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Facts about Latvia   



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Facts about Latvia266  

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1. LATVIA: in brief
Latvia is situated on the shore of the Baltic Sea, sharing borders with Lithuania to the South, Estonia to the North, Russia to the East and Belarus to the South East.

Territory and population
The area of Latvia is about 64 thousand square kilometres. The population of the Republic is 2,3 million people, of which 59% Latvians, 28% Russians, 4% Byelorussians, as well as Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians, Jews and other nations.
The biggest cities are: Riga (722 thousand inhabitants), Daugavpils (108 thousand inhabitants), Liepaja (85 thousand inhabitants), Jelgava (66 thousand inhabitants), Jurmala (55 thousand inhabitants) and Ventspils (43 thousand inhabitants).
Latvia is divided into four historical areas: Vidzeme, Kurzeme, Latgale and Zemgale. The highest peak is Gaizinsh standing at 311,5 meters. The climate in Latvia is moderate with some temperature fluctuation. The summer is warm, the weather in autumn and spring is relatively mild but the unstable winters sometimes getting really cold.

The official language is Latvian. Russian language is often spoken, English and German not too common but in use.

Latvia has no official religion, but most population is Lutheran, Catholicism prevails in the East. The Orthodox and Old Believer communes in Latvia are rather large. In general the society is tolerant to different religious, however the church does influence the mood of society.

State symbols
The Latvian flag is very similar to the Austrian flag, but darker in colour. It is made of bands of dark red, white, and dark red (from top to bottom). The white band is narrower than the red ones. The national anthem Dievs, svti Latviju! (God, bless Latvia!) was written by a Latvian Composer Karlis Baumanis in the second half of the 19th century and became the national anthem in 1918. The Latvian Coat of Arms a shield with a rising sun on the blue background at the top; the red lion on the silver background to the left and the silver griffin on the red background to the right.
State political system
Latvia is a Democratic Republic. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President of the Republic and is the head of the government. The President of Latvia is elected by the Parliament and runs a four year term. The President is mostly s representative power, however he can block some decisions of the parliament.

International relations
After the restoration of independence in September 1991 Latvia headed towards joining European and international organizations, since April 2004 Latvia is a member of NATO and since May 2004 a member of the European Union. Latvia is a member of WTO.

2. Latvian history

Latvian history can be divided into two periods:
1. Before the national republic was founded (in 1920)
The first state formations on the territory of modern Latvia were founded in the XIII century by German knights. In the 16th-17th centuries Latvia was ruled by Polish-Lithuanian princedom and Sweden and in the beginning of the 18th century by Russian Empire. World War I and the revolution in Russia create the necessary prerequisites for the foundation of an independent Latvian state.
2. Latvian history in the XX century
The first independent republic lived 1920 to 1940. In 1940 Latvia loses independence end joins the USSR. The Gorbachov Perestroika and the breakdown of the Soviet Union leads to restoration of the independent Latvia Republic in august 1991.


For arranging your flights to/ from Riga, we suggest to use the following information sources:

Air Baltic Corporation  (Operating direct flights to/from Riga)
You can find flight schedules as well as book flights online at
Kaleva Travel Agency:

Other major European air companies operating flights to/ from Riga:

Austrian Airlines
Scandinavian Airlines

Riga International airport site at provides list of all airlines operating flights to/ from Riga.

4. Money, transport, communication in Latvia

Latvia is in the − GMT+2 time zone. If you arrive from London, put the clock back for two hours, from Moscow forward one hour. For precise time call 154 (in Latvian) or 174 (in Russian).
It is quite hard to find a 24/7 store in Riga. The supermarkets usually open at 8 AM and close at 11-12 PM. On Saturdays and Sundays grocery stores are usually open but the others are either closed or close earlier. Banks and museums close at 4-5 PM. Most large cafes are open until 11 PM − 1 AM. Most service enterprises work without a lunch break.

