A beautiful blend of old and new, Latvia offers a unique expat experience. Though a little off the beaten path, this Baltic country, situated between Estonia and Lithuania, has much to offer with its rich history and beautiful natural scenery.
A lush and green country, more than half of Latvia’s land area is forested and the country is famous for its stunning rivers, lakes and waterfalls. Mires make up close to 10 percent of Latvia’s land and are largely untouched by civilisation. As a result, these wetlands provide refuge to many unique species of plants and animals.
The historic centre of Latvia’s capital, Riga, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where medieval buildings stand alongside chic coffee shops and glass skyscrapers. Many expats in Riga are attracted to the city’s high quality of life, fantastic shopping opportunities, and cosmopolitan nightlife and restaurants.
Formerly occupied by pre-war Russia and later by the Soviet Union, Latvia has since opened its borders to trade and has almost completely privatised since its formal independence in 1991. In 2004, Latvia joined the European Union (EU) and has seen a steady increase in foreign investment; it adopted the euro as its official currency in 2014.
Latvian is the official language spoken by the majority of locals, while Russian is still the primary language for close to a third of Latvia’s population. English is widely understood in business and tourism hotspots though, so expats in these circles should have little trouble communicating. If living in a rural area or simply wanting to make the most of the Latvian experience, learning even just the basics of the local language can be very rewarding.
Healthcare in Latvia is free, but expats moving with families should note that the quality of public healthcare is likely to be below the standards they're used to, especially outside of Riga. Expats are advised to get private international insurance.
The public education system is also likely to be below expat standards and, with Latvian being the primary language of instruction at state schools, many expats choose to send their children to one of the international schools in Riga instead.
There are no restrictions on property investment, making Latvia a popular holiday-home spot for expats fond of skiing and other outdoor pursuits. First-time buyers should be wary of high levels of corruption and red tape though, and it’s a good idea to hire a reputable English-speaking lawyer to handle transactions on one's behalf. Renting is affordable, and it's often a safer and more practical option than buying for the short term.
The cost of living in Latvia is relatively low. Although cities such as Riga are more expensive than rural areas, most expats still find it generally cheaper to live in than other European hubs.
Most expats do not experience culture shock when moving to Latvia. The country has come a long way since its independence in 1991, and with a stable government and picturesque scenery, Latvia is a rewarding destination for any expat.
Population: 1.8 million
Capital city: Riga
Geography: Latvia lies on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea. The country's territory is mostly made up of low-lying forested plains, with some small lakes and swamps dotting the countryside.
Neighbouring countries: Latvia is bordered by Estonia to the north, Lithuania to the south, Russia to the east and Belarus to the southeast.
Political system: Parliamentary republic
Major religions: Christianity
Main languages: Latvian is the official language. Russian is also spoken, while English is understood in most business circles.
Time: GMT +2 (+1 additional hour from the last Sunday of March till the last Sunday of October).
Electricity: 230V, 50 Hz. Round, two-pin plugs are most common.
Money: The official currency of Latvia is the Euro (EUR).
International dialling code: +371
Emergency numbers: 112
Internet domain: .lv
Transport and driving: The country has an efficient public transport system consisting of buses, trams and trolleybuses. Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road.