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Area, Geography, and Climate Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:00 PM

The Republic of Latvia is situated on the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga, bordered by Estonia to the northeast, Russia and Belarus to the east, and Lithuania to the southwest. Its 25,499 square-mile area is about the size of West Virginia in the U.S. or Belgium and the Netherlands combined in Europe. Grassland, marshy meadows, low hills, and rolling plains make up most of the country, which has an average elevation of 292 feet above sea level. Pine, oak, and birch forests cover about one quarter of the country. Latvia is rich in lakes and rivers. It has a coastline of 307 miles, half lying on the Baltic Sea and half on the Gulf of Riga.

Only three European countries-Estonia, Finland, and Iceland-are farther north in their entirety than Latvia, which has latitude of between 55° and 58° and a longitude of between 20° and 28. ° Winter daylight hours are considerably shorter than in the northern U.S. During most of December and January, the sun does not rise until after 9 am and sets as early as 3 pm. On the other hand, to compensate, the longest day of summer lasts almost 18 hours. In spite of its northern location, daytime winter temperatures average only slightly below freezing because of the Baltic Sea and the Gulf Stream. Daytime summer temperatures average about 70 °F. The maritime climate also accounts for the country's frequent cloud cover and considerable precipitation (average per year is about 25 inches).

Population Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:02 PM

Latvia's population is estimated at 2.6 million. Almost half of the Republic's total population lives in Riga and in other neighboring cities and villages within a distance of 70 kilometers, or 6% of its territory. The capital city, Riga (population 916,000, of which 48% are Russian and 40% Latvian), is the largest Baltic city. It is situated in the middle of the country from east to west and has an active and potentially major international seaport. Because of Latvia's status as an occupied country for 50 years, which included massive deportations of Latvians and immigration of Russians, Latvians comprise only 56% of the country's population. The Russian population is about 33% of the total, with the remainder consisting mostly of Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles, and Lithuanians.

In order to protect their unique language, a law was passed in 1989 giving Latvian the status of an official state language. Competency in Latvian is required for a variety of official and public safety positions. Most Latvians also speak Russian. Many people speak English, particularly in Riga, less so in the countryside.

As of May 2002, the Justice Ministry had registered over 1,000 congregations. This includes: Lutheran (309), Roman Catholic (251), Orthodox (114), Baptist (89), Old Believer Orthodox (67,) Seventh-Day Adventist (46), Jehovah's Witness (10), Methodists (12), Jewish (7), Buddhist (4), Muslim (7), Hare Krishna (10), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (3) and over 100 others. While exact figures are unavailable, there are approximately 400,000 Lutherans, 300,000 Orthodox, 250,000 Catholics, 100,000 Old Believers and 9,000 Jews in Latvia.

Public Institutions Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:02 PM

The Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia declared full independence on August 21, 1991, after 50 years of Soviet occupation. Latvia had lost its ancient independence in the 13th century and was ruled successively by Germans, Poles, Swedes, and Russians. In 1918, non-Communist Latvia proclaimed independence, which lasted until the outbreak of World War II. A brief period of Soviet rule was followed by four years of German occupation until Latvia was again incorporated into the former Soviet Union in 1944. Tens of thousands of Latvians were deported to Siberia both during and after the war, and Russians and people from other Soviet Republics began migrating to Latvia. In 1987, an independence movement emerged, with independence being restored in September 1991.

The Parliament or the Saeima holds the supreme state power. Latvia's Chief of State is the President. The Saeima is authorized to accept for trial and decide on any cases of social and state significance. The Council of Ministers, headed by a prime minister, is the highest executive body in the country. It oversees 13 ministries and a variety of state committees and other departments. Major concerns and priorities of the government include the need for a continuing energy supply. Latvia had been almost totally dependent on the former Soviet Union for oil and gas. Now, with the transition to world market prices, new sources are being sought. Electricity is purchased from Lithuania, which has its own generating plants.

Latvia's 2002 parliamentary elections were the fourth since the resumption of independence. 76% of voters chose center-right parties, ensuring the continuity of Latvia's pro-Western orientation and foreign policy goals of NATO and EU membership. The new government inherited from its predecessor an impressive list of accomplishments: defense developments are on track, with 2% GDP defense spending mandated through 2008; restrictive language requirements have been lifted from the election law; the Nazi and Soviet legacies of World War II have been confronted openly and honestly; economic growth rates have been among Europe's highest; and steady progress continues in building a Latvian society that draws strength from all its members.

The successful integration of all of Latvian society - regardless of ethnic or linguistic background is a fundamental goal of the Government of Latvia. To date, Latvian efforts to promote social integration have been relatively successful. Ethnic Russians (25 percent of the population), Ukrainians, Belarusians, Poles and Lithuanians hold positions of influence and power throughout all sectors of society. Over the past few years, Latvia has worked hard to ease the path for the 23% of its total population that have not yet naturalized. By 2003 nearly 60,000 persons have naturalized. To further ease the process, the government has reduced the necessary fees and now accepts high school diplomas as sufficient for naturalization purposes. Finally, Latvia has implemented an ambitious mass advertising campaign to promote the benefits of citizenship. These efforts must continue if Latvia is to achieve its goal of creating a unified, yet diverse, civil society.

Arts, Science, and Education Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:02 PM

Folklore has had a strong influence on Latvian culture both because of the population's close ties to the land and also because of the country's late introduction to Christianity (by German crusaders in the 13th century). Many ancient customs, blended with Christian rituals, are still practiced today, and the geometric symbols of mother Earth, the sun, thunder, fate, etc., still appear as design elements in Latvian applied arts.

Because of its long periods of foreign domination, Latvian literature did not come into its own until the mid-19th century. This is when most notably Krisjanis Barons, who published almost 36,000 verses over a period of 40 years, first collected the ancient oral "dainas". Also in this period, the great epic poem "Lacplesis" or The Bear Slayer was written by Andrejs Pumpurs. Janis Rainis (1865-1929) is widely regarded as the greatest Latvian writer. Imants Ziedonis, perhaps the most famous living Latvian poet, established the Latvian Culture Fund-an organization promoting the development of all Latvian art forms.

Latvia has 10 theaters; most of them are located in Riga. They include a beautifully restored opera house and ballet theater, a Russian theater, a puppet theater, a permanent circus, and many drama theaters. There are 13 movie theaters in Riga: five of these regularly show English-language movies with Latvian and Russian subtitles. There is a philharmonic orchestra and a chamber philharmonic orchestra with concert halls for both. Concerts and recitals are held almost daily. The organ of the Dom Cathedral in Riga's Old Town is one of the largest and best known in the world. Noted organists come regularly from the world over to give concerts there. Song festivals are a Latvian tradition; choirs and folk dance groups perform year long, and there are occasional international festivals with folk singing and dancing in regional costumes.

A representative collection of classic Latvian painters can be seen at the National Fine Arts Museum, and numerous art galleries in Riga exhibit contemporary Latvian paintings, tapestries, sculpture, and ceramics. There are 20 museums in Riga with a variety of collections, such as the Museum of History and Navigation and the Museum of Natural History. Latvians are avid readers. More than 200 Latvian and Russian newspapers are published in Latvia, as well as numerous magazines and periodicals. The city has 168 public libraries, although they have not been able to purchase new books or periodicals for several years due to under-funding.

