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Area, Geography, and Climate Last Updated: 2/11/2004 7:16 AM
Estonia is the northernmost of the three Baltic States. Its
capital, Tallinn, lies about 80 kilometers south of Helsinki,
Finland across the gulf of Finland. West of Estonia is the Baltic
Sea, and to the east is Russia. Estonia borders Latvia on the south.
The smallest of the Baltic States, Estonia covers 17,462 square
miles (45,226 square kilometers) and is roughly the size of New
Hampshire and Vermont combined.
Estonia is located on the Great Northern European Plain. Its
topography is typically flat in coastal regions and hilly in the
inland southeastern part of the country. The elevation in
northwestern Estonia averages 160 feet (49 meters) but rises to 320
feet (98 meters) in the southeast. The highest point in Estonia, at
1,040 feet (317 meters) above sea level, is a hill called “Suur
Munamägi” (“Big Egg Mountain”) in the southeast.
Estonia’s inland waters include 1,400 lakes and many shallow
rivers. The largest lakes are Lake Peipsi in eastern Estonia on the
Russian border and Lake Võrtsjärv in south-central Estonia.
Estonia’s two major rivers are the Emajõgi, running east-west from
Lake Võrtsjärv to Lake Peipsi, and the Narva, that connects Lake
Peipsi to the Gulf of Finland. Estonia has substantial areas of bogs
and wetlands, particularly in western regions. Forest and woodland,
which are usually a mixture of coniferous spruce, pine, white birch,
ash, maple, and aspen, cover 47.4% of Estonia.
Off the coast of Estonia sit 1,520 islands that account for
nearly 8% of the country’s total land area. The largest islands are
Saaremaa and Hiiumaa.
The climate is northern continental, with long winters and short
summers. Winter begins in October and lasts often well into April.
Snowcover is common from mid- or late November to the latter half of
March. Cloud cover and slate gray skies are typical between October
and early February, when drier and sunnier days arrive. Mean January
temperatures are 22°F–25°(-4°C–6°C). The Gulfs of Finland and Riga
only freeze over during the coldest winters.
In addition to being cold and snowy, winter months are
characterized by shortened daylight, a result of Estonia’s northern
latitude (59°N, about the same latitude as Juneau, Alaska). When
days are at their shortest, daylight is present only between 9:30
a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Prevailing gray skies from November through
January make daylight seem even more fleeting. The sun, when it
shines, hugs the horizon, thus giving the impression that it is
early morning or late afternoon even at midday.
It is often difficult to say exactly when winter ends and spring
begins. After the Vernal Equinox (March 21), daylight increases
dramatically. Most days in late March, April, and May are sunny.
Daytime temperatures, however, may still remain in the 30°F–45°F
range into late April, and it is not safe to put winter clothing
into storage until late May. Occasional snow flurries and light snow
are possible even through May.
Summer in Estonia is a short, magical season. Temperatures and
humidity are generally cooler and lower than summer in the U.S. July
and August temperatures are the warmest, averaging 67°F–75°F
(19°C–24°C). Mornings are cooler and the late afternoon can warm up
to the low-80’s F. The surface water temperature in the Baltic Sea
is from 60°F–78°F (16°C–26°C). The heaviest rains occur in July and
August, but they are usually passing showers. During summer months,
Estonia benefits from its northern latitude, with daylight extending
long into evening hours and reappearing well before earliest risers
are out of bed. From early June to mid-July, there is no real
The short autumn can start as early as late August and is
generally cool and rainy. Autumn colors are pleasant, but not as
varied or spectacular as in the northeastern U.S.
Population Last Updated: 2/16/2005 4:03 AM
As of January 1, 2003, Estonia has some 1,365,000 inhabitants.
However, with a birthrate coefficient of 1.39, Estonia faces natural
population decline (minimum “replacement” rate is 2.1). Throughout
Estonia’s modern history, people from several ethnic groups have
entered the country as immigrants to work in the industrial sector.
From 1945–1989 the percentage of ethnic Estonians in Estonia dropped
from 94% to 61%, primarily because of the Soviet promotion of mass
immigration of ethnic Russian urban industrial workers from Russia,
Ukraine, and Belarus, as well as because of wartime emigration and
Stalin’s mass deportations and executions. Currently, major ethnic
groups present in Estonia include Estonians (68%), Russians (26%),
Ukrainians (2%), Belarussians (1.3%), and Finns (0.9%). The urban
population of Estonia is 67% of the total population, according to
the 2000 census. Tallinn is the largest city with 400,378 residents,
followed by Tartu (101,169), Narva (68,680), Kohtla-Jarve (46,764),
and Parnu (44,781). Residents of Tallinn are 54% Estonian and 37%
Russian. The rural population, including that of the islands, is 87%
There is no state religion in Estonia. Approximately 20% of the
population bleongs to one of these major denominations: Estonian
Evangelical Lutheran, Estonian Apostolic Orthodox (subordinated to
the Constantinople Patriarchate), Russian Orthodox, Baptist, and
Roman Catholic. The small Jewish community consists mainly of native
The country’s official language is Estonian. Written with the
Latin alphabet, Estonian belongs to the Finno-Ugric group of
languages. One-third of the standard vocabulary is derived by adding
suffixes to root words. The oldest known examples of written
Estonian originated in 13th century chronicles. The first book in
Estonian was printed in 1525.
History. The name “Eesti”, or Estonia, is derived from the work “Aestii”,
the name given by the ancient Germans to the peoples living
northeast of the Vistula River. The Roman historian Tacitus in 98
A.D. was the first to mention the “Aestii” people, and early
Scandinavians called the land south of the Gulf of Finland
“Eistland” and the people “eistr.” Estonians belong to the
Balto-Finnic group of the Finno-Ugric peoples, as do the Finns and
Hungarians. Estonians have strong ties to the Nordic countries today
stemming from strong cultural and religious influences gained over
centuries of Scandinavian colonization and settlement. A small
nation located between East and West, Estonia has spent much of its
history under foreign domination. In spite of this, the Estonian
people have preserved their language and culture.
Archaeological evidence supports the existence of human activity
in the region as early as 8000 BC. Estonians are one of the
longest-settled European peoples. By 3500 BC the principal ancestors
of the Estonians, known as the “comb pottery” people, had arrived
from the east and settled on the southeastern shores of the Baltic
Sea. Like other early agricultural societies, Estonians were
organized into economically self-sufficient, male-dominated clans
with few differences in wealth or social power. By the early Middle
Ages most Estonians were small landholders, with farmsteads
primarily organized by village. Estonian government remained
decentralized, with local political and administrative subdivisions
emerging only during the first century eleventh century A.D. By
then, Estonia had a population of more than 150,000 people and
remained on the of the last corners of medieval Europe to be
From the 13th- to the 18th-century, Estonia was ruled
successively by the Danes, by a crusading order of German Teutonic
Knights, by the Poles, and by the Swedes. Tallinn joined the
Hanseatic League in 1248. In 1721, during the Great Northern War,
Russia defeated Sweden, and the first era of Russian rule over
Estonia began. Nonetheless, the legal system, Lutheran Church, local
and town governments, and education system remained mostly German
until the late 19th century. By 1819, the Baltic provinces were the
first in the Russian empire in which serfdom was abolished, allowing
the peasants to own their own land or to move to the cities.
Estonia was caught in a current of national awakening that began
sweeping through Europe in the mid-1800s. A cultural movement sprang
forth to adopt the use of Estonian as the language of instruction in
all schools. All-Estonian song festivals were held regularly after
1869, and a national literature in Estonian developed.
Russian rule lasted until the Russian Empire collapsed with the
Bolshevik Revolution at the end of World War I. Estonia declared its
independence from Russia on February 24, 1918, but a war with Russia
for this independence followed. Two years later, the two sides
concluded the February 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty in which Soviet
Russia recognized the independence and sovereignty of Estonia and
renounced in perpetuity all rights to the territory of Estonia.
Independence lasted 22 years. During this time large estate
holdings of the Baltic nobility were redistributed among the
peasants and volunteers in the War of Independence. This period also
saw great cultural advancement. Estonian language schools were
established, and artistic life of all kinds flourished.
On the eve of World War II, Estonian sovereignty was again
undermined. On August 23, 1939, Estonia’s two powerful neighbor
states, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, concluded a mutual
defense pact (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), which contained secret
protocols dividing Eastern Europe into spheres of influence, with
Estonia falling into the Soviet sphere. Estonia was forcibly
incorporated into the Soviet Union in the summer of 1940. On June
14, 1941, mass deportations took place simultaneously in all three
Baltic states. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in
1941, Estonia fell under Nazi control. Massive repression continued,
and about 5,500 Estonians died in concentration camps.
Estonia suffered huge losses in WWII. 45% of industry and 40% of
railways were damaged. Estonia’s population decreased by one-fifth
(approximately 200,000 people). More than 80,000 people fled to the
West between 1940 and 1944. More than 30,000 soldiers were killed in
battles. In 1944 Russian air raids destroyed Narva, and one-third of
the residential areas in Tallinn were destroyed. The Soviets
regained the country by late September 1944, ushering in a second
phase of Soviet rule.
Massive arrests of people who had supported the German occupation
followed. Soviet occupation was also accompanied by expropriation of
property, Sovietization of cultural life, and Stalinist communism’s
permeation of political life. In March 1949, 20,722 people (2.5% of
the population) were deported to Siberia. By the early 1950s the
occupying regime had suppressed the anti-Soviet guerilla movement
known as the “Forest Brethren”, which had originated in the
The Soviet Union remained in control of Estonia until the August
1991 failed coup in Moscow. By that time, the Communist Party
claimed about 100,000 members. Less than half were ethnic Estonians.
The period from 1985 to 1991 was marked by a gradual movement
toward economic, social, and political independence. Two primary
issues engendered public demonstrations and meetings in 1987 and
1988. The first issue was a proposed phosphorite mine which
opponents argued would pollute the ground water and air near the
facility. Demonstrations against the mining caused Moscow to abandon
the plan the same year. The second issue was that of the secret
protocols to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the existence of which
Soviet authorities still denied. In a dramatic public demonstration,
well-known dissidents organized a public meeting on August 23, 1987,
demanding the pact’s publication in Estonia to prove that Estonia
did not join the Soviet Union voluntarily.
In 1988, several prominent Estonians began to publicly criticize
Communist leaders and call for sovereign Soviet republics. The
Estonian “Popular Front” was founded and organized a rally where
Estonians listened to nationalist songs and political speeches in an
unprecedented show of support for national independence. This rally
contributed to the independence movement’s mystique and resulted in
its being called “The Singing Revolution.” The following autumn, the
Estonian Supreme Soviet declared sovereignty.
During 1989, ethnic Estonians increasingly pushed for complete
independence instead of sovereignty within the U.S.S.R. They
established Estonian citizens committees throughout the country. The
committees planned the first public recognition of Estonia’s
declaration of independence for February 24, 1989. On that day, the
blue, black, and white flag of the First Republic era flew once
again over Estonia. In the summer of 1989, the Popular Front
organized a Baltic-wide demonstration on the 50th anniversary of the
signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact to call attention to the
consequences of its secret protocols. A 400-mile-long chain of
people held hands from Tallinn, Estonia, through Latvia to Vilnius,
Lithuania, to demonstrate Baltic solidarity.
