Irkutsk is a very affordable city especially in comparison to Moscow, St. Petersburg, and American cities. Most students in Irkutsk can live on average of 30-50 dollars per week. I am very frugal and spend about 30-35 dollars per week but depending on your shopping habits, that can vary widely.
Note: The ruble during my time abroad was approximately 57 to $1; I’ve given estimated prices below in dollars. Note as well that there is a lot of outdated information online listing much lower prices than are actually available. The information I’ve listed below is accurate as of December 2017.
I am living with a host family and therefore am not responsible for breakfast or dinner, but for lunch I cook for myself or go out to eat. Some general prices:
Water (1.5 liter) $0.98
Bread (500g) $0.96
Apples (1kg) $1.30
Potatoes (1kg) $0.55
Lettuce (1 head) $0.65
Beer (.5 liter bottle) $1.00
Rice (1kg) $0.95
Milk (1 liter) $0.98
The cheapest option is the university cafeteria or one of the small cafés on Lenin Street. Most meals total about 2.50$ and are quite filling. Oftentimes restaurants have a “business lunch” deal and you get a few different dishes for around 2-4 dollars.
Restaurants in Most times I order side dishes, appetizers, or the smaller portion section of the menu. This is usually the cheapest option and provides more than enough food, sometimes so much I cannot even finish. There are also a few small fast food style places like Zakucity and Pozy 38 which serve local, on-the-go style meals for a few dollars.
Coffee is an expense that can really add up if you choose not to make it yourself. A plain black coffee is usually around $1-2, but if you are like me and prefer the fancier coffees, it is more like $2-3. There is a blue van located in the 130th Kvartal which sells the best coffee in Irkutsk (in my opinion) and is around $1.50 for most all drinks. A cup of tea is usually around $1-2 as well. Castro Café is also located in the 130th district and is very similar in atmosphere to many American cafés. There is an upstairs area for studying and you can stay for as long as you wish.
Overall, food can be cheap if you shop smartly. I recommend Slata (Слата) for things that are harder to find, but it is much more expensive than the other stores. The cheapest is Svetofor (Светофор) or the locally owned shops in smaller neighborhoods. The cheapest is Lenta in my opinion. At Lenta one can purchase a store card for 2.50$ which gives huge discounts. This option is great especially for living in the dorms. If you find yourself living with people who like to cook it can be a great money saving option to go in together. We like to go to Lenta once a week and buy for the week. We then take turns cooking and split the cost.
Toiletries aren’t too far off in price from their US equivalents. Some US brands are available, but they’re pricier—and why wouldn’t you want to experiment with the local Siberian brands?! Notebooks and stationery are easily available at ProdaLit, a bookstore across Kirov Square from the university, and are similarly pretty cheap.
Books are cheaper in Russia than in the US; I developed a Russian-language mystery novel habit, and would buy them for around $1.50 each at Chitay Gorod (Читай Город). Hardcovers and gift editions can be pricier, but even most hardcover contemporary novels will only be somewhere from $5 to $10. (There’s also a small English-language section at Chitay Gorod.) I also discovered Labirint.ru, where if you buy more than $15 dollars of books you get free courier delivery within a few days.
Entertainment in Irkutsk is way cheaper than in the US. The drama theaters, for instance, sell tickets for most shows for $5-10, and the quality of the productions is great. A pricier entertainment option would be a movie at the 3D IMAX theatre, which will run about 7-10$ depending on where you sit. Usually at smaller theaters or at non-3D places like Caramel (Карамель) prices average $3-4.
Bars are generally very reasonably priced. Beer, mixed drinks, and shots cost between $2-4. There are places that sell cheaper drinks but they tend to be a bit rowdy and dangerous, especially on weekends. Bars that only sell specialty drinks are slightly more expensive. For example, the Dekabrist Bar (Бар Декабрист) sells German and Belgian beers for about $8 a liter. There are also a lot of places that sell hookah (кальян) for about 14$. This is split between everyone so if there are 4 people it is less than 5$ a person.
Bowling is about $3 to $10 per hour at Zvezdny bowling center, depending on time of day; ski rental at Dinamo (Динамо) is only $3.50 per hour. Ice skating including skate rental averages 1-5 dollars. There are many free attractions and often times in Irkutsk there are events and activities that won’t cost a penny. A great way to find out about events is VKontakte. There is a group called “Tomorrow in Irkutsk” (Завтра в Иркутске) which has daily updates on what is happening in the city the next day. Here listed are many concerts, school events, shows, and hiking trips.
Bowling is about $3 to $10 per hour at Zvezdny Bowling Center, depending on time of day; ski rental at Dinamo (Динамо) is only $3.50 per hour. Ice skating, including skate rental, averages $1-5. There are many free attractions and often in Irkutsk there are events and activities that won’t cost a penny.