The Latvian Academy of Sciences is the most prestigious academic organization and encompasses 14 research institutes. It is now working toward greater contact and cooperation with the West. Research in medicine and technical fields, begun in the years of independence before 1940, continued under the Soviets with internationally acknowledged results in microbiology, polymer mechanics, wood chemistry, semiconductor physics, and medicine. Now these research institutes are undergoing considerable restructuring and revision of priorities.

Education levels in Latvia are high. There are 16 institutions of higher learning located in Riga. Throughout the country, there are also 55 technical colleges. The Baltic Academic Center, based in Riga, brought in scholars and university administrators from Western Europe and the U.S. to advise and teach during the initial critical period of transition. Through EU and Swedish funding a Stockholm School of Economics was established. It offers a three-year bachelors' degree to Baltic citizens. This success has been expanded with the establishment of the Graduate School of Law in 1999.

Commerce and Industry Last Updated: 7/29/2005 3:22 PM

Latvian financial and economic policies remain consistently growth and market-oriented. Latvia's investment and reform continued to bear fruit with rapid economic growth. GDP growth averaged 6.6 % for 2000 and 7.5 % growth for 2001. Stellar growth of 9.2% for the 2nd quarter of 2001 led the bank to revise the overall estimate for the year to 7% despite the overall economic downturn. Inflation remains low. Core inflation reached 3.4% as of September and is expected to remain in the 2.5% to 3% range for the year. The structure of the GDP in Latvia had gradually adjusted to a pattern close to those of EU countries — agriculture now represents 4%, manufacturing 15% and services 70% of overall GDP.

The government continues to maintain a tight monetary policy with the Lat tied to the SDR. The Central Bank continues to resist calls for a switch to a Euro base calling the move "premature." Even though, the deficit remains well below the EU member average, Latvia considers the need to maintain fiscal policy discipline a key concern. The deficit was reduced to 2.8% in 2000 down from 4% in 1999. Unemployment is steady hovering around 8% but still shows a disturbingly wide spread between the capital Riga and rural areas.

Latvia's move toward EU membership remains the powerful driving force towards economic reform and discipline and Latvia's entrance into the European Union remains projected for 2004. The government continues to work closely with the foreign chambers of commerce and major foreign investors through the Foreign Investor's Council to improve the business and investment climate. The Foreign Investor's Council has reestablished itself as an independent NGO with a separate administration from the corporate sponsors.

Latvia's primary export market is the EU, which combined, absorbs 62.3% percent of Latvia's exports. Latvia's largest export markets are Britain (16.3%), Germany (15.8%), and Sweden (8.8%). Latvia's economic expansion is due to its move into new markets. Exports to the CIS increased 32% and now account for 9.5% of Latvia's exports. Exports to Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic also grew by more then 47%. Key export products are wood, metals, and textiles. Latvia's primary imports are machinery and electrical equipment (20.6%), chemical products (11.4%) mineral products (10.0) and transport vehicles (9.3%). Imports come mainly from Germany (17.8%), Russia (9.1%), Finland (7.8%) and Lithuania (7.7%).

Privatization of small and medium state enterprises is virtually complete. The only exceptions currently are Latvia's energy utility Latvenergo, the postal service, the state-owned railway company, the Riga international airport and approximately 40 small and medium-sized companies in the health care sector, social services, and road maintenance. Privatization efforts have led to the development of a dynamic and prosperous private sector, which accounted for nearly 68% of GDP in 2000.


Automobiles Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:03 PM

Driving in Latvia is on the right side. Generally speaking, roadways are in fairly good repair, although the absence of shoulders occurs frequently in the countryside. Most of the highways are two lane. In the country, unless a 100-kilometer-an-hour speed limit is posted, the limit is 90 kph. In town, the limit is 50 kph. Aggressive drivers, poorly maintained roads and drinking have given Latvia one of the highest accident rates in Europe. In the countryside, bicyclists on the highways are a particular hazard, especially at night. They typically wear dark clothes and have no reflectors on their bicycles.

In Riga itself, many of the streets are in ill repair, poorly lit, or not lit at all, and it is essential to be on the alert for unmarked potholes and darting pedestrians. Small street signs are affixed to buildings and are not visible at night. Driving in Riga has become more hazardous and frustrating due to the boom in car ownership. During rush hours main thoroughfares move at a snail's pace. The increase in the number of cars has also made parking very difficult. The parking situation has been alleviated to some extent by the development of parking structures in the downtown area.

Most of the American employees at post have their own cars in Riga. Since housing is usually within walking distance of the Embassy, personal cars are used primarily for recreational purposes and more frequently in the warmer months since there are so few hours of daylight in winter. Car alarms are necessary and can be purchased and installed locally. Bring a "Club" steering wheel lock with you, as a backup to the alarm. Such locks are also available locally.

Automobile insurance is available in Riga although some employees buy coverage from U.S. firms. Third-party liability coverage is available, and the Latvian Government requires third party insurance of $5,000 no matter what other liability insurance the owner carries. All executive branch U.S. personnel are required to have third-party-liability insurance with a minimum coverage of $200,000. The cost of theft insurance is high and may not fully cover the value of the vehicle. If the vehicle has both an alarm and an engine/transmission locking system, a deduction in the rate is possible. The insurance industry is a new concept in Latvia; make sure you deal with a reputable company. The Embassy has a list of local insurers.

The required documentation to operate a vehicle in Latvia are a US driver's license, the red or yellow diplomatic card, and the Latvian vehicle registration.

The Embassy does not permit private use of its government vehicles. However, rental cars are available at several agencies. Prices for repairs and spare parts can be higher than in the U.S., and parts are not readily available for many American models. Most members of the international community drive either Scandinavian or German cars. Volvo, Mitsubishi, Audi, Renault, Toyota, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Ford have dealerships/repair shops in Riga. Both leaded and unleaded gasoline is sold at local stations. In addition to selling high-octane gasoline, Statoil, Neste, and Shell sell tires and spare parts, and do oil changes and repair work at some of their stations. Statoil and Neste have their own credit cards and also accept MasterCard. Gas is still cheap by European standards--about 43 santimes per liter for 98 octane-unleaded gas in April 2003. (About $2.75 a gallon.) Diplomats pay about half of this after taxes are deducted.

If you have a US spec automobile, bring a few basic parts such as filters and bulbs in your effects. Local law requires a fire extinguisher and automobile first-aid kit. Always carry a flashlight, reflective triangle, flares, lug wrench, and jack as well.

Local Transportation Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:03 PM

Riga has an extensive public transportation network. Buses, trolleys, and trams are all inexpensive by Western standards. They are frequently crowded, but there are an increasing number of new buses and trams donated by the Scandinavian countries. Trolleys, trams, and buses run 24 hours daily, but between midnight and 5 am, routes usually run only one per hour. Tickets can be purchased from the ticket collector on the bus or tram and cost 20 santimes (about 30 cents US). A monthly transportation pass can also be purchased inexpensively. Taxis are numerous and can be found at one of the many taxi stands. Prices vary, so agree on the fare before departure.

Police cars and vans are grey and white, with a blue light on top and are labeled "Policija." Ambulances are various colors; fire trucks are red.

