Riga, Latvia Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Riga, Latvia

Riga, Latvia 07/24/17

Background:

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

We previously lived in south Asia and east Africa.

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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?

Washington DC. Connection is typically in Frankfurt. Takes about 13 hours with layover.

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3. How long have you lived here?

About 3 years.

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

US embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

You have a choice between city apartments, townhouses across the river, and larger townhouses with some yard near the international school. The longest commute would be about 20 minutes It takes us about 15 minutes from Old Riga.

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

You can get anything here, pretty much. Beef is not the greatest at the grocery store, but there is a specialty shop if you are craving steak.

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

Nothing comes to mind. Everything is either available locally or you can buy through Amazon, etc.

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

Decent variety of restaurants, though ethnic choices are a bit limited. There are sushi places (if you like cream cheese with your fish), a couple Indian places (one is really good), and some decidedly mediocre Chinese. There is a fairly new Vietnamese place that does great pho and banh mi.

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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 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?

Cheap by EU standards, crazy expensive compared to Africa and S. Asia. We never hired anyone. Nannies seem to run about 800 Euro a month for full time, if you want to be generous...about 600 if not. We never found anyone that wanted to come every day for housekeeping and laundry, or that wanted to cook. What you can get is someone that will come once or twice a week and spend a full or half day. This didn't meet our needs so we never hired anyone.

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

The US embassy has a small gym. Private gyms are available but pretty costly.

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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, credit cards are widely accepted in Riga, less so in the smaller cities. ATMs at banks are generally safe, beware of any "private" ATMs at bars or restaurants, these are often used as skimming devices.

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

No experience with this, but I do hear it's available.

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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 fine with English in Riga. Everyone under 30 speaks it fine, especially in Old Riga. Outside the capital it would be advised to have some Latvian or Russian.

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

Would be very challenging. There is one NGO working on accessibility issues, but progress has been slow. Even municipal buildings are rarely truly accessible.

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Transportation:

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

Yes, safe, cheap, and widely available. For taxis, stick with Baltic Cab or Red Cab, or the Taxify app (Uber knockoff that lets you still pay cash if you want).

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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?

Anything is fine, though larger vehicles may be harder to park.

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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, Latvia has very good Internet, typically some of the fastest in the world.

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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?

Cheap and widely available. You can buy a SIM for about 10 euro, unlimited data is about 15 euro a month per line.

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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?

Yes there are several vets, good clinics. No quarantine needed if your pet is up to date on vaccinations.

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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?

Spouses can and do work on the economy, but it can be tough if they don't have Russian or Latvian. There are several EFM jobs at the US embassy, but they are unfilled due to the hiring freeze.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots of choices, ranging from animal shelters, soup kitchens, orphanages, women's shelters, etc.

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

Business at work. Latvians dress nicer than Americans in general in any setting. Casual wear in public isn't a problem, but everyone will know right away that you aren't a local.

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Health & Safety:

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

Very safe post. Only isolated incidents that you'd expect in any city.

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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 care is good and fairly cheap. There is no American doctor or direct-hire health practitioner, but there is an EFM nurse in the health unit. Local doctors are good and generally US/Canadian/EU trained, most speak good English. Dental care is cheap and of good quality.

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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 great, something like 50% of the country is forest.

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

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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 long, cold, and dark. SAD is a real thing here. Best advice, save up leave days for trips south. Barring that, be sure to get outside during the work day, use your SAD lamps, and avoid the temptation to hibernate.

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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 and wet in winter, moderate and gorgeous summers. It hasnt been above 70 degrees this summer so far, but it can be very nice to sit at the beer gardens.

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Schools & Children:

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

In my opinion, there has been a dramatic decline at the most popular school, ISL. Major problems around administration and quality of secondary education. Major problems with LGBT discrimination. The school board is dominated by local Russian speakers, who are very conservative. There was a big problem with nepotism, though that was resolved by transfers over the summer. Way too many children of oligarchs at the school, this can be a problem with cliques and lack of socializing opportunities for expat kids. I would probably think twice before bringing a high school aged kid, middle school is OK, elementary seems fine.

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

ISL will make a limited attempt. There has been at least 1 curtailment over this issue though.

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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?

