Dangers & Annoyances
Latvia is generally safe, but exercise common sense.
- Drivers in Latvia can be aggressive and reckless – overtaking slower cars on blind curves is common and speed demons regularly disregard traffic signals.
- Half of Latvia's roads are unpaved, so use extra caution in bumpy conditions.
- Beware of pickpockets and bag-snatchers in heavily-trodden tourist areas.
- Drunks can be a problem in busy nightlife areas.
Crime & Scams
Crime and scams that target foreigners are common, particularly in night clubs, where attractive young women are used to lure inebriated male patrons into spending exorbitant amounts of money on bottles of unpalatable alcohol; refusal to pay results in bullying or worse by bouncers until the bill is settled. There have also been cases of stolen credit card information and extreme up-charging by bartenders. Avoid sketchy establishments and pay in cash if possible.
Embassies & Consulates
Most embassies are in Rīga. New Zealand does not have an embassy in Latvia; Australia’s is an informal consulate.
Emergency & Important Numbers
Entry & Exit Formalities
If entering Latvia from other parts of the EU, there are no border checkpoints or customs to endure thanks to the Schengen Agreement. If coming from outside the Schengen zone, old-fashioned travel document and customs checks are necessary. For more information, check the Latvian Foreign Ministry’s website at www.mfa.gov.lv.
The Latvian Tourism Development Agency (www.latviatourism.lv) posts the latest customs rules on its website.
There are no customs controls at the borders with other EU countries. When travelling within the Schengen zone, tourists (18 years and up) are allowed to move 800 cigarettes, 200 cigars or 1kg of tobacco across the border. For alcohol, the maximum is 110L of beer, 90L of wine (not more than 60L of sparkling wine) and 10L of other alcohol products. When travelling beyond the EU, quantities of cigarettes and alcohol are reduced to 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, 250g of smoking tobacco and 1L of distilled beverages.
Exporting documents or copies from the state archive also require permits; see www.mantojums.lv.
Not required for citizens of the EU, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA, among others. For further information, visit www.mfa.gov.lv.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1992 and an equal age of consent applies (16 years). However, negative attitudes towards gays and lesbians are the norm and violent attacks occasionally occur. Rīga has a few gay venues and it was the first former-Soviet city to host EuroPride in 2015.
- A 2016 index by ILGA-Europe (the European region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, www.ilga-europe.org) listed Latvia as the worst place in Europe to be gay.
- While same-sex sexual activity is legal, Latvia does not recognise same-sex partnerships or marriage, and LGBTIQ people cannot adopt children.
- In 2014, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs came out on Twitter and became Latvia's first openly-gay elected official.
The following organisations offer resources for LGBT+ people in Latvia, as well as listings and events.
- Mozaika (www.mozaika.lv) Latvia's only LGBTIQ alliance.
- Latvian Gay Portal (www.gay.lv) Social networking and classifieds.
- Latvia Pride (www.pride.lv) Resources, media and events
Virtually all accommodation in Rīga offers some form of internet access. Hotels in smaller cities have been doing a good job of following suit. Internet cafes are extinct, but the vast majority restaurants, cafes and bars now offer wireless connections – just ask them for the password.
Lattelecom (Lattelekom; www.lattelecom.lv), Latvia’s main communications service provider, has some 4500 wi-fi hot spots in cafes, shops, shopping centres, petrol stations, parks, public transport stops and more around the country. Many connect for free for 30 minutes after watching an ad; others require a username and password (which can be obtained by calling 177) and payment with a card through an authorisation screen. For frequent use, a Lattelecom wi-fi subscription costs €4.20 a month.
Public libraries across the country are good source of free wi-fi.
- A person may be placed under arrest on suspicion of having committed a criminal offence in Latvia, and may be kept for a maximum of 48 hours. Thereafter, one can be released or detained longer on order from a judge.
- If placed under arrest, you have the right to know the reasons for your arrest and any charges against you, and may remain silent. You have the right to contact a lawyer, relatives or an employer about your arrest.
- Unauthorised possession or use of illegal drugs is punishable by a warning or a fine of up to €280. Possession of especially large quantities of drugs may lead to up to three years of imprisonment.