Regional Transportation Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:04 PM

Although some personnel use Latvia's extensive rail system for official and personal trips, driving is more common for getting around the country. Trains in Latvia are slow, overcrowded, lacking in food services and occasionally dangerous because of theft. Most highways are hard surfaced, but less-traveled roads are gravel or dirt. Bus schedules are generally reliable, and buses are popular modes of transportation for inter-country to Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland. Be aware that a reservation and a ticket do not always guarantee a seat. For example, Americans have reported standing on buses for the 4-hour trip to Vilnius. It is possible to make private arrangements to rent a car and driver for trips to Lithuania or to Estonia.

A four-lane highway extends to the airport and on to the coastal resort area of Jurmala. There are other four-lane stretches in the country, for example, on the Baltic highway connecting Riga to Lithuania to the west and to Estonia to the east. Frequent encounters with farm machinery and heavy truck traffic can slow progress on the roadways.

Riga Airport is about a 20-minute drive from the Embassy. Six international airlines service Riga. Finnair flies to Helsinki three times a week; Lufthansa to Hamburg twice a week and to Frankfurt four times weekly; SAS to Copenhagen and to Stockholm four times weekly; Latavio Airlines to Helsinki twice a week and to Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Frankfurt each three times weekly; Hamburg Airlines to Berlin twice weekly; and Baltic International Airlines to Frankfurt and Düsseldorf four times a week. Air Baltic flies to London four times a week, Frankfurt daily, Stockholm daily (twice a day during the week), to Copenhagen twice a day, and to Helsinki daily Monday through Friday. Riair flies daily to Moscow; Belair flies daily to Kiev. British Air, Swiss Air, and Estonian Air also now service Riga and LOT Airlines and Czech Airlines have several flights a week to various cities via Warsaw and Prague, respectively. A typical fare from Riga to one of these cities is $300 to $400 and occasionally, there are specials to London and Copenhagen and a few other destinations. (1999)

In the past, there has been weekly boat traffic to Stockholm and Norrkoping in Sweden, to Kiel in Germany, and to the Island of Gotland off the east coast of Sweden. There is also now a ferry directly to Stockholm that runs about every other day. These do not run during the winter. You can drive to Tallinn and take the car ferry from there to Helsinki or take the train to Tallinn and ride the hydrofoil across to Helsinki. The hydrofoil makes the trip several times a day and takes less than 90 minutes. The car ferries cross in about 3 hours.


Telephones and Telecommunications Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:04 PM

Telephone communications within Latvia are fairly reliable. The Embassy has touch-tone phones, which can be used for both local and long-distance calls. Employees will be billed for personal long-distance calls made at the Chancery. The local telephone number for the Embassy is 721-0005. There is telefax service available at the Embassy. The fax number is 371-782-0047. Fax service is also available in several locations in downtown Riga. One page faxed to the U.S. costs about $5. Telex service is also available. The current charge is $1 per 25 words. Cellular phone service can be found all over Riga for about $4 a minute for calls to the U.S. (This is the standard toll for calls to the U.S. from residential/business phones, as well.)

Mail and Pouch Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:05 PM

APO privileges are available. The APO mailing address is:

American Embassy Riga
PSC 78 Box R
APO AE 09723

The Embassy has one delivery a week of APO mail by truck from Helsinki (via Tallinn, then Riga, and on to Vilnius and Minsk). No insurance or registration is possible on outgoing APO. The truck also carries supplies ordered from Helsinki, i.e., food items from Stockman Department Store or from the Embassy Helsinki commissary.

Bring a supply of U.S. postage stamps to post; the Mailroom does not sell US stamps. Forms are available in the Community Liaison Office for ordering more from the U.S. Postal Service. APO is slower than regular international mail, since APO mail is sent out only on Wednesdays and goes to Frankfurt via Helsinki. It is possible to order US stamps and/or print postage from your computer via the US postal internet address

The Embassy address for international mail is:

American Embassy
7 Raina Blvd.
Riga, LV-1510, Latvia

The cost of mailing a letter to the U.S. using Latvian postage is 40 santimes (about 65 cents). Weight allowances are less than the U.S.; if the letter exceeds the limit (about 4 pages) the price jumps to 80 santimes. There is also registered mail service operating out of the Central Post Office. The cost is double the normal rate, and delivery time is about the same.

DHL Express is also available. The cost of a 150g letter to the U.S. (about10-15 pages) is about $45. Overweight letters are slightly higher. Delivery is two days. Pickup service is free between 9:30 am and 5 pm. Couriers usually arrive within 1/2 to 2 hours. UPS service is available as well. Envelopes up to 1kg. cost $40 and take two business days for delivery. Free pickup is arranged by telephone. UPS service to Latvia from the U.S. is about $60. FedEx is also available.

Radio and TV Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:05 PM

Eleven FM stations on Latvian radio play Western popular and rock music almost around the clock. BBC is also available on FM radio. Short-wave VOA and BBC broadcasts can generally be received morning and evening.

Cable TV carries CNN, BBC, MTV, Eurosport, Super Channel, and others. Satellite dishes can be purchased in Latvia at costs are similar to the U.S. U.S. TVs and VCRs will work with transformers. If you wish to watch Latvian TV, purchase a multi-system TV that can handle both PAL and NTSC signals. These are available from a variety of sources, such as the tax-free company of Peter Justesen, which delivers to Riga weekly by truck from Copenhagen. Mixing U.S. and European VCR systems can be tricky, because tapes made in the U.S. often will not play on European systems. Most Embassy-leased apartments have US Armed Forces Network (AFN) decoders already installed.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:06 PM

Local publications are of interest to those with Latvian and/or Russian-language skills. Besides several regular newspapers, there are specialized publications dealing with literature, the arts, sports, business, and fashion. Even those without specialized knowledge of the language might find some of these papers useful for information on entertainment, concerts, sports, movies, theater, and television programming. A weekly advertising publication entitled Reklama carries information about items for sale and reasonably priced charter tours to such places as Turkey, Israel, Cyprus, and Greece.

The Baltic Times is a weekly English-language newspaper covering news in all three Baltic countries. Single copies are 50 santimes; subscriptions are $60 per year for a private individual in Latvia.

Two visitor guides (in English) are published about four times a year: Riga in Your Pocket and Riga This Week. These contain very useful information on dining, entertainment, and transportation.

The daily International Herald Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and international editions of Time and Newsweek are available at hotels and some magazine kiosks. The daily Public Diplomacy wireless file contains an excellent summary of important international and U.S. news. Most subscriptions to the U.S. periodicals arrive via APO within 2-3 weeks of publication.

A few bookstores carry a limited number of books in English. The Globuss bookstore and Valters un Rapa in old town and the Janis Rozes bookstore on Barona Iela have the best selections. Prices are higher than in the U.S.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:06 PM

The Embassy has a medical unit staffed by a part time American nurse. The regional medical officer, stationed in Warsaw, visits the Embassy every three or four months. The regional psychiatrist is stationed in Moscow. The Embassy maintains a list of English-speaking doctors and dentists, along with a list of the better-stocked pharmacies. Some of the English-speaking dentists in Riga have up-to-date Western equipment and have received high recommendations from the diplomatic community. One of these dentists is Canadian. There is a Latvian/American pediatrician who is highly recommended by Embassy parents. There is also a US-trained OB/GYN. If needed, Helsinki, Stockholm, and Copenhagen are a couple of hours away by plane. The official medevac location for serious medical problems is London. (Landstuhl for DOD.)