Money and payment cards in Latvia
The currency in Latvia is Lat (Ls), one Lat is equal to 100 santims. The Lat exchange rate is stable. One Lat is equal to app. 1,4 Euro or 2 Dollars. There are 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500 Lat notes and 1 and 2 Lat and 1,2,5,10,20 and 50 santim coins. Currency exchange has a billboard Valutas maina. There are no legal limitations of currency transfer across the borders of Latvia. You do not have to show your passport to change currency.
There is no problem with getting cash from your payment cards as there is a broad bank machine network that lets you get Lats in almost any town of Latvia. Except offices, banks and central streets there are bank machines in large shopping centers and fuel-tanks. Most stores, hotels, restaurants accept debt and credit cards.
Before departure ask the bank that issued your card about fees for cashing it and paying for goods. You can cash also in Travel cheques American Express & Thomas Cook in bank offices.

Latvian telephone connection is almost totally digital and for that reason of very high quality. Connection is fast and easy and audibility is usually very good. You can call any place in the world from phone booths located all around Latvia. You can use a 2, 3 and 5 Ls call card, sold in all press boots, or with a credit card. Phone-calls in Latvia are quite expensive. There are instructions in every phone booth. You should remember that a call to Europe or USA costs less than a call to Russia or CIS countries. To call a foreign number you should dial 00 and then (dont wait for the beep) the code of the country you are calling and the telephone number.

Mobile communication
Mobile connection in Latvia is very well developed. Almost all territory of Latvia has cell coverage. Pay attention to the fact, that mobile phone users do not have to pay for incoming calls and a call from a stationary phone to a mobile phone usually costs much more, so you will save by calling a mobile phone from another mobile phone.
Tourists are recommended to buy pre-payment cards O karte or Zelta Zivtina that provide you with a temporary number and call opportunity for local prices.

Mail in Latvia works well. Letters are usually delivered on the next day (across Riga) and in one-two days across Latvia. International letters are usually delivered in under a week. To send a letter you have to buy post stamps in post offices, Narvessen or other shops and stick them on envelopes. Across Latvia 35 santims, European counties 50 santims, to other countries 55 santims.

Riga has no subway but there are trams, trolleybuses, buses and route taxis. Public transport fee is 50 santims, taxi-buses 45-60 santims. It is advisable to buy electronic e-ticket  beforehand at any press boot or you can  buy a paper ticket from the driver for 70 santims. There are very little transport after 11 PM. Some routes have duty buses and trams (once in an hour).
You can find information about e-tickets, the list of tram, trolleybus and bus routes and their timetables at (Russian and English available).
Local train timetable at Latvian railroad web-site (Russian and English available).
Local Latvian bus timetable at Riga Bus station web-site (Russian and English available).

There is no problem with finding a taxi in Riga. Fee is approx. 1,00-1,50 Ls for entry and 0,40-0,50 Ls p/km.
Taxis are available at taxi stops and via phone. A ride across the city will cost you 5-8 Ls. You have to count traffic jams in Riga, especially during rush hours (7.00-10.00 and 16.00-19.00), which will increase the travel time and the fee.
We dont usually stop private cars in Latvia. Hitchhiking is not generally in style.

Information services
Main information telephone number is 1188 − paid service. A call costs app. 10 santims + the time of your conversation with the operator on a standard tariff. Service quality is very high, operators are able to answer even the most unexpected questions. Operators speak Latvian, Russian and English.
To find companies and enterprises in Latvia, we recommend online data-base , or Latvian commercial data base, where you can find juridical data and official financial report data on a concrete company is available at but is mostly on a paid basis.

5. Map of Latvia and Riga

Map of Latvia (1578 x 1026 pix, 509 Kb)
Map of Riga (1417 x 992 pix, 582 Kb)
Map of Downtown Riga a detailed Map of Downtown Riga including the Old Town and the area up to the Lacplesa street. (2278 х 1891 pix, 1 156 Kb)

The maps are allowed to be downloaded for personal use only. Reproduction for purpose other than personal is not permitted and pursued by law.
Copyright: Jana Seta izdevnieciba
There is provided street search engine of Riga and other Latvian cities at 1188 portal.


Citizens of the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Zone (EEZ) may cross the border of the Republic of Latvia without a visa, producing valid travel documents - passports or identity cards and a valid health and life insurance policy, can stay in Latvia for up to 90 days during a six-month period. To prolong this term they have to register with the Department of Citizenship and Migration and receive a residence permit.
Spouses of citizens of EU and EEZ states (except Latvia), first degree relatives in ascending and descending line who are not citizens of EU or EEZ countries or the countries with which Latvia has effective visa-free regime arrangements can apply for a visa for entry in the Republic of Latvia on the border, by producing a relevant document certifying the fact of marriage or relationship provided these persons enter Latvia together with a spouse or first degree relative (EU or EEZ citizen) respectively.

