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.