If you take prescription medicine regularly, bring an ample supply to post and arrange to use the services of a mail prescription plan. The regional medical officer can write prescriptions that can be filled via U.S. pharmacies that send medications overseas by APO.
In Washington, you can write to the following pharmacies:

CVS Drug Columbia Plaza Pharmacy Express Scripts
2125 E Street, NW 516 23rd Street, NW PO Box 66773
Washington, D.C.20037 Washington, D.C. 20037 St. Louis, MO 63166-6773

Some medicines are not readily available in pharmacies, and it can be time-consuming to locate particular nonprescription items. It should be noted, however, that more and more western manufactured drugs are available, and they are occasionally cheaper in Latvia. If you have a favorite brand, you may want to consider bringing a supply with you.

Community Health Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:06 PM

Drinking water in Riga is sporadically chlorinated. City water has an unusually high iron content resulting from old, low-grade pipes. Tests of a double filtering system have been found to remove most pollutants and heavy metals from the water. Because of occasional seepage of sewage into the water pipes, there have been outbreaks of typhoid and infectious hepatitis in the past. However, no pathogenic bacteria or viruses have been reported in city water since 1994.

Diphtheria, tuberculosis, and influenza also occur because of inadequate public cleanliness and food handling techniques. Vaccines for both hepatitis A and B are available. Also make sure your oral typhoid and diphtheria/tetanus boosters are up to date.

It is possible to contract tick-borne encephalitis if you spend any time near forests or even city parks. This is an Asian/European disease that does not occur in North America, so the vaccine is not available in the U.S. The vaccine available through the Embassy Health Unit is strongly recommended.

There are significant numbers of large, aggressive dogs in Latvia, and dog bites are not uncommon, even from leashed animals. A few cases of AIDS have been reported in Latvia. An extensive public awareness campaign is in progress with a 24-hour hotline.

Preventive Measures Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:06 PM

Colds, flu, and infectious diseases of the respiratory organs are the most common ailments here, especially during the winter months. All immunizations should be up to date. Bring blood-type records for all family members. The blood bank in Riga has been found to be acceptable in terms of screening and sterility but the availability of blood products is limited. Infection control in hospitals and clinics is not yet up to Western standards, due mostly to inadequate teaching, supplies, supervision, and time.

The local water does not contain fluoride; so bring a supply of vitamins with fluoride if you have small children or arrange to have regular fluoride treatments at local dentists. Most Americans use bottled water or distill/filter their own water with a machine to remove metallic and mineral residues.

Prescription eyeglasses and contact lenses can be replaced locally through the joint venture optical companies in Riga. Bring a copy of your prescription to post, although up to date ophthalmologic and optometric exams are available.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is common among the local population and affects Americans as well. Depressive symptoms typically occur in the fall when the days become significantly shorter and continue through the winter when heavy cloud cover obscures the sun for weeks at a time. Specially marketed high-intensity fluorescent lights reportedly reduce the symptoms. The Embassy has a limited supply of these lights. They may also be purchased in Finland. In the summer, the symptoms are reversed: hyperactivity and sleeplessness.

In winter, people sustain serious injuries when they slip and fall on Riga's icy sidewalks. Downtown sidewalks are usually covered with thick sheets of ice during winter, especially in areas around markets and shops. Remember that you will be doing much outdoor walking here, often while carrying packages.

Employment for Spouses and Dependents Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:08 PM

Spouses and dependents of representatives of the U.S. Government are permitted to work for pay in Latvia. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must be officially notified. However, employment opportunities are limited, even for bilingual job applicants. At the Embassy part-time positions are a Community Liaison Office coordinator, Consular Associate, administrative assistant, protocol assistant and nurse.

For more specific information, write or e-mail the Community Liaison Office coordinator at post. (e-mail address:

American Embassy - Riga

Post City Last Updated: 7/29/2005 3:24 PM

Riga is the capital of Latvia and is located on the Daugava River, just nine miles before it reaches the Baltic Sea. It has a population of 744,631 (2001) or 34% of Latvia's inhabitants. Founded by Teutonic crusaders in A.D. 1201, it had joined the Hanseatic League by the end of the 13th century and become a major center of commerce in Northern Europe. The Old Town of Riga is its cultural heart and has retained much of its medieval atmosphere. The Old World architecture ranges from Romanesque and Gothic to renaissance and baroque and is now undergoing careful renovation. This 80-acre area is composed of tiny, winding, cobbled streets; churches with tall, medieval spires; richly decorated portals and tile roofs; old guild halls; a 13th-century wall; a 14th-century castle; and an abundance of tiny coffee houses, good restaurants, museums, art galleries, and handicraft shops.

Outer Riga, aside from a few Soviet-style buildings in the center (and some dreary bloc-housing developments beyond), is graced with ornate 19th-century Jugenstil buildings; extensive, wooded parks; and boulevards lined with Dutch lime trees planted in the 19th century. Its harbor, airport, and rail and highway networks all contribute to making Riga a major trade and commercial center for all of the Baltic countries.

The Post and Its Administration Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:12 PM

The Embassy was built in 1863 as an eye hospital and later served as the Mayor's Office and the Ministry of Architecture and Construction. It is architecturally significant due to the fact that is was one of the first masonry buildings built outside the city walls. The building was leased to the U.S. Government six months after independence was declared. It is located in the heart of Riga on the edge of a semicircular park, which serves as a buffer between Old Town and the rest of the city. The City Canal (formerly a moat in Riga's early history) winds through the tree-filled park and connects to the wide Daugava River at both ends. The French Embassy is also on Raina Boulevard, in the same ornate building they occupied before World War II.

Many cafes and restaurants are within walking distance, both in old and new Riga, including fast food for lunch. There is a McDonalds across the canal park on the edge of Old Town and a pizza parlor about two blocks down the street.

Public Diplomacy offices are in a restored 19th-century building in Old Town. The Ambassador's residence is located in the renovated Swedish Barracks on the edge of Old Town. There is a kitchen and dining area in the basement of the Embassy for breakfast, lunch, and social functions.

A resident Ambassador heads the Embassy, and s/he is assisted by a secretary, a Deputy Chief of Mission, four Political/Economic Officers, 3 Consular Officers and assistant, a Management Officer, a Regional Security Officer, a General Services Officer, two Information Program Officers, two Public Affairs Officers, and four Regional Affairs Officers. Other agencies are Department of Defense with a Defense Attaché and Security Assistance Officer, and Export Control and Border Security. There are about 120 local employees at the Embassy. The Public Diplomacy Section has a local staff of nine.

Embassy hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The local daytime telephone number is 703-6200.

Housing Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:35 PM

As in many urban areas, houses are rare in central Riga; all Embassy employees are housed in apartments. A fairly stable leasing pool has been established and most newcomers are placed in permanent housing as soon as they arrive. Riga has undergone and is continuing a restoration stage and most Embassy apartments are located in beautifully restored buildings, some with elevators.

