directions, even though they might be wrong. This gives pensioners the chance to meet people by simply going out on the street and pretending to be lost, or better yet, by actually being lost.

Russia is not covered in snow year-round. In summer, the sun comes out and at the solstice, it is daylight for 23 hours a day in Moscow and around the clock in St Petersburg. The avid foreign pensioner at this time of the year is urged to get a dacha, the Russian name for a summer house, where he can toil in the back yard growing cucumbers, dill weed, potatoes and cabbages. Carrots, too. When the season ends, it is great fun putting the vegetables into a cellar. Then all winter long, soup can be eaten every day. Such a life for the retiree is simply not possible in Spain.

Daniel Brooks, 18 March 2019

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