Riga, Latvia Report of what it's like to live there - 07/24/17
Personal Experiences from Riga, Latvia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
We previously lived in south Asia and east Africa.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Washington DC. Connection is typically in Frankfurt. Takes about 13 hours with layover.
3. How long have you lived here?
About 3 years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
You have a choice between city apartments, townhouses across the river, and larger townhouses with some yard near the international school. The longest commute would be about 20 minutes It takes us about 15 minutes from Old Riga.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can get anything here, pretty much. Beef is not the greatest at the grocery store, but there is a specialty shop if you are craving steak.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing comes to mind. Everything is either available locally or you can buy through Amazon, etc.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Decent variety of restaurants, though ethnic choices are a bit limited. There are sushi places (if you like cream cheese with your fish), a couple Indian places (one is really good), and some decidedly mediocre Chinese. There is a fairly new Vietnamese place that does great pho and banh mi.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Cheap by EU standards, crazy expensive compared to Africa and S. Asia. We never hired anyone. Nannies seem to run about 800 Euro a month for full time, if you want to be generous...about 600 if not. We never found anyone that wanted to come every day for housekeeping and laundry, or that wanted to cook. What you can get is someone that will come once or twice a week and spend a full or half day. This didn't meet our needs so we never hired anyone.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The US embassy has a small gym. Private gyms are available but pretty costly.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Yes, credit cards are widely accepted in Riga, less so in the smaller cities. ATMs at banks are generally safe, beware of any "private" ATMs at bars or restaurants, these are often used as skimming devices.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
No experience with this, but I do hear it's available.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can get by fine with English in Riga. Everyone under 30 speaks it fine, especially in Old Riga. Outside the capital it would be advised to have some Latvian or Russian.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Would be very challenging. There is one NGO working on accessibility issues, but progress has been slow. Even municipal buildings are rarely truly accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, safe, cheap, and widely available. For taxis, stick with Baltic Cab or Red Cab, or the Taxify app (Uber knockoff that lets you still pay cash if you want).
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Anything is fine, though larger vehicles may be harder to park.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, Latvia has very good Internet, typically some of the fastest in the world.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Cheap and widely available. You can buy a SIM for about 10 euro, unlimited data is about 15 euro a month per line.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Yes there are several vets, good clinics. No quarantine needed if your pet is up to date on vaccinations.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Spouses can and do work on the economy, but it can be tough if they don't have Russian or Latvian. There are several EFM jobs at the US embassy, but they are unfilled due to the hiring freeze.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots of choices, ranging from animal shelters, soup kitchens, orphanages, women's shelters, etc.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business at work. Latvians dress nicer than Americans in general in any setting. Casual wear in public isn't a problem, but everyone will know right away that you aren't a local.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Very safe post. Only isolated incidents that you'd expect in any city.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is good and fairly cheap. There is no American doctor or direct-hire health practitioner, but there is an EFM nurse in the health unit. Local doctors are good and generally US/Canadian/EU trained, most speak good English. Dental care is cheap and of good quality.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Air quality is great, something like 50% of the country is forest.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Winter is long, cold, and dark. SAD is a real thing here. Best advice, save up leave days for trips south. Barring that, be sure to get outside during the work day, use your SAD lamps, and avoid the temptation to hibernate.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
COLD and wet in winter, moderate and gorgeous summers. It hasnt been above 70 degrees this summer so far, but it can be very nice to sit at the beer gardens.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
In my opinion, there has been a dramatic decline at the most popular school, ISL. Major problems around administration and quality of secondary education. Major problems with LGBT discrimination. The school board is dominated by local Russian speakers, who are very conservative. There was a big problem with nepotism, though that was resolved by transfers over the summer. Way too many children of oligarchs at the school, this can be a problem with cliques and lack of socializing opportunities for expat kids. I would probably think twice before bringing a high school aged kid, middle school is OK, elementary seems fine.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
ISL will make a limited attempt. There has been at least 1 curtailment over this issue though.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Preschool is available, though pretty expensive. We didn't have any personal experience.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are a few sports teams of typical low international school quality. There is a robotics team that did quite well at ISL. The schools are all very small, so the quality of competition suffers greatly.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The community is small, but most EU countries are represented. Overall, morale is good, and there are a number of opportunities to get together with other missions socially.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Yes there are regular happy hour type events, women's clubs, etc. Opportunities are there if you look for them.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for everyone, good mix of things to do. Good outdoor activities, bars, restaurants. Many festivals and cultural events.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Not great, but vastly improved from 10 years ago. Still, Latvia ranks at the bottom of every index for EU countries as far as quality of life for LGBT individuals. There is one active NGO that puts on events on a fairly regular basis.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
None really. There is a big divide between ethnic Russians and Latvians socially and politically, but as an expat doesn't really affect you.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Lots to do, beaches, hiking, kayaking, exploring castles, remnants of Soviet occupation, KGB museum.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Wool handicrafts, amber jewelry are quite common and of high quality. Prices are reasonable compared to the rest of Europe.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Easy and cheap to travel throughout Europe, Ryanair, WizzAir, Norwegian all fly here. AirBaltic has direct flights to much of the continent, and as far as Tel Aviv.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, but, the school issues made it more difficult than it needed to be.