Latvian is the officially language of the country, which is sometimes referred to as Lettish. Due to the long Soviet influence during the Cold War era, more than 30 percent of the locals speak and understand Russian. German and English are also part of the secondary school curriculum that is taught throughout the country, so younger generations do know some conversational English.
Latvian lats (LVL) is the main currency in Latvia. Lats are divided into 100 santimi, which is commonly regarded as one of the most beautiful coins in the world. Plans are currently underway for Latvia to adopt the Euro, but this won’t happen until at least 2014. Banks can exchange traveler’s checks and money and Riga’s main airport also has a currency exchange desk.
Latvia is found in the Eastern European Time zone, which is two hours ahead of the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC +2). During daylight savings time in the summer months, it becomes three hours ahead of UTC.
US travelers to Latvia will need a voltage converter and an adaptor, as the country uses 230 Volts at 50 Hertz. Only one type of electric plug is common, a double pinned socket with two round pins.
+371 is the international dialing code for Latvia. If your cell phone works in Western Europe, then there is a very high chance it will also work in Latvia. SIM cards are cheap, and provide an excellent option for local calls. The internet is available across the country with online access cheaper than ever. Places like libraries offer free WiFi, while cafes and gas stations have connectivity for a small fee.
Passengers from the EU are able to freely import a range of items and goods, granted they are 17 years or older. 800 cigarettes, 200 cigars and one kilogram of tobacco can be brought through customs without penalty. In addition, alcoholic beverage allowances are quite high, including 110 liters of beer, 90 liters of wine, and 20 liters of 22% proof liquor. If coming from the US or a non-EU country, allowances are 250 grams of tobacco, 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars, along with four liters of wine, 16 liters of beer, and some restrictions on toiletry items.
Latvian Tourism Development Agency, Riga: +371-6722-9945 or http://www.latvia.travel/en.
Consulates in Latvia
US Embassy, Riga: +371-7216-571 German Embassy, Riga: +371-7229-096 Embassy of the Netherlands, Riga: +371-7326-147 Royal Norwegian Embassy, Riga: +371-7814-100 Embassy of Finland, Riga: +371-6707-8800 Australian Embassy, Riga: +371-6722-4251 British Embassy, Riga: +371-733-8126
Emergency services: 112