Riga, Latvia Report of what it's like to live there - 03/21/22
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?
No, many other experiences in Asia, Europe, Latin America.
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?
North America. It's an easy connection with one stop in a major western European hub like Frankfurt or Amsterdam. The local airline Air Baltic connects Latvia to all major European cities, and as far away as Iceland and Dubai. Ryanair also has a base here for short trips around Europe.
3. How long have you lived here?
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?
Housing is mostly in large apartments in the city center, often in beautiful 19th century Art-Nouveau buildings. There are a few townhouses and stand alone homes, but there aren't that many and they are far from the city. Commute times are very reasonable, even during major winter storms. Generally people love their housing.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
It's the EU, everything is available. Pretty much every product you can think of, even specialty items like Mexican chilis or real maple syrup can be found. Every food allergy is catered for, and the quantity and quality of gluten-free items is pretty impressive. The Riga Central Market is a great place for fresh produce and meats, and is not particularly expensive.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Basket coffee filters, and extra power cord adaptors. But really, we can get everything we need here or via Amazon in the worst-case scenario.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Plenty of restaurants and choices. For a city of its size, Riga has a very decent restaurant scene. Time will tell how well it recovers from the pandemic, but generally it is quite good. You won't get the wide selection of Indian, Mexican, Thai, etc. that you do elsewhere, but the Turkish, Georgian and Uzbek choices are quite good. Latvia food is standard northern/eastern European fare with a heavy focus on meat and potatoes. They do use quite a bit of pork in dishes, so always ask if you can't/don't eat pork. Halal and kosher butchers and restaurants are certainly available.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes in the summer. Ticks are a problem, and vaccination against Eurasian tick borne encephalitis is recommended upon arrival.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use the embassy for mail, but the local post works just fine too. DHL et al are available as needed.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Nannies and cleaners are available. Costs are low compared to western Europe, but certainly higher than other places. 10 EUR per hour for someone who speaks English (possibly less if you know Latvian and/or Russian).
3. 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, everything here is done with a credit or bank card. We pretty much never use cash, except for convenience at the Central Market and occasionally for tips. Unlike in the US, many people accept payment only via bank transfer. Wise and other companies allow you to do this for a small fee, but many people here set up local bank accounts to ease paying local bills.
4. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
In Riga, English is widely spoken, especially among younger people. You can get by in Riga with only English, though efforts to speak Latvian are appreciated. Language politics in Latvia are very complicated, and it is important to be aware of the history and current state of affairs between Latvian and Russian langauges. Latvian is the official language, but Russian is the first language of almost half of Riga residents. Our friends that speak Russian report that they've been able to use Russian with many people, but have trouble reading signs and packages as those are only in Latvian. Language classes are certainly available and affordable.
5. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, although this is slowly improving with EU funding.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Local transport is affordable and easy. Buses and trams will take you anywhere you need to go in central Riga. Bolt (like Uber) is the largest Rideshare company, and even a trip across town is very affordable.
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?
You will see every kind of car here, and the streets/parking isn't so narrow that a mid-size SUV can't navigate it. All major car brands are here, though some spare parts are more expensive. Winter tires are required by law (the three-peak EU standard), and they are cheaper to buy outside the country.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, super fast, cheap, and easy to install.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Local plans are cheap, and roaming is free in the EU. Lots of options available, and takes all of 10 minutes to get set up with a local contract that can be paid by credit card.
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?
There are jobs at the embassy, but demand far exceeds supply. Several folks here telecommute. Wages in Latvia are some of the lowest in the EU, and most positions require knowledge of Latvian, which discourages folks from applying.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Formal at work.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Riga is a small city, but the usual city-smarts apply. That said, it's a safe place in comparison to many, and you can walk by yourself on most streets in the middle of the night without a problem.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Local care is good, and very affordable. Excellent childrens care, decent dentistry as well.
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?
Best air quality of any city in Europe. There is almost no heavy industry, and you either get breezes off the Baltic or off of the forests.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Great selection of products for any food allergy. We've found that use of peanuts in random store-bought deserts tends to be higher than would otherwise be expected.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Do not underestimate the darkness in winter. November to February there is limited light, and even when it is daytime there tends to be clouds and/or snow. SAD lamps, and schedule a break to fly out to southern Europe during that time.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Four distinct seasons. Winter is dark and snowy, can be cold but not extremely so. Summer is just lovely, long hours of sun, not too hot, and beautiful weather.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Fantastic international schools, if anything the problem is that there are too many of them to choose from. International School of Latvia (ISL) is the largest and most established. They've moved on from some parochial challenges they had a few years ago, and have a dynamic director and a solid IB curriculum. The International School of Riga is also a popular IB choice. Kings College uses the British curiculum, and there are several other options as well. Note that most schools are outside central Riga (ISL and Kings are in the suburb of Pinki), so most kids will take the bus. Overall, Riga is not a big place so most kids at the schools are local; it doesn't affect the quality in any way, but for folks coming from large, predominantly international schools it will be a bit different. Lots of after school activities available.
2. 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?
There are preschools available, both local options and at the international schools. Demand is high for local preschools, so securing a place may take a few tries. Although, often places will claim to be full and suddenly a spot will open up a few days later.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
After school activities are available at the international schools. Given the size of the schools, they offer as much as can be expected. So there will be activities available, but perhaps not the specific sport/club you child is really into.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Decent size (for the city) and growing. Morale is generally good, and we've met lots of other folks from other embassies, NATO, and other countries as well. COVID made it hard to meet people, but with restrictions opening up there are more and more opportunities to get out and be social.
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?
There is quite a bit to do in Riga, and Latvia in general. Riga has a known restaurant and bar culture, but also has pretty much anything you could imagine doing. Some friend of ours found a curling place and organized a trip there, as a random example of what you can find. Going to the beach is popular, it's 20 minutes from central Riga and super popular in the summer.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for everyone, though keep in mind it is a smaller city. Singles, couples, families all seem happy here.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Like most cultures in eastern Europe, friends are hard to make, but once made are friends for life. It is possible to make local friends, but it takes time and a legitimate bond over shared interests.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Despite being in Europe, Latvia ranks toward the bottom of the EU in terms of any measure relating to LGBTQI rights. While the expat community is welcoming, there is quite a degree of prejudice in the local population.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
The divide between Latvian and Russian speakers is still the largest societal issue, but it doesn't impact the expat community much. Gender equality is better than in most countries, and it about average for Europe on most indicators. So better than some, but nowhere near as progressive as the nordic countries.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Having a beach so close by, and unspoiled nature in every direction. You can easily drive anywhere in the Baltic states, or a quick two hour flight puts you anywhere in Europe.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Some Latvian-patterned wool items, and Baltic amber.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's a beautiful city for walking, eating out, and exploring. There is enough to do to keep occupied each day, and Europe is very close when you need a break.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
It's nicer than anticipated, winter is not as bad as expected, and you will be able to buy absolutely everything you need here.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?