Latvia borders Estonia in the north, Lithuania in the south, the Baltic Sea with the Gulf of Riga in the west, Russia in the east, and Belarus in the southeast. Latvia is largely a fertile lowland with numerous lakes and hills to the east. Latvia is a member of the United Nations, European Union and several other international organizations. The United Nations lists Latvia as a country with a "Very High" Human Development Index (HDI).
Latvia is one of three countries located in North-Central Europe on the Baltic Sea. The country shares borders with its Baltic neighbors, Estonia and Lithuania, as well as borders with Russia and Belarus and a maritime border with Sweden. The geography of the country is relatively flat, and the highest elevation is about 300 meters; much of the country is still covered in forests. Latvia is very small and is home to only about 2 million people. However, what Latvia lacks in size, it has in spirit and determination. Despite its small size, the country is home to four national parks that preserve the natural beauty of the country. The currency is the Latvian Lat, abbreviated LVL. Although hit hard during the recent global financial crisis, Latvia has recovered quickly and is currently one of the fastest growing economies in the EU. Latvia is a member of the EU and NATO. The country is very environmentally conscious and was ranked second in the world by the 2012 Environmental Performance Index, with only Switzerland scoring higher.
Latvian weather experiences dramatic temperature changes across the four distinct seasons. Summers are relatively mild, with average temperatures around 20 degrees C and maximum temperatures around 30 degrees C. Winters can be quite severe, with snowfall and temperatures below -50 degrees C.
Latvia has a very diverse culture that has been influenced by multiple countries and religions. The capital, Riga, is known for some of the best Art Nouveau architecture in Europe that exists alongside historical medieval buildings. Latvia has many museums that celebrate just about everything including castles, military history, art, natural history, motor vehicles and even the sun. Art galleries abound, as do sculptures and monuments. Latvian cuisine is especially notable for being both healthy and very tasty, as well as reflecting the multi-cultural environment of the country. The country is also famous for spas that provide relaxation and rejuvenation after a long period of studies or working.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in Latvia is very low. Many universities provide accommodations for international students that cost from €85 to €230 per month, depending upon living arrangements.
Students from EU/EEA countries or Switzerland are only required to have a registration certificate, which can be obtained in person at the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs in Riga. The student must show the study agreement, proof of health insurance and a bank account statement that shows the student has about €300 per month available.
All other international students must have a residence permit, which can be obtained through the Latvian embassy or consulate in the student’s home country or the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs in Riga. The permit application must include the University Study Agreement; a bank statement that shows an account balance of about €4,000; proof of residence in Latvia, such as a rental agreement, hotel reservation or letter confirming stay at university-provided housing); and documents proving previous education, such as a transcript and diploma. Many universities will file the application for the residence permit.
The residence permit process is complex and can take up to 40 days, so students should plan accordingly. Students should also carefully check requirements, because there is some variation in the process depending upon the student’s home country.
Study in Latvia
Higher Education in Latvia
Universities and other higher education institutions award both academic and professional bachelor’s and master’s degrees, with the latter covering professions such a lawyer or teacher. Master’s degrees generally require at least 5 years total study (including the time spent studying for the bachelor’s degree). Master’s degrees provide entry to doctoral programs.
Why Study in Latvia?
Latvia provides master’s degree students with a curriculum that includes a global and cross-cultural perspective. In addition, Latvian institutions provide a high quality education at a reasonable price, including tuition, fees and cost of living expenses. Master’s degree programs are taught in a wide variety of languages, including Latvian, English, French, German, Spanish and Italian although most programs are in English.
Universities in Latvia
Latvia has 60 state and private colleges, university colleges and universities. More than 50 of these higher education institutions have been established since Latvia became independent from the Soviet Union in 1990.
Tuition and Program Duration
Tuition for master’s programs at public schools is about €1,700 per year for EU/EEA and Swiss citizens and about €3,700 for all other international students. Most master’s degree programs require 2 years of study.
The academic year is based on semesters (autumn and spring) and usually begins in September and ends in June. Each semester is 20 weeks long and includes final exams.
After obtaining their master’s degree, students are welcome to seek employment in Latvia and surrounding countries. Most students are required to show an invitation for a job before applying for a visa and work permit, but students with some specialized skills may receive a work permit without a firm job offer. These include skills such as information technology specialists and scientists to be employed by state institutions.
All international students must have both life and health insurance that is valid in Latvia. EU citizens may use their European Health Insurance Card. Non-EU citizens must have a health insurance policy that covers emergency treatment, treatment for chronic illness, transportation costs to health facilities in Latvia, and transportation costs to return to the student’s home country in the event of serious illness or death. The minimum policy amount should be at least 30,000 LVL (about €43,000) and must be valid during the entire time of the student’s residence permit.
Most shops and restaurants in major towns accept credit cards, but students traveling to rural areas should take cash.
Old bank notes will not be accepted for exchange so students should be sure to arrive with new bank notes (for example, a US $100 bill before 1990 will not be accepted).