Furnishings Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:39 PM

The State Department will furnish all apartments with carpets, furniture, some drapes, refrigerator, range, microwave, washer, dryer, and vacuum cleaner. Two transformers will be provided for appliances and incidental use. Dishwashers are usually supplied. The Ambassador's residence is completely furnished, including items such as china, glassware, silver, and serving pieces for representational purposes.

Bring dishes, glasses, flatware, kitchen utensils, and pots and pans, as well as bathroom rugs, shower curtain and hooks. Bring linens-flannel sheets would be welcome in winter, as would electric blankets, which will work with a transformer. Fitted sheets are available but may not fit American beds exactly and they tend to be more expensive compared to the U.S. Consider bringing a crockpot or electric skillet with a tight-fitting lid. Ovens in Riga can be extremely erratic, and some ranges will not adjust low enough to simmer food.

Bring wall hangings and artwork, extra lamps, small throw rugs, books and bookcases, records, and a stereo (50 cycles, 220v)-whatever will help individualize your home.

The Embassy provides an initial supply of 220v light bulbs; thereafter, you must purchase your own, which are easily obtainable in Riga. There are no undue climatic influences, but dirt and grime accumulate quickly in the central part of the city.

If you move into an apartment before your airfreight arrives, a Welcome Kit will be provided.

Utilities and Equipment Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:17 PM

All living quarters for staff in Riga have running water, flush toilets, a tub/shower arrangement, electricity, and telephone. Many embassy-leased buildings filter the water.

Electricity is 220v, 50-cycle, AC. The Embassy will provide transformers for use with larger appliances but consider purchasing one or two small transformers in the U.S. before departure for things like answering machines. It may be necessary to adapt your stereos and CD players to 50 cycles.

Use 220v irons and other small appliances. These can be purchased locally or ordered from Stockman's in Helsinki or the export companies in Denmark. Most appliance plugs now have 6 mm prongs (Western European style.) Electric adapters and multiple wall plugs (but not transformers) are available in Riga or can be purchased before your departure at:

General Electronics, Inc.
4513 Wisconsin Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20016

Heating is usually centrally controlled and not turned on until late in autumn. Because of the cost of fuel, central heating is being reduced, which makes many apartments cool in winter, especially those with high ceilings and old windows that do not close properly. The Embassy will provide a limited number of space heaters.

Consider bringing several small flashlights for carrying in handbag or briefcase. You may find stairways unlighted, especially in winter (generally does not apply to embassy-leased apartment buildings). Many buildings do not have elevators, and it is common to do frequent stair climbing in Riga. The trains and station corridors are sometimes unlighted as well.

Food Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:43 PM

A Riga landmark is its Central market, which is housed along the Daugava River in five zeppelin hangars that were used by the Germans during World War I. It is one of Europe's largest markets, and the selection, even in winter, is always good. The northern staples of beets, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, celery root, and pumpkin are always available, along with basic herbs, such as parsley and dill. In winter, fresh produce from Western Europe includes cauliflower, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, and cucumbers. As the weather warms, an abundance of local garden vegetables begins to appear, starting with sorrel, radishes, and peas. In summer, fruits and berries appear at the markets. Leaf lettuce and broccoli are usually available at the larger outdoor markets and supermarkets but not in shops. Spinach, iceberg lettuce, and sweet corn are rarely available.

Imported fruits are available year round, including apples, oranges, coconuts, and bananas. Pineapples, kiwis, mangoes, lemons, pears, and avocados are usually available at prices high even by U.S. standards. For locally produced foods, prices are about the same as in the U.S.

The quality of fresh meat varies. All varieties, beef, veal, pork, lamb and chicken, are available year round in the outdoor markets. Locally raised rabbit, duck, turkey, and goose are usually on sale at the central market. There is inconsistent refrigeration at Central market for meats, so shoppers should be wary in warm months. There is a separate zeppelin hangar for fish. The variety is good. Canned fish products and caviar can be purchased there as well. Cold cuts, smoked sausages, fish, and chicken are a popular quick meal for Latvians; these are easily found in shops all over Riga.

Many foreigners buy long-life shelf milk, which comes in several varieties, including .5%, 2% and 3.2%, but local, pasteurized fresh milk is also available. Dairy products such as sour cream, fresh cream, cultured sour milk, butter, and cottage cheese are of good quality. Be aware of handlers' hygiene when buying in bulk at the markets, especially with dairy products like sour cream and cottage cheese. Local cheese is soft and spoils quickly, but there is good variety. Many imported cheeses such as Swiss, Roquefort, Camembert, cheddar, and Brie are available but expensive.

Excellent dark rye, sweet-sour caraway rye, and a coarse white bread, along with a range of pastry items, can be found at the many bread shops, bakeries, and markets. Hot dog buns and sesame seed hamburger buns are also available.

Most meats, vegetables, bakery, and dairy products can be found in one of the many large Western-style supermarkets that have sprung up around Riga. Quality control and service tend to be good in these stores. Availability of products still varies, but shoppers have more sites in which to look for that special ingredient. As in the States, supermarkets make it easy to do all of your shopping in one place.

You can join the commissary at the Embassy in Helsinki. It will ship goods on the weekly truck that delivers APO mail from Finland. The truck will also deliver food items purchased from Stockmann Department Store, where you can set up an account with their Export Service and order by telephone or fax. The store has a series of catalogs, and their Export Service is attentive and prompt but expensive. Fresh vegetables and frozen items can be ordered, unless the weather is unusually warm, since they are packaged in dry ice at the store.

Peter Justesen ships to Riga by truck from Copenhagen. The CLO office has catalogs for Embassy use.

Peter Justesen Company A/S
P.O. Box 2721 Freeport
0900 Copenhagen, Denmark

They offer discounts for case lots and sell duty-free wine, cigarettes, liquor, canned goods, cassettes, electronic equipment, some clothing, and children's toys. It may be less expensive if a large group order is made from post.

A Ship Chandler's warehouse/shop in the port area of Riga sells duty-free goods. Its drawback is that you can never be certain what will be available at any given time. Their best-selling items are liquor and wine.

Month by month, more joint venture food and wine shops are springing up in Riga (primarily with goods from Western Europe), with a surprising number of new products. For example, Indonesian prepared sauces and some Mexican items are now available. Local prices for liquor and wine are generally comparable to the U.S., and the variety is good.

Clothing Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:33 PM

Clothing in Riga is similar to that worn in the northern U.S., although frequently not as casual (except for the universal jeans/sneakers wardrobe of children). In winter women wear hats or berets, well-tailored coats, dress boots, leggings, or skirts. You will notice a difference in styles if you visit Scandinavia, where women are more likely to wear parkas and slacks in winter. Include warm winter clothing, a variety of scarves and vests, and silk or thermal underwear for under-heated rooms in winter: When the heating systems are off, public buildings can also be cold in spring and fall. There are many chilly and rainy days, so raincoats with linings, umbrellas, and waterproof footwear are necessities. The sidewalks in Riga are sometimes rough, so have sturdy and waterproof walking shoes.

Several joint-venture clothing stores sell attractive but expensive blouses, sweaters, skirts, suits, and coats. Do not plan on building up a wardrobe here. Clothing in the nearby Scandinavian countries is attractive but, aside from the luck of catching a good sale, usually very expensive.