On August 21, 1991, Estonia declared its independence
reestablished. The U.S. formally reestablished diplomatic relations
— which had been suspended in 1940 — with Estonia on September 2,
1991. The USSR Supreme Soviet offered recognition on September 6,
1991. The armed forces of the Russian Federation, however, did not
withdraw from Estonia until August 31, 1994, after more than three
years of negotiations.
After nearly 50 years of occupation by the Soviet Union, the
Republic of Estonia regained its independence and immediately began
the difficult task of reestablishing a democratic government. A
constitutional assembly was convened in the fall of 1991. By the
spring of 1992, the assembly completed a draft constitution that
provided for a parliamentary democracy. This constitution was
adopted by referendum in June 1992.
On May 1, 2004, Estonia became a member of the European Union.
Public Institutions Last Updated: 1/14/2004 3:28 PM
The Republic of Estonia is a parliamentary democracy with a prime
minister as head of government and a president as head of state. The
President is elected by Parliament evert five years. The Riigikogu,
Estonia’s Parliament, is a unicameral body with 101 members elected
by proportional representation for four-year terms. On June 28,
1992, Estonians ratified a constitution based on the 1938 model,
offering legal continuity to the Republic of Estonia prior to Soviet
occupation. The President nominates a Prime Minister who is then
authorized by the Parliament to form a government. The authorized
nominee then presents the proposed government to the President, who
formally submits their names to Parliament. The constitution
establishes an independent judiciary composed of the National Court,
district courts, and county and city courts.
Each of Estonia’s 15 counties (Maakond) has its own provincial
The first post-Soviet elections were held in September 1992, and
the first “re-independent” Parliament, government, and President
took office in October. Since regaining independence Estonia has had
two presidents, and 11 governments with 7 prime ministers.
Arts, Science, and Education Last Updated: 2/11/2004 6:26 AM
Estonian society has always had high regard for music,
literature, fine arts, and traditional crafts. Science and learning
are also highly valued and have a long tradition in the history of
modern Estonia. This highly literate society (98.2%) places strong
emphasis upon education, which is free and compulsory until age 16.
As Estonia prepared for its first period of independence, the
first National Song Festival occurred in Tartu in 1869. Choruses
sung in the Estonian language during the first song festival set the
tone for future festivals that further defined the Estonian sense of
national identity. The strong choral music tradition continues
today. The four best known choruses are the “Estonia” choir,
“Vanemuine” Choir, National Male Choir, and the Philharmonic Chamber
Choir. A National Song Festival is held every five years at the
outdoor Song Festival Grounds near Tallinn. An international choir
festival is held annually in Tallinn.
The modern musical tradition in Estonia includes classical and
contemporary Estonian and foreign composers’ music played by
symphony and chamber orchestras. Estonia’s two main orchestras are
the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and the Estonian Opera and
Ballet Theater Orchestra. These orchestras play at the “Estonia”
Concert Hall (800 seats) and Opera House (700 seats), respectively.
Many smaller ensembles perform in Tallinn at restored medieval and
modern venues around the city. Even small Estonian towns boast
well-appointed concert halls.
Several Estonian composers, choir directors, and conductors are
known internationally, including composers Arvo Pärt, Lepo Sumera,
Veljo Tormis, and Erkki Sven-Tüür, and the late choir director and
composer Gustav Ernesaks. Especially cherished in Estonia, Ernesaks
composed music set to national poet Lydia Koidula’s poem “My
Fatherland Is My Love,” which became the unofficial anthem of the
recent independence movement. Conductors Eri Klas, Neeme Järvi, and
Philharmonic Chamber Choir founder and director Tõnu Käljuste are
three other well-known Estonian musical artists. Occasionally,
foreign conductors and musicians collaborate with their Estonian
counterparts on musical productions, thus bringing outstanding
musical performances to Estonia from abroad.
Opera, dance, and dramatic theater productions are also plentiful
in Tallinn and around Estonia. Operas in Tallinn are performed at
the “Estonia” Opera House and are sung in the original language.
Larger dramatic productions are performed at the City Theater, the
Estonian Drama Theater, and the Russian Drama Theater, among others.
The plays are written by playwrights of various nationalities and
are performed in Estonian (or in Russian at the Russian Drama
Theater). Smaller theaters (such as the “Von Krahl”) often stage
more avant-garde works. Musicals are often performed at the “Linnahall,”
a Soviet-era 4,200-seat theater with a separate 3,000-seat arena for
ice-sports and other events. Large rock and pop concerts are held
indoors at the “Saku Suurhall” and outdoors at the song festival
The Estonian people have a strong appreciation for literary
figures who have contributed to the nation’s sense of identity in
literature and other writings. Estonian literature will become more
widely known as more works are translated. One contributor to
Estonia’s early literary history was the 19th-century writer and
physician Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, compiler of the national
epic Kalevipoeg, which tells of Estonia’s mythical hero. Poet Lydia
Koidula wrote poems that defined the independence movement called
the “National Awakening” in the mid-1880s. Koidula’s father, J.V.
Jannsen, helped establish the Estonian-language newspaper tradition
by founding the ancestor of today’s Postimees daily newspaper in
1857. Modern literary figures that have added to Estonian literature
include Jaan Kross, Paul-Erik Rummo, and poet Doris Kareva.
Several Estonian filmmakers have gained international
reputations. Two animation filmmakers, Priit Pärn and Rein Raamat,
have produced excellent works. Elmo Nüganen’s “Names on the Marble
Tablet” (2002), about the 1918–1920 independence struggle, was
enormously successful with Estonian audiences.
The Estonian national character and sense of identity have also
been preserved in Estonian fine art and traditional crafts. The
primary types of Estonian fine arts are painting, print-making, and
sculpture. Traditional crafts include leatherwork (especially
jewelry), woodwork, and knitwear. The Art Museum of Estonia has an
extensive collection of paintings by Estonian and other artists from
the Baltics. Modern paintings, prints, photography, glassware, and
textiles are exhibited at many private galleries in Tallinn, which
usually sell artists’ work. Traditional and modern crafts are also
sold in shops belonging to artists’ cooperatives.
Centers for scientific studies in Estonia include the Estonian
Academy of Sciences in Tallinn, Tartu University, and the Tallinn
Technical University. Wilhelm Ostwald, a scientist who received his
doctorate from Tartu University, was responsible for defining
physical chemistry as a separate discipline within chemistry.
Ostwald was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1909 for his
research on catalysis, chemical equilibrium, and reaction
velocities. Contemporary scientists are gaining worldwide attention
for genetic research.
The first primary schools to teach in the Estonian language were
established during the period of Swedish rule. Tartu University,
Estonia’s first university, was founded in Tartu by King Gustav
Adolf of Sweden in 1632. Tartu University has highly accomplished
faculties in the humanities, hard sciences, medicine, and law. The
other major institutions of higher learning that educate Estonia’s
highly literate and skilled society include Tallinn Technical
University, Tallinn Pedagogical University, Tallinn Music Academy,
Tallinn Art University, and the Estonian Agricultural University in
Tartu. Several private schools have emerged in Tallinn, including
the prestigious Humanities Institute and business colleges such as
Audentes, the Estonian Business School, and others.
According to 2002 statistics, there are 1,182 libraries in
Estonia. More than 600 of them are public libraries; the others are
scientific and specialized libraries. Tartu University Library,
founded in 1802, is the oldest and largest continuously working
library in Estonia. With a collection of 4 million volumes, it is
the most universal Estonian research library. Its collections
contain materials from all fields of science taught at the
university, as well as a large number of early prints and rare
books. The National Library of Estonia was founded in 1918 under the
name “The State Library.” The present location of the library, where
it opened its 4.2 million volume collection to the public in 1993,
is the largest library building in the Baltics. The Academic Library
of the Estonian Pedagogical University (formerly the “Estonian
Academic Library”) was established in 1946 and currently holds a 2.3
million-volume collection in all fields of learning. The library of
St. Olaf’s Church (founded in 1552) makes up the oldest part of the
Academic Library’s collection. Its Baltia and Rare Books department
includes the first books published in Estonia, as well as a
substantial collection of literature on the history of the Baltic
countries and unique materials dealing with the history of Estonia.
Commerce and Industry Last Updated: 2/16/2005 4:05 AM
For centuries until 1920, Estonian agriculture consisted of
native peasants working large feudal-type estates held by ethnic
German landlords. In the decades prior to independence, centralized
Czarist rule had contributed a rather large industrial sector
dominated by the world’s largest cotton mill, a ruined post-war
economy, and an inflated ruble currency. In years 1920 to 1930,
Estonia entirely transformed its economy, despite considerable
hardship, dislocation, and unemployment. Compensating the German
landowners for their holdings, the government confiscated the
estates and divided them into small farms which subsequently formed
the basis of Estonian prosperity.
By 1929, a stable currency, the kroon (or crown), was
established. Trade focused on the local market and the West,
particularly Germany and the United Kingdom. Only 3% of all commerce
was with the U.S.S.R.
The U.S.S.R.’s forcible annexation of Estonia in 1940 and the
ensuing Nazi and Soviet destruction during World War II crippled the
Estonian economy. Postwar Sovietization of life continued with the
integration of Estonia’s economy and industry into the U.S.S.R.’s
centrally planned structure. More than 56% of Estonian farms were
collectivized in the month of April 1949 alone. Moscow expanded on
those Estonian industries which had locally available raw materials,
such as oil-shale mining and phosphorites. As a laboratory for
economic experiments, especially in industrial management
techniques, Estonia enjoyed more success and greater prosperity than
other regions under Soviet rule.
Since re-establishing independence, Estonia has styled itself as
the gateway between East and West and aggressively pursued economic
reform and integration with the West. Estonia’s market reforms put
it among the economic leaders in the former COMECON area. A balanced
budget, flat-rate income tax, free trade regime, fully convertible
currency, competitive commercial banking sector, and hospitable
environment for foreign investment are hallmarks of Estonia’s
free-market-based economy. Estonia also has made excellent progress
in regard to structural adjustment.
The privatization of state-owned firms is virtually complete,
with only the port and the main power plants remaining in government
hands. The constitution requires a balanced budget, and the
protection afforded by Estonia’s intellectual property laws is on a
par of that of Europe’s. In early 1992 both liquidity problems and
structural weakness stemming from the communist era precipitated a
banking crisis. As a result, effective bankruptcy legislation was
enacted, and privately owned, well-managed banks emerged as market
leaders. Today, near-ideal conditions for the banking sector exist.
