COUNTRY DESCRIPTION ^
Latvia is a stable democracy experiencing rapid economic growth. 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.
SAFETY AND SECURITY ^
Civil unrest is not a problem in Riga. However, Riga has seen several large demonstrations in the last year. While they have been peaceful, American citizens are nevertheless cautioned to avoid any large, public demonstrations. There have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Incidents of anti-Americanism are rare.
Crime in Riga is generally non-violent, although there have been cases of serious assaults. Street crime is a serious problem, particularly for tourists. In addition to falling prey to pickpockets in all public areas, there have been cases of tourists and residents being drugged in bars and restaurants and then taken outside or to their residences 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. In addition, Riga has one of the highest rates of car theft in the world.
Internet crime is a growing concern in Latvia. Common fraudulent schemes involve both Internet auction sites and Internet job search sites. In the first scam, criminals offer valuable items for sale at low prices on Internet auctions and request that payment be sent by wire transfer to a bank in Latvia or though a fraudulent escrow site that