Vilnius, Lithuania Report of what it's like to live there - 02/15/11

Personal Experiences from Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius, Lithuania 02/15/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Other European cities.

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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?

Connections from the U.S. are via Frankfurt, Copenhagen, or Amsterdam. There are no direct flights.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1.5 years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

The housing pool is excellent with a mix of apartments within a five to 10 minute walk to the embassy and houses a 15 minute drive.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

For singles, it can be cheaper to eat out than to buy groceries. I have found salsa, flour tortillas, tortilla chips, Thai chilies, coconut, mini marshmallows, maple syrup, brown sugar, Corn Flakes, Honey Nut Cheerios and many other "exotic" foods here. Availability continues to increase as other products come from the EU, but ask about your favorite things before you arrive.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Mac and cheese, prepared foods, soup, some spices, shoe cleats for the snow [Yaktrax Walker Traction Cleats for Snow and Ice], clothes if you are not a typically Lithuanian height or weight or prefer looser clothing.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

KFC, McDonald's and Pizza Hut are here as well as the local "Cili" chain and take-out kebab places. There is a Mexican restaurant run by Mexicans and an Indian restaurant run by Indians. You can also find sushi, French, Belgian, Russian, Ukrainian and Chinese food. None of it will wow foodies, but all are okay for when you've had enough traditional Lithuanian fare.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Supermarkets here have a small "eco" section for organic foods. I haven't seen any gluten-free products. There is hummus and tofu available but no veggie burgers or other meat substitutes. Vegetarians should be careful ordering food in restaurants -- bacon is often included in "vegetarian" dishes or sauces.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO or pouch.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

English-speaking domestic help is available in the US$6/hour range.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes. There are facilities close to the embassy, and the embassy itself has a small gym. Other, more luxurious, gyms are also available.

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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?

Safe, for the most part.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

English services are available for LDS, Catholics and Protestants.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Lithuanian TV has several channels in English including CNN, BBC and Discovery/National Geographic. Russian-speaking programming is also included.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

None, although some Lithuanian makes life easier. The older generation speaks Russian while the 30-and under set all speak at least a little English.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Sidewalks are unshoveled and often cobblestone or brick and dark. Roads are unplowed. Most buildings are not handicapped accessible. I have yet to notice any accommodations for the blind and have encountered only one deaf person in my time here.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes, although there are some TB concerns with buses. The trains here are not linked to the rest of the European network and while people do use them for tourism in-country, it is usually most convenient to drive.

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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?

Bring a vehicle that you feel comfortable driving in the ice and snow, but remember that roads can be small (especially in the old town) and parking tight. Popular brands include BMW, VW, and Volvo.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, roughly 100 LTL/ month for high-speed service.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

The embassy provides phones. Spouses usually purchase one in-country and use a local pre-pay service.

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Pets:

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?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Quality vet care and kennels are both available.

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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?

No. Most job openings require Lithuanian.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

At work, suits for men and women. In public, tighter and more formal than in the U.S. for both sexes. Women frequently wear high heels and short skirts.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

None.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Lithuanian hospitals all specialize in different ailments so it's important to know where to go in an emergency. Thankfully, we have an excellent Med Unit that helps to navigate the system, but people are routinely medevac'd to London. The private Baltic American Clinic is popular for routine needs. Lithuania has ongoing problems with both TB and Swine Flu.

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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 good.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Summer is mild to hot, with temperatures reaching the 90s. Winter is long, dark and cold with snow lasting from October through March.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

School-age students attend AISV instead of VIS. AISV has recently introduced the IB program.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

Parents of younger children mostly send their children to programs at AISV although some families have used the Montessori school or "Saules Gojus," an English/Lithuanian program. Children under two have nannies.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Let's put it this way -- I am surprised if I hear someone that I don't already know speaking English.

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2. Morale among expats:

Average. Some employees work very long hours and are expected to be accessible at home as well. It is hard to get out and about in the winter, but the long summer days go a long way toward improving morale.

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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?

Parties, dinners, restaurants, and social clubs are all popular here.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes. There are many families at post, and singles frequently go out to dinner or clubbing together. Single men do especially well -- Lithuanian women have a reputation for their beauty.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Search here Amensty Lithuania for "homophobic" "homosexual" or "Pride" and draw your own conclusions.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Lithuanians are not very experienced with people of different races or religions and adhere largely to traditional gender roles. However, Lithuania has a female president and several other high-ranking female government officials.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Travel throughout the Baltics, attending festivals, and visiting the water park.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Take the ferry from Klaipeda or Riga, see the Lithuanian coast at Nida or Palanga, camp in the forest, pick mushrooms and berries, go to the spa at Druskininkai, see a movie in English with Lithuanian subtitles, play basketball or soccer, shop at the markets.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Wood carvings, amber and linen.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Lithuania is beautiful in summer, and Vilnius has a very walkable, well-preserved old town.

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11. Can you save money?

Some.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Probably.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Potatoes, pork, beets, Russian-language books.

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3. But don't forget your:

Bathing suit, camping and snow gear.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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