Foreigners are not restricted from buying bank shares or acquiring
Tallinn’s fully-electronic Stock Exchange opened in early 1996
and was bought out by Finland’s Helsinki Stock Exchange in 2001. It
is estimated that the unregistered economy provides almost 12% of
Estonia is nearly energy independent supplying more than 90% of
its electricity needs with locally mined oil shale. Alternative
energy sources such as wood, peat, and biomass make up about 9% of
primary energy production. Estonia imports needed petroleum products
from western Europe and Russia. Oil shale energy,
telecommunications, textiles, chemical products, banking, services,
food and fishing, timber, shipbuilding, electronics, and
transportation are key sectors of the economy. The ice-free port of
Muuga, near Tallinn, is a modern facility featuring good
transshipment capability, a high-capacity grain elevator,
chill/frozen storage, and brand-new oil tanker off-loading
capabilities. The railroad, privatized by an international
consortium in 2000, serves as a conduit between the West, Russia,
and other points to the East.
Estonia still faces challenges. Agricultural privatization has
caused severe problems for farmers needing collateral to be eligible
for loans. The income differential between Tallinn and the rest of
the country is widening. Standards of living have eroded for the
large portion of the population on fixed pensions. The formerly
industrial northeast section of Estonia is undergoing a severe
economic depression as a result of plant closings.
Estonia’s liberal foreign trade regime, which contains few tariff
or nontariff barriers, is nearly unique in Europe. Estonia also
boasts a national currency which is freely convertible at a fixed
exchange rate, and conservative fiscal and monetary policies.
Estonia has free trade regimes with EU and EFTA countries and also
with Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Turkey,
the Faro Islands, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic.
Estonia’s business attitude toward the United States is positive,
and business relations between the United States and Estonia are
increasing significantly. The primary competition for American
companies in the Estonian marketplace are European suppliers,
especially Finnish, and Swedish companies.
Total U.S. exports to Estonia in 2002 were $164 million, forming
3% of total Estonian imports. In 2002 the principal imports from the
United States were meat and edible meat offal, poultry, boilers,and
other electrical machinery and transmission/recording apparatus for
radio/TV. Estonia’s future membership in the EU is not expected to
have major bilateral trade implications for the United States.
However, this membership will be disadvantageous for certain U.S.
exports to Estonia. For example, since January 2000 Estonia has
imposed import tariffs on certain agricultural products from third
countries, including the United States, in accordance with EU rules
Estonia, being a small country of 1.4 million people, relies on
its greatest natural asset — its location at the crossroads of East
and West. Estonia lies just South of Finland and across the Baltic
Sea from Sweden — the EU’s newest members. To the East are the huge
potential markets of Northwest Russia. Having been a member of
former Soviet Union, Estonians know how to do business in Russia and
in other former Soviet countries. Estonia’s modern transportation
and communication links provide a safe and reliable bridge for trade
with former Soviet Union and Nordic countries. According to the RIPE
Network Coordination Centre (www.ripe.net), Estonia has the highest
Internet-connected hosts/population ratio in central and eastern
Europe and also is ahead of most of the EU countries. Latest surveys
indicate that 41% of the Estonian population regard themselves as
During recent years the Estonian economy has continued to grow.
Estonian GDP grew by 6.5% in 2001 and by 6.0% in 2002. Inflation
declined modestly to 4.2% in 2001; for 2002 the inflation rate was
2.7%. The unemployment rate in 2002 was 10.6%. Estonia joined the
World Trade Organization in 1999. Estonia concluded European Union (EU)
accession negotiations in December 2002 and signed the EU Accession
Treaty in April 2003. In a September 2003 referendum, Estonian
citizens voted to amend their constitution and join the European
Union. On May 1, 2004, Estonia became a member of the European
Automobiles Last Updated: 2/16/2005 4:07 AM
At present, there are no customs restrictions on importation of
cars shipped to Estonia for diplomats’ official or personal use.
However, that may change. Please check with post for the latest
information before shipping a vehicle. A valid car title is required
to register the car.
All major car dealers are represented in Tallinn. Dealerships are
able to sell, service, and obtain spare parts for American,
Japanese, and Western European cars and minivans. Any model can be
ordered by the dealer and shipped to Tallinn. Some dealers provide
discounts (in addition to standard diplomatic tax exemptions) on
European cars, making them slightly cheaper than they would be in
Dealership services in Tallinn are similar to those in the U.S.
Most dealerships have maintenance facilities, and independent garage
repairs are of good quality. Labor, especially at independent
garages, is relatively inexpensive. Spare parts for American cars
can be expensive and occasionally must be special ordered. Service
and parts are readily available at reasonable prices for Russian and
European cars. Quality auto bodywork for all cars is available in
Unleaded gas is readily available at modern, clean service
stations. Many of these have convenience shops that sell Western
auto-related items at prices similar to, or somewhat higher than,
those in the U.S.
Estonia has the highest rate of car ownership growth in Europe.
Correspondingly, many new drivers are on the road. This, combined
with the fact that there are still many older Soviet cars on the
road, has meant a substantial increase in traffic (similar now to a
major U.S. metropolitan area) and a large number of fender-benders.
Aggressive driving is the norm.
U.S. driver licenses of accredited U.S. diplomatic and
administrative & technical (A&T) personnel are valid in Estonia. The
speed limit on open roads is 90 km/h (55 mph), but 50 km/h (30 mph)
and sometimes 30 km/h (18 mph) in residential areas. Car headlights
must be on at all times, year round. The driver and all passengers
must wear seatbelts. Police enforce strict zero-tolerance
driving-under-the-influence-of-alcohol laws seriously. Car seats for
babies and small children are mandatory and available locally. A
first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, and safety reflectors in case of
breakdown are mandatory. Winter tires, available locally at prices
similar to or slightly lower than in the U.S., are mandatory between
December and March. Studded snow tires are allowable and
recommended. Estonia is a left-hand-drive country.
The Estonian Government requires that all drivers carry
third-party-liability car insurance. This mandatory
third-party-liability insurance may be purchased locally. However,
drivers should note that valid third-party-liability coverage in
Estonia may not be valid in neighboring countries, and, therefore,
supplemental insurance must be purchased for travel to neighboring
countries. Drivers intending car travel (via ferry) to Sweden or
Finland should ensure that their liability insurance provides them
with a green international insurance card.
State and private car insurance policies in Estonia offer minimal
coverage compared to that in the U.S., covering only damage to the
driver’s car and nominal personal injury coverage. The local
prevailing practice is that damages to another driver’s car are
covered out-of-pocket, but it can be difficult to get any settlement
from a delinquent driver. In addition to the mandatory
third-party-liability insurance, Embassy personnel should carry
extensive comprehensive and collision auto insurance that covers
damage to your car by both insured and uninsured drivers, damage to
another driver’s car, personal injury, injury to others, and theft.
Estonia’s main roads are adequate for daytime, fair-weather
driving, but night driving and winter driving are difficult. Roads
outside Tallinn are not lighted and often poorly marked. Road
construction is not well marked. During winter months, when roads
are sanded and plowed sporadically or, more often, not at all,
Mission staff members should use great caution. Also, personnel are
discouraged from driving after dark in personal and official
vehicles outside Tallinn city limits.
On the other hand, summer driving in Estonia and throughout the
Baltic States can be pleasant. The almost endless daylight, the
reasonable quality of most roads (when not wet, dark, or icy), the
relatively light traffic outside the cities, and the increasing
availability of tourist and roadside services will do much to
counter the cabin fever that results from the lack of winter
mobility. Excellent road maps are readily available in Tallinn for
all of Estonia and the other Baltic countries.
Local Transportation Last Updated: 1/14/2004 3:40 PM
Public transportation in the Tallinn area is generally convenient
and reliable. All forms of public transportation — including busses,
trams, and trolleys — are more crowded than in the U.S. One can
travel easily, if not always comfortably, around the city and to the
outskirts of Tallinn using the extensive public transportation
system. Tickets, which must be validated (manually punch system)
upon entry, can be purchased at most street-corner kiosks or, at a
50% more expensive rate, from the driver.
Tallinn has many taxis, all of which must use a meter. Taxis
generally fall into two categories: those from larger taxi companies
with clean, modern fleets (Tulika is one of the largest companies
and used frequently by the Embassy), and those from smaller firms or
independents using Soviet, Russian, and older Western cars. You can
either get a taxi at a taxistand or request one by phone, for an
extra fee. If they do not do so immediately, remind drivers to turn
on their meters. Taxi rates are generally cheaper than in
Washington, D.C. Some modern taxi companies take credit cards, but
you should plan to pay in cash. Passengers usually tip the driver a
small amount (5%–10%), but tipping is not considered mandatory.
Overall, using taxis in Tallinn is easier and more pleasant than in
most U.S. cities.
Regional Transportation Last Updated: 2/16/2005 4:10 AM
There is regular intercity travel from Tallinn to other points in
Estonia, the other two Baltic capitals, points in Russia and other
republics of the former Soviet Union, and major Western European
Bus travel within and beyond Estonia is extensive. You can take a
bus to all of Estonia’s major cities and towns from Tallinn and can
at least make a connection to many smaller towns not directly
serviced by busses from Tallinn. You can also travel by bus and
ferry to Estonia’s larger islands. Busses travel regularly to Riga
and Vilnius, as well as Klaipeda, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev,
Kaliningrad, and cities in Germany. Bus service is faster and
usually more convenient than train travel. Many busses on the longer
routes meet Western standards (i.e., with bathroom and small TV),
but older buses are often used on routes within Estonia. Bus travel
is cheap, compared with that in the U.S.
Trains from Tallinn service some major regional cities, including
Narva and Tartu in Estonia and St. Petersburg and Moscow in Russia.
For longer trips, an overnight sleeper car provides both safety and
comfort. Overnight train is a good way to travel to Moscow or St.
Petersburg but is substantially slower than the bus service for at
Tallinn offers frequent flights to cities in Western Europe and
the former Soviet Union. Tallinn Airport is modern and accommodates
— in addition to the national carrier Estonian Air — Finnair, SAS,
LOT Polish Airlines, Czech Airlines, Latvian Air Baltic, and
Lithuanian Airlines. Non-stop destinations/origins from/to Tallinn
include Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Copenhagen, Dublin, Frankfurt,
Gothenburg, Hamburg, Helsinki, Kiev, London, Moscow, Munich, Oslo,
Paris, Prague, Riga, Stockholm, Vilnius, and Warsaw.
There is regular ferry service between Helsinki and Tallinn
several times daily, as well as “fast-boat” catamaran and hydrofoil
service between Helsinki and Tallinn from April through October.
Ferries and catamarans can carry motor vehicles, but hydrofoils are
for passengers only. Passage by ferry to Helsinki takes about 3½
hours; the trip by catamaran or hydrofoil takes 1½ hours. The
hydrofoil costs about 150% of the ferry price; the catamaran costs
about 200% of the price of the ferry. Although the catamaran is more
expensive than the hydrofoil, it is more reliable; stormy weather
and/or rough seas sometimes force cancellation of the hydrofoil. The
trip from Tallinn to Helsinki by ferry is cheaper than flying and
then taking a taxi or bus into the Finnish capital.