Schengen Agreement
On 21 December 2007, Latvia together with other new member states of the European Union Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and Malta acceded to the Schengen Agreement. Thereby the Latvia's border with Lithuania and Estonia has become an internal border of the Schengen area and the border control on this border has been removed. Now it is possible to cross this border at any point.  Latvia's border with neighbouring countries that have not joined the Schengen Agreement Russia and Belarus has become the external border of the Schengen Area continues to be available for crossing only at border control points and during specified working hours.
On 21 December 2007, with Latvia's accession to the Schengen Area Latvian diplomatic and consular representations abroad have started to issue uniform or Schengen visas that are valid in the territory of all Schengen countries. The main advantage of uniform or Schengen visa is that a foreigner who wishes to visit several Schengen countries does not have to apply for separate visa in every Schengen country's representation.
The maximum time that a person holding a Schengen visa may stay in the Schengen Area is three months in a half-year period, beginning on the first day of entry after crossing the external border of the Schengen area. If a foreigner will need to stay in Latvia more than three months in a half-year period he/she, depending on circumstances, will have to receive a national long-term visa or a residence permit. This visa is valid only for staying in Latvia. It will be also valid for crossing the territory of other Schengen countries in transit in order to reach Latvia. Nevertheless, it does not mean that a foreigner can apply for a Schengen visa at the representation of any Schengen country. Visa should be applied for at the representation of the country whose territory is the only or main destination of the visit. 
The accession to the Schengen Agreement has given to Latvia an opportunity to ensure that foreigners can receive Schengen visas for travelling to Latvia in the places where Latvia does not have its own diplomatic and consular representations. Presently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has concluded agreements with Germany, Hungary and France on representation in visa issuance in 21 countries.

Citizens of the following countries do not need a visa:
Countries whose citizens may entry Latvia without a visa: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macao, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, The Holy See, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela.
Persons with a residence permit in one of these countries who are not citizens of one of it, need a visa.
Persons, who use as a travel document a United Nations passport, a European Commission passport, a EU member state, Armenian, Ukrainian or Turkish diplomatic or service passport may enter Latvia without entry visa.
Airport transit visa entitles aeroplane passengers to cross the transit zone of an international airport in the territory of the Republic of Latvia and is necessary for citizens of and persons holding travel documents issued by the following countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Iraq, Iran, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka. The visa is legalized in the airport.

Visa legalization process
A decision on the issue of a visa is taken by an Embassy or Consulate of the Republic of Latvia within 7 days of receipt of the necessary documents (as specified by the Cabinet of Ministers). If additional information is required, a decision on the issue of a visa is taken within 30 days.
Documents required for issue visa to enter Latvia:
Passport or other travel document (containing at least two blank pages and with a term of validity of the passport that exceeds that of the visa by at least three months);
Visa application form filled out and signed by the applicant;
1 colour photo (35mm x 45mm);
Travel medical insurance policy valid in all Schengen countries and covering the entire period of the visit in the Schengen area (the minimum amount of the insurance is 30 000 EUR);
Payment or confirmation of the payment of visa application fee;
Supporting documents justifying the purpose and conditions of the visit.
Fee for short-term visa (C category) is EUR 60. The given fees are charged in foreign currencies in diplomatic and consular missions of the Republic of Latvia according to the rates approved by the State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
For more detailed and up-to date information please visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia web-site ( and Office of citizenship and migration affairs web-site (

7. Other useful links in Latvia

In order to find more about Riga and Latvia, please, check the following links:

Information about Latvia and its people Latvia in brief, symbols, nature, history, society, culture, economy:

Riga In Your Pocket Guide arrival, hotels, local essential information:

Virtual Riga hotels, map, travel info:

Interactive Maps of Latvia institutions, leisure, shopping, transport, services:

Currency exchange rates The Bank of Latvia, financial information, exchange rates:

Weather online Riga and Latvia