Preschool is available, though pretty expensive. We didn't have any personal experience.

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

There are a few sports teams of typical low international school quality. There is a robotics team that did quite well at ISL. The schools are all very small, so the quality of competition suffers greatly.

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Expat Life:

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

The community is small, but most EU countries are represented. Overall, morale is good, and there are a number of opportunities to get together with other missions socially.

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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?

Yes there are regular happy hour type events, women's clubs, etc. Opportunities are there if you look for them.

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

Good for everyone, good mix of things to do. Good outdoor activities, bars, restaurants. Many festivals and cultural events.

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

Not great, but vastly improved from 10 years ago. Still, Latvia ranks at the bottom of every index for EU countries as far as quality of life for LGBT individuals. There is one active NGO that puts on events on a fairly regular basis.

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

None really. There is a big divide between ethnic Russians and Latvians socially and politically, but as an expat doesn't really affect you.

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

Lots to do, beaches, hiking, kayaking, exploring castles, remnants of Soviet occupation, KGB museum.

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

Wool handicrafts, amber jewelry are quite common and of high quality. Prices are reasonable compared to the rest of Europe.

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

Easy and cheap to travel throughout Europe, Ryanair, WizzAir, Norwegian all fly here. AirBaltic has direct flights to much of the continent, and as far as Tel Aviv.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, but, the school issues made it more difficult than it needed to be.

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Riga, Latvia 09/21/16

Background:

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

This was not our first expat experience. We have previously lived in Bulgaria and Mexico.

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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?

We have not returned to the U.S. since arriving in Riga. To get here, we traveled from Washington Dulles to Riga via Frankfurt. The total trip took about 15 hours, including a long layover in Frankfurt. Riga has many flights daily/weekly to other large European cities.

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3. How long have you lived here?

One year, five months.

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

U.S. 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?

We have a very cozy townhouse between Riga city center and the U.S. Embassy. Our neighborhood is quiet, peaceful, and safe. We can walk to Old Riga (about 35 minutes), or ride our bikes, drive, or take a bus. The commute to the embassy is about 10 minutes by car; 20 by bike; 15-20 by bus.

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

We can get just about anything we could possibly need here. The cost of food is generally cheaper than in the U.S., with the exception of some specialty items. We are vegan and have had no problems finding groceries and products to fit our lifestyle.

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

Nothing- in fact, we brought many things with us, not knowing what would and would not be available, only to find that we had over-shopped. However, we don't consume a lot of processed foods.

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

Riga has a wonderful, wide variety of restaurants. Typical Latvian fare is similar to German food- a lot of meat and potatoes. However, there are many restaurants offering other options, such as Indian, Thai, Italian, and general modern cuisine. There are also many outdoor bars/cafes in warmer weather, and plenty of bakeries as well. There are not many vegan options as far as restaurants go, but there are many vegetarian options. Some restaurants will deliver within a few kilometers of the city.

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

No.

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Daily Life:

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

We use the DPO at the U.S. Embassy. Amazon Prime packages and mail from the U.S. typically arrive within 10 days or so.

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

We do not employ any household help; however, some families do, and I believe it is affordable. Most household help is in the way of nannies and housekeepers.

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

The Embassy has a small, basic gym with a couple of treadmills, bikes, and an elliptical machine, as well as weights. This is open to Embassy staff and EFMs 24 hours a day. There are also many local gyms in Riga, as well as a couple of swimming pools. Memberships can range from about 50-100 EUR per month, depending on where.

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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, yes, and yes. Credit cards can be used just about anywhere (grocery stores, the mall, restaurants), with the exception of perhaps some of the market stalls / vendors. ATMs are very common and safe; just be sure to use one that is affiliated with one of the major banks (Swedbank, Nordea, SEB, Citadele, etc.).

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

I believe there are services, but I don't know enough about them to comment.

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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?

Many Latvians, especially in Riga, speak excellent English. Latvian is the official national language, although many people also speak Russian (especially older generations). Local language classes are definitely available.

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

While Riga is not as accessible as a city of its size would be in the U.S., growth is coming in this area. Ramps and elevators

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Transportation:

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

Yes. Buses and trams cost 2 EUR per trip; 1 EUR if you purchase a multi-use bus pass. They are safe and reliable. Taxis aren't too expensive either; just make sure to use a reputable company like Riga Red Cab, Baltic Taxi, Panda Taxi, or Taxify and make sure that the driver uses the meter.