Another option for travel between Tallinn and Helsinki is
helicopter. Passenger helicopters run generally every hour from 7:30
AM to 8:00 PM between the two downtowns. The flight takes 20 minutes
and costs between $160-$250 one-way.
The ferry to Stockholm sails from Tallinn every day and takes 14½
hours. All ferries have restaurants, bars, shops, and other
diversions. Although this is the most direct ferry route between
Tallinn and Stockholm, it is also possible and less expensive to
sail to Stockholm via Helsinki.
As noted above, car travel around Estonia and the Baltics, or to
cities in the Nordic countries, Russia, and Eastern Europe, is
feasible. Avis, Hertz, Budget, Europcar, National, Sixt, and other
local rental car firms have outlets in Tallinn and the other Baltic
capitals, with rates somewhat higher than in the U.S. Most border
crossings present no problem with the exception of the border
between Lithuania and Poland and the border between Estonia and
Russia, where delays are frequent.
Telephones and Telecommunications Last Updated: 11/30/1999 6:00
Currently, Estonia has three types of telephone systems,
including an analog system, a digital system, and several cellular
systems. Tallinn has upgraded 90% of the city’s telephone system to
digital. The rest of the country is undergoing gradual digital
upgrades. Phone service in the capital is good but can be sporadic
Tallinn residents can dial international calls directly from
their residential telephones or book them through the operator. It
is slightly cheaper to call the U.S. from Estonia than vice versa.
Calls to Eastern and Western European countries from Estonia are
cheaper than calling those countries from the U.S.
Local digital calls have per-call charges, but long-distance and
international-call charges are the same as those for the older
system. Many individuals and businesses use cellular systems for
phone calls and fax machine transmissions. Cellular systems are more
expensive than the other systems for local and long-distance calls.
International calls made with cellular phones currently cost 30%
more than those made with digital systems.
Staff housing is currently equipped with a mix of both analog and
digital systems. The American Embassy telephone system uses a
digital system, except for Embassy duty telephones, which operate on
the cellular system.
Internet Last Updated: 1/5/2004 4:54 AM
Computer usage in Estonia is widespread. The entire range of
computer software and hardware is available locally at reasonable
prices. Internet hookups are reasonably priced and easy to arrange.
Dell, Compaq, HP, IBM, and several other familiar computer firms are
present in Tallinn. All major computer companies and computer stores
have knowledgeable staff people, most of who speak at least some
English. As occasional fluctuations in electrical voltage occur,
bring surge protectors for all computer equipment.
Mail and Pouch Last Updated: 12/16/2004 4:25 AM
The international mail system for letters and packages to and
from Estonia is reliable. No difficulties concerning customs,
pilferage, or damage to sent or received items have been reported.
Currently, mailing letters and packages from Estonia via Estonian
mail costs more than from the U.S. via U.S. mail.
All U.S. Government direct-hire employees may use the APO mail
system. The APO address is:
PSC 78, Box T
APO AE 09723
Technically, however, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, and Minsk are not
APO posts; rather, these posts are P.O. boxes at APO Helsinki. All
APO mail is picked up and delivered weekly by truck. Following a
scheduled run through the other Baltic countries and Belarus, the
truck returns to Helsinki. Mail is then forwarded to its destination
from the Helsinki APO. APO mail usually takes 1–2 weeks in transit
between the U.S. and post. The post does not sell U.S. postage
stamps; please bring an adequate supply with you to post or be
prepared to order them via internet.
Use the following diplomatic pouch address for official mail:
Department of State
4530 Tallinn Place
Washington, DC 20521–4530
Many international courier services can send small packets and
larger boxes to and from Tallinn including Federal Express, DHL, and
UPS. Courier firms charge prices comparable to those in the U.S. for
the same service. It usually takes smaller packets 3–5 days to/from
the U.S. You can use most major credit cards for the fee.
Radio and TV Last Updated: 1/15/2004 9:11 AM
Several radio stations broadcast on AM and FM in Estonia. BBC
World Service in English can be heard on 103.5 FM in English from
noon to 5 pm daily. There are many pop music stations, with a mix of
music from Estonia, elsewhere in Europe, and North America. In
addition to the announcements and news that are generally in
broadcast in Estonian, there are a handful of Russian-language
broadcasters. Tallinn also has a good classical music station.
Shortwave reception in Tallinn is good and includes broadcasts in
From Tallinn you can watch Estonian Television, two independent
Estonian stations, one Russian channel (on cable TV only), four
Finnish channels, and one Swedish channel. Cable connections —
increasingly popular — enable one to receive a great deal of
programming from abroad, including in English. However, while cable
connection services are available in city-center apartment building
neighborhoods at reasonable prices, cable TV access is more rare in
outlying single-family-home suburbs where some Embassy families
live. English-language programs and movies are subtitled rather than
dubbed on most channels.
Multisystem television sets and VCRs are recommended. Estonian
PAL-format broadcasts and videotapes can only be viewed on
multisystem or PAL TVs. While PAL-only TVs are plentiful and
relatively inexpensive, multi-system TVs are available only in
limited selection and at high prices. A wide variety of PAL-system
VCRs with U.S.-compatible NTSC-playback capability — enabling the
watching of both U.S. and local videotapes — is available locally at
reasonable prices. There are many video rental outlets for DVD’s and
tapes of American movies (in the original English, with Estonian
Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals Last Updated:
2/16/2005 4:12 AM
American and European newspapers and magazines are increasingly
available in Tallinn at the major hotels and some other shops. You
can buy The Herald Tribune, USA Today, Time, and Newsweek regularly,
but the newspapers are usually a day old. Other popular American and
English-language magazines (primarily fashion and women’s magazines)
are sold in Tallinn, but newsstand prices are higher here. Major
newspapers and magazines in German, French, and other European
languages are also available.
Several English-language publications written and published in
the Baltics are sold regularly in Estonia. The City Paper (www.BalticsWorldwide.com)
is a bimonthly magazine and travel guide with interesting articles
about current issues and politics in Estonia. The Baltic Times (www.BalticTimes.com),
a weekly newspaper published in Riga, covers the current events of
the three Baltic States. Tallinn This Week (www.ttw.ee), a booklet
published six times a year, is a guide to Tallinn’s restaurants,
shopping, cafes, nightlife, and cultural events. Several
Estonian-language papers and magazines also include special
English-language pages or columns.
Health and Medicine
Medical Facilities Last Updated: 1/15/2004 9:13 AM
The small Embassy Health Unit is staffed full-time by a local
nurse, functions under the occupational health unit model, and helps
to facilitate and oversee access to local medical care. A local
pediatrician holds office hours in the Embassy Health Unit once per
month on a nominal fee-for-service basis. The Regional Medical
Officer (RMO) covering Tallinn is based in Warsaw and visits post
quarterly. The Regional Psychiatrist (RMO/P) resides in Moscow and
visits semi-annually. London is the authorized medical evacuation
destination for Department of State Medical Program participants.
The Health care in Tallinn is uneven. There are several very good
specialists —including dentists, pediatricians, OB/GYNs, and
ophthalmologists — and reasonably good General Practitioners in
private practice. The North-Estonian Regional Hospital and
Children’s Hospital provide fairly good care, and most physicians
speak English. The OB/GYN facility at the Central Hospital is
improving, but the RMO is not yet comfortable with Americans’
delivering there. Slow but steady upgrades in overall health care in
hospitals and the emerging private clinics make for a constantly
changing local picture. The RMO maintains a low threshold for
medical evacuation due to uneven care and substandard nursing care.
Estonia’s pharmacies are improving all the time and many Western
medicines can be found. However, not all medications are available
so be sure to bring a good supply of any prescription medications
you and your family need. American prescriptions are not honored in
Estonia. For continuing medication needs, the RMO can write
prescriptions that can be sent back to the US, but again, plan
wisely, as mail can be erratic. The Health Unit has a stock of
over-the-counter medications for occasional use, but employees are
expected to buy their own home medicines.
Community Health Last Updated: 1/15/2004 9:14 AM
Although Estonia’s public health situation is quite good,
Tuberculosis and AIDS are becoming a burgeoning problem in some
sectors of Estonian society — particularly intravenous drug users
and prostitutes. The RMO recommends annual TB skin testing.
People are generally pleased with their posting in Estonia, but
Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder (SAD) does occur because of the
country’s extreme northern latitude and resultant long dark winters.
The Health Unit nurse and the RMO/P can help recommend preventive
and therapeutic measures, such as full-spectrum lights.
Water is potable. The Health Unit monitors municipal water
testing and recommends fluoride supplements for residents of some
Preventive Measures Last Updated: 1/15/2004 9:14 AM
Although Estonia’s public health situation (outside of the
growing TB and AIDS problems mentioned under “Community Health”) is
quite good, the following vaccinations are recommended before
arrival: tetanus/diphtheria booster, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B.
Children should have their routine pediatric immunizations.
Tick-borne encephalitis is wide-spread in central Europe, and the
Health Unit recommends all Americans be vaccinated. As this disease
isn’t found in the US, neither is the vaccine; the Health Unit can
provide the vaccine after employees’ arrival at post.
Employment for Spouses and Dependents Last Updated: 2/16/2005 4:13
The Embassy makes every effort to employ spouses and dependents
of Embassy staff where and when there are jobs available. To date,
spouses of Foreign Service Officers and of other agencies’
direct-hire American staff who want to work have been able to find
employment in the Embassy in both full- and part-time jobs.
Limited employment opportunities exist for Americans, both within
the international community (e.g., the International School of
Estonia) and on the local market. In general, wages on the local
market are much lower than in the U.S., even for comparable jobs.
American Embassy - Tallinn
Post City Last Updated: 1/15/2004 9:37 AM
Built in a naturally formed harbor on the Baltic Sea, Tallinn is
a picturesque capital city with a long maritime tradition. The Old
Town and the adjacent Toompea (Castle Hill) contain Tallinn’s oldest
buildings that reflect the city’s history as an important point on
the east-west trade route from the Middle Ages and later. The 13th
century fortress on Toompea and several church spires on Toompea and
in the Old Town, built from the 13th to 16th centuries, dominate
Tallinn’s skyline. Near the lower town, where the artisans and
merchants traditionally lived, remnants of the town wall begun in
the 13th century remain. Cobbled streets wend around the Old Town,
passing houses once belonging to wealthy merchants and the
guildhalls from where these merchants controlled trade in
agricultural commodities and artisanry during the days when Tallinn
was a member of the Hanseatic League. These days the Old Town is
filled with tourists and Estonians frequenting the many cafes,
restaurants, and shops.
Modern Tallinn has a vibrant business and arts community.
Immediately east of the Old Town is the more modern center of
Tallinn (Kesklinn). Theaters and museums are located in both the
Kesklinn and Old Town, as are many apartment buildings.
Security Last Updated: 12/29/2003 9:47 AM
Tallinn is a medium-level crime threat post.
The most prevalent problem for residents in Tallinn is car theft
and theft of valuables from cars. Prudence should be exercised to
park in well-lit safe areas and to use any security features
available (e.g., the Club, engine cutoff switches, alarms, etc.).