There are many skilled tailors and dressmakers in Riga who can copy just about anything. Prices are going up but are still reasonable. A wide variety of fabric exists. There is a good store with imported fabric, but prices are high. Larger shops now accept Visa and MasterCard.

Children's clothing is available, but can be ordered from by phone or internet through catalogs; shoes, and especially boots, are expensive. Hand-knit children's hats, scarves, and mittens are inexpensive and attractive. Likewise, these hand-knit items made for men and women are beautifully done, often in striking and imaginative color combinations employing ancient folk patterns. Women's fashion boots and shoes are available, as are exercise shoes, but in limited size selections.

Shoe repair and dry-cleaning are available and well done. Dry-cleaning can be bit more expensive than in the U.S., although fast-service and single price chains have recently opened.

Invitations that specify "formal" generally require no more than dark suit for men (since many Latvians in government positions have yet to acquire formal wardrobes) and dressy cocktail dresses, not necessarily long, for women. On the other hand, some Latvians do wear black tie, so formal dress can be worn. (It should be noted that balls have become quite popular, as they were in the years of independence before the war.) For receptions and national days, the standard dark suit for men and tailored dresses or suits for women would be the correct attire. Latvians generally do not dress as casually as Americans.

Supplies and Services

Supplies Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:46 PM

Stores in Riga are carrying more and more items at equivalent U.S. prices. Bring cosmetics, toiletries, some home medicines, drugs, favorite brands of household needs, and any other conveniences used for housekeeping, household repairs, entertaining, etc. Ship some items in your airfreight and include a supply of your preferred brands in your HHE goods. If you are not particular as to brand, you can often find an equivalent (usually German) product (e.g., shampoo, soaps, tampons, aspirin, razor blades). A chain of drugstores (Drogas) in Riga sells these items with a typically western inventory.

Stockmann's Department Store carries durable and attractive household items at much higher prices than in the U.S. The commissary in Helsinki has a limited selection of toiletries, laundry supplies, and paper products.

Bring party supplies and wrapping paper (both for gifts and for mailing packages). Gift wrapping is an art form here and there are gift wrap locations in many commercial malls and large stores. Ship audio and photo equipment. An interesting selection of Halloween, Easter, and Christmas decorations, toys, art supplies, candles, and sewing needs is available in Riga.

Basic Services Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:47 PM

Basic services, such as tailoring, dressmaking, shoe repair, dry-cleaning, beauty- and barbershops, and automobile repair, are available here. The shoe repair services and the joint-venture dry-cleaners are good. Tailoring and dressmaking are also done with care, and prices are reasonable. The hotels have moderately priced beauty- barbershops, and many others, even less expensive, are located in central Riga. Automobile repair of Western automobiles is improving.

Household repairs (electrical, plumbing, etc.) are serviced by the Management Section.

Domestic Help Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:50 PM

Good domestic help is available in Riga. The employment of domestic help paid by the hour is the easiest to obtain and is adequate. The scheduling of wages and benefits is in a transitional period. Currently, domestic help is inexpensive (as of August '02 wages were about US$3 an hour).

Religious Activities Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:50 PM

There are few areas in Europe where such a variety of religious denominations exist as in the Baltics. Latvia has 278 Lutheran churches, 186 Catholic, 92 Orthodox, 66 Baptist, 54 Old-Believers, 32 Seventh-day Adventist, 25 Pentecostal, 4 Jewish synagogues, 4 Buddhist temples, 2 Methodist churches, and 1 Calvinist. In Riga, there are Catholic and Orthodox monasteries, as well as a Krishna Consciousness Society and an active Church of Latter-Day Saints.

Services are either Latvian or Russian (Lutheran church services are in Latvian; Orthodox in Russian; Catholic in Latvian, Russian, and Polish). An English-speaking service is held every Sunday at 11 am in the old Anglican church of Saint Savior's near Riga Castle in Old Town. The Church has an active congregation composed of both Latvians and the growing international community in Riga. Vilandes International Church holds services in English at 9:45 a.m. on Sunday. Catholic mass in English is held at Mary Magdalene church each Sunday.

The Salvation Army and YMCA are also active in Riga.


Dependent Education

At Post Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:52 PM
There are two English-instruction schools at post. Both schools have US trained and educated teachers as well as teachers from the host nation and third countries. Transportation by bus is provided by each school for a fee.

The International School of Latvia is located in the coastal resort area of Jurmala, about a half-hour's drive from Riga. The approximately 155 students from 29 nations include about 20 Americans. There is a half-day preschool for 4- and 5-year-olds, from 8:45 am to 1 p.m. Kindergarten through grades 12 start at 8:45 am and finish at 3:20 p.m. Instruction is in English. The school is supported by the State Department Office of Overseas Schools. Teachers are certified in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Western Europe, and Latvia. Starting with grade one, students choose to study either French or German as a foreign language.

Accreditation with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, and the European Council of International Schools was approved in 1999. ISL was authorized to teach the International Baccalaureate Primary Years and Middle Years Programme in 1998/1999. Extracurricular instruction is offered in art, music, physical education, and computers. External testing is available: SAT, TOEFL, PSAT, and SSAT.

Tuition is approximately US$14,000 per pupil a year for grades 6-10, US$14,500 a year for grades 11-12, and about $12,200 for K-Grade 5 at current exchange rates. The one-time registration fee is approximately $1,770 per pupil. The school leases space from the Bulduri Horticultural College. There is an indoor gym, sports hall, swimming pool, and auditorium.

The International Pre & Primary School of Riga (IPPSR) offers instruction from preschool through grade 6. Current enrollment at the school is 94. IPPSR is located in the Kipsala area less than 10 minutes from the Embassy in a newly renovated building. Instruction is in English.

Pre-school for toddlers aged 18 months to 3 years is two-three times per week from 8:30–1:00. Pre-school for ages 3–5 is offered 2–5 days per week from 8:30–3:00. Tuition ranges from approximately US$1,900–US$5,200 per year for preschool. Primary school tuition for grades 1–6 is about US$7,400 for an academic year and Kindergarten is about US$5,600 per year. A one-time registration fee of approximately US$900 is charged. All fees are based on current exchange rates.

Swimming is offered as part of the regular curriculum for all children in grades K and up and French and German is part of the regular curriculum for 2nd grade and up. Swimming, Music and Art are offered as after-school activities. The IPPSR is currently in the accreditation process for IBPYP from the Latvian Ministry of Education and is in the process of being certified.

If you wish to arrange a correspondence course, one possibility is through the University of Nebraska. The address is:

The University of Nebraska
University Extension Division
Lincoln, Nebraska 68508

Away From Post Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:53 PM
For initial information on boarding schools in the U.S., write:

The Association of Boarding Schools
1620 L Street NW, Suite 1100
Washington, D.C. 20036

A complete listing of schools abroad used by American students can be obtained from:

The Office of Overseas Schools
U.S. Dept. of State
Washington, D.C. 20520

More information is available from the European Council of International Schools, which describes each member school, its fees, enrollment, curriculum, etc.

