Dateline: Riga, Latvia
I’ve been doing several personal consultations with readers lately, and it’s been interesting to see just what different people want out of their internationalization plans, and out of life in general.
Some expats and expats-to-be share my excitement about the level of opportunity in Asia, especially places like Cambodia and the more developed Malaysia. Others feel closer to Central and South America. And others love the romance of Europe.
Living in Latvia is one of my favorite new ways to experience the excitement of living in Europe. And fortunately, it’s one of the cheapest places to live in developed Europe.
Many westerners grew up dreaming of living in Europe, and Latvia ticks a lot of the boxes expats are looking for in a European home.
As you know, I’m a proponent of “up-and-coming” opportunities. You could live in Western Europe and spend the money it costs to do so; but western Europe, for the most part, is on its last leg. Taxes for permanent residents are high, and starting a successful business is tough, even despite the fact that half of the youth in countries like Spain are unemployed.
Latvia is part of emerging Europe and, while not perfect, offers refuge from some of those challenges. While Latvia is on the radar of plenty of British stag party members, living in Latvia hasn’t caught on with that many expats yet.
That means it offers great potential.
What does Latvia have to offer?
Riga, the capital of Latvia, is a charming city. Riga’s Old Town is full of restaurants, pubs, quiet bars, and loud clubs. It has anything you want, from local fare to TGI Friday’s.
And there’s plenty to do. I attended a show at the National Opera House for all of $22 last week (cheap seats start at $7).
Unlike Vilnius, Riga is vibrant. There is a nice park that runs along the river in Old Town, offering a place to sit and take in the beautiful scenery.
I’m not the only one who finds Riga charming; the Old Town itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Riga was named the European City of Culture for 2014.
While Latvia is a small country with only two million people, it offers plenty of natural wonder outside the “big city” of Riga. Latvia has four national parks, including Gauju National Park in the Gauju Valley, which features more than 500 monuments. What is more, half of Latvia’s land area is actually untouched ecosystems, offering further natural beauty.
And areas like Sigulda offer interesting historical relics for those that enjoy a historical element.
Latvia is also home to gorgeous lakes, castles, and cliffs.
If you’re not interested in Latvia’s natural forests, which have a distinct Scandinavian feel to them, the Jurmula area just west of Riga features some of Europe’s most sought after beaches. In the summer, the place turns into the “New Orleans of eastern Europe”, with wealthy Russians and European tourists partying on the long beaches.
And for those seeking the romance of living in Europe, Latvia is not only charming but it just so happens to be one of the cheapest places to live in Europe.
The benefits of life in Latvia
While Latvia’s real estate prices are expected to see some appreciation now that the country is on the Euro currency, there are plenty of cheap apartments. You can get a halfway decent place for 500-600 euros per month, and go up from there. If you need luxury, there are plenty of high-end homes in Riga and Jurmala.
In fact, the influx of wealthy investors seeking top-quality real estate has created pockets in each town that few Latvians could afford. You can live as cheaply or as well as you like.
The scene in Riga is excellent, as well. It is easily my favorite place to live in the Baltic States, compared to the less interesting and less scenic Lithuania and the pricier Estonia to the north.
The cost of living when it comes to food can be quite cheap. Even some of the city’s better restaurants offer business lunches for as little as five euros, which come complete with coffee, tea, or sometimes even wine. There are a number of trendy bars where drinks can be had for four or five euros, as well.
Because Latvia is only home to two million people, you’re bound to run into some of the same folks as you work your way into the Latvian culture. In fact, I ran into one of the speakers’ support staff from my Passport to Freedom conference in a bar in Riga.
If you’re a single guy, you’ll find no shortage of beautiful women in Latvia. It’s really quite something, and the education level in Latvia overall is excellent for having real conversations.
If you’re a single girl, you’ll find plenty of Latvian men who are among the best dancers I’ve ever seen.
There is, without a doubt, some serious Russian influence in Latvia. As I headed to the western suburbs and eventually to Jurmala, you could definitely tell that the bulk of the people spoke Russian. Latvia is home to the largest ethnic minority of Russians in the Baltic states.
That said, the people I know who live in Riga full-time — and who have studied Russia extensively — don’t believe Latvians should be worried about any incursion.
I understand that many Americans grew up on a steady diet of “how romantic Paris is”, and have long dreamt of living in Europe.
That said, I urge you to love the world’s up-and-coming places to make sure you don’t fall into the tax or wealth confiscation traps being laid by bankrupt countries like France where the government’s best efforts to bring in new business have fallen flat.
Living in Latvia has a lot of the feel of the cobblestoned cities of western Europe, at barely half the price. Nowhere in Europe is going to match the low cost of living in Southeast Asia or even parts of South America, but Latvia has to be one of the cheapest places to live in Europe for the level of sophistication it offers both young and older expats.