Vilnius, Lithuania Report of what it's like to live there - 05/05/09

Personal Experiences from Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius, Lithuania 05/05/09

Background:

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

Fifth expat experience.

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2. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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

U.S. Embassy.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

From DC, it takes about 12 hours to fly to Lithuania. There are no direct flights to Vilnius. The best connection is in Frankfurt with Lufthansa, although you can also connect in Copenhagen (Air Baltic), Prague (Air France), and a few other European capitals.

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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 embassy housing pool is great. Many of the apartments are centrally-located and have fabulous views. The houses are large, and some have interesting amenities such as indoor pools and saunas.

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

Perhaps a little bet less than you would pay in the US. The quality of meats and dairy products is excellent, although they expire much more quickly than in the US. You can generally find anything you need. And the variety of fruits and vegetables is wonderful.

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

Most items are available here. Some people are members of the commissary, but I am not sure why. The few items I cannot get here (brown sugar and some baking products), I purchase from Netgrocer.

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

McDonald's, KFC, tons of pizza places. There are delicious restaurants all over town.

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

The cold kills them all. Yay!

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Daily Life:

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

APO and 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?

You can find domestic help, but it is expensive.

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

Yes, but they are quite expensive. A mid-sized gym that is favored by embassy employees costs about USD 70 per month. Nicer gyms with bigger facilities can cost more than that.

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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?

No problems using ATMs or credit cards.

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

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

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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?

You can get by with English for shopping trips. Most of the younger people speak at least some English. But to really immerse yourself in the culture, you really need to speak Lithuanian.

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

Thanks to EU regulations, the city is becoming increasingly accessible for disable individuals. But a person with disabilities would still experience problems. For example, many shopping centers now offer disabled parking. But able-bodied people park in these prime spaces, and store security guards do nothing.

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Transportation:

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

The buses and taxis are affordable and safe.

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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 sedan will do just fine, although some people also have small SUVs.

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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, high-speed internet is available, reliable, and affordable.

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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?

You can buy a cellphone and a pre-paid card at post, if you are an EFM.

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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)?

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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?

Not really. Most jobs require knowledge of Lithuanian, as well as Russian and other European languages. Spouses who cannot find work at the embassy have limited opportunities.

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

Lithuanians dress more formally than Americans do for social events.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

The air here is fairly clean. The countryside--especially the lakes, rivers, and fields--are also unpolluted.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Standard immunizations we would get in the US.

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

Please. The toughest part of this city is calmer than the safest section of DC. You do hear about muggings occasionally., but most of the crime seems to be directed from gangster-to-gangster. Security can be a concern for minorities, including racial and sexual minorities. Complaints about beatings or harassment are common.

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

Medical care is adequate for everyday problems, but this is not the place to come down with something serious. The medical unit staff is good and responsive.

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

It can get cold here, although Lithuanians indicate that the severity of winters has waned noticeably. Nevertheless, the precipitation requires good, warm clothing. Summers are mostly delightful, but it can be chilly (45 to 55 degrees) in the mornings and evenings throughout the summer.

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Schools & Children:

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

The American School is adequate for children in lower grades, but only acceptable for children in junior high. On the plus side, the school's small size offers children personal attention. But, it can also be limiting.

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

The school's small size means that it is difficult for children with special needs to receive adequate support.

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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?

A few families have sent their children to local daycare centers. Also, some families have hired nannies, but doing that can be quite expensive.

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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?

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2. Morale among expats:

Embassy management is a drag on morale. While most people enjoy living in Vilnius and enjoy their coworkers, they do not look forward to going to work.

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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?

There are tons of things to do around town.

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

It is a good city for families, singles, and couples. (Although singles seem to really enjoy themselves here.) There is something for everyone to do in Vilnius.

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

No. Most Lithuanians are homophobic. There is a gay club, but other than that gay people here are invisible.

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

Yes. Besides being homophobic, most Lithuanians also distrust or dislike most racial, ethnic, and religious groups and minorities. Several minority Americans have been assaulted because of the color of their skin.

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

There is a lot to do here. Most Western-style distractions (movies, malls, etc...) are available. For culture vultures, there is also a wide array of plastic and performing arts offerings. Some activities do not require Lithuanian, but I really wish I spoke some Lithuanian so that I could take advantage of more activities and classes.

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

There are some knick-knacks you can buy: amber jewelry, wood carvings, etc.

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9. Can you save money?

If you are a family and the EFM finds a job, definitely.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes.

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

warm-weather clothing.

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3. But don't forget your:

parka and snow boots.

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

The Corrections

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

The Corrections

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Vilnius is a lovely place to live. It is small, safe, and not-too-expensive compared to other European capitals.

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