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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?

In Riga, you will see cars of all kinds - beat-up old Ladas, as well as huge, shiny Range Rovers, and even Jaguars and Rolls Royces on occasion. The roads are generally good throughout the country. We brought our Honda Civic and have had no problems at all. In the winter months, snow tires are required in Latvia, although all-weather tires meet this requirement. We used our all-weather tires last winter and had no problems. There are dealerships for many different car makes throughout the city.

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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! Latvia boasts the 5th-fastest Internet speed in the world, so using the Internet and streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime is very smooth. We were fortunate to arrive to our home with Internet already installed, so I cannot comment on installation.

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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?

Many people here use local providers for their smartphones. We kept our U.S. T-mobile Simple Choice international plan (unlimited texting and data; free calling when connected to Wifi; 20 cents/min. when not) and I bought a cheap Nokia to use for local phone calls and texting. I pay 5 EUR a month for my local mobile phone 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?

Riga is very pet-friendly. We brought our mid-sized (50-pound) dog here, and she loves it. There are a lot of green spaces for pets, including a couple of off-leash dog parks. When in the city, leashes are technically the law, but many people do not adhere to this law, so just be aware. There are a few stray dogs and cats (more cats than dogs) throughout the city, but often they are at least fed by people. Great vet care is available in English from any of the many veterinary clinics here. I believe there are kennels as well, but we bring our dog to a wonderful, trustworthy Latvian family when we travel, and they take such great care of her. The cost is reasonable. No quarantine is necessary in Riga. There is a rather large tick problem throughout Latvia, so just use caution and make sure to get a good tick collar/preventive.

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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?

Many spouses work at the Embassy. I myself am a teacher, and spent my first year teaching at the International School of Latvia, full time. Teaching positions open up there each year, and there are also many opportunities to substitute teach or tutor as well. Some of the other schools likely have opportunities for teaching also.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

I am not familiar with and specific formal volunteer opportunities, but I would imagine that one would be able to volunteer at local schools and orphanages.

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

Latvians dress very nicely for work- usually business or business casual; the same is true at the Embassy. Formal dress might be required for special events.

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Health & Safety:

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

We have felt very safe in Riga. As a woman who often runs very long distances alone, I have always felt very safe, but I exercise caution in keeping aware of my surroundings. Petty crime happens here and there, but I am not aware of any more serious issues.

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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?

Tick encephalitis is a concern, but this can be prevented with a series of vaccines given by the Health Unit. The overall quality of medical care, in my experience, is excellent. I had an MRI at a state-of-the-art orthopaedic clinic and have visited the dentist for routine care, as well as a filling, and both experiences exceeded my expectations. The Embassy Health Unit is great and can provide assistance with small issues, such as prescribing some medications and drawing blood, and can refer one to other facilities for more serious issues. Pharmacies are plentiful and well-stocked throughout Riga.

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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?

Good air quality with seasonal allergies for some people.

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

Seasonal allergies are quite common among expats and locals. There are over-the-counter and prescription medications available to help with them.

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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)?

Yes - SAD is a very real issue here, and is, for me, the most difficult thing about this post. Owing to Latvia's high latitude, the winter months are very dark, with only about 6 hours of cloudy daylight from mid-December to mid-January. I did not realize how difficult that would be until I experienced it. "Happy lamps" are available at the Embassy, though it may not hurt to buy an extra one. Vitamin D levels also tend to drop dramatically during the winter months, so taking a supplement is a good idea. (On the bright side, the summer months offer extra long periods of daylight.)

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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?

Latvia has four distinct seasons - spring, summer, autumn, and winter. The summers can be cool with a few warm or even hot days sprinkled in here and there). Winters aren't too bad- generally in the 20s Fahrenheit, with a few days that may go below 0F. Last winter, we had a couple of snowstorms that left a few inches of snow behind, but nothing too bad.

