Last Updated August, 2020
Every time I get to ask others, who are not Ukrainians, what they know about life in Ukraine, they always give different answers. Some people immediately think of Chernobyl, somebody else remembers a famous football player, model, or boxer. Other folks base their opinion on what they currently hear from media, especially about the conflict with Russia.
Not many people get involved. But at the same time, there are quite a few who show genuine interest in Ukraine as a country and intend to live here, at least during some time.
I have spent 24 years of my life in Ukraine and in today’s post would love to answer some of the most common questions that people ask about life in this country. There is definitely a lot of confusion about Ukraine. Allow me to share all the details I know from my personal experiences.
If you are looking to travel to Ukraine soon, read my super long and detailed guide on Ukraine travel tips. If planning a trip to Kyiv, start with the guide to Kyiv weather and the best month to go. Or, simply check my page on Ukraine travel to have a better understanding of where to go and how to plan your trip.
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THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT LIFE IN UKRAINE
Is Ukraine Safe To Travel And Live In?
Since 2014 Ukraine has been getting a lot of attention due to Crimea annexation and war with Russia (yes, exactly, war with Russia, not a civil war as media presents it and many people follow.) And then it went to talks about Trump-Ukraine scandal (ugh.)
With political and social unrest investments sank, the number of international visitors decreased and the country’s safety question got compromised. To this very day, every potential visitor wants to know if Ukraine is safe enough to visit.
You know, even before war-related events took place, not many tourists were choosing Ukraine as a country of interest, thinking it was not safe or developed enough. Hence, how can they change their opinion today when the country is in conflict, right?
Ukraine is my home country and I always felt safe here before moving to the U.S. But once war broke out it scared me out of my wits and I had no desire to go back, even for a short visit. Before leaving America for good and traveling to Ukraine with Mark in the fall of 2017 it’s been 6 years since my last time there. I felt uncertain and frightened to return.
But to be honest, when I eventually went I regretted I didn’t do it earlier. Together with Mark, we felt absolutely safe, comfortable, and secure. And we had such an amazing time in Ukraine (and still do when revisiting my family from time to time.) In fact, now we are seriously looking into a few apartments in Lviv and thinking to go and live there for some time.
As with any other country, you have to know where it is safe to go and where it is not. Obviously, anywhere near the war zone is not safe.
Unlike most countries in the world, Ukrainian cities and villages don’t have ghettoes or extremely poor areas where you can feel in danger. Definitely, there are ugly looking neighborhoods with poor infrastructure but their depressing looks (especially during the bad weather) have nothing to do with safety.
Just make sure you are not walking by yourself at night in less populated areas. Stay away from drunk people, protests, big events with crowds, gypsies, and beggars. But this is what we personally did in the States and many other countries around Europe and Asia. Ukraine is very similar in that sense.
Cost of Living in Ukraine
Unfortunately for many Ukrainian people, whose average salary equals approximately $300, the cost of living in Ukraine is expensive. In total, the average annual income comes to $3600-$4000. It can be enough if the person lives in a smaller city and has his own apartment. Otherwise, $300 per month is never enough.
But please, when I am saying that the average wage in Ukraine is $300 dollars per month, do not automatically assume that everyone here is poor, struggling and wants to immigrate. There are also a lot of people whose salary is $1000-$1500 per month (and more) and who have a good life.
For someone who makes even $1000 per month things will be very affordable. If you are a freelancer, working online, having a thriving business or working for an international company, you can have a very good standard of living in Ukraine. If you are planning to teach English or volunteer, most likely your room and board will be covered and a salary will be more than enough for your monthly expenses.
Renting a fully furnished one-bedroom apartment in a good location in cities other than Kyiv will cost you between $250 – $400 per month. The cost of living in Kyiv, as a capital, is more expensive. Rent there will be somewhere between $400-$600 per month. For this price, you get a very nice looking one or two-bedroom flat with furniture.
Depending on a city you choose to live in, expenses for groceries and occasional eating out in Ukraine go between $200 and $300 per person. A cup of coffee to go costs around $0.50. Street food like kebab, crepes, or sandwich cost between $1-$3. Latte and a cake in a coffee shop will be around $3 too.
Public transportation is incredibly cheap. Metro ride in Kyiv is around $0.35 cents, city bus or as it’s called “marshrutka” costs around $0.25 cents, a trolley costs way less, like 10 or 15 cents.
