Vilnius, Lithuania Report of what it's like to live there - 06/21/13
Personal Experiences from Vilnius, Lithuania
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
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?
It's about a 9-hour flight to Frankfurt, and another 2+ hours from Frankfurt to Vilnius.
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?
Awesome apartments right in Old Town and great single-family homes outside the city. Commute time varies from a 10-minute walk to a 45-minute drive. Traffic can be a bear until you learn the short cuts, but if you get caught in it...oh, well.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Abundant and easy to find. There are several large chains and stores everywhere. You can get just about everything or its U.S. equivalent. It won't be the exact brand you are used to, and it takes a while to figure out what is what if you don't know the language. Unlike the U.S., which has some signs in Spanish, here they just have their signs in Lithuanian and you have to figure it out.
Overall, groceries are about 20% cheaper than in the U.S. once you learn where to shop. Also, embassy employees get VAT back, so that's another 20% reduction.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
More US-quality clothing and anything that you have a particular penchant for. Cereal seems expensive here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut...a smidgen more expensive than in the US.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
You will get some ants if you don't keep your kitchen clean, and there are always house spiders that like to nibble on your feet when you are asleep, but generally there is nothing to worry about. If you live outside the city, you will be overrun with large snails in the summer. But if you know how to make escargots, it's sort of like a buffet.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO, usually 2-3 weeks. You can also use the local mail system. Outbound seems to work ok, but receiving from the USA tends to involve disappointment and missing mail.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Not easy to find, and usually snapped up as soon as a reliable one becomes available. Pay varies from 10Lt - 25 Lt per hour. I have heard that you can find a nanny or a housekeeper, but finding one person who will do both is nearly impossible...unless you can get our Yuki. She's always booked out, though. The CLO office has not compiled a list of nannies, and demand outweighs supply, so please do your homework and begin your search long before you arrive.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a small embassy gym and pool, and there are several gyms around the city that are fairly well equipped and quite inexpensive by US standards.
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?
No problems...same as U.S.
Make sure you have at least one card with a Smart Chip. If you don't know what that is, ask your bank.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes. I believe there is at least a Catholic mass in oldtown at 0900 on Sunday mornings.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
AFN is available but sleection is limited. English-language newspapers: not really. Local cable has a mostly english-language package, I believe, that is quite affordable. See www.teo.lt
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can get by with just English, but having rudimentary Lithuanian or Russian will make your life much much easier. You're in their country and they expect you to know their language.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Well, let's see - it's a medieval city with cobblestone streets, that was built on several hills and was under soviet control until the early 1990s. Obviously it's not Washington DC. But even if you have no handicap you have to keep your wits about you once the winter snow and ice start. Able-bodied people fall every day...be careful.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, yes, and yes...there is a very good bus system, and it is easy to get around.
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 suitable. However, DO NOT imagine that you can get by with "all season" tires for the winter. You will get stuck or lose control. Do what the locals do and buy "snow tires" for the winter season. You'll save a few bucks by not buying them, but you'll regret it...do not look at this as a way to save a few bucks. Auto repairs are quite a bit cheaper than in the USA, with the exception of oil changes... those are at least $100.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes...it's quite good and affordable.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Use a government BlackBerry or get a local cell-phone without a plan...credit seems cheap enough. For long distance, use VOIP, Skype, or Magic Jack.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
They are there, but I wouldn't leave Fido for an extended stay. it's usually in someone's basement. It costs about 20Lt/day, depending on the size of the dog.
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?
Limited and with very low pay. EFMs can usually find an embassy job if they want one.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Women really dress up when going out in public, and God bless them. Sometimes I worry that they might get cold, but they seem to manage. Business casual at work. Men seem much more casual about dress than women. However, local men seem to be comfortable wearing pedal-pusher pants in the summer and carrying their handbags. It's a little different.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Nothing that wouldn't be a concern anywhere else.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
There is wide disagreement on this. If anything remotely serious happens, you will be medivac'd..very surprising for a relatively modern european capital city. Local doctor visits are relatively cheap and easy to get. We have been happy. Only Baltic American Clinic takes Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
Dental work is excellent but VERY inexpensive.
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?
Excellent, no problems whatsoever. Very healthy.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's like a New England Summer followed by a Minnesota winter. The winter is overcast for weeks on end, and it doesn't get bright until after 0830 in the morning. And then it gets dark before 5 pm. Conversely, there is 18+ hours of daylight in the summer, and you can really get a lot done.
It does rain, of course, but not nearly as much as we had been led to believe. Again, think New England.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Everyone at the embassy seems to use AISV, although there is another school (VIS) available. Lithuanians who use AISV are very well-to-do and drive very expensive cars. The ladies-who-lunch (yummy-mummy) group there is very cliquish.
That said, the kids seem happy and are learning. They receive good reports and are tested regularly to U.S. standards. The school is conveniently located regardless of where you live. It's pretty small, though, and they are looking to buy additional property and expand. It seems better suited to younger kids (K-8) but you can complete HS there.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I'm not sure, but AISV (www.aisv.lt) should have all of that information.
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?
Hard to find and relatively expensive. Nannies are also hard to find but are a better way to go if you can get one. Ask at the CLO office, but also ask around.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Very very good.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Bars, restaurants, clubs, parties, barbeques, street festivals, decent CLO activities...young singles will enjoy this post, especially the guys.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's fantastic for families. Plenty of shopping and recreational activities. It's easy to get around and not really expensive.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There seems to be friction between Lithuanians and ethnic Poles, and there is also a little tension between Lithuanians and ethnic Russians, but nothing that ever really comes out in the workplace. Asian and African-American friends have said that people occasionally stare, but I think that's just mainly out of curiosity. Heck, they stare at me and I look just like they do but I wear a more western-style of clothes. But they just know I'm not Lithuanian.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Great U.S. Embassy housing; parks around the city; the ease with which you can travel around Europe; just walking around the cobblestone streets downtown and enjoying a coffee, beer, or meal at one of the thousands of little cafes and restaurants. Also: kayaking very inexpensively, seeing the castle at Trakai, and enjoying the numerous street fairs.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Trakai, Belmontas, the Botanical Gardens, Vichy Water Park, Old-Town, the Castle, the KGB museum, shopping, coffee, walking, adventure park zip-lining, horseback riding...and on and on and on.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's a first-world posting that is rapidly taking advantage of EU membership and funding. It is very safe and secure, quite beautiful, and overall a great spot. Groceries and other items are about 70% of the cost in the USA, although gasoline is quite a bit more expensive. Ryanair now flies in and out of Vilnius, meaning that you can get anywhere in Europe for cheap if you plan properly. Most people speak Lithuanian, and the older (40+ years) speak Russian. English is common but not as widespread as you may have thought.
The summer weather is beautiful, although the winter is long...think Minnesota. It's three hours from the Baltic coast, but there are numerous river beaches that are well maintained all along the main river through town. The kids love these and they are free to get to and use.
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
In a hearbeat.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
expectation of ever hearing the words "please, thank-you, excuse-me, you-go-first". The people are very rude and will run/walk/drive over you or through you. Good customer service, proper manners, and showing a smile in public are apparently offenses here, and you might be locked up if you are caught doing any of these.
3. But don't forget your:
transformers to 110v, thick skin, driving savvy, patience, sun lamps, dictionary, and Paxil.
4. Do you have any other comments?
Take some time to get used to the local mindset and the manners thing...it's very off-putting at the start, but as soon as you join the club, everything gets easier. This is a GREAT post and I would definitely come back. Don't overlook it.