Riga, Latvia Report of what it's like to live there - 08/23/08
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?
2. How long have you lived here?
3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Easy travel to/from U.S. through all major European hubs. Cheap European airlines servicing Riga offer economic flights around Europe.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. Government employee.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
USG housing is all within a 15 min. walk from the embassy and is spacious in downtown area. Some do not have elevators or the elevators are very small.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can get almost anything here.there are plenty of grocery stores, prices are higher than an average US supermarket.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Snow skis and fishing poles.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonalds is the only decent fast food worth mentioning. There are plenty of good restaurants with a large variety of cuisines.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Both APO and pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available for an average cost of probably 3.50 Ls per hour in Riga.
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?
No problems noted. All throughout the city are ATM machines.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, multiple denominations.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Newspapers can be found. AFN and other satellite service is what you will need for English language TV.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Younger generation speak English well. In Riga you can get by in English, but I run into situations every day where I need to know either Latvian or Russian. You need either Latvian or Russian outside of Riga.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Public transportation will be very challenging and generally access to any stores or buildings will be difficult since they were not built for wheelchairs/strollers.
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?
Yes and yes.
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?
You will see some of the nicest cars in Riga. You don't need a 4x4. Repair shops for U.S. and foreign cars are available. Streets can be hard on the suspension.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, roughly 25 Ls per month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Good service and plenty of pre-paid SIM cards are available for GSM phones for as little as 1 Ls (1 Ls = US$0.47).
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
VOIP provider from internet. Local phone service is easily available but can be expensive for international calls.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Available for reasonable prices. Kennels I am unsure about.
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 so much.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Professional, dark suit appropriate for males and suit or dress for women. Local women can still dress pretty revealingly even at work.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
The only thing besides the usual pickpocketer targeting tourists is night clubs. They will try to lure you in and then rip you off, and the street police will probably do nothing.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is readily available in Riga, but I would hesitate to call it quality. For births or serious injuries or health matters embassy personnel usually get sent to western europe.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Moderate temperatures in the summer, it rarely gets above 25 C. It can snow in Oct and Apr. Winters, esp. in Feb-Mar, can get down to -25 C. A fair amount of rain.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
International School of Latvia (located in Jurmala) and International School of Riga (located on the island of Kipsala in Riga). ISL offers K-12 while ISR offers K-6. Both are very good schools.
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?
Yes. Do not expect it to be cheap.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
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?
There are a lot of good bars and pubs all around Riga. Professional Hockey, basketball, and soccer teams are fun to watch. Riga seems to be the place for the British and German stag parties.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
All of the above. There is not a lot to do outside of Riga, and Riga is mostly a party town; however, families can enjoy Riga with parks, zoo, beach, etc. Good place for single guys; single women might find it challenging to find someone.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Not sure. There is at least an annual gay/lesbian event which always sparks protests.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes. Non-whites do experience some harrassment and alercations have occurred.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Beach, water parks, fishing, zoo, bowling, shopping, travelling, concerts, cinemas, etc.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Amber is a popular thing to buy here, along with mugs/plates decorated with Riga.
9. Can you save money?
Yes. Outside of the capital there is not a lot to do.
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:
Bicycles if you will live in downtown Riga. Storage can be a problem at residences as well.
3. But don't forget your:
Winter clothes and rain gear.