ECIS Executive Secretary
2–8 Loudoun Road
London, NW England

Recreation and Social Life Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:54 PM

There are no established sports clubs for diplomats in Riga. Western style commercial gyms have new weight machines, free weights, aerobics classes, sauna, and massage. Biking can be dangerous; it is often necessary to navigate heavy traffic. There are no bike lanes in Riga. There is a bike trail from the Riga suburbs to Priedane and another to Jurmala, which is quite nice on summer weekdays, when there are fewer baby carriages and dog walkers on it. A bike helmet is a must, but you will attract a lot of attention; Latvians do not wear them. The hard-packed sand of the beach in Jurmala attracts a number of cyclists. There are also a number of bike routes throughout the country.

A 50-meter indoor pool with two saunas and a weight room belonging to Riga Technical University is located on Kipsala Island. It is possible to swim there for a nominal fee, and there are secure lockers. The Radisson Daugava Hotel also has a nice pool and offers monthly or yearly membership (discounts for Diplomats) for the pool only or in combination with aerobics and weight training.

A tennis club with covered courts is near the airport and in Jurmala. Seasonal clay courts are available at reasonable cost in Riga and Jurmala.

Bird walks and other nature tours can be arranged by local tourist associations.

The Hash House Harriers is a bi-weekly group activity; about 30 people meet for a walk/run along a pre-marked path.

Billiards and bowling are available at the Seaman's Center and at the Boulinga center. The Boulinga center also has a few squash courts. Both facilities can be rented for parties. Bowling has become very popular. In Riga alone there are currently about 10 bowling centers. Many have up to date and very modern facilities.

Cross-country skiing is popular, and there are many suitable trails. Equipment can be purchased locally but the best prices are available in Parnu, a seacoast town just over the Estonian border.

Sports Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:56 PM

Spectator sports are offered throughout the year, including soccer, ice hockey, motorcycle racing, skiing, basketball, and volleyball.

Touring and Outdoor Activities Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:55 PM

The closest tourist attraction to Riga is the coastal resort area of Jurmala, about half an hour's drive northwest of the city. Its 10-mile stretch of white, sandy beach and pine-covered dunes are a welcome respite from city life. The water can be quite cold and has a high iron content but it is much cleaner than in Soviet times and most areas are now considered safe for swimming. The Bay of Riga is very shallow so the water does warm up over the summer months; you can wade out for 30 yards before it gets even chest deep.

The Latvian countryside, with its dense pine and birch forests, rivers and lakes, and gently rolling hills, is especially beautiful in the spring, summer, and early autumn.

There are two 13th-century castles near the medieval town of Sigulda, 52 kilometers from Riga. Called the Latvian Switzerland, Sigulda is the gateway to Gauja National Park, a 920-sq. km. river valley with sandstone caves, steep cliffs, nature reserves, and a winter sports area that includes a world-class bobsled run.

One of Latvia's outstanding examples of baroque architecture is the Castle of Rundale (70 km from Riga). Built by the same architect who built the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, it is located in the Province of Zemgale, an area rich with plains and woods, perfect for biking and car trips.

On the outskirts of Riga, the internationally known open-air ethnographic museum on the shores of Lake Juglas has more than 90 buildings, including two 16th-century timber churches, a fishing village, windmills, and a peasant school.

Midsummer night, celebrated on June 23 and 24th, is a very special holiday in Latvia. Called Jani or St. John's Eve, it incorporates many ancient customs as it calls upon the spirits of the home, the fields, and the forests. Special beer is brewed; special cheese is served; wreaths of flowers for women and oak leaves for men are woven. Farm animals and farm buildings are adorned with flowers. Fires are lit on hilltops as dancing, singing, eating, and drinking go on through the "white night" until sunrise.

London is the R&R location for Embassy personnel.

Entertainment Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:56 PM

There are excellent operas, ballets (Alexander Gudonov and Mikhail Baryshnikov began their careers here), recitals, and concerts in Riga, and tickets are relatively inexpensive. The symphony and opera season runs between October and June, but concerts are held year round. Both amateur and state-sponsored theater are well attended, and some theaters offer earphones for English translations; and several, like the opera offer subtitles. There is also a permanent circus in Riga.

Folk music is popular, and there is a variety of folk groups-men, women, mixed-some featuring various traditional instruments, some including dance in their repertoires. Choral singing is a specialty of the country, and international song festivals are held every few years in the early summer when tens of thousands of Latvians from all over the world come to sing together.

Riga has many museums and art galleries, along with more diverse collections, such as the pharmaceutical museum, the automobile museum, and the military museum.

In addition to the Public Diplomacy Library and the British Council Library, other libraries in Riga are also open to Embassy personnel and dependents. The Foreign Literature Library has the largest collection of fiction in English, along with American and British periodicals. The National Library of Latvia receives many English-language magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times, within a few days of publication.

Latvian independent TV presents a complete report of the country's news, sports, and weather in English every evening. The state TV station runs CNN and BBC news every weeknight. The weekly English-language newspaper, The Baltic Times, provides in-depth and up-to-date information on political, business, and cultural events in all three Baltic countries.

Restaurants in all price ranges can be good in Riga. More are opening each month, as are bars, discotheques, and casinos.

Spectator sports are offered throughout the year, including soccer, ice hockey, motorcycle racing, skiing, basketball, and volleyball.

Social Activities

Among Americans Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:56 PM
Few social obligations are required within the Embassy upon arrival beyond meeting the Ambassador and colleagues as soon as possible. The CLO office has information about current activities and events. The Marine House has a TGIF night about once a month and, in addition to American Embassy staff, other diplomats and business people often attend. There is a growing American community outside the Embassy, most of them involved in business and consulting work.

International Contacts Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:57 PM
The amount of official social activity in the international community is related to the responsibilities of each officer. The diplomatic community is sociable and small enough so that there is considerable international contact. The International Women's Club of Riga holds monthly luncheons and various weekly activities. Volunteer activities are most welcome here as the country struggles out of its painful economic situation. Visits to hospitals and orphanages by Embassy personnel bearing books and clothing, visits to schools to assist in English-language training, and offers to speak to clubs and to professional organizations are all gratefully received.

Official Functions

Nature of Functions Last Updated: 7/29/2005 2:59 PM

Diplomatic corps members from the Austrian, Belarus, Belgian, British, Canadian, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, the EU Commission, Finnish, French, German, Israeli, Italian, Japanese, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Slovakian, Spanish, Swedish, Swiss, Ukrainian, U.S., and Uzbek Embassies are frequently invited to official and semiofficial Latvian ceremonies and entertainment. Many other countries including Argentina, Australia, The Holy See, Hungary, India, Ireland, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, and the Republic of South Africa, are resident in neighboring countries.

Embassy officers are expected to attend official functions when requested and take an appropriately active role at representational affairs that concern their sections and the Mission as a whole. Other American personnel at post have few or no official social obligations of an official nature.

Standards of Social Conduct Last Updated: 7/29/2005 3:00 PM

Arrival of all officers with secretary rank and above is announced to the diplomatic community. Soon after arrival, officers are expected to make the rounds of important contacts in the Latvian Government and the diplomatic community.

An officer should bring a supply of at least 200 calling cards to post. Officers with spouses may find it convenient to have a supply of "Mr. and Mrs." folded informals for invitations. Cards and invitations can be printed at post, but it is somewhat more expensive here than in the U.S.

Special Information Last Updated: 7/29/2005 3:00 PM

The Embassy should be notified in advance when U.S. Government employees are traveling to Latvia on official business. Visitors who will be in Latvia for an extended period of time should register with the Consular Section.

