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Travel Security Advice for Latvia

 Latvian_National_Flag

latvia_mapLatvia_Overview


COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:

Latvia is a stable democracy with a developing economy. Most tourist facilities found in a western European city are available in the capital city of Riga. However, some of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available in other parts of the country. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Latvia for additional information.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATIONS:

U.S. citizens living or traveling in Latvia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate at the Department of State’s travel registration page in order to obtain updated information on local travel and security.  U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  Registration is important; it allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency. 

Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.

U.S. Embassy Riga


7 Raina Blvd.,
Riga, LV-1510
Telephone: +37-1-6703-6200
Emergency After-hours telephone: +37-1-6703-6200
Facsimile: +37-1-6781-4088

ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS:

A valid passport is required.  Latvia is a party to the Schengen Agreement.  As such, U.S. citizens may enter Latvia for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.  The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.  For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our Schengen Fact Sheet.

Travelers remaining in Latvia for more than 90 days must apply for temporary residence.  All travelers must have a valid insurance policy, covering medical expenses while in Latvia.  Repatriation costs, including funeral and disposition of remains costs also have to be covered by the policy.  In addition, upon entering or exiting the country, travelers must declare cash in excess of 10,000 EUR to Latvian customs. 

For more information, travelers may contact the Latvian Embassy, at 2306 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202)328-2840, fax (202)328-2860. Within Latvia, contact the Ministry of Interior’s Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs at Ciekurkalna 1st line, building 3, Riga, LV-1026. Tel. (371)67588675

Any traveler to Russia, even in transit, is advised to obtain a visa prior to entry into Latvia.  The process of obtaining a visa at the Russian Embassy in Riga can be lengthy, and may involve surrender of the passport for an undetermined period of time.  Visit the Embassy of Latvia website for the most current visa information.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS-related entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents in Latvia.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.  For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information.



SAFETY AND SECURITY:

Civil unrest is generally not a problem in Riga.  While Riga has experienced large, peaceful demonstrations related to internal political issues, there have been times when peaceful demonstrations have devolved into violence.  U.S. citizens are cautioned to avoid any large public demonstrations, as even peaceful demonstrations can turn confrontational.  There have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward U.S. interests.  Incidents of anti-Americanism are rare; however, instances of racially motivated verbal harassment, and on occasion, physical assaults on non-Caucasian foreigners, have occurred in Riga.  There have also been reports of non-Caucasian foreigners being subjected to extra scrutiny by security guards in shops and malls in Riga.  Additionally, individuals displaying alternative lifestyles have experienced harassment.  Please note that the Embassy provides periodic notices to U.S. citizens in Latvia; these announcements can be found on the Embassy’s web site.

For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains current the Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the U.S. and Canada, or by calling a regular toll line, 1-202-501-4444, from other countries. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.  For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s extensive tips and advice on traveling safely abroad.

CRIME:

Crime in Riga is generally non-violent; however, there have been recent instances of serious violent assaults and robberies.  The majority of non-violent crime tends toward acts of pickpocketing, identity theft, and personal scams.  Street crime is a serious problem, particularly for tourists.  In addition to pickpockets in all public areas, there are numerous scam artists targeting foreigners in the tourist pubs and restaurants.   There have been a number of reports of foreign tourists being charged exorbitant prices for drinks in bars; some have then been assaulted or forced to withdraw money from an ATM to pay the bill.  You can avoid situations like this by ensuring that you check the price of drinks before ordering, pay for one round at a time, and seek recommendations for bars from trustworthy sources.  Please note that the Embassy provides periodic notices to U.S. citizens in Latvia about specific establishments; these notices can be found on the Embassy’s web site.  

There have also been a few cases of tourists and residents being drugged in bars and restaurants and then taken outside or to their residences and robbed.  In any public area, one should always be alert, particularly to being surrounded by two or more people at once.  It is not uncommon for groups of pickpockets to attempt to overwhelm their victim.  Gangs of professional pickpockets are specifically targeting foreigners, particularly those carrying backpacks.  In addition, Riga has one of the highest rates of car theft in the world.

Internet crime is a growing concern in Latvia.  Common fraudulent schemes involve both Internet auction sites and Internet job-search sites.  In the first scam, criminals offer valuable items for sale at low prices on Internet auctions and request that payments be sent by wire transfer to a bank in Latvia or through a fraudulent escrow site that they have created themselves.  In this scheme, the money passes through a bank in Latvia and is quickly withdrawn at an ATM or transferred to a bank in another country.  It is very difficult in these cases to discover the identities of the account holders or recover the funds.

The second common scam involves identity theft through false job offers.  In this scheme, a company claiming to be located in Latvia, but which has a non-existent address, offers the victim employment as a U.S. - based agent or freight forwarder.  When the victim responds to the job offer, commonly posted on one of several popular Internet job sites, a Social Security Number and other identifying information needed for the identity theft is required under the guise of conducting a background check.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:

If you are the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates).  This includes the loss or theft of a U.S. passport.  The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds may be transferred.  Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Latvia is 112.

Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.  Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.  Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States.

Persons violating Latvian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.  Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Latvia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:

Bank and currency exchange counters may refuse to accept U.S. currency that is crumpled, torn, discolored, or defaced (even small pen strokes, hand written numbers and letters are considered defacing).  If such notes are accepted for exchange, an additional processing fee, based on the size of the transaction, may be charged.  ATMs are widely available in Riga and in major towns.  For security purposes, it is recommended that visitors use ATMs located inside major hotels or shopping malls, versus those located on the street, in high-volume tourist areas. 

Telephone connections with the United States are reliable; however, U.S. toll-free numbers cannot be accessed from Latvia.  Please check with your long distance carrier before departure to see if they offer service in Latvia. Local Internet cafes offer computer access, and fax machines are widely available.

Latvian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Latvia of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, business equipment, drugs, etc.  It is advisable to contact the
 Embassy of Latvia in Washington or one of the Latvian consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:

The quality of medical care in Latvia continues to improve, but still falls short of Western standards.  Latvia has many highly trained medical professionals, but hospitals and clinics still suffer from a lack of equipment and resources.  The current economic crisis has resulted in further strains in health service budgets.  Many doctors speak at least some English.  There are few private clinics in major cities that offer services equal to Western European or U.S. standards.  Elderly travelers and those with health problems may be at increased risk. 

Western-quality dental care can be obtained in Riga.  Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, particularly if immigration status in Latvia is unclear.
 
Ambulance service for emergencies is available by dialing 112 from a mobile phone anywhere in Latvia.  However, response time is poor in rural areas.  Air ambulance service is available for medical evacuations; however, it is very expensive and advance payment or guarantee letter from an insurance company is required before a patient is transported.

Pharmaceuticals sold in Latvia are produced by companies certified in accordance with the EU standards. Products of most major pharmaceutical manufacturers are sold in pharmacies in Latvia; however, they will not necessarily be labeled same as in the U.S. and instructions are often not printed in English.

Tick-borne encephalitis and Lyme disease are widespread throughout the country.  Those intending to visit parks or forested areas in Latvia are urged to speak with their health care practitioners.  Tick-borne encephalitis vaccinations are given as a series of three doses, and are not available in the U.S.  There are no vaccines against Lyme disease.  Hepatitis A and Tuberculosis are significant problems in Latvia. 

For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website.  The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Latvia.  For further information, please consult the CDC's information on TB.



MEDICAL INSURANCE:

The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.  For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.

Foreign visitors to Latvia planning to operate a motor vehicle are required to obtain an International Driving Permit.  These may be obtained through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance for a small fee.  A U.S. state driver’s license is not sufficient.  These requirements apply to those operating rental cars as well, whether or not the rental company chooses to enforce the requirement as a condition of rental.  Individuals driving without an International Driving Permit may have their vehicle confiscated by the police.  U.S. citizens resident in Latvia for more than six months are required to apply for a Latvian driver’s license.  Upon receipt of a Latvian driver’s license, U.S. citizens are required to surrender their U.S. driver’s license to the Latvian authorities.  The licenses are then returned to their respective states of issuance. 

Latvia’s rate of automobile accidents and fatalities is one of the highest in Europe.  While recent reports show a decrease in the number of traffic accident fatalities, there are still a number of hazards.  Drivers should be alert for pedestrians and slow moving vehicles in traffic.  Additionally, violation of traffic rules is common, and it is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles traveling at high speeds, even in crowed urban areas.  Drivers do not always yield to pedestrians, even at marked intersections.  During winter, most major roads are cleared of snow; however, drivers should be alert for fog, snow, and ice while driving.  Driving while intoxicated is a very serious offense and carries heavy penalties.  Local authorities use roadblocks and breathalyzer tests as enforcement tools.  Drivers and pedestrians should be alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians wandering on the road.  Drivers must use their headlights at all times.  Speed limits are usually 50 km/hr in the city and 90 km/hr on the highways.  Public transportation is generally considered safe, but travelers are encouraged to select well-marked taxis.  Emergency services are fair but improving (See section on Medical Facilities above); response time may be especially slow in traffic or in rural settings.  Dial 112 for ambulance service.

Please refer to our
Road Safety page for information.  Visit Latvia’s national tourist office website and the Latvian Road and Traffic Safety website for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:

As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Latvia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Latvia’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.  Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.


CHILDREN'S ISSUES:

For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.


This replaces the Country Specific Information sheet dated April 15, 2009 with updated information on Threats to Safety and Security, Crime, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.  


The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office also has information regarding travel to Latvia HERE...

Looking for an Embassy ?, You can also check out our World Wide Embassies Listings Section HERE (For US Citizens) or HERE (For UK Citizens).........

Regards

The SW Team.......

 

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