Embassy personnel are assigned housing with secure parking, and
temporary duty personnel should endeavor to use their hotel’s secure
Personal crime is primarily nonviolent and opportunity driven.
Pickpocketing and purse snatchings are not uncommon in any crowded
area but are most likely to affect Embassy personnel in Old Town
Tallinn, in tourist areas, in bus and train stations, and on crowded
public transportation. Credit-card fraud can be a problem, and
standard precautions should be taken when using credit cards in
Estonia. Drug use and the number of drug-related crimes have
dramatically increased in Estonia, and the crimes related to the
drug problem have affected Embassy personnel (e.g., car break-ins to
steal radios for drug users to get quick cash).
Generally, organized crime activity is more subdued in Estonia
than elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. Juvenile crime, however,
is on the rise.
Life in Tallinn is safe when compared to large U.S. cities.
Estonians, although generally reserved, are pro-American. If people
exercise the same caution and use the same common sense that they
would in any large U.S. city, they can expect to have a safe and
rewarding tour or visit.
The Post and Its Administration Last Updated: 12/29/2003 9:30 AM
Immediately after the United States recognized the independence
of the Republic of Estonia in September 1991, the American Embassy
was reestablished in Tallinn. In 1992, the Mission returned to the
same building in which the American legation had been located before
World War II. The American chancery had been closed in August 1940,
following the Soviet takeover of the First Republic of Estonia.
During 1993, the Embassy building was completely renovated.
Department of State personnel at this Special Embassy Program
(SEP) post include the Ambassador, the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM),
a political/economic section chief who supervises an
economic/commercial officer and a political/military officer, a
management officer who supervises a general services officer and 2
information management personnel, a consular officer, a regional
security officer, and a junior officer position (consular/public
affairs). The Ambassador and DCM each have a Foreign Service office
management specialist. The Public Affairs Officer covers information
and cultural issues and oversees the Information Resource Center
that is located on the second floor of the Embassy building. Other
agency staff include a regional Legal Attache Office that covers all
three Baltic countries, the Defense Attache Office, and the Office
of Defense Cooperation. Approximately 45 Foreign Service nationals
also work for the American Mission.
The Embassy address is:
The American Embassy
Temporary Quarters Last Updated: 1/6/2004 6:56 AM
The Management Section will make every effort to move new Embassy
personnel into permanent quarters immediately upon arrival. If this
is not possible, new Embassy staff and their family members will be
housed in temporary duty housing or in one of two hotels within
walking distance of the Embassy.
Permanent Housing Last Updated: 1/15/2004 9:39 AM
The U.S. Government rents properties in Tallinn for Embassy staff
members. The housing pool includes fully detached homes, townhouses,
semidetached duplexes, and apartments. Most houses do not have
built-in closets, so the Embassy provides wardrobes. The Embassy
attempts to provide an indoor garage space for each permanent
employee who owns a vehicle. All homes are within a 25-minute drive
of the Embassy.
The Ambassador’s residence is a contemporary three-story home in
the suburb of Pirita, three kilometers northeast of Old Town. The
exterior is dark red brick, and the interior has brick and off-white
walls. The first (ground) floor representational area boasts two
large, airy spaces that are currently used as living rooms, a formal
dining room that seats twelve, a library/den, and a kitchen. There
are two fireplaces: one in the main living room space and one in the
library. The main living space opens onto a two-tier patio (the top
portion is covered). A large coatroom off of the main entry includes
two guest bathrooms and opens down to a heated indoor lap pool and
sauna. Laundry, housekeeping facilities, wine cellar, china room,
storage closet, and lockers and facilities for the guards are on a
lower level. The second floor consists of four bedrooms with
individual baths. The third (top) floor is designed as the master
bedroom suite, with a spacious room, large bath, and ample closet
space. It can also be used as a private family room. The house
itself sits on a sizable piece of property with ample lawn space for
large events – tented receptions for 800 present no difficulty.
Furnishings Last Updated: 2/16/2005 4:14 AM
Tallinn is a fully-furnished post. All agencies at post
participate in the ICASS furniture pool. A standard household
consists of the following: one living room set, one dining room set,
one master bedroom set, two second bedroom sets, wardrobes (as
needed); also: rugs, carpets, and carpet pads, table and floor
lamps, and normal lighting fixtures. Employees may request
additional furniture if it is available. Standard appliances
include: 1 clothes washer (European), 1 clothes dryer (European), 1
refrigerator, 1 freezer, 1 dishwasher, and 1 microwave oven. The
Embassy will also provide 3 step-down transformers.
The Embassy will provide the following supplemental furnishings,
as needed and as equitably as possible, regardless of resident’s
home agency, subject to the availability of post-held ICASS funds:
table or floor fans; space heaters; snow shovel; garden hose and
other garden and maintenance equipment; garden, patio, porch, or
terrace furniture; vacuum cleaner; fireplace equipment. Window
screens will also be provided, as possible subject to availability
Bring other appliances and necessary household equipment, such as
an iron and ironing board, a toaster, a coffeemaker, etc. Quality
European appliances at reasonable prices are readily available in
Tallinn. Windows in each U.S. Government-leased home are supplied
with blinds and blackout shades. All U.S. Government direct-hire
employees’ homes have alarm systems.
Consult the State Department’s helpful booklet entitled “It’s
Your Move” on the State Department “OpenNet” Intra-net system to
determine which household items to pack in airfreight. Replacements
for forgotten items can be purchased in Tallinn, but the selection
may be more limited than in Washington, D.C. The Embassy provides
newcomers with a Hospitality Kit that includes bed pillows, sheets
and blankets, an iron and ironing board, a toaster, dishes, basic
utensils, and other kitchenware. The Embassy has a baby crib for new
Kitchenware, ovenproof ceramic and glass bakeware, glassware, and
flatware are available in Tallinn. American-sized bed sheets are
unavailable in Tallinn. Estonia produces beautiful table linens for
casual dining, glass and ceramic vases, and baskets of every size
for reasonable prices. Estonia also produces export-quality
furniture, as well as good quality, cheaper furniture that the buyer
Ambassador’s residence. Each room at the Ambassador’s residence
has the basic appropriate furniture provided by the State
Department. The Department also provides the Chief of Mission with
official china and glassware, silverware, table linens, kitchen
utensils, electrical kitchen equipment, a stereo, a TV, and a VCR.
The house is ultra-modern in design, with black marble floors,
chrome fixtures, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Modern art shows very
well in this house. Large decorative items or favorite family
treasures can be easily accommodated.
Utilities and Equipment Last Updated: 1/6/2004 7:36 AM
Embassy homes are heated by the central city-heating system,
individual oil furnaces, or electric systems that circulate either
hot water or oil through radiators. The GSO staff quickly resolves
any heating reliability problems and the Embassy can lend extra
electric radiators if necessary. Many homes have fireplaces. All
houses have adequate hot-water systems for bathing.
Standard electric power in Estonia is 220v and runs at 50 cycles,
but voltage sometimes fluctuates. Any appliances or other electrical
items that run at 110v must be used simultaneously with a stepdown
transformer. The Embassy provides three of these transformers. In
addition, plan to bring and use surge protectors for any 110v
Most Embassy housing has European automatic washers and dryers.
As is the custom in Estonia, most homes have saunas and some have
dipping pools as well. Most saunas are electric, but some are
Embassy staff homes have telephone service. Employees are
responsible for paying monthly, local per-call, and
international-call charges. Cellular telephone service is
considerably more expensive than either the analog or digital
system, and there is a cost per minute for calls from and into the
cellular system. High-speed Internet connections are readily
available and reasonably priced.
Food Last Updated: 3/1/2005 2:18 AM
A wide variety of shops, markets, and large supermarkets serve
Tallinn. Availability and variety of imported fruits, vegetables,
locally produced meats, dairy products, and various foods imported
from Western Europe are wide and continue to increase. Although
Tallinn has no commissary, the Employees’ Association at the
American Embassy in Helsinki operates a small commissary, and
Embassy staff in Tallinn can use this facility for an annual fee. A
few American convenience-type foods and specialty items are not
available in Tallinn (large bags of chocolate chips; salsa; sage;
ready-made canned food such as ravioli, refried beans, or canned
soups; Crisco; boxed macaroni and cheese; pop tarts; frozen waffles;
etc.). Some specialty items -- including boxed brownie and cake
mixes, peanut butter, and cheddar cheese -- are available at the
“Stockman” department store but are expensive.
Effective October 2005, Tallinn will be removed from the list of
posts allowed consumables shipments. Employees assigned to arrive at
post after that date will not be entitled to any consumables
Clothing Last Updated: 1/20/2004 6:47 AM
Both men and women should bring warm coats suitable for work and
casual wear. A lined raincoat and an umbrella are also useful
throughout the year, but especially from March to October. Both men
and women wear hats and gloves or mittens from October through
March. Warm, breathable raingear is recommended for wet autumn
Estonians in general do not dress as casually as Americans. For
example, sweats or “track suits” are only changed into during the
time an Estonian is actually exercising; they are not worn in
Footwear. Footwear throughout the year should be sturdy. The
cobblestone streets of the Old Town and the damp, cold winter
weather are particularly hard on shoes. For winter, bring waterproof
boots with soles that will not slip on the icy sidewalks and
streets. From November through April, most women wear boots because
shoes are not warm enough for walking on the cold, wet, and icy
sidewalks. For men, thickly soled shoes or a pair of boots is
recommended. Generally, quality footwear here is more expensive than
in the U.S.
Men Last Updated: 1/20/2004 6:48 AM
Business suits and slacks/blazer combinations are recommended for
work and official functions. Various weights of wool can be worn
throughout the year. Few social occasions in Tallinn (Marine Ball,
New Year’s Eve Opera Ball, International Women’s Club Gala Charity
Ball) require a tuxedo.
For casual fall and winter wear, wool, corduroy, and other
heavier weight slacks are appropriate. Turtlenecks, sweaters, and
clothes from various outdoor outfitters are best for keeping warm.
However, you may not want to bring too many sweaters, as Estonian
knitwear is of excellent quality, affordable, and readily available.
Women Last Updated: 1/20/2004 6:49 AM
Wool suits and separates are recommended, as are long-sleeved
blouses, turtlenecks, and sweaters. A large supply of heavier-weight
stockings or tights in addition to regular nylons is useful. For
official functions, bring a business suit or dress. For some
affairs, dressier cocktail-length dresses are appropriate. Heavier
weight fabrics such as wool or corduroy are recommended. In general,
more subdued colors are most common for official functions, but
women in Estonia often wear bright colors to formal events. For
unofficial social events, the fashion trend in Tallinn is stylish
and follows that in any western or northern European capital city.
Children Last Updated: 1/20/2004 6:49 AM
Good-quality, reasonably-priced snowsuits, boots, and other
winter children’s outerwear are available locally. Children, as well
as adults, need to wear hats and gloves from October through May.
