The True Cost of Living in Ukraine
Update December 2019: This article about the cost of living in Ukraine was originally published in 2016, and as you can see by this update, things have definitely risen in prices. The updates are marked in red.
The cost of living in Ukraine is quite affordable at the time of writing this. But it’s not going to stay this way forever. If you want to have a chance to meet Ukrainian women and experience Ukrainian culture at the steal of a century—you’ll want to act fast. You never know when things in this part of the world might change.
While plenty of sites allow you to plug in a city and get some raw numbers, it’s hard to really get an idea of the cost of living in Ukraine until you hit the ground and see for yourself. With that being said, I’ve pulled some of the numbers from my time spent in Ukraine that will give you a good idea of how much it’s going to cost you. I’m using Kiev as the example city. You can safely assume that just about every other Ukrainian city is going to be cheaper.
General Costs of Living in Ukraine
Most of the festivals and other events around Ukraine are quite affordable. If you want to go to Western concerts, that’s a whole different story. However, most of the entrance fees for domestic events are just a couple of dollars. Movies are out of the question—95% of theaters don’t show English movies (or do so very rarely).
A twenty minute taxi ride is $2.
A metro ride in Kiev (anywhere in the city) is about $0.16. Yes, you read that correctly—sixteen cents.
Some of the busses can be a little bit more, but it’s rare they’re more than $0.25.
If you want to buy a car, well—that’s expensive.
Update October 2019:
The exchange rate is roughly the same as it was at the time of writing this, but the cost of a metro ride has doubled.
The locals were not happy about that. Sure, the price went from 4 UAH (sixteen cents) to 8 UAH (thirty-two cents), but it’s still double. If you’re only making $300/month, these things add up.
The tram and bus prices also doubled. Before, some of them were 4 UAH, some were 6 UAH. They are now respectively 8 UAH and 10-12 UAH at times. All depends on how far you are going, time of day, etc.
Kiev is also starting to introduce the “Kiev Smart Card”, which is a universal transit pass for the metro, busses, and trams. They work great in the metro as of October 2019, but not all the other methods of transit actually contain the reader for them. In these cases, you just pay cash.
On average, that same 20 minute cab ride for $2 is probably more like $3-5. Uber works extremely well here and is still affordable. Bolt and Uklon are other good options. They don’t work quite as well, but can sometimes be cheaper. Most importantly, it means Uber doesn’t have a monopoly on the market so the prices are kept in check.
When it comes to eating out, I’m going to give a couple of actual examples. I’ve even included the restaurants below.
BEEF Meat & Wine | Business Lunch
You have the option of either two courses or three. Three courses was 190 UAH, with two courses coming out at 160 UAH. With a three course meal, you got a choice of multiple salads (with steak), a couple of soups, and an entree (lasagna, marbled beef, beef and eggs, and a couple other varieties that rotated in and out).
If you got a two course meal you’d get your pick of one of the soups or salads.
All of those meals also included a choice of juice, and garlic bread with butter—some of the best bread I’ve ever had in my life, to be frank. Considering that BEEF is one of the top restaurants in Kiev, being able to get a three course meal for the rough equivalent of $7 USD is a perfect example of how inexpensive the cost of living in Ukraine is.
Update October 2019:
This place has gone downhill unfortunately.
That same business lunch with three courses became 230 UAH in July of 2018, 270 UAH in spring of 2019, and now in October of 2019, rings in at 300 UAH. Sure, it’s still relatively cheap ($12 to eat at one of the best restaurants in the city), but it does illustrate that the cost of living in Ukraine has gone up.
The meals aren’t as good anymore either, and you don’t get any complimentary bread…
Pervak | Business Lunch
Pervak is one of the most well-known (if not the most) “traditional Ukrainian” restaurants. Their business lunches come in at a whopping 70 UAH. This typically includes:
- Garlic chips
- Fruit drink
Update October 2019:
These lunches now range from 125 UAH to 160 UAH, but the quality hasn’t dropped.
Eating In (Grocery Shopping)
I’m just going to list a bunch of random, everyday items that you’ll find in the supermarkets. Keep in mind that this is slightly inflated for staying in the center and shopping in the big supermarkets. You can definitely cut this price down if you’re on a budget.
