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Moving to Estonia

Estonia is the centre of old-world Northern Europe and is famous for its lush green landscapes and medieval architecture. The country has a small expat population, most of which is located in the capital, Tallinn. However, Estonia is beginning to receive more interest from foreigners looking to invest in property.

Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia’s economy has developed rapidly. The country now boasts booming timber and shipping industries, and Tallinn is quickly becoming a commercial hub.

Nationals of EU-member states are able to work in Estonia without a work permit, but are required to obtain a residency permit within 30 days of arriving in the country. The business culture of Estonia is formal. Local people are generally status-conscious and have little time for small talk.

While Estonian is the official language, Russian is widely spoken throughout the country. Estonians also tend to speak very good English, so expats shouldn’t have too much difficulty communicating. It is worth learning a few key Estonian phrases to help break the ice with the locals, though.

The cost of living in Estonia is low, particularly when it comes to accommodation, transport and food. Expats living in Tallinn or other Estonian cities will find that public transport is efficient and economical, and therefore will have little need for a car.

Those living in Estonia are spoilt for choice when it comes to outdoor activities. Canoeing, hiking, sailing and cycling are just some of the pastimes expats can participate in. This Baltic country also has a wealth of historical heritage that can be explored by those that enjoy cultural activities. Estonia boasts a significant number of medieval churches, castles and palaces.  

Eating out in Estonia will certainly be an adventure, as the country’s cuisine includes delicacies such as elk sausage and bear meat. The best nightlife and entertainment in Estonia can be found in the capital. Expats will find the price of entry into nightclubs, theatre tickets and drinks are relatively cheap in Estonia, particularly compared to other European capitals.

Expats moving to Estonia must ensure that they have adequate health insurance. While the standards of healthcare in Estonia are improving, expats will find that the facilities usually fall short of the standards expected in Western Europe or North America. 

Estonia is not yet a popular expat destination. However, foreigners have begun to see the potential of this Baltic state, which is on the brink of expansion and development. Those adventurous enough to give expat life in Estonia a chance will be rewarded with a low cost of living and good entrepreneurial opportunities as well as a host of sporting and cultural activities.

Fast facts

Population: About 1.3 million

Capital city: Tallinn

Neighbouring countries: Estonia is bordered by Latvia to the south and Russia to the east.

Geography: Nearly half of Estonia’s flat landscape is covered in forest. The rest is farming land, meadows and grazing plains, with over 1,000 lakes scattered across the country. In addition, there are two main islands in the Baltic Sea, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, which are favourite local holiday spots. 

Political system: Unitary parliamentary republic

Major religions: Christianity

Main languages: Estonian

Money: Estonia uses the Euro (EUR), which is divided into 100 cents.

Tipping: Tipping is accepted but never expected. A 10 percent tip on a restaurant bill is polite but not required, and excellent service can be rewarded at the client’s discretion. Taxi drivers do not expect tips, but rounding up the fare to the nearest euro is accepted practice. 

Time: GMT+2. Between March and October, the time zone changes to GMT+3.

Electricity: 230 volts, 50Hz. European-style two-pin plugs are used.

Internet domain: .ee

International dialling code: +372

Emergency contacts: 112

Transport and driving: Vehicles in Estonia drive on the right-hand side of the road. The country boasts an impressive and extensive public transport system, with buses operating within and between all major urban centres.

Weather in Estonia

Estonia's weather is far more moderate than other countries at this latitude and it rains or snows for approximately a third of the year. The seasons in Estonia are distinct and are nearly equal in length.

Spring is a mild and dry season lasting from April to May. May is favoured for its warm, mild and dry weather, made especially pleasant by the abundance of flora and wildlife emerging from the forests and plains. Summer lasts from late May until mid-September and is typically around 70°F (20°C), although it may occasionally reach over 85°F (30°C). Thunderstorms are very common and many evenings end with rain.

Autumn’s wet and windy days are in full force by October and, apart from being the wettest month, November also ushers in the winter snowfall. Temperatures remain below 50°F (10°C) and drop below 32°F (0°C) by November.  

Winter temperatures may drop below 0°F (-18°C), but are generally around 32°F (0°C) with continuous snow. This is a popular month for snow sports and activities.

Cyclones from the Baltic Sea have been known to cause severe thunderstorms in Estonia, often resulting in power cuts, flooding and property damage. Heavy snowfall and blizzards have also become common in recent years.

Embassy contacts for Estonia

Estonian embassies

Estonian Embassy, New York City, United States: +1 212 883 0636

Estonian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7838 5388

Estonian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 789 4222

Embassy of Estonia, Yarralumla, Australia : +61 409 798 474

Estonian Honorary Consulate, Cape Town, South Africa: +27 21 913 3850

Estonian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 478 8888

Foreign embassies in Estonia

United States Embassy, Tallinn, Estonia: +372 668 8100

British Embassy, Tallinn, Estonia: +372 667 4700

Canadian Embassy, Tallinn, Estonia: +372 627 3311

Australian Consulate, Tallinn, Estonia: +372 650 9308

Irish Embassy, Tallinn, Estonia: +372 681 1870

Expat Experiences in Estonia

When considering a move to a new country, there is nothing more useful than hearing real-life stories from other expats. Enjoy the interviews below and the insight they afford, and please contact us if you live or have lived in Estonia and would like to share your experience.

After living in Denmark for six years, Romanian-born Alina decided to move to Estonia with her husband, an Estonian native. In her interview with Expat Arrivals, she shares her thoughts on Estonia and Tallinn, the small city she lives in.