Office Attire Last Updated: 1/20/2004 6:50 AM
Fall/Winter/Spring. Winter clothes should include the warmest
clothes you would wear in Washington, D.C., during January and
February. These may be appropriate for fall and spring in Tallinn as
well. You should count on layering and wearing sweaters and heavier
dress clothes from October until May. In addition, several pairs of
silk or synthetic long underwear are recommended.
Summer. For work, clothes worn in the fall or spring in
Washington, D.C., are appropriate. Women will find separates useful,
especially jackets and cardigans, because the weather is cooler in
the morning and late evening during summer. As for casual clothes,
those that one would wear during a northern New England summer are
best. Shorts are appropriate for sports, picnics, and casual
outings, but tend to be too casual for public venues such as
restaurants even in the summer. Estonian men do not generally wear
shorts – Americans wearing them may feel that they are out of place
or stand out. Air-conditioning is almost non-existent in Estonia.
Office buildings (including portions of the Chancery), stores,
shops, and homes can become quite warm for short periods in the
summer months, so bring a small supply of short-sleeve dress shirts
or blouses suitable for work.
Supplies and Services
Supplies Last Updated: 1/20/2004 10:43 AM
Generally, almost all types of goods and supplies are available
in Tallinn, and the variety continues to increase. Almost any item
can be obtained in Estonia’s capital, but some items are prone to
sporadic availability. An 18% value-added tax (VAT) is placed on all
purchases. The Estonian Government will refund this VAT to
accredited U.S. Embassy staff, if proper receipts are obtained and
turned into the Embassy GSO Section for processing.
Western European and American toiletries, cosmetics, contact lens
supplies, basic first-aid items, feminine personal supplies, and pet
care supplies are available in Tallinn. Their prices are higher than
in the U.S., but not prohibitively so. Not all brands are available,
so if you are partial to a specific brand, bring it with you. Good
quality cleaning supplies and clothes-washing products are widely
available and reasonably priced.
Printing services in Tallinn provide relatively good-quality
products. Business cards, invitations to formal affairs, formal
thank-you cards, etc., can be ordered at reasonable prices. Simple,
blank, informal “Thank you” cards are not available cheaply and
should be brought or ordered via the internet. For entertaining,
attractive paper cocktail napkins and other paper products imported
from Western Europe are available at reasonable prices.
Most food products are widely available (see “FOOD” section of
this report). Cooks interested in preparing various international or
ethnic foods should bring a basic supply of what they need, such as
specialty spices (e.g., sage) and condiments (e.g., salsa). Some
items for international cooking (e.g., tortillas, taco shells) can
be found, but they are not always available.
Basic Services Last Updated: 1/20/2004 10:45 AM
There are a wide variety of basic services available in Tallinn,
and the quality of these services is generally similar to that
offered in other Western European capitals. In general, most local
services are similar in quality and less expensive than in
Everyday services such as shoe, watch, and eyeglass repair are
available in Tallinn. In addition to beauty- and barbershops at the
major hotels, Tallinn has many smaller salons for men's and women’s
haircuts. Some individuals work as dressmakers out of their own
Permanent Embassy staff members have laundry facilities in their
homes. Temporarily assigned personnel, contractors, and others
staying in hotels can use the hotel’s laundry services, one of
several laundromats near the Embassy, or the self-service
washer/dryer in the Embassy basement. Reliable dry-cleaning
facilities, at prices similar to those in the U.S., are also
Kodak, Fuji, and Agfa franchises are located in Tallinn and have
excellent machine-assisted developing processes. The quality of
photo developing services is high, but the cost is higher than that
in the Washington, D.C., area. Kodak, Fuji, and Agfa color print,
slide, and black-and-white print film are readily available for
prices similar to those in Washington, D.C. Camera batteries and
other smaller batteries are also readily available.
Domestic Help Last Updated: 1/21/2004 2:02 AM
Domestic help, including childcare, is available in Tallinn. Most
domestics are not trained household staff, per se. Rather, they are
more often under- or unemployed people who have basic cleaning,
cooking, and childcare skills and are attracted by the above-average
wages paid by the international community [EEK40–50/hour
(approximately US $3.50–$4.00)] depending on the tasks required).
Generally, younger household help will probably speak at least some
English and be familiar with modern appliances. However, younger
staff may not be committed to more than short-term or occasional
work. Older domestic staff are more likely to commit to longer,
full-time work but are less likely to speak English, less likely to
be familiar with Western appliances, and less likely to adhere to
Western cleanliness and hygiene standards. Many speak only Russian.
Generally, domestic help is employed during business hours and on
evenings and weekends as needed. Live-in domestic staff is rare in
Estonia. Ask your sponsor for a recommendation on the type of help
that you need. The community liaison officer (e-mail: CLOTallinn@state.gov)
also has limited information on domestic staff. In addition, there
are local employment agency firms that can help in the interviewing
and hiring of domestic help, for a small fee (around $90).
Religious Activities Last Updated: 1/5/2004 6:19 AM
Tallinn has Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, and Russian Orthodox
churches. There are ecumenical Anglican/Lutheran services in English
every Sunday at 3:00 PM at the Puha Vaimu (Holy Spirit) Church in
Old Town. The Catholic Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Old Town
holds services in English every Saturday at 6:00 PM.
At Post Last Updated: 1/5/2004 7:21 AM
The International School of Estonia (ISE) (http://www.ise.edu.ee)
offers a comprehensive English-language education to children aged 3
to 18 years (Pre-school to Grade 12) who wish to maintain continuity
with their home country education or to join with an
English-speaking program. The curriculum follows Western standards.
ISE is not accredited by a U.S. educational organization. The
School is accredited by the International Baccaulaureate (IB)
Program (http://www.ibo.org), based out of Geneva, Switzerland, for
the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP), the IB Middle Years Programme
(MYP), and the issuance of IB diplomas to Upper School graduates.
Aside from the basic curriculum, foreign languages (German, French,
Estonian, and Polish), computer, art, music, and physical education
are also taught. School facilities include a computer lab, library,
cafeteria, gymnasium, and large outdoor play area.
The school is operated on a non-profit basis by a Board of
Directors elected annually by the parents of children in the school.
Parents participate in the life of school by serving on school
committees, organizing extra-curricular activities, and volunteering
in the school.
Since it opened in September 1995, the enrollment has grown in
size from 20 students to the current 103 who represent 22
nationalities. The teaching staff, directed by an American, also has
a wide background of international experience, and represents
training from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada,
Australia, and Estonia. All teachers are certified in their areas by
level or content, and most are native English speakers.
Currently, approximately 15% of the students are American Embassy
dependents. The majority of the remaining student body is drawn
primarily from Scandinavian and other European families who are in
Estonia for business or diplomatic assignments. In addition,
approximately 12% of the students are local Estonians.
The Tallinn International English Kindergarten, established in
September 1997 and located in the Tallinn suburb of Pirita, is
another option for preschool children.
Away From Post Last Updated: 1/15/2004 9:51 AM
Under the post education allowance, Embassy personnel may currently
send their dependents to private boarding schools in England,
Switzerland, or other European countries, or to the U.S. Some
boarding schools in the U.S. offer special tuition arrangements for
dependents of Embassy personnel. The Overseas Briefing Center at the
Foreign Service Institute has more information.
Special Needs Education Last Updated: 1/5/2004 6:54 AM
The International School of Estonia does not currently have the
capacity to accommodate children with special needs.
Higher Education Opportunities Last Updated: 2/16/2005 4:24 AM
The Estonian Business School and the International University
Concordia Audentes both offer English-language MBA programs in
The Embassy periodically offers group Estonian and
Russian-language classes to employees and their eligible family
members. In addition, there are several local language institutions
that offer language classes, both in group and private formats. The
Post Language Officer can provide more information.
Recreation and Social Life
Sports Last Updated: 2/9/2004 5:43 AM
Tallinn has a good range of sporting opportunities, including
modern indoor and outdoor sports facilities. Most sports facilities
and clubs cost equal to or less than in metropolitan Washington,
Indoor sports are particularly popular and, in winter, often a
necessary diversion. Most sports clubs offer aerobics classes,
exercise machines, and weightlifting equipment. In addition, these
clubs often have showers, sauna, massage, and solarium facilities.
Tallinn has several indoor swimming facilities, and a few of the
large health clubs have small lap pools. A couple of squash clubs
have also opened in Tallinn. Estonia’s favorite team sport is
basketball, and league and informal opportunities exist for post
personnel to play basketball.
Tallinn has a number of bowling alleys similar in quality and
price to U.S. bowling facilities.
Tennis players will find several tennis centers throughout
Tallinn and its nearby suburbs with both indoor and outdoor courts.
Outdoor courts offer late evening tennis during late spring and
summer. Lessons with English-speaking coaches for children and
adults can be arranged. Court fees run around $17/hour for indoor
courts and $8/hour for outdoors courts.
Estonian seacoast and lakes make nice venues for summer
picnicking spots, but they make for chilly bathing, even in the
midsummer. Windsurfing, kayaking, and canoeing are possible on the
Baltic as well as on Estonia’s many lakes and rivers. The Tallinn
Yachting Center, the site of the 1980 Olympic sailing events, is
Estonia’s premier sailing center. Sailboats (with or without crew)
can be rented at slightly below U.S. rates. Boating equipment,
particularly safety equipment, may be limited.
As soon as the first snow falls, Estonians begin planning
cross-country skiing outings. There are numerous skiing spots in the
wooded areas of Tallinn as well as in the countryside close enough
to drive for a day trip. More adventurous skiers can plan overnight
trips as well. Tallinn has several skating rinks, including modern
indoor facilities. Good-quality cross-country skiing equipment and
skates in all sizes are purchased easily and relatively
Running is popular in Estonia, but cold temperatures, darkness,
and icy sidewalks require that runners bring appropriate cold
weather attire and wear safety reflectors. Sidewalks are often too
icy for safe winter running. Rollerblading is increasingly popular
in Estonia. Rollerblade equipment is readily available locally, at
prices similar to or slightly below Washington, D.C., prices.
Estonia has one golf course, located about 25 kilometers from
downtown. It is open to the public, maintained, and offers a
complete range of golfing services including a driving range, a
pro-shop, and a clubhouse. Greens fees are slightly higher than in
Bicycling enthusiasts will find many possibilities for biking
around Estonia. Although the main streets of Tallinn are too busy
and dangerous for riding, rural roads just outside Tallinn and
around the country are uncrowded, and the topography is usually
flat. There are also bike paths in Tallinn. The hilly southeastern
region resembles western Maryland and is also good for bike trips.
Although main roads are surfaced, they are often rough. Bikes with
wider tires such as “mountain bikes” are more comfortable on rough
surfaces. Tallinn’s many bike shops sell a variety of brands and
styles at prices similar to, or less expensive than, Washington,
Reasonably priced horseback riding and lessons are available in
Tallinn and at several other locations near the city.
Spectators can watch many sporting events and exhibitions during
the year. For example, basketball, soccer, and handball games are
played at various locations in Tallinn.