Notes For Travelers

Getting to the Post Last Updated: 7/29/2005 3:01 PM

Lufthansa, SAS, British Air, and Finnair all service Riga several times a week. The Riga Airport is about a 20-minute drive from the Embassy, which is located in the center of the city. Embassy personnel coming from Washington, D.C. usually fly to Frankfurt, arriving early morning and departing for Riga late morning on Lufthansa (about a two-hour flight). It is also possible to fly Delta via New York to Copenhagen and then on to post via Baltic Airways. Make certain that travel to post complies with the Fly America Act and "city pair" regulations.

You can drive to post from other parts of Europe. Your vehicle should be in excellent condition, and it is necessary to carry extra gas, since full-service stations can be difficult to locate in some Eastern European countries. Do not count on using credit cards or travelers' checks to purchase gas. Gas in Western Europe is as high as $5 a gallon. Winter driving can be hazardous, so it is better to avoid driving at night, since lighting and road conditions are poor in some areas. If you drive to post, notify the Embassy of your itinerary and obtain all necessary visas in advance.

Customs, Duties, and Passage

Customs and Duties Last Updated: 7/29/2005 3:02 PM

Diplomatic personnel may import personal HHE and automobiles duty free. Import and export of currency is not restricted. The Embassy has no storage facilities, so shipments should not arrive before the employee. Shipments will be held in Antwerp or Helsinki until the employee is at post and is occupying permanent quarters.

Obtain appropriate information from the State Department's Division of Transportation before making arrangements with a commercial firm for packing, storing, and transporting your personal and HHE.

Passage Last Updated: 7/29/2005 3:04 PM

Holders of diplomatic passports encounter minimal formalities entering Latvia. Treatment is courteous, and inspections at the airport have not been lengthy. No special immunizations are required other than hepatitis, due to the high incidence of this disease in Latvia.

Pets Last Updated: 7/29/2005 3:05 PM

No regulations or quarantines restrict importing cats and dogs. Pet owners should have immunization records, especially rabies vaccination (within 1 year), and health certificate records certified by a veterinarian within 2 weeks of departure. Make sure that international certificates are used. Since most departures transfer in Germany, the certificate should be translated into German if an international certificate is not available. The German and Swedish customs agents are very strict; do not take any chances. Germany requires the pet's health certificate be signed by your vet not more than 10 days before the flight. Sweden requires an animal import license, even to transfer your pet to a connecting flight. Call the respective Embassy or airlines if you have any questions. They can supply international certificate blanks.

Taking a pet from Latvia is subject to new restrictions due to the existence of rabies here. It is necessary to get a yearly rabies vaccination for your pet while it is here and then wait 30 days for a followup health inspection and certificate. Only then will you be allowed to take the pet from Latvia.

Firearms and Ammunition Last Updated: 7/29/2005 3:07 PM

Only non-automatic and semiautomatic firearms may be brought to post when authorized by the Ambassador. Anyone wishing to import firearms must send a description of weapons, ammunition, and their intended use to the administrative officer and receive written approval before shipping.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures Last Updated: 7/29/2005 3:08 PM

The official monetary unit is the lat. Bills are in denominations of 500, 100, 50, 20, 10, and 5. Nominal values of coins are: 2 Ls, 1 L, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1 santime. Be aware that the 2 and 1 lat coins resemble U.S. quarters but have values of $3.50 and $1.75 respectively.

Currently, .570 lat = US$1 (as of July 2005). Latvia uses the metric system of weights and measures.

Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property Last Updated: 7/29/2005 3:08 PM


American Embassy personnel are exempt from personal and income taxes and from customs duties in Latvia. No limit is placed on the amount of dollars or travelers checks that can be brought into the country.

Personnel on temporary duty (TDY) or similar assignments not officially attached to the Embassy are not accorded diplomatic privileges such as duty-free entry of effects and cars or exemption from taxes.


Banks in Riga do not cash personal checks, but you can set up an account and arrange for a transfer of funds for a fee, usually $10 minimum.

ATM cash machines are located throughout Riga and most use Cirrus and/or the Plus system, so it is fairly easy to withdraw money in lats from your US account.

Five local banks for a fee accept American Express travelers' checks. They cannot be used elsewhere in Latvia. Many stores and hotels accept Visa, MasterCard, and American Express.

Recommended Reading Last Updated: 7/29/2005 3:11 PM

These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

The Baltic States: A Reference Book. Latvian Encyclopedia Publishers, 1991.

Bilmanis, Alfred. Latvia as an Independent State. Latvian Legation: 1947.

Clemens, Walter C. Baltic Independence and Russian Empire. St. Martin's Press, 1991.

Eksteins, Modris. Walking Since Daybreak: A Story of Eastern Europe, World War II, and the Heart of our Century. Houghton Mifflin Co. 2000.

Garber, Larry and Eric Bjornlund, eds. The New Democratic Frontier. National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, 1992.

Kalnins, Ingrida, ed. A Guide to the Baltic States. Inroads, Inc: 1990.

Kaslas, Bronis. The Baltic Nations: The Quest for Regional Integration and Political Liberty. Euramerica Press, 1976.

Katz, Zev, ed. Handbook of Major Soviet Nationalities. The Free Press: 1985.

Lieven, Anatol. The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Path to Independence. Yale University Press, 1994.

Misiunas, Romuald J. and Rein Taagepera. The Baltic States—the Years of Independence—Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania: 1917-1940. C. Hurst and Company, London, and University of California Press, 1974.

Nesaule, Agate. A Woman in Amber. University of Wisconsin Press, 1995.

Plakans, Andreijs. The Latvians: A Short History (Studies of Nationalities.) Hoover Institute Press, 1995.

Rodgers, Mary M. and Streissguth, Tom, eds. Latvia: Then and Now. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Company, 1992.

Skultans, Vieda. The Testimony of Lives: Narrative and Memory in Post-Soviet Latvia. Routledge, 1998.

Smith, Graham, ed. The Nationalities Question in the Soviet Union. Longman, 1990.

Spekke, Arnolds. History of Latvia. M. Goppers, 1951.

Thaden, Edward C. Russification in the Baltic Provinces and Finland, 1855-1914. Princeton University Press, 1981.

Veti Vitauts Simanis, ed. Latvia. The Book Latvia, Inc., 1984.

Baltic States: Insight Guides. Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston: 1995.

The Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies publishes a newsletter and a quarterly journal. For more information contact:

Business and Subscriptions
Executive Office of the AABS
111 Knob Hill Road
Hackettstown, New Jersey 07840

Local Holidays Last Updated: 7/29/2005 3:26 PM

The following U.S. Government and local national holidays are observed (dates for 2005)

New Year's Day January 1
Martin Luther King's Day Janury 17
Washington's Birthday February 21
Good Friday March 25
Easter Monday March 28
Labor Day May 1
Proclamation Day May 4
Memorial Day May 30
Midsummer's Eve June 23
Summer Solstice June 24
Independence Day July 4
Labor Day September 5
Columbus Day October 10
Veterans Day November 11
LR Proclamation Day November 18
Thanksgiving Day November 24
Christmas Day December 25
Boxing Day December 26
New Year's Eve December 31

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.
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