Vilnius, Lithuania Report of what it's like to live there - 11/23/08
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. How long have you lived here?
Since August of 2007.
3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
About 15 hours depending on point of origin and layover times, via Amsterdam or Frankfurt.
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?
Apartments are a 5-minute walk from the Embassy. Houses are 10-15 minutes away without traffic, easily 30-45 minutes during rush hour because of poor road conditions and traffic engineering issues.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There are 4 large chains of supermarkets in Vilnius, but groceries are very expensive compared to the states. Dogfood is ridiculously exensive, about $30 for 10 kilos of the cheap stuff. The "expensive" kind is $90 for 10 kilos. Most everything is available, just at a higher cost.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Peanut butter and maple syrup, spices and baking powder, whole-wheat flour and beef jerky.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are 5 McDonald's in Vilnius, but you need to drive 60 miles to a Pizza Hut or KFC in Kaunas (the 2nd city).
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
APO mail comes from the Helsinki APO, but it is soon to be a DPO. Unsure at this time if Vilnius will get their own DPO. Pouch is also available.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available, but not cheap.
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?
ATMs are available and safe, just use common sense. You can use a credit card at the supermarkets without any problems, but it is mostly a cash society.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes. Most major religions are represented here.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
AFN (free). Local tv is available, but most shows are in Lithuanian or Russian. Cost is about US$40 per month, depending on what you get.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
The basics help at the grocery store. If you know Russian, most people will speak to you.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Lithuania is a relatively flat country, but Vilnius is a fairly hilly city.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The buses are VERY crowded during the workdays. Taxis are usually safe, but Lithuania has the worst drivers in the EU, and also the highest pedestrian deaths in the EU.
3. 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?
Front or all-wheel drive because of the ice in the winter. Anything larger than a minivan will have trouble navigating the narrow streets in and around old-town. The residential streets are also narrow, and people usually park on both sides, making it wide enough for only one car to pass through. This can create traffic jams at all hours of the day.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
DSL is around US$40 per month
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Pay-as-you-go plans are available and cheap for calling within Lithuania.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Skype or Vonage.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Vet care is available and good. Kennels are hard to find, and very expensive. It's better to ask a friend to care for your pet while you are gone.
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?
Not unless you speak Lithuanian or Russian.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
From business casual to suit & tie.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Good, but expect seasonal allergies.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not really. Just as safe (or unsafe) as any typical big city.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The Baltic-American clinic is good, but do NOT go to a state-run hospital, even if you're dying. Better to get medevac'ed... Dental care is better than medical care.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Mild summers, rainy autumns, brutally COLD winters.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
AISV. Terrible cost/benefit ratio. It's a shame the government pays so much for so little with this school.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
Several families have hired domestic help. It is available but not cheap.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small but close.
2. Morale among expats:
Good for expats, but the Embassy morale is low.
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?
Plenty of things to do here. Jazz and music concerts and festivals are common year-round. Nightclubs are popular among the younger crowd.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for all. Lots of things to do and places to go year-round.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Not if the skinheads see you.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes. Several skinhead demonstrations have taken place with few arrests.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Oh yes. Sledding in the winter. Concerts and culture year-round. Mushroom picking in the fall. Bowling and ice skating at the mall. Electric go-carts at the other mall. Movies are shown in English with Lithuanian subtitles.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Amber jewelry and wooden crafts.
9. Can you save money?
Not very easily, no.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Tea, coffee, and ketchup.
3. But don't forget your:
Cold weather gear, sleds, mountain bike, electronics, and patience when driving anywhere.