Touring and Outdoor Activities Last Updated: 2/9/2004 5:44 AM
There is much to do and see while touring Tallinn, the
countryside, and the Baltic Sea coastline. Embassy personnel
frequently make day and overnight trips and constantly find new
vacation spots from the growing tourist information network and by
word of mouth.
With many shops, restaurants, and cafes, Tallinn is well set up
for visitors, most of whom are day- or short-term travelers arriving
by boat from Helsinki. Post personnel can easily enjoy sights in and
around Tallinn with the tourists. In the Old Town, you can take a
walking tour (on your own or with a guide) of the cobblestone
streets while looking at finely preserved examples of Gothic and
Hanseatic architecture. The Old Town has a heavy concentration of
shops, restaurants, cafes, museums, and other diversions. In
Kadriorg Park, on the eastern edge of the city center, one may enjoy
a walk in a peaceful wooded setting, which leads to the baroque
Kadriorg Palace, built for Catherine I, wife of Tsar Peter I, and
now the site of an art museum where chamber music concerts are
regularly held. The ruins of a cloister and convent dating from 1436
located near Pirita (about 3 kilometers east of the city center)
provide another picturesque and interesting place to visit. In
summer, Pirita Beach is popular for swimming, sunbathing, and
Possibilities for day trips within a 3- to 4-hour round-trip
drive from Tallinn abound, as Estonia is filled with pine forests
and shoreline waiting to be explored. The Lahemaa National Forest,
40 kilometers east of Tallinn on the Gulf of Finland, is a good
place to picnic and walk in naturally beautiful surroundings.
Numerous well-preserved German manor houses are found in and around
Lahemaa Park. Matsalu, a 2-1/2-hour drive from Tallinn, is a nature
preserve and water bird sanctuary on the coast southwest of the
capital. It, too, is a good place to picnic and walk. A hilly inland
spot with beautiful forests and lakes is Aegviidu, a 75-minute drive
from Tallinn. Aegviidu is especially popular among cross-country
Interesting overnight trips from Tallinn can easily be arranged.
Overnight accommodations have existed for a long time but are just
beginning to be renovated and advertised for tourists. Tartu, a
2.5-hour drive from Tallinn, is close enough for a day trip, but
there is enough to do there to make it an overnight excursion. It is
worth seeing Tartu's several museums, art galleries, and historical
buildings – including two redbrick Gothic churches (the remains of a
13th-century church and a standing 14th-century church) and Tartu
University. Hotels in Tartu offer comfortable accommodations. Near
Tartu is the hilly region of southeastern Estonia and the winter
resort town of Otepää. Since there is generally more snow in
southeastern Estonia than in other parts of the country, Otepää is
popular with cross-country skiers. Several guesthouse-type
accommodations are available in the area. Pärnu is a 2-hour drive
south of Tallinn and is a picturesque, seaside resort town with many
new cafes, restaurants, and several nicely renovated hotels.
Haapsalu, a 1.5-hour drive from Tallinn to the west, was a Russian
favored beach resort for the aristocracy in the 19th century
(including Tchaikowsky) and has a partially preserved medieval
castle. Narva, a 3.5-hour drive northeast of Tallinn, is located on
the border with Russia. Narva Castle, built when Narva was an
important Hanseatic port, dates from the 13th century and now houses
a historical museum well worth visiting. The castle's setting is
unique because it sits across the Narva River from the castle in
Ivangorod, Russia. Residents of Narva claim that these two
fortresses are the closest, once-warring castles in the world.
Estonia’s many islands offer restful vacation places. The largest
of the islands, Saaremaa, is a 3½-hour drive-and-ferry ride from
Tallinn. Kuressaare, the island's largest town, is quaint. The
Kuressaare Episcopal Castle, dating from the 14th century, is
considered Estonia's best-preserved castle. Like the castle at Narva,
it houses a good historical museum. Saaremaa has many beaches,
forests, and two wildlife preserves, including one with an
established bird sanctuary. Hiiumaa Island, Estonia's second largest
island, is also about a 3½-hour drive-and-ferry ride from Tallinn
and well worth a visit. Many of Estonia's islands offer
comfortable-to-luxurious overnight accommodations.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of Estonia’s touring
possibilities. Like most European cities, in order to decide where
to go, you must consult guidebooks, various locally published
newspapers and periodicals (in Estonian and English), travel agents,
the Tallinn City Tourist Office, and Estonian friends. See the
Recommended Reading section in the Notes for Travelers portion of
this report for a list of travel websites on the Internet. Estonia
has a reasonably good road system that makes it easy to travel, and
touring Estonia never disappoints the resourceful traveler.
Entertainment Last Updated: 2/9/2004 5:46 AM
Music is a central aspect of Estonian culture; therefore,
entertainment in Tallinn usually centers on various kinds of musical
productions. The Estonia Concert Hall and other venues such as the
Old Town’s historic churches offer classical concerts, recitals, and
choir performances almost daily during the winter season. Likewise,
very good opera and ballet performances take place at the Estonia
Opera House. Occasionally, musicals are performed at the Opera House
or Linnahall. Compared to the price for attending similar cultural
programs in the U.S., cultural events in Estonia are inexpensive.
During summer many special dance and music festivals are held in
Tallinn and throughout Estonia. Every four years the National Song
Festival takes place near Tallinn. During summer, there are also
outdoor rock concerts in Tallinn featuring Estonian, Western
European, and U.S. rock bands. More frequently, popular
International music groups visit Helsinki, which is a short ferry
ride from Tallinn.
Restaurants, bars, and cafes often have live music during dining
hours or later in the evening, and some nightspots have dance
floors. Usually local bands play rock, blues, or jazz. You can
expect to pay a small cover charge to enter when there is music.
Foreign films are featured at a few of Tallinn’s theaters.
Occasional foreign film festivals and special showings of lesser
known “art films” are held. The modern Coca Cola Plaza multiplex, as
well as the older Kosmos theater show American films in English with
Estonian and Russian subtitles. New movies arrive all the time.
Employees can also purchase satellite TV packages that offer a wide
array of programs.
Many of Tallinn’s museums have very good art and historic
collections that are worth seeing. The Eesti Kunstimuuseum (Art
Museum of Estonia) exhibits Estonian art from the 19th century to
1940 and other Baltic painters' works. The Tarbekunstimuuseum
(Museum of Decorative and Applied Art) exhibits 20th-century crafts
and decorative arts from Estonia. At Kiek in de Kök in Old Town
there are usually photography exhibitions. Just outside Tallinn is
the Vabaõhumuuseum (Open-Air Museum) where 18th- to 20th-century
rural buildings are on display throughout the year in a wooded park.
Historical artifacts are exhibited at the Linnamuuseum (City Museum)
and Meremuuseum (Maritime Museum), among other museums in Tallinn.
Other activities in the Old Town include shopping for Estonian
handicrafts and souvenirs, as well as eating and drinking at
Tallinn's increasing number of cafes and restaurants located in
renovated medieval buildings. Antique shopping is also popular, and
Estonia has some genuine bargains (cut glass, silver and amber
jewelry, wooden objects, and furniture).
International trade shows, special exhibitions, and presentations
can be seen regularly at the Eesti Näitused (Estonian Exhibitions)
Hall in Pirita. Typical exhibitions include car shows, job fairs,
trade fairs, travel fairs, and computer expositions and sales. Shows
are often held through the weekends and are open to the public.
An important holiday in Estonia is on June 24: Jaanipäev (St.
John's Day) or Mid-summer’s Eve. It is celebrated in every city,
town, and village. Tallinn’s big festival, Hanseatic Days, is in
early summer and features folk music and dancing. Most other local
festivals are celebrated by folk dancing and singing with performers
and participants in traditional dress.
Among Americans Last Updated: 2/9/2004 5:47 AM
Social activities for Americans assigned to Tallinn center around
informal dinner parties, day trips, sauna parties, and other
informal get-togethers. There is no American Club or Embassy
association. In addition to Embassy personnel, there are often
temporarily assigned contractors, business-people, Fulbright
scholars, and Estonian-Americans working in Estonia. The American
Chamber of Commerce is active in Tallinn, sometimes bringing
together the small international corporate community and
occasionally sponsoring happy hours, fundraisers, athletic
activities, and other activities.
International Contacts Last Updated: 2/9/2004 5:47 AM
The diplomatic community in Tallinn is small compared with other
European capitals, but social contact between American and other
diplomats is frequent. Tallinn has a small international business
expatriate community, represented by Americans, Brits, French,
Germans, Swedes, Danes, and - most of all - Finns, among others.
There is no central meeting place for the international community,
so most activities revolve around dinner parties at home; going to
concerts, the opera or theater; going to restaurants; or
participating in International School of Estonia socials/activities.
For women, the small International Women’s Club (www.iwct.ee) offers
many interesting activities as well as a chance to chat and
socialize. The International Women's Club has a children's playgroup
that meets once a week. Some American Embassy staff members have
Estonian friends with whom they get together for daytrips and other
Nature of Functions Last Updated: 1/20/2004 6:26 AM
Official Estonian functions are usually cocktail receptions held
just after the close of business. Lunch or dinner functions at a
restaurant are also common for smaller groups. Official functions in
private Estonian homes are relatively rare. Official functions
organized by Embassy staff include business lunches or dinners in
restaurants, or receptions and dinner parties in officers’ homes.
Representational entertaining at home is appropriate during the
workweek in the evening or on the weekend at lunch or dinner.
Spouses are occasionally, but not consistently, invited to official
functions outside the home.
Standards of Social Conduct Last Updated: 1/20/2004 5:12 AM
Professional business attire is appropriate for almost all
official functions. Dinner parties and representational activities
at home during the week or on the weekend can be casual or formal,
so the host should specify. However, it is important to note that
the Estonian sense of casual is dressier than the American sense of
The flexibility of what is considered appropriate encourages
Embassy staff members to arrange the type of official entertaining
that is most convenient for their schedules. The amount of
representational entertainment that officers do and the number of
official functions they attend depend on their own schedules and
professional needs. Junior officers are also strongly encouraged to
arrange and participate in official functions as they see fit.
Business cards are widely used in Estonia, so Embassy staff
assigned to Tallinn should arrive with a large supply or have them
printed upon arrival by a local printing company. Likewise, Embassy
staff should consider bringing formal and informal invitations,
thank-you notes, envelopes, and other stationery supplies.
Special Information Last Updated: 1/5/2004 7:28 AM
Post Orientation Program
The post orientation program includes administrative information
and briefings on the security situation here. New permanent staff,
official visitors, and U.S. Government direct-hire personnel receive
a Welcome Kit that includes general information about Tallinn,
recommended sights, restaurants, and other helpful information.
Permanent staff also receive a Hospitality Kit (see
Housing—Furnishings for more information).
Notes For Travelers
Getting to the Post Last Updated: 1/5/2004 8:08 AM
Embassy staff assigned to Tallinn can fly by American or
code-share carrier to Helsinki, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm,
Paris, or Frankfurt and then fly directly to Tallinn on Finnair,
Estonian Air, SAS. From Washington, D.C., the best route is usually
via Copenhagen or Frankfurt. From New York, flying via Helsinki is a
From Helsinki, you may choose either to fly by plane or
helicopter, or to take a ferry or (from April through October) a
fast-boat catamaran/hydrofoil to the port at Tallinn. Flying is
quicker and easier.
