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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Latvia

Latvia - Consular Information Sheet
July 18, 2000

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Latvia is a nation in the midst of economic transition. Most tourist facilities found in a western European city are available in Riga, the capital. However, many of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available outside Riga.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: A passport valid for at least six months is required. No visa is required for travelers remaining up to 90 days in a half-calendar year (from January to June and from July to December). Travelers remaining in Latvia for more than 90 days, including 180 day periods that cross over two half-calendar years, must apply for temporary residence. Travelers who plan to remain in Latvia for more than 90 days must apply in-country for temporary residence. For more information, travelers may contact the Latvian Embassy, at 4325 17th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20011, tel: (202) 726-8213. Within Latvia, contact the Ministry of Interior’s Citizenship and Immigration Department at Raina bulv. 5, Riga LV 1508, tel. (371) 721-9424 or (371)721-9427, fax: (371) 782-0306. Any traveler to Russia, even in transit, is advised to obtain a Russian visa prior to entry into Latvia. The process of obtaining a visa at the Russian Embassy in Riga can be lengthy, and involve surrender of the passport for an undetermined period of time.

DUAL NATIONALITY: Dual nationals may be subject to Latvian laws, which impose special obligations. Whether or not a person with United States citizenship would also be considered as a Latvian citizen is a legal question dependent upon an individual’s date and place of birth and the nationality of both parents. For more information on this issue consult the Latvian Immigration and Citizenship Department, Raina bulv. 5, Riga LV 1050, tel.: 371-721-9424. For additional information, see the Consular Affairs home page on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov for the Department of State’s Dual Nationality flyer.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: Civil unrest is not a problem in Riga and there have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. The U.S. is admired and incidents of anti-Americanism are rare though there were small demonstrations in front of the Embassy during the last year to protest American policy in Kosovo.

CRIME INFORMATION: The crime rate in Riga is rising, though generally, the crime is non-violent. Street crime is a concern, particularly for tourists. As in all cities, pickpockets are known to operate in all public areas (grocery stores, restaurants, department stores, bars, buses, and on the streets), and there have been cases of tourists and residents being drugged in bars and then taken outside or to their residence and robbed. In any public area, one should always be alert to being surrounded by two or more people at once. It is not uncommon for groups of juvenile pickpockets to attempt to overwhelm their victim. The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://access.gpo.gov/su_docs, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical care in Latvia is steadily improving but remains limited in several important respects. There are a few private clinics with medical supplies and services, including disposable needles and basic modern diagnostics, which are nearly equal to Western Europe or U.S. standards. However, any major invasive procedures or surgeries in Latvia are not recommended because of lack of equipment and resources. Hospital services are not equal to Western standards. Most, but not all, antibiotics and prescription medications are available but as they are generally European or Russian produced, they often have different names and are usually not printed in English. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Diptheria, hepatitis and tick-borne encephalitis are widespread. According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis is a significant problem in Latvia, with 9% of all cases being multi-drug resistant. State ambulance service for emergencies is available by dialing 03 anywhere in Latvia. However, quick response is poor in rural areas. Air ambulance service is available for medical evacuations.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas may face extreme difficulties.

Check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas, including provision for medical evacuation, and for adequacy of coverage. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-800-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via CDC’s Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.

TRAFFIC SAFETY/ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Latvia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Rural Road Condition/Maintenance: Fair
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Fair

Latvian highways are slowly being upgraded after years of little or no maintenance. However, the press reports that 11% of all asphalted roads are in need of repair. The principal rural roads are generally paved and are clear of snow during the winter. The speed limit is 50 km/hr in towns, and 90 km/hr on the open road, unless otherwise marked. The legal alcohol limit for drivers is zero, and speed traps are common. U.S. drivers’ licenses are not valid in Latvia, and American tourists must use a valid International Driver’s License issued through the AAA. After 6 months, Americans must apply for a Latvian Drivers’ License. For specific information on Latvian driver’s permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Latvian Traffic Safety Administration (CSDD), Bauskas Iela 68, Riga LV-1004, tel. (371) 627-437.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers at present, or economic authority to operate such service, between the U.S. and Latvia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Latvia’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards.

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at (618) 229-4801.

CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Latvia 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 Latvia’s consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.

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. Persons violating Latvia’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Latvia are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Telephone connections with the U.S. are generally reliable. However 1-800 numbers cannot be accessed from Latvia. Use of international long-distance calling cards is limited. Therefore, travelers should check with their long-distance carrier before departure to see if calling cards can be used from Latvia. Some local companies offer computer Internet access. Many hotels in Riga have e-mail terminals in the rooms and allow their guests to use the fax machine to receive and send messages. Facsimile transmissions may also be made from several post offices in downtown Riga. Travelers are urged to consider their method of maintaining contact with family and friends when making their pre-travel preparations. ATMs are available all over the city and in major towns.

CHILDREN’S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone at (202) 736-7000.

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATION: Americans living in or residing in Latvia are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Riga and obtain updated information on travel and security within Latvia. The U.S. Embassy is located at Raina Boulevard 7; tel. (371) 703-6200; fax: (371) 782-0047. Consular information and current travel information can also be found on the Embassy Riga home page at http://www.usis.bkc.lv/embassy/.

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