Latvia has become an increasingly popular expat destination offering an abundance of unspoilt natural attractions (including acres of forest), a high quality of life, relatively low taxes and a low cost of living.
The historic centre of its capital, Riga, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where medieval buildings stand alongside chic coffee shops and glass skyscrapers. Many expats in Riga are attracted to the city’s high quality of life, good shopping opportunities, and cosmopolitan nightlife and restaurants.
Formerly occupied by pre-war Russia and later by the Soviet Union, Latvia has since opened its borders to trade and has almost completely privatised since its formal independence in 1991. In 2004, Latvia joined the European Union (EU) and has seen a steady increase in foreign investment; it adopted the euro as its official currency in 2014. The country has gained a high position on The World Bank's Ease of Doing Business survey, with a ranking of 19 out of 190 countries in 2019. Latvia has a diversified economy with large manufacturing and export industries, which took a sharp knock from the global downturn in the late 2000s. However, the economy shows significant signs of recovery to date.
Latvian is the official language, but English is widely understood in business and tourism hotspots, and German and Russian are spoken as well. Expats living in Latvia might benefit from learning some basics of the language, especially if they settle in rural areas or among older citizens.
The country has a rich folklore tradition dating back over a thousand years. Latvian art and culture is influenced by the large historical gypsy community.
Healthcare in Latvia is free, but expats moving with families should note that, despite improvements over the past decade, the quality of public healthcare is likely to be below the standards they're used to, especially outside of Riga. Expats are advised to get private international insurance. The public education system is also likely to be below expat standards, with many choosing to send their children to one of the international schools in Riga.
There are no restrictions on property investment, making Latvia a popular holiday home spot for expats fond of skiing and other outdoor pursuits. First-time buyers should be wary of high levels of corruption and red tape, and it’s a good idea to hire a reputable English-speaking lawyer to handle transactions on one's behalf. Renting is affordable, and it's often a safer and more practical option than buying for the short term.
The cost of living in Latvia is relatively low. Although cities like Riga are more expensive than rural areas, most expats still find it generally cheaper to live in than other European hubs. Residents and expats are taxed a blanket 23 percent – a very competitive rate for higher income earners – and businesses a mere 15 percent.
Most expats do not experience culture shock when moving to Latvia. The country has come a long way since its independence in 1991 – and with its stable government and picturesque scenery, Latvia is a rewarding destination for any expat.
Population: About 2 million
Capital city: Riga
Other major cities: Daugavpils, Liepaja, Jelgava
Geography: Latvia lies on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea. The country's territory is mostly made up of low-lying forested plains, with some small lakes and swamps dotting the countryside.
Neighbouring countries: Latvia is bordered by Estonia to the north, Lithuania to the south, Russia to the east and Belarus to the southeast.
Political system: Parliamentary republic
Major religions: Catholicism
Main languages: Latvian is the official language. German and Russian are also spoken, while English is understood in most business circles.
Time: GMT +2 (+1 additional hour from the last Sunday of March till the last Sunday of October).
Electricity: 230V, 50 Hz. Round, two-pin plugs are most common.
Money: The official currency of Latvia is the Euro (EUR).
International dialing code: +371
Emergency numbers: 112
Internet domain: .lv
Transport and driving: The country has an efficient public transport system consisting of buses, trams and trolleybuses. Cars drive on the right.