The Leading Global Portal for Diplomats!    
    Keep in touch with the community Prepare for your new career Take care of personal affairs Chat with diplomats online      
Home > New Posting > Post Reports
The Host Country

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 “nighttime.”

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% Estonian.

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 Russian speakers.

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 Christianized.

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 countryside.

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 government.

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 grounds.

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 majority holdings.

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 annual GDP.

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 and regulations.

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 (, 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 Internet users.

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 Union.


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 the U.S.

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 Tallinn.

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 cities.

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 present.

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 PM

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 outside Tallinn.

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:

Employee Name
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:

Employee Name
AmEmbassy Tallinn
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 various languages.

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 subtitles).

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 ( is a bimonthly magazine and travel guide with interesting articles about current issues and politics in Estonia. The Baltic Times (, a weekly newspaper published in Riga, covers the current events of the three Baltic States. Tallinn This Week (, 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 neighborhoods.

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 AM

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 parking.

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
20 Kentmanni
15099 Tallinn


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 of funds.

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 arrivals.

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 must assemble.

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 computer equipment.

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 woodburning.

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 shipments.

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 months.

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 public.

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 Washington, D.C.

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 homes.

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 available.

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: 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.


Dependent Education

At Post Last Updated: 1/5/2004 7:21 AM
The International School of Estonia (ISE) ( 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 (, 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 Tallinn.

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, D.C.

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 inexpensively.

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 the U.S.

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, D.C.

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 boating.

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 skiers.

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.

Social Activities

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 ( 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 social occasions.

Official Functions

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 word.

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 better option.

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 from Stockholm.

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 family.

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 Russia.

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 Estonia.

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 purchase.

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 system.

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 unofficial publications.

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 Press, 1991.

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, 1974.

Wells, Douglas. In Search of the Elusive Peace Corps Moment: Destination Estonia.

Life In Estonia 2003-2004. Ambassador Collection, 2003. Third and last issue of the annual handbook "Elu Eestis - Life in Estonia."

USEFUL INTERNET SITES: Official website of the American Embassy in Tallinn Useful links to Background Notes, CIA World Factbook, and Library of Congress Country Studies Consular Information Sheet on Estonia Official homepage of the Estonian State Well-organized information from the Estonian Foreign Ministry Estonian Embassy in the U.S. Official Tourism Website of Estonia Official Tourism Website of the City of Tallinn Delegation of the European Commission in Estonia (good links to EU sites) IMF’s website on Estonia (good links to various statistics, Ministry of Finance, Central Bank) Worldbank’s website on Estonia (access to useful data, statistics) Guidebook to Estonia Daily news and more Tallinn This Week, bi-monthly guide to Estonia’s capital city on-line guide to Estonia's capital city Weekly current events newspaper Practical and tourist information on Estonia International Women’s Club of Tallinn Tales From a Small Planet's “Real Post Report” on Estonia Weather in Estonia Countryside tourism 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 (, 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*
Easter 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


Adapted from material published by the U.S. Department of State. While some of the information is specific to U.S. missions abroad, the post report provides a good overview of general living conditions in the host country for diplomats from all nations.
Share |