Vilnius, Lithuania Report of what it's like to live there - 03/05/17

Personal Experiences from Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius, Lithuania 03/05/17

Background:

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

Not my first expat experience, but my first in Europe.

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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?

No direct flights to the U.S., but lots of flight options through major European hubs. Two-hour flight to Frankfurt.

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3. How long have you lived here?

10 months.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Apartments and a few single-family homes for particularly large families. Commute is 10-45 min by foot and 10-15 min by car. Parking is limited. Most people walk, carpool or take a daily taxi. Apartments are nice but not huge. Not much room for entertaining but space for friends or family to visit. Like most of Europe, smaller kitchens and appliances are standard. ook some adjustment to get used to having a tiny freezer as I've typically cooked and frozen lots of meals periodically. Still, really nothing to complain about.

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

Excellent selection and price. Lithuanians still eat relatively little processed foods, so things like canned soup are very hard to find, but if you like cooking or eating out, you're set.

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

I wasn't satisfied with the locally available basic cleaning products and started shipping from the U.S. Bleach is particularly hard to find, for some strange reason. As previously stated, American processed foods like canned soup are very hard to find.

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

Lots of great restaurants. Without alcohol, you have lots of lunch options for 5 euros and lots of dinner options for 10-15 euros. Lithuanian food is available everywhere. In terms of international cuisine -- good burgers, pizza, some okay Indian and Asian-fusion, a couple fast-food sushi spots. One good Mexican restaurant but it's more expensive than other places so saved for special occasions. Take-out is almost always offered. There is a delivery service for groceries, not sure about prepared foods. No Starbucks, but they have several local chains with coffee-to-go.

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

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Daily Life:

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

Local post is reliable for those without DPO privileges. If you've used diplomatic pouch but not DPO before, keep in mind that Amazon doesn't ship pantry boxes to the DPO addresses, so ordering groceries from Amazon doesn't work well.

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

Household cleaning is about 50 euros for 3-4 hrs. Many people have someone come every other week at that rate. It would be nice if an expat opened a dog walking service. That's hard to find here.

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

The U.S. embassy has a very small gym and a tiny pool. There are some gyms in town but none in my neighborhood so I don't know the details. Most people get exercise by walking and running, both of which are safe and easy here.

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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?

Yes. Not all small vendors take credit cards so always keep some cash. ATMs are safe. You need a chip. If your company will give you a PIN, great. There are significant fees to opening a local bank account. If you have kids, it will probably be necessary.

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

In the capital, there is one Catholic service in English, one international inter-denominational English congregation (about 30 people each week), and a Baptist English service. There is an active Jewish community but I'm not sure what languages are used. The Muslim community has been trying to build a mosque for years.

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6. 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 a few greetings. There are also local classes and tutors available affordably. Just about anybody who doesn't speak English speaks Russian so you can make use of that skill if you have it. That said, if you take the FSI course and get to at least a 1-1, that will help make life a little easier.

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

Yes. Lots of uneven surfaces, stairs, etc.

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Transportation:

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

Yes. Phone apps to order taxis work really well. Cheaper and more reliable than catching a ride on the street.

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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?

A small SUV is good. The roads are good but if you want to get out and explore villages and national parks it's handy to have four-wheel drive. Old town roads are narrow. Large personal vehicles (trucks or big SUVs) are very uncommon here.

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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. Best to request set-up in advance.

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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?

Bring an unlocked phone. SIM cards and pay-as-you-go plans are cheap.

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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?

Good vets, including English-speaking. Kennels aren't common, but there are a few that are okay, not great. Better to arrange a puppy-sitter or house-sitter. Import/export as a diplomat is easy. Lithuanians like dogs but many here aren't friendly so they won't approach your dog to pet (which I like!) and it's best not to approach theirs.

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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?