Those transferring from another European post may drive to post
overland or travel by ferry from Northern Germany (via Helsinki) or
Customs, Duties, and Passage
Customs and Duties Last Updated: 1/15/2004 11:22 AM
U.S. government direct-hire personnel have duty-free entry
privileges for their personal belongings, including an automobile.
Diplomats’ household effects (HHE) are shipped to Tallinn via the
State Department’s European Logistics Support Office (ELSO) in
Antwerp, Belgium. Unaccompanied air baggage (UAB) is flown directly
to Tallinn. Newly posted staff should bring packing lists for HHE
and UAB shipments and present them to the General Services Office (GSO)
upon arrival to expedite customs clearance and unpacking.
Employees must be at post and registered with the Ministry of
Foreign affairs before UAB, HHE, and privately-owned vehicle (POV)
shipments can be cleared through customs. Post will request that
shipments be forwarded from ELSO Antwerp once the employee has
arrived in Estonia. Shipment from ELSO to Post generally takes 2–3
weeks. Standard processing times for customs clearance of personal
shipments (UAB, HHE and POV) of employees is about 2 days.
Personal vehicles: there are no restrictions on the importation
of POVs. However, vehicles that do not meet EU standards may not be
resold locally. If the employee is shipping a POV, the original
title (if not possible, then a legalized copy of it) is required for
import procedures. The customs clearance of a vehicle intended for
personal use of an Embassy employee accredited as “diplomatic” staff
is performed duty-free for one vehicle per household adult family
member. For employees accredited as “administrative and technical”
staff, the Foreign Ministry permits registration of one vehicle per
A “diplomat” may exercise customs clearance of goods intended for
personal use not subjected to import and export duties during the
entire period of assignment. A member of the “administrative and
technical” staff may exercise customs clearance of goods intended
for personal use without paying import and export duties within the
first three months of arrival in Estonia.
There is no restriction on the amount of cash or travelers’
checks U.S. Government direct-hire personnel may bring.
Customs restrictions on Estonian cultural artifacts exported from
Estonia by anyone require a 100% duty on the purchase price of the
item. Special permits are also required and may be obtained from the
Cultural Values Export Board.
Passage Last Updated: 1/5/2004 7:34 AM
Passports. U.S. Government direct-hire personnel should bring
both their diplomatic or official passport and their regular tourist
passport when they come to Estonia. Spouses and children should each
have their own passports. Bring extra passport-sized photographs to
facilitate the initial settling-in process.
Visas. Americans are not required to have Estonian visas for
stays of up to 90 days. The Management Section will help new Embassy
staff and their family members obtain Estonian resident visas after
arrival. Visas are not required for Latvia or Lithuania visits, nor
for traveling to Scandinavia. Visas are required for travel to
Pets Last Updated: 2/16/2005 4:34 AM
Please notify Post in advance if you plan to bring a pet to
Estonia. The new European Union requirements for pets entering
Estonia are as follows:
Pets should have a clearly readable tattoo or an electronic
indentification system (transponder). The transponder should compy
with ISO Standard 11784 or 11785.
All pets must be accompanied by a pet passport or certificate by a
veterinarian authorized by the competent authority certifying valid
antirabies vaccination, or revaccination if applicable, in
accordance with the recommendations of the manufacturing labratory,
carried out on the animal in question with an inactivated vaccine of
at least one antigenic unit per dose (WHO standard).
There is no quarantine restriction for household pets brought to
Competent veterinarians, many of whom speak English, practice in
Tallinn. Most veterinarians will obtain pet vaccines and medicines
in Finland or elsewhere in Europe. Veterinarians sometimes make
house calls to vaccinate and care for sick pets. Veterinarians’ fees
in Estonia are low by U.S. standards. Although pet medical care is
inexpensive, pet food is more expensive compared to U.S. prices.
Firearms and Ammunition Last Updated: 1/15/2004 11:25 AM
The Ambassador authorizes, if otherwise lawful, the importation
or acquisition of personal firearms (rifles and shotguns) by Mission
personnel. No more than two shotguns or rifles, non-automatic or
semi-automatic, per household will be approved. Justification
considered acceptable by the Ambassador for the importation or
acquisition of firearms includes sporting purposes such as hunting
or target shooting. In households with minor children, the
Ambassador will be particularly concerned about means to ensure
there is absolutely no possibility for children to gain access to
firearms. Import or acquisition of personal handguns will not be
approved. Any employee who wishes to import or locally purchase any
firearm must forward a written request to the Ambassador through the
Regional Security Officer. The Ambassador’s permission must be
secured prior to the employee’s arrival at post or any local
Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures Last Updated:
2/16/2005 4:35 AM
The only currency that can be used legally in Estonia is the
Estonian kroon (EEK). The kroon was introduced as Estonia’s national
currency in June 1992, nearly a year after Estonian independence. It
is backed by gold and foreign currency reserves and is fully
convertible. The value of the kroon is pegged to the value of the
Euro at EUR 1 = 15.646 EEK. The current exchange rate is
approximately 12.1 EEK = U.S.$1. Estonia's currency is issued in
notes of the following denominations: 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and
500. The coins include 1 kroon and 5-, 10-, 20-, and 50-cent coins.
Credit cards (American Express, Visa, Mastercard/Eurocard) are
widely accepted at most hotels, department stores, restaurants
throughout Estonia. Travelers checks are also accepted by many major
hotels and restaurants. ATM machines that accept U.S.-system cards
(e.g., Cirrus) are ubiquitous.
The Embassy in Tallinn has no banking facilities, but U.S.
Government direct-hire personnel have accommodation exchange
privileges (cash and personal checks only). Travelers checks may be
cashed for kroons in any bank in Tallinn. Currency may be exchanged
for kroons at most banks, hotels, and many foreign exchange counters
around Tallinn and other parts of Estonia. The kroon is fully
convertible and therefore can be exchanged for foreign currency.
However, except for those arriving via Finland, it may be difficult
or impossible to obtain kroons before arrival.
The weight and measurement system in Estonia is the metric
Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property Last Updated: 1/5/2004 7:47 AM
A value-added tax (VAT) of 18% is placed on goods imported into
Estonia and services performed in Estonia. American diplomats can
receive VAT reimbursements, providing they maintain receipts and
turn them into the Embassy GSO Section for processing.
Embassy policy on the sale of personal property by U.S.
Government direct-hire staff and contractors dictates that Embassy
personnel who are able to purchase items duty-free cannot profit
from the sale of these items to another person who is not exempt
from import restrictions, duties, or taxes. If an employee plans to
sell an item worth more than US$200 to someone other than another
American Embassy employee or a third-country diplomat, then the
transaction must be reported to, and approved by, the Ambassador.
Recommended Reading Last Updated: 4/21/2004 6:01 AM
These titles are provided as a general indication of the material
published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse
Clemens, Walter Jr. Baltic Independence and Russian Empire. New
York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991.
Hiden, John and Patrick Salmon. The Baltic Nations and Europe:
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the Twentieth Century. New York:
Longman, Inc., 1991.
Jackson, Hampden J. Estonia. Second Edition. London: George Allen
and Unwin Ltd., 1948.
Kandler, Tiit. A Hundred Great Estonians of the 20th Century.
Eesti Entsuklopeediakirjastus, 2002.
Laar, Mart. War in the Woods: Estonia’s Struggle for Survival
1944–1956. Washington, D.C.: The Compass Press, 1992.
Lieven, Anatol. The Baltic Revolution. New Haven: Yale University
Loeber, Dietrich Andre, B. Stanley Vardys, and Laurence P.A.
Kitching, eds. Regional Identity Under Soviet Rule: The Case of the
Baltic States. Hackettstown, N.J.: Association for the Advancement
of Baltic Studies, 1990.
Maesalu, Ain, Tonis Lukas, Mati Laur, Tonu Tannberg, and Ago
Pajur. History of Estonia. Avita, 2002.
Misiunas, Romuald J. and Rein Taagepera. The Baltic States: Years
of Dependence 1940–1980. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of
California Press, 1983.
Raun, Toivo U. Estonia and the Estonians. Second Edition.
Stanford, California: Hoover Institution Press, 1991.
Taagepera, Rein. Estonia: Return to Independence. Boulder,
Colorado: Westview Press, 1992.
von Rauch, Georg. The Baltic States: Years of Independence
1917–1940. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press,
Wells, Douglas. In Search of the Elusive Peace Corps Moment:
Life In Estonia 2003-2004. Ambassador Collection, 2003. Third and
last issue of the annual handbook "Elu Eestis - Life in Estonia."
USEFUL INTERNET SITES:
www.usemb.ee Official website of the American Embassy in Tallinn
www.state.gov/p/eur/ci/en/ Useful links to Background Notes, CIA
World Factbook, and Library of Congress Country Studies
http://travel.state.gov/estonia.html Consular Information Sheet
www.riik.ee/en Official homepage of the Estonian State
www.vm.ee/eng Well-organized information from the Estonian
www.estemb.org Estonian Embassy in the U.S.
www.visitestonia.com Official Tourism Website of Estonia
www.tourism.tallinn.ee Official Tourism Website of the City of
http://eng.euroopaliit.ee/page.asp?menu=0 Delegation of the
European Commission in Estonia (good links to EU sites)
http://imf.org/external/country/EST/index.htm IMF’s website on
Estonia (good links to various statistics, Ministry of Finance,
www.worldbank.org.ee Worldbank’s website on Estonia (access to
useful data, statistics)
www.inyourpocket.com/estonia/en/ Guidebook to Estonia
www.BalticsWorldwide.com Daily news and more
www.ttw.ee Tallinn This Week, bi-monthly guide to Estonia’s
www.ricksteves.com/tallinn on-line guide to Estonia's capital
www.BalticTimes.com Weekly current events newspaper
www.explore-tallinn.com Practical and tourist information on
www.iwct.ee International Women’s Club of Tallinn
www.talesmag.com/ Tales From a Small Planet's “Real Post Report”
www.weather.ee Weather in Estonia
www.maaturism.ee Countryside tourism
www.ise.edu.ee International School of Estonia
A Glimpse of Estonia. 23-minute-long documentary film gives a
brief overview of Estonia.
Tallinn: Medieval Europe - Feel the Touch of Tallinn. Tallinn
City Tourist Office (email@example.com), 2002. 5-minute
video highlighting Tallinn as a tourism destination.
Local Holidays Last Updated: 1/15/2004 11:31 AM
The American Embassy is closed on all American and Estonian
holidays. The list of Estonian holidays is as follows:
New Year’s Day January 1
Independence Day February 24
Good Friday March/April*
May Day May 1
Victory Day June 23
Midsummer Day (St. John’s Day) June 24
Day of Restoration of Independence August 20
Christmas Day December 25
Second Day of Christmas December 26