Services like haircuts, manicures, tailoring clothes, shoe repairs are very popular and affordable too. For example, a trip to a barbershop to get a simple man’s haircut will cost around $2-$4. Services of professional hairstylists are priced between $10-$20.
Unlike the EU zone, where taking a plane most times costs less than taking a bus, in Ukraine low-coster market is not fully developed yet. To fly in and out of Ukraine is also more expensive than fly to most of the cities in nearby countries. A major airport is in Kyiv, but there is also an opportunity to fly to Lviv, Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Chernivtsi. Flights to these cities are usually more costly though.
Every year low-cost carriers enter the Ukrainian market opening new budget flights, so with time flying to Ukraine will be possible at lower tariffs.
The easiest and probably the most comfortable way to travel in Ukraine is by train. Trains have a few class types to choose from and always run on schedule. They are way better than those in the States.
Taking a bus or blabla car is another option on how to get around the country. However, buses in Ukraine usually don’t have air-conditioners and don’t provide a high level of comfort. Blabla car drivers rarely speak English and you may have difficulty communicating.
One more thing to keep in mind is the condition of roads. Unfortunately, until this day roads in Ukraine need to go through lots of repairs. They have holes, cracked asphalt, uneven shoulders, and sometimes even roadblocks. So you can imagine how a trip on a bus can go.
Hopping on a bus is probably ok if you are going to cover a short distance or if going to ski in Bukovel from Ivano-Frankivsk. That road is in excellent condition. Otherwise, if going far, I would recommend choosing a train instead.
Renting a car is still expensive and not advisable. With bumpy roads and aggressive driving (yes, a lot of folks in Ukraine drive like they are out of their mind) the entire experience can become somewhat stressful.
Uber operates in a number of cities, getting a lift is not a problem.
Quality of Life in Ukraine Today
The quality of life in Ukraine is a rather controversial subject and depends on a few factors. First of all, what do you imply by the “quality of life”? How qualitatively you personally are going to live, as a foreigner? Or how do Ukrainians live? Second, what is your own definition of the quality of life?
If I have to compare Ukraine with the rest of the world then let’s take official United Nations ratings. They use a variety of aggregated data, such as income and wealth, jobs and earnings, housing conditions, life-work balance, personal security, education and skills, and a number of other indicators from all areas of life. For more details, you can read their official measurement of well-being here.
So, according to the UN’s data, Ukraine at the end of 2019 got the 88th position among 185 countries. According to Numbeo, the position is 62nd. Other resources show something else. I personally do not trust just one single resource because there can be always an under (or over) estimation of objective numbers, manipulations or simple miscalculations.
What I can definitely attest to, based on my own experience, is the fact that an average Ukrainian does not have a high standard of living when compared to the West. A lot of people live under the poverty line and barely make their ends meet. Especially those people who live in Eastern and Southern Ukraine. That’s true.
The reason why more people in the East and South have a lower level of life is that because a big number of Ukrainians from Western Ukraine work abroad – in nearby Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, etc. So they bring money home which increases the quality of life.
At the same time, what is also true, there is a big percentage of people who feel pretty comfortable living in Ukraine and would not trade it for any other place.
The sense of community is strong, much of the poor in the country is lifting out of poverty and becoming a middle class.
Ukraine is developing and moving in the right direction. There is a lot of potential and future.
I am not saying this just because I believe my home country will see better days. I make these conclusions based on personal experiences, observations while living in the country and seeing how many improvements actually took place.
Quality of Life in Ukraine for You Personally
The main question is what type of life are you personally going to have in Ukraine if you move there? There are so many nuances to take into consideration. What you like, what you are used to, how easily you can adjust to a new culture and mentality, learn a new language, etc.
When it comes to my personal definition of quality of life, I do not pay much attention to what worldwide statistics show. I evaluate what I personally will be able to afford, how much my life is going to improve, and how much value I can add to other people’s lives.
My life in the U.S. was a struggle although this country is one of the best places where to live. And even though my salary was pretty high. Last year Mark and I were thinking about the opportunity to move to Norway where, again according to statistics, is the highest standard of living. But after lots of brainstorming and calculations we figured if we really moved there, the quality of our personal life would be way below average.
Why? Because we are not Norwegians and the money we make is not going to guarantee the same level of comfort we are used to. But it’s not even about the money. There are other factors that define the quality of life for us. Like food quality, for instance, or health care access, culture factor, climate, etc.