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Schools & Children:

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

Most Embassy families send their kids to International School of Latvia (ISL). Some, as well as many other expats, send theirs to International School of Riga (ISR). There is also a French Lycee, a German school, and a new British school is currently under construction. We do not have any children, though I have experience at ISL as a teacher. ISL's students range from age 3 through grade 12 (about 350 in the total student body). Of the aforementioned schools, it is the only IB World School. Most of the teaching faculty is American or Canadian, and many of the support staff members are Latvian. Instruction is given in English, and students have the opportunity to learn a foreign language (Latvian, Russian, German, or French, depending on the grade level).

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

The Learning Support team at ISL works with students who have special needs such as autism, cerebral palsy, emotional/behavioral needs, and mobility needs. Accommodations include accessibility, one-to-one assistants for individual students, and special equipment as needed, etc.

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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?

ISL's preschool is open to kids aged 3 and 4. The fee for this is around 9,000 EUR per year. I am not familiar with other preschools and day care facilities.

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

Yes- there are many local sports clubs, and ISL offers after school activities for its students.

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Expat Life:

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

The expat community in Riga is quite large, and morale tends to be fairly high, as this is a safe place with many things to do.

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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?

It seems that there is always some kind of festival happening, and there is no shortage of cultural events. Bars, restaurants, and cafes are plentiful, offering many places to meet and socialize.

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

As a couple with no children, we have thoroughly enjoyed our time here. We can go to the ballet, the cinema, out to eat, etc. I can imagine that for singles who want to meet new people, it may be difficult, though the Internations group organizes various activities where people can come together. Embassy Riga has a number of families with children, and our wonderful CLO is always organizing activities and outings.

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

There is one LGBTI association in Riga, and it is working steadfastly to promote change and greater acceptance of the LGBTI community. Overall, I imagine that Riga would be a difficult place to be openly LGBTI, as homophobia is unfortunately still quite common. However, in 2015, Riga hosted a successful EuroPride event- a sign that change is happening, albeit gradually.

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

Latvia is quite homogenous when it comes to ethnic diversity and the recent relocation of refugees has shown another area in which acceptance of change is slow-going. While I am not aware of any issues involving violence, the attitude toward the refugees has been unwelcoming overall (of course, not for everyone). Tension between Latvians and Russians is on-going, due to the country's long and difficult history.

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

Running everywhere and anywhere, exploring Latvia's beautiful nature, and generally feeling very comfortable and safe.

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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 of history here, with many sights to see. Latvia's national parks and green spaces are also scenic and offer great hiking and camping opportunities.

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

Crafts such as hand-knit mittens, wooden toys and trinkets, amber jewelry, and linens are among the most popular. These items are available year-round at local shops and some markets. Each June, there is a huge folk art fair at the ethnographic museum, where visitors can find just about any craft imaginable.

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

It is very safe, not overwhelmingly large, and easy to get around.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Nothing.

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

Yes! We don't want to leave.

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

expectations of fast, smiley customer service. While it does exist in some places, patience and flexibility are good things to practice.

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4. But don't forget your:

Warm coat and sweaters, happy lamp, and camera.

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

I can't think of any particular titles, but reading about Latvia's history and, especially, the last 100 years, will provide a valuable understanding of Latvia's place in the world and its people today.

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Riga, Latvia 07/11/10

Background:

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

Second expat experience.

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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?

From Washington, it's an overnight flight to one of the European hubs and then a few hours on to Riga.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

US Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

For USG types, it's mostly apartments in the center of town. Unfortunately they're getting rid of nice old apartments in historic districts with newer units out in the sticks where the new Embassy will open soon.

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

Things were pretty expensive but the dollar is finally making a comeback. You can get most things, but there will be odd shortages at the grocery. Produce selection can be grim in winter.

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

Cross-country skis. There's sometimes snow, but there are no mountains. You need something to get out of the house in the winter.

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

McDonald's, Hesburger (Finnish McDonald's), a pancake shop, the world's slowest pizza delivery service. Fast food is not a common concept here.

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5. 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.

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

Available, cheaper than the US, but not a super bargain. Maybe changing since the economy collapsed, but we're not in the market.

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

Just barely. It's a mystery how Latvians stay so skinny, but it's not by going to gyms. There are a few gyms, but they're not very convenient and they're more geared toward bodybuilders than normal folks trying to stay fit.

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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?

Widespread and pretty safe.

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

Rumor is yes.