- 3 pounds of ground beef—$2.75
- 1 pound of chicken breasts—$1
- 1 liter of beer—$1
- 1kg of potatoes—$0.50
- 1 pack of cigarettes—$1
- Milk/butter/sour cream/ketchup/etc.—all less than $1
The Cost of an Apartment in Ukraine (For Foreigners)
The cost of living in Ukraine when it comes to accommodation is always going to be higher when you’re a foreigner.
Yes, it is more expensive.
Yes, we are well aware of it.
It doesn’t do any good to criticize these choices (looking at the Ukrainian lurkers). We don’t have much choice unless we want to commit to signing an actual lease. Most of us who live a “nomadic” life (i.e. almost everyone in Ukraine).
Generally speaking, during the peak seasons in Kiev, a foreigner should probably expect to pay over $1,000/month for a one bedroom apartment in the center of Kiev.
This should include all utilities (water, electricity, internet), it often includes 1-2x a week of cleaning, and will usually be done through an agency like AirBNB.
Offseason prices may take this down by nearly half.
Is it expensive?
It’s really not that bad if you think about it.
Realistically, if you sign a lease you’re going to have to deal with the hassle of it. You’ll likely have to pay in cash—unless you’ve got a Ukrainian bank account (a risky business in and of itself). Finally, you’ll have to deal with the hassles of paying your bills.
Unless your Russian skills are down pat, or you have a friendly translator, it’s going to be a lot of work.
(PS: If you want to learn Russian online, that post is a good place to start.)
From what I’ve seen, someone could realistically sign a six month or one year lease with an equal apartment to the ones mentioned above, and would probably pay somewhere around $300-$400 USD a month. About half of the monthly rate.
But no bills.
No get-out-after-a-month policy.
And no protection via either credit cards or an agency like AirBNB.
For short term, it’s a no brainer.
Update October 2019 | Kiev Apartment Prices
This is not accurate anymore. Monthly rentals on AirBNB can be hard to come by, especially in the peak seasons. Tourism is growing here, and people are needing rentals for just a few days or a week.
Apartment owners would rather fill 25 nights at a premium price than have 31 nights and have to give a 30% discount. Even if it’s more work and cleaning, the money adds up over time.
A friend recently paid $1,800 for a one bedroom apartment on Khreshchatyk Street during July. It was very nice inside, but small. That’s the price you pay if you want to live in a central area during the peak season.
Go look around AirBNB and you will see the prices for yourself, they are not cheap.
As far as rentals, if you want to be in the center of town, they also aren’t cheap. Most will run you at least $1,000/month. You will get a better deal and have the long-term security with a lease, but it’s really only 10-20% cheaper than AirBNB.
The notes above about paying cash are true.
Some landlords can take bank payments in USD into their Ukrainian bank. Some will cover the utility bills in the price of the apartment, others will make you pay it yourself. If you are signing a lease, try to negotiate with all of these things and save yourself as much time and convenience as possible.
Hotels in Ukraine
Obviously, the hotel prices vary from season to season. If you stay at a western-style chain hotel, you will save money compare to other countries. For example, the InterContinental Kiev can be had for $100 USD a night. Good luck finding an IC hotel in most places of the world at that kind of rate.
You can browse other hotels in Kiev on the map below:
Cost of Living in Ukraine: Conclusion
As you can see, Ukraine is still quite the bargain for travelers. Geoarbitrage is a powerful thing, and I can pretty much guarantee that it’s not going to last forever. Sure, the Ukrainian economy is a bit of a mess, but all good things come to an end at some point.
You can enjoy amazing meals out for less than $5, get anywhere in the city for cents, and can overall live an extremely good life at well under $1,200 a month (Update, 2020 version – this is more like $1,600-$2,000 now) if you are careful with your money.
Which begs the question—what are you waiting for?
See you in Ukraine,
PS: If you’re coming because you’re intrigued by Ukrainian women, Ukraine Date and Tinder are the two biggest sites to meet the locals. Make sure to sign up for both before you get here.