- Driving while intoxicated may result in a 10-day jail sentence. The speed limit – 50km/h in towns and 90km/h on highways – is strictly enforced.
- Be mindful when parking cars – traffic police regularly patrol in Rīga, so ensure you've paid at one of the automatic ticket machines and place the receipt on your dashboard.
Country, city and town maps of Latvia are available from Rīga-based Jāņa sēta. Its town-plan series covers practically every town in Latvia; individual maps range in scale from 1:15,000 to 1:20,000 and cost €3 to €5.
The Latvian Tourism Development Agency (www.latvia.travel) has a very detailed map covering each of Latvia’s five regions.
Latvia abandoned its national currency, the lats, and switched to the euro in January 2014.
ATMs are easy to find and credit cards are widely accepted.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Restaurants As Rīga’s dining scene continues to draw its influence from a clash of other cultures, tipping (apkalpošana) is becoming more commonplace – up to 10% gratuity is common, and many restaurants tack service charge onto the bill.
Taxis It's suitable to round up the fare.
Hotels Tipping isn't expected in hotels, but €1 to €2 to porters for carrying a heavy bag is a good gesture.
Bars It's not customary, though you may see a tip jar on the counter for change. Leave up to 10% for exceptional service.
Opening hours vary throughout the year. We list high-season opening hours, but remember these longer summer hours often decrease in shoulder and low seasons.
Shops 10am–7pm Monday to Friday, until 5pm on Saturdays. Some stay open on Sundays. Supermarkets are open up to 10pm, with some open 24 hours.
Restaurants Generally from 11am until 3pm for lunch and from 6pm to 11pm for dinner.
Banks 10am–2pm and 3pm-5pm Monday to Friday.
The official website of Latvia’s postal service (www.post.lv) can answer any of your mail-related questions, including shipping and stamp prices. Service is reliable; mail to North America takes 10 days, and within Europe about a week.
The Latvia Institute website (www.li.lv) has a page devoted to special Latvian Remembrance Days under the ‘About Latvia’ link.
New Year’s Day 1 January
Labour Day 1 May
Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia 4 May
Mothers’ Day Second Sunday in May
Whitsunday A Sunday in May or June
Līgo Eve (Midsummer festival) 23 June
Jāņi (St John’s Day and Summer Solstice) 24 June
National Day 18 November; Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Republic of Latvia, 1918
Christmas (Ziemsvētki) 25 December
Second Holiday 26 December
New Year’s Eve 31 December
Smoking is prohibited inside public establishments, including restaurants and clubs, but it's still common to light up just about anywhere outside.
Latvian telephone numbers have eight digits; landlines start with ‘6’ and mobile numbers start with ‘2’. To make any call within Latvia, simply dial the eight-digit number. To call a Latvian telephone number from abroad, dial the international access code, then the country code for Latvia (371) followed by the subscriber’s eight-digit number.
Telephone rates are posted on the website of the partly state-owned Lattelecom (www.lattelecom.lv), which enjoys a monopoly on fixed-line telephone communications in Latvia.
Mobile phones are available for purchase at most shopping malls around Rīga and other major cities. If your own phone is GSM900-/1800-compatible, you can purchase a prepaid SIM-card package and top-up credit from most petrol stations, convenience stores and supermarkets.
Latvia observes Eastern European Summer Time (EEST, GMT plus three hours) from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.
Toilets are Western-style, with men's facilities marked with a 'V' for vīrieši (men), a 'K' for kungi (gentlemen) or a triangle pointing down. Women's toilets are indicated by a triangle pointing up, an 'S' for sievietes (women), or a 'D' for dāmas (ladies).
You'll find the occasional public toilet, but restaurants and hotels are still your best bet – most don't mind if you aren't a paying customer.
The Latvian Tourism Development Agency (www.latvia.travel) has streamlined tourist information throughout the country. Try www.tourism.cityname.lv, or simply www.city name.lv for official city websites (English translations are often limited for small destinations). Every city and town in Latvia worth visiting has a tourist office, open during normal business hours (at the very least), with extended hours during the summer. Almost all of the tourist offices have English-speaking staff and oodles of pamphlets and maps.
Check out the website of the Latvia Institute (www.li.lv) for additional information about Latvia.