1. Political order
Latvia is an independent democratic republic. The Constitution is the main law which gives legislative power to the Saeima (Parliament). Parliament (consists of 100 deputies) is elected in general, equal and direct elections, and by secret ballot based on proportional representation for 4 years. The President of the Republic is the Head of the State and is elected by Parliament in secret ballot with a majority of the votes of not less than fifty-one deputies and holds office for 4 years. The chief government executive is the Premjerministrs (Prime Minister), who is designated by the President of the Republic of Latvia. Justice is exercised by magistracy, which is granted complete independence.
The territory of the Republic of Latvia consists of 4 regions: Vidzeme, Latgale, Kurzeme and Zemgale and is shared by 26 regional administrations.
Rīga (Riga) is the Capital City, with its population about 747.000 (nearly one third of Latvia's population); it is rated as the focal point not only for politics, but also for economic and cultural interests. More information about country: http://www.latviatourism.lv/ or http://www.li.lv/ .
2. Geo-Economic Characteristics
The territory is 64.589 sqkm, with a coastline of 1.862 km. It borders with Estonia in the North; with Russia in the East; with Byelorussia in the Southeast; with Lithuania in the South; and with the Baltic Sea in the West. Latvia's weather is governed by a moderate maritime climate, with changing high and low pressure and a considerable amount of precipitation.
Latvian national currency is lats (LVL), 1 lats consists of 100 santims (1 Euro = 0.7028 LVL). The 500, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 lats banknotes, and 2 lats, 1 lats and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, 1 santims coins are currently in circulation. Latvia as a member state of EU, is going to adopt EURO as the common European currency in 2008.
The Latvian population, based on the latest census of 2000, is 2.381.700. The language is Latvian; however, many dialects exist, accounting for individual regional realities. The Evangelic Lutheran religion coexists with Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox and Jewish minorities.
An essential role in the development of Latvia is played by the assistance of the EU funds that will facilitate structural changes of national economy and will help to lessen social and economic disproportion. Reforms accomplished in Latvia and integration in the EU have a positive impact on the economic development, and Latvia has become one of the fastest growing countries in Europe. In 2001 the GDP went up by 8%, in 2002 – by 6.4%, and in 2003 – by 7.5%. Alongside with the economic growth, our incomes and standard of living are increasing. Continuing stable economic growth, Latvia shall approach the average standard of living of the European Union step by step.
Unemployment is rated at 8.6%, with striking differences in the northern and central regions compared with the southern ones.
Member country citizens are entitled to enter all other European Union countries without specific formalities. Possession of a valid passport or identity card is sufficient. The only reasons for limiting freedom to travel may be security, public health or public order. No permits are required for staying less than three months. In some countries it may be necessary simply to submit a notice of presence. In most cases, such a notice is automatically obtained by filling in a hotel registration or by getting an accommodation rental agreement from its owner.
If a citizen from the Member States of the EU or EEA intends to stay in Latvia for a period longer than 90 days within a six months period, counting from the date of his/her arrival, he/she must have a residence permit issued by the Pilsonības un migrācijas lietu pārvalde (Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs).
More about residence permit can find in the Pilsonības un migrācijas lietu pārvalde (Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs) http://www.ocma.gov.lv/en/ .
Driving in Latvia is restricted to holders of a valid driving license. Current community legislation states the principle of mutual recognition of driving licenses issued by each Member country. Most road codes are common to different countries, e.g.: helmet use by motorcycle driver and passenger; safety belts.
Renting a car also requires a driving license. Rental prices vary from company to company and special week-end rates are available.
Credit cards are welcome in most of the shops and may be used at automatic teller machines (ATMs or cash points), provided by most banks for such purpose.
For further information on European citizen’s rights you are kindly advised to take a look at the guides published by the European Union: "Working in another European Union country"; "Living in another European Union country"; "Studying, Training and Conducting Research in Another European Union Country"; or you may visit the web-site http://ec.europa.eu/citizensrights/ .
4. Accommodation Choices
If you are planning your trip to Latvia, be sure to make inquiries about the places you can stay at during your visit. During the time of your visit, stay in one of the numerous hotels - choose the one that will suit you - there are various types of them, starting with the luxurious upscale hotels to those providing modest accommodation. Many of them are located not far from the city centre or tourist sights - for example, if you are planning to visit Latvian seaside resort town Jūrmala, you can stay in the hotel situated within a few minutes walk from the beach. Young and active people will enjoy staying in camping or even in a tent.
If you are planning to stay in the countryside, think about renting a room in a guesthouse. You will be able not only to have an active rest, but also to enjoy the homely atmosphere that hosts will provide for you. If you decided to spend a night in a tent, then there will be tent sites, campfire site at your disposal and access to the fresh drinking water. Your vehicle will be safe, and excellent recreation will contribute to your energy accumulation for the following day and new adventures.