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

The U.S. Embassy has a pile of decrepit, crumbling AFN boxes which they will make you pay to maintain but then insist are still their property. The cable packages available have a few English-language channels.

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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?

Almost none. English is widely spoken.

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

I can't say it would be great, but it's a European city - it's pretty good as potential foreign postings go.

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Transportation:

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

Trains, buses and trams are safe and affordable. There are a couple good taxi companies and a lot of others trying to rip you off.

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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?

I would bring something smaller for city parking purposes. But they don't really plow the roads in the winter, so 4-wheel-drive isn't a bad idea.

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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, pretty standard prices.

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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 recommend reading the literature about the small but still uncertain risk that holding a small radiation transmitter near your brain for several minutes or hours a day could cause long-term damage. But they're not really optional in Latvia.

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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?

Pretty thin unless you speak Latvian or Russian.

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

Men dress like anywhere in Europe, perhaps a bit dressier than the U.S. The women dress like they are going to the hottest party in town even if they're running down to the corner store to buy milk.

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Health & Safety:

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

The people who have never been anywhere even moderately dangerous get scared because there are pickpockets in town. Riga is pretty safe for a city. Safer than most U.S. cities.

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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 medical care is tragically bad. Medevac for anything worse than a hangnail.

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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 great. One of the pleasures of a smaller city.

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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?

Summers are very pleasant, warm but never hot, with long days and some rain. Winters are long and very unpleasant. You may get clear and frigid, painful cold, or even worse you may get months on end of dark, grey days with a mix of drizzle, sleet, and snow.

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Schools & Children:

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

I hear they're good.

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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?

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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?

Pretty modest. Maybe 1000?

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2. Morale among expats:

A mixed bag. The winters get a lot of people down. A lot of people get tired of how small the city is and the limited entertainment options. The Latvians are not exactly known for their warm and welcoming nature.

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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 is some. Dinner parties, bars and clubs, etc.

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

As with 95% of foreign posts, single guys have a great time; single women, not so much. Good city for couples. Lots of families at post, most seem pretty happy with it.

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

I suppose it could be worse. It's tough to be out here; there's a lot of homophobia, but there is a scene, I gather.

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

Yes. There are occasional, but serious, problems with verbal and even sometimes physical harassment of racial minorities.

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

The summer in Latvia is fantastic, there is a good selection of bars, a decent selection of restaurants, and with AirBaltic sales, it is a perfect base for exploring the rest of Europe.

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

There are some good bars and clubs, there are some good but overpriced restaurants. The summer beer gardens are a highlight. Most of the museums in town are nice for a quick stroll, but nothing you'll want to go back to. Jurmala beach is very short train ride or a nice bike ride away.

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

There's not really much to buy here. There is amber jewelry. There are traditional linen tablecloths and such. There are a million wooden spoons on sale at every craft fair.

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

Beautiful small city, lovely architecture, easy to get around.

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11. Can you save money?

As always, it depends. If you don't spend your long weekends in Rome or London, you can probably save money.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Sure. I had a nice time.

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

twenty jars of peanut butter. They do have it in grocery stores.

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3. But don't forget your:

sweaters, and something to do during the long winters when you are cooped up inside.

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

Nobody writes anything about Latvia other than turgid scholarly tomes.

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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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Riga, Latvia 08/23/08

Background:

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

No.

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2. How long have you lived here?

20 months.

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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.

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

U.S. Government employee.

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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.

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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.

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

Snow skis and fishing poles.

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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.

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Daily Life:

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

Both 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?

Available for an average cost of probably 3.50 Ls per hour in Riga.

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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?

No problems noted. All throughout the city are ATM machines.

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

Yes, multiple denominations.

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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.

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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?

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.

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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.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right.

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

Yes and yes.

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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.

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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 25 Ls per month.

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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?

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).

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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.

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Pets:

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

Available for reasonable prices. Kennels I am unsure about.

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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 so much.

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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.

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Health & Safety:

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

Good.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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.

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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.

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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?

Yes. Do not expect it to be cheap.

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Expat Life:

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

Average.

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2. Morale among expats:

Pretty high.

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes. Outside of the capital there is not a lot to do.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Definitely.

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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.

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3. But don't forget your:

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

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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