Determine what the quality of life is for you. If you are thinking to possibly move to Ukraine, come to spend some time at first and feel this county. And only then you’ll have a clear understanding if living in Ukraine as a foreigner is for you or not.
LIVING IN UKRAINE AS A FOREIGNER
Where to live in Ukraine?
If you are considering an opportunity to move to Ukraine, I suggest looking into Kyiv (of course, capital always comes first,) Lviv, Odesa, Kharkiv, and Dnipropetrovsk. These large cities have excellent infrastructure, opportunities, and lots of things to do.
Lviv is one of our favorite cities. It is attractive and cozy. It consists of a mixture of different influences and styles and is close to the Carpathian mountains. Somehow in Lviv, the charm of the city makes you feel comfortable right from the first minutes of the arrival. Lviv also has some of the best coffee not only in Ukraine but the entire world. So if you ever get there, make sure to taste it in one of the most atmospheric cafes around the city.
A lot of expats and tourists also love Odessa because of its own vibe and seaside. Yet Odesa is one of those love-hate cities when you either enjoy it or totally dislike it. There is nothing in between.
Kyiv, as a capital, is more diverse, constantly developing, and improving. At the same time, the cost of living is higher and sooner or later but traffic with crowds start to annoy.
Communication in Ukraine
People in Ukraine speak either Ukrainian or Russian language. English along with other foreign languages is not widely spoken, that’s why communication with locals can become a challenge. If you are based in Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, Kharkiv or Dnepropetrovsk, you’ll find plenty of restaurants in the city center with English menus, and employees speaking English. Smaller cities do not see many foreigners, that’s why having an English menu is not common there.
Train stations in big cities and subway in Kyiv have schedules, signs, and announcements in Ukrainian and English.
If you are living in Kyiv, there are a few smaller cinemas that show movies in English. Plus, locals who are eager to practise their language skills with foreigners, often organize English speaking clubs, music events, and shows. Check out an English newspaper in Kyiv for all events in the capital. Or here is an online magazine “Ukraine Travel Center” for events and things to do around Ukraine.
For other services, it may be tricky to communicate with locals. You may want to use a translator and learn a few basic words in Russian or Ukrainian.
Overall, people in Ukraine always try to help non-Russian or non-Ukrainian speakers who are visiting or living in their country.
If you are moving to Ukraine, especially to a large city, and do not speak any Ukrainian or Russian language, relax and remember that you’ll be OK. With time, you can go to one of the language schools to learn the basics. But I definitely wouldn’t stress out about it at the beginning.
Some of my friends who are foreigners have been living in Ukraine for years but they still don’t speak any local language. And each of them is doing just fine.
Healthcare in Ukraine
As a foreigner, you will not have access to free healthcare (which is below average anyways.) But going to a private clinic or seeing a specialist is cheap and you’ll be definitely able to afford to pay for it.
If you are going to work for a company then expect them to provide insurance for you. In any other case, if working remotely, for example, there is no need to apply for insurance.
More and more doctors of any specialization in Ukraine are delivering the highest standard of care and professionalism, they are experienced and easily accessible. If you need a treatment or a regular checkup you can get it within a day or two. The same applies to Ultrasound, X-ray, MRI, dentists, and doctors of any specialization.
I remember when I was in the States, the wait time to see a specialist on average was about a few weeks. One time I was waiting for more than three months to get something as simple as an ultrasound. In Ukraine, it is unheard of. If you need to see a doctor, you’ll be able to schedule an appointment within the next few days (sometimes hours) unless he/she is on vacation or on leave.
A lot of people in Ukraine are also into natural remedies and treatments, so finding an acupuncturist, homeopath or naturopathic doctor won’t be difficult too. Unlike in Western countries, where services of these specialists usually cost a lot of money, in Ukraine, they are very affordable.
To help you understand the pricing, here are a few examples. Consultations usually cost between $5-$15 (in an opulent clinic it’s not going to cost more than $40,) blood tests between $5 and $15, a back massage between $15 and $25. Dentist work is also very affordable. A filling costs between $10 and $20 (depending on material,) tooth extraction within the same range. Prices for MRI start from $10, X-ray, and ultrasound between $10-$20. Homeopath visit is between $10-$20 (a few hours long detailed appointment,) one acupuncture treatment between $3-$15 (depending on a city and clinic you are in.)
Dentist care is of high quality and one of the cheapest in the world. I know there are a lot of patients from Western Europe who come to Ukraine to do all dental work. It is way cheaper for them to pay for tickets, accommodation, and all the procedures than just get medical treatment in their own country.
