Vilnius, Lithuania Report of what it's like to live there - 03/20/17

Personal Experiences from Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius, Lithuania 03/20/17

Background:

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

This is our smallest post and smallest city. Previously Seoul, Moscow, and Vienna.

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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?

Most trips are through Frankfurt, so direct from there to large US cities like DC, NY, Chicago.

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3. How long have you lived here?

18 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?

Eastern European/post-Soviet, with a diverse selection of housing. Some private houses, some apartments. Commute times are reasonable because it's a small city, so some expats live in the country by choice.

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

Groceries and household supplies seem reasonable, most standard European brands available. I think our groceries cost less than in Moscow, but we've had a couple of kids leave home too so maybe not...

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

Canned pumpkin and masa harina are about the only things I haven't found here. Brown sugar is available. There is ethnic food available, especially Middle Eastern, but also Asian and even Mexican.

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

We don't eat out much, but there are a million pizza places and coffee shops, sandwiches, subway, restaurants from low to high-end. The only cuisine I haven't found a satisfactory outlet for yet is Chinese, but I have only tried a few.

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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?

DPO. I haven't used the local postal service but it should be fine.

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

Some people have nannies. I would say it's not like countries where household help is cheap, but it's more common than in West European capitals to have at least a cleaner weekly.

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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?

Yes, widely used. I have not heard of any ATM issues, but we prefer banks rather than free-standing ATMs after years in Russia where free-standing ATMs were not always trustworthy.

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

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

It is easy to get by without Lithuanian. Russian can be useful, but most Lithuanians under 30 speak English, often well.

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

Yes, not a lot of accommodation for wheelchairs, narrow and/ or bumpy sidewalks, cobblestone, hilly, stairs. I haven't seen many people out in wheelchairs--it would be a challenge in many buildings.

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Transportation:

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

Yes, to both. I had heard buses were crowded and unpleasant, but I have found them inexpensive and efficient and so I use them. Taxis also are inexpensive and convenient--several taxi apps make it easy to order one. Strangely (to me) it is cheaper to call/order one than to hail one on the street, so even if there is a taxi sitting right there, people call or order on an app. You can choose the luxury level of your taxi too if you order online.

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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?

We have a mid-size SUV, and I would trade it for a small SUV if I could, though I suspect a smaller regular car would also be fine. It's a hilly city but winter hasn't been bad, but parking spaces are small and roads in town are narrow/old.

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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, very good internet, and good mobile service/cellular for tablets. I think it can be arranged pretty quickly. Very "connected" country.

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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?

I use a local SIM and same phone with US SIM when in the states. Local plans are reasonable.

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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?

Excellent veterinary care, though sometimes the vet's English is not great. Our vet here diagnosed our dog's digestive problem after two others had not. No quarantine; standard EU requirements and we now have an EU pet passport for both our cat and dog. Flea and tick routine is important, especially if your dog goes outdoors and to parks.

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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?

Mostly embassy I think.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

The International Women's Association is very active, and there are probably a range of other volunteer options as well.

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

Formal dress for balls/galas. Lithuanians dress nicely but not flamboyantly. Not a lot of high heels, more sensible shoes, and sensible coats etc for cold/cool weather with precipitation.

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Health & Safety:

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

I have not ever felt unsafe thus far.

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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?

The European tick issue that is in other countries in the area too--the US embassy medical unit can vaccinate you if you are with the US mission. The embassy medical unit has local doctor who is very good and personable. The RMO and RMO/P visit. MED seems to prefer to evacuate in non-emergency surgical situations. I would say Lithuania is somewhere between its former Soviet roots on the way to EU standard, but sometimes MED doesn't feel that the EU standard is good enough.

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

Food allergies are not unheard of, and grocery stores have gluten free sections etc. Other than seasonal allergies I don't know of any concerns.

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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)?

Seasonal Affective Disorder can be an issue here--definitely shorter, darker days in the winter. But it's a nice place to live, which helps counteract that (as does a SAD light).

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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?

Cold/cool, but not that snowy. In general there are clouds and rain, but it's not that the sun never shines. I'd say normal Central European...

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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 are at least two international schools and some bilingual programs at local schools.

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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?

Lots of Lithuanian preschools with Lithuanian or Russian language, and often bi- or multi-lingual programs.

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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?

It's not a huge community--you will see familiar faces at events. Morale seems good--it's a nice place to live, and people like their houses and the pace of life.

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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?

The International Women's Association is active.

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

I think though a small city there is something for everyone here. Close to nature, plenty of parks etc, movies in original language, charming old town, variety of restaurants, big beer-culture with lots of small breweries, and I think a lively nightlife for younger people.

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

I don't know, but some gay friends have never complained about it...

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

Not that I have obviously seen, though there may be some anti-Muslim immigrant sentiment among some locals, but there really haven't been that many immigrants here. The paper has a weekly column interviewing recent immigrants to familiarize Lithuania with the idea that people actually want to move here. It's been a multi-cultural city for hundreds of years, so most people are bi- or tri-lingual.

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

People are very friendly to Americans, and very happy to be part of the EU. Many enjoy traveling to other EU countries or to the US and UK, and overall seem to be engaged world citizens. We had a bakery in a small town allow us to bring our dog inside with us and they insisted on treating us to some local specialties. I had a group of young kids in the park switch easily into English to ask questions about my dog. Dogs are well-liked here!

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

Nature, the Baltic Sea, good travel in region, lots of local beer, a festival practically every weekend in the summer and ever few weekends the rest of the year.

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

It can be! Amber jewelry, linen clothes and fabric, probably antiques and art.

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

Small but with a lot of variety and lots to do. I think it's a great place to live.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

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

Yes, in an instant.

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

Home beer kit, high heels, air cleaner.

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4. But don't forget your:

Boots, hiking shoes, mobile phone.

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