Teaching, work at Embassy, international consulting using this as a base. Internet is good enough for telecommuting but time difference can make that hard. Local salaries are very low. Full-time university professors with a PhD make about $16,000 a year, for context.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Hard if you don't speak Lithuanian. Not much organized. But if you are passionate about it, there are ample opportunities to start something.

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

Formal dress would rarely be required. Euro-nice is standard outside of work. If you wear jeans, they will know you are American. Suits or very nice business casual are standard for work.

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Health & Safety:

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

No. Safe and comfortable place. Usual personal safety advice is valid here, as it is everywhere in the U.S. If you go to bar and get drunk, something bad could happen (shocking, I know).

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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?

Medical and dental care is good. Medical evacuations are often required but for surgery or to see a specialist: you might have to go to London or the U.S. The embassy's Lithuanian doctor and nurse are very good.

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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?

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Be careful eating out. Restaurant staff aren't likely to understand fully what you're trying to avoid or why.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Winter is 3-4 months of cold and dark. Most people are fine with this, but possibly others would be more sensitive.

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

Summers are lovely -- 70s, long daylight hours, rain shows common but not for days on end. First snow this year was Nov 1. We had about 2 weeks that were below 0F, and about four months that were almost always below 32. Snow is frequent but not deep. Rarely more than 4 inches at a time. If you're from the northern part of the U.S., this is not a big deal, just bring ample winter clothing and layers. YakTracks or something of the sort are an essential. Lithuanians still come out in the winter, lots of people walking and going to outside events. Definitely need a good rain jacket for the other three seasons.

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Schools & Children:

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

There is an American school and families seem happy with it.

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

Challenging but doable. Ask CLO to refer you to families that have dealt with this.

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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?

Infant care is very hard to find as most Lithuanians take long maternity leaves and depend on family support. English pre-school and day care options are available.

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

Lots of after-school activities here. If your kid is good but not great at whatever activity, you probably want to go through their school's program. If they are very good at a performing art or sport, there are very high caliber programs available but you need to be serious about the commitment and have the prerequisite talent and training. Language barriers usually aren't a big problem as Lithuanian kids learn English from a young age and are eager to use it.

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Expat Life:

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

Small end of medium at the US Embassy. High morale. Not a lot of other expats in town, but there are some.

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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?

Churches, book clubs, etc.

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

Everyone seems happy.

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

Probably not great, but okay. There is an active gay community. Might be harder for LBGT families than for singles/couples without kids. Not unlike a lot of the U.S. outside major urban areas.

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

Ethnic and religious prejudices are real. Americans with ethnic roots in Africa and the Middle East are likely going to get comments, although likely nothing more than that. The Holocaust legacy is still a major issue for the Jewish community. Muslim community is small and publicly-observant Muslims will likely also get comments. In general, offensive comments seem to be the worst you would encounter. Gender issues not a major problem for expats.

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

Fantastic place to live and work. Small enough to be safe and comfortable. Big enough to offer lots of variety. Lots of local cultural activities that are free or very inexpensive -- basketball games, soccer games, concerts, operas, ballets, Christmas market, etc. Lithuanians actively celebrate lots of traditional holidays so there are many activities around that. Also easy to get out from here to other areas of the Nordic/Baltic region or long weekend trips to other parts of Europe. Many expats don't explore Lithuania beyond the capital -- it's worth getting out locally!

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

Nida, Palanga, Lietuvos Rytas basketball games, concerts and other performing arts events every night of the week.

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

Lots of local folk arts -- amber and linen are popular souvenirs.

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

All the comforts and safety of Europe, inexpensive to eat out and go to cultural events, easy travel.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

As good as advertised!

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

Absolutely.

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

Expectations that locals will invite you to their homes. kepticism about NATO and EU -- both are very popular here.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure, interest in history, openness to different perspectives.

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

Movies "The Other Dream Team," "Forest Brothers," and "Ashes in the Snowing" (last one is due out in 2017). Ruta Sepetys' novels about the Baltics are easy reads on tough topics. Not a lot of other books in English, unfortunately.

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