NOTE: If you are visiting Ukraine and don’t plan to stay there long-term, make sure to purchase travel insurance. SafetyWing offers great travel insurance for Ukraine. This company has affordable and flexible travel medical insurance policies and very good prices. Click here to get a quote from SafetyWing.
WORKING IN UKRAINE AS AN EXPAT
Getting a visa for Ukraine
As with many other countries in the world, to be able to get sponsorship from a company in Ukraine you have to be a highly-skilled professional. Knowing a language is not always mandatory but of course, preferred. During my working years in Ukraine, I had colleagues from the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the EU. They were mainly working as analysts, IT specialists, managers, and directors.
One of the easiest ways to get a temporary residence permit is through school, mission or volunteering. But there are also ways how to get a residency based on your online work and digital nomad lifestyle. If you can prove you have sufficient funds to support yourself you’ll be allowed to live in a country from 3 months to a year, with a possibility to extend. For detailed information, check the website of one of the local law firms.
Jobs for foreigners
The most popular jobs in Ukraine for Americans, Canadians or Western European expats are in Finance, Audit, Consulting, Education (teaching English or other disciplines in English), and IT. Also, there are lots of volunteering projects in Ukraine. I know a lot of people from America who are on an evangelical mission, work with orphanages, summer camps, in renovation and construction. Some of them even work in agriculture and archeology. Those who volunteer usually get free accommodation, meals, and sometimes even pocket money.
Based on long-term volunteering projects you can get a residency permit and apply for side jobs. If you are a native English speaker, the sky is the limit when it comes to teaching English. Ukraine is in need of English Teachers. Schools, daycare centers, early childhood development centers, universities look for teachers on a regular basis.
Another option of how to stay in Ukraine long term while making money is to start your own business. The most popular one would be to open a restaurant with international cuisine. Ukraine is probably one of a few countries in Europe where you won’t find many international foods yet. A lot of those that exist are not even authentic.
So, if you are a foreigner who has skills and experience in the food business, Ukraine has a lot of potential for you. The process of establishing it will definitely take some time and money. But in the end, it is worth the effort, that’s for sure.
LIVING IN UKRAINE PROS AND CONS
Ukraine, like any other place in the world, has its own pros and cons. What I may consider as an advantage, may come as a disadvantage for you. And vise versa. I am going to mention what I personally consider to be the pros and cons. But you decide if that’s going to play the same role for you or not.
So, in my opinion, among the biggest advantages of living in Ukraine are affordability and a good standard of living. But of course, if your monthly income is higher than the average wage I described above. So, for about $800-$1000 per month, you can have a decent life here. You can be renting a very stylish apartment in a nice new neighborhood paying fraction of what you’d pay in many other European countries. If you decide to base yourself in Ukraine and want to travel around Europe, it is also very easy to do without spending much on flights.
Another advantage is the quality of food, cheap and affordable healthcare, good internet (for people who work online), and possibilities for travel.
The disadvantages of living in Ukraine are the bad quality of air, bureaucracy, bad roads (for travelers), poor service, and the fact that not many people communicate in English.
For the service, sorry (not sorry) but overall, it is very common for Eastern Europe to have poor service. So Ukraine is not an exception here. A lot of restaurants, cafes, banks, grocery stores, etc. deliver a nice service. But in many other places, omg, it’s just non-existent. So be ready for that but don’t take it personally.
Then the air. That’s a totally separate topic which I am really upset about. Yet unfortunately, the quality of air in Ukraine is one of the worst in Europe. Because of the old diesel cars that flood the cities and burning of leaves and trash in the summer and fall, the air stays polluted.
Ukraine is not an environmentally friendly country and has a deficient physical infrastructure in many places. A lot of buildings are in bad repair, some types of transportation are old and falling apart. Some rivers and lakes are dirty which in turn creates difficulties for recreation.
Another note to make is communication. If you are not going to learn at least some Russian or Ukrainian and won’t have English speakers around you all the time, communication is going to come as one of the cons of living in Ukraine. And bureaucracy. It is another challenge if you are moving to Ukraine for work or want to open your own business.
More is yet to come…
This is it for now. If you have more questions about life in Ukraine, drop me a comment or send a message. I will be happy to answer! Also, check my post about what to know about Ukraine before traveling there.
I am also working on many other posts, so hope to see you on this blog again!
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