Accommodation possibilities are grouped as follows:
Hotel is a lodging establishment with at least 10 rooms offering overnight accommodations, resort hotel is a lodging establishment with at least 10 rooms offering medical, therapeutic or recreation possibilities. Hotels are classified from 1 to 5 stars, depending on the level of service. There are 81 licensed hotels and 8 resorts in Latvia.
More information: http://www.lvra.lv/
- Motel is a lodging establishment near a highway with at least 5 guest rooms, offering service to the clients who are travelling by car or motorbike. Motels are classified from I to IV categories.
More information: http://www.lvra.lv/
- Youth hostels are an inexpensive supervised lodging; can be open all through the year or only during the summer period. Youth hostels offer night lodging, catering or cooking facilities, as well as services, programmes and different activities for all age groups: families, children and tourist groups. Youth hostels are classified from I to III categories.
More information: http://www.hostellinglatvia.com/
- Camping is the area used for accommodating guests. It is a parcel of land rented for the placement of a tent, vehicle or trailer for the overnight use of its occupants. Campings are classified from I to III categories.
More information: http://www.camping.lv/
- Guesthouse or farmstead is a boarding-house with at least 5 guest rooms for accommodating guests. Guesthouses are classified from I to IV categories. There are 27 licensed guesthouses in Latvia.
More information: http://www.celotajs.lv/
Public urban transport and its cost differ from town to town. Bus transport is most convenient in bigger towns. There are three types of public transport in Riga: buses, trams and trolleybuses; tickets can be obtained in transport (the base price is 20 santims and for pensioners 10 santims). The Transport Operator name depends on the town (TTP and RS in Riga, LAP in Liepaja, JAP in Jelgava, etc.).
A discount on the base price ticket is offered when you buy a month tickets for multiple journeys. Discounts on the month tickets, with a validity of one month or more, can be obtained by students, pensioners, pupils, disabled people who apply for such tickets at the ticket offices of specific Transport Operators.
The length of Latvia’s railway network is 2 413 km, of which around 300 km are a two-track railway and 270 km are electrified. Latvia has one of the highest railway network densities (37.2 km per 1 000 km2) in Europe. State joint stock company “Latvian Railway”, called Latvijas dzelzceļš (LDz), provides many services. The two main services are passenger traffic and freight shipment. There are two types of passenger traffic: national and international. Tickets can be bought in railway stations, and the price depends on the distance till destination in kilometres. Tickets are being validated in trains by train attendants. A penalty payment is charged for travelling without a ticket.
Information on train timetable can be obtained by calling the phone number 1188 or from the internet (http://www.1188.lv/ ), from any place and for any destination.
Latvia has several airports, and Riga International Airport is the largest one. There are smaller airports in Ventspils, Daugavpils, Liepaja and other towns. Riga International Airport meets international civil aviation standards. The airport’s radio technical arrival and runway lighting systems comply with the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s category I standards. The passenger terminal was initially designed to meet the needs of internal flights, but it has undergone reconstruction and is now fully suitable for international air traffic. Riga International Airport’s turnover is the largest in the Baltic. The main national airline is AirBaltic. AirBaltic flies from Riga to Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Dublin, Hamburg, Helsinki, Kiev, Copenhagen, Cologne, London, Manchester, Moscow, Milan, Minsk, Oslo, Stockholm, Stuttgart, Tallinn, Vilnius, Vienna, St. Petersburg and Geneva. AirBaltic flights through Stockholm or Copenhagen in cooperation with its partner Scandinavian Airlines/SAS offer very flexible connections to the biggest Scandinavian and European cities, the Far East and the USA.
6. Health Service
Latvian health care insurance is based on the principle of residence. State compulsory health insurance resources are formed by the fixed part of the income tax (28,4%) and state budget subsidy. The above-mentioned resources guarantee the coverage of expenses for health care services in the scope defined by the state or the minimal scope of health care services. Currently all the citizens of the Republic of Latvia and its residents, as well as citizens of other countries, who have received residence permission, receive guaranteed medical assistance budgeted by the state. You can get health care services at state, regional and private medical institutions. It is possible to get health care services budgeted by the state only in a medical institution that has concluded an agreement with the Compulsory Health Insurance State Agency.
Health care is organized according to the following structure:
Outpatient (Ambulatory) Care - health care services provided without the patient being admitted to a hospital, and no overnight stay in a hospital is required. The primary health services fall under this category: the services of outpatient care centres, hospital outpatient departments, family doctors, physicians. This type of service is also called primary outpatient health care.
Inpatient Care - health care that you get when you stay overnight in a hospital. Inpatient care services include emergency, acute care, and first aid medical services (highly complex and skilled services).
When a patient receives medical services, he/she has to pay a certain amount of the service value – patient’s duty (fee). This is a fixed payment defined by the state, and the patient has to reimburse to the medical institution for rendered health care services.
Insurance Joint Stock Company RSK is a recognized commercial company providing health insurance, accident insurance, travel insurance, health insurance for foreigners and non-citizen of Latvia, liability insurance and property insurance.