Daily Life and General Expenses
Public transportation is always 15 rubles (about 25 cents), whether trolleybus, marshrutka, or tram. Irkutsk has no subway system.
Sadly, toiletries are not much cheaper than in America. However, if you are like me and are not super picky about brands you can use the Russian brands for about half the price of what you would see in America. Office supplies and craft supplies are available at lots of stores and the cheapest can be found at the Lermontov Mall (Торговый центр Лермонтов).
There are board games and books at specific stores for around 1.50-5$ which is cheap considering prices in the US. Keep in mind, on the flight home baggage weight can be greatly impacted by stocking up on books. The best places for books are Chitay Gorod (Читай Город), Prodalit (Продалитъ), and Kinizhny Magazine (Книжный Магазин). In addition, at Castro Café there are books on the walls to read for free and no purchase is necessary to spend time there. There are also many libraries. Besides the university, there are several near the dorms and a library card can be obtained in 10 minutes (bring your passport.)
Haircuts and salon services are much cheaper here. One of the most expensive places is Art Salon which costs about $12. I’ve used it and have heard great reviews from friends as well. There are many salons that cost around $3-4 but I am not at a language level yet where I can trust myself to not ruin my hair, and Art Salon has pictures to choose from. Manicures, pedicures, and other services are half the price – if not less – than in the US. Office supplies and craft supplies are available at lots of stores and the cheapest can be found at the (Lermontova Mall).
Fashion/clothing shopping varies widely. The most expensive would be Modniy Kvartal (Модный квартал), the mall in 130 Kvartal. While prices range from mid to high, the prices are almost the same as in the US and not much money will be saved. Shanghai City (Шанхай Сити) or Kitay Gorod (Китай город), near the Central Market, is cheaper and lower quality, but be prepared to haggle. The best place in my opinion is the (Lermontova Mall) or Silver Mall which both sell mid-high quality products for a very low price. There is also a second hand store near the bus stop (Цимлянская). Around the city there are numerous malls that are well priced and won’t break the budget.
There are lots of gyms around the city but they are very expensive. Expect to pay similar prices to the US for membership. There are lots of ways to work out without a gym. There is a nice part on Youth Island (Остров Юности) which is a nice place to walk, run, and do some pull ups with the bars. This is also the best place to bike if you have the opportunity. At the university on the second floor is a small basketball gym which is nice for the winter. There are also sports teams available to join that can be a great source of exercise and entertainment.
Usually it is cheaper to buy souvenirs from Irkutsk rather than the more touristy villages along Lake Baikal. If it is jewels you are looking for, my host mom and friends have said that the cheapest place for those is on the corner of Lenin Street and Karl Marx Street, in the basement of a store called Bookingem (Магазин Букингем). The Central Market has a huge selection where you can find lots of stuff and bargaining is usually acceptable at these places. However, these places sometimes sell lower quality objects so be careful to really look at everything you buy. Don’t buy from the little kiosks as they usually charge more. For most souvenirs, it is good to shop around and look at the more obscure locations because they are less likely to have inflated prices. Some of the best things in my opinion is the Siberian tea, Siberian handmade socks, and wooden items. There are also tee shirts from the university available online (ask your SRAS local guide about this) and little plush seals which is the mascot of the school and all of Irkutsk.
This section probably won’t apply to most of you, but if you do decide to go the route of renting an apartment, I have a few tips. I rented my apartment—a small but newly renovated studio in the city center—through AirBnB (whose Russian site is closing down, so this may stop being an option soon). The major Russian real-estate sites, like Yandex and Cian.ru, also have tons of listings in Irkutsk. Most of them show prices for a full year, and landlords will probably increase the monthly price if you want to rent for a shorter time period.
Finding the apartment through AirBnB was easy, but I found myself getting the “American price”—my landlord, upon reading my first message in my imperfect Russian, said, “Oh, actually, the price listed on the site is wrong! It’s actually waaaaay higher!” and I said “… Of course it is.” I was also charged an additional and totally outrageous $90/month to be registered legally in the apartment. But one has to be registered and only the landlord could register me – so I was kinda stuck. Ultimately, I sucked up the price and things went pretty smoothly for the most part (the landlord was available to help with problems, mostly Internet outages, via Telegram), though it does feel weird to pay rent in cash. I paid $490/month for the first two months and $580 for the last two for a new, renovated studio in the city center. I think that if you have plenty of time to look around, you can find something for significantly cheaper, but I was stressed and in a time crunch (and wanted to live alone), so I just took it. I strongly recommend getting a signed copy of the rental agreement, clearly stating your monthly rent, just in case.
All my bills were included in my rent—heating (and lots of it), electricity, and Internet, and I did have a washing machine, though of course no dryer (which are rare in Russia). There were brief power outages occasionally throughout the semester, and frequent Internet outages. My landlord could usually get that taken care of within a day or two, but it was kinda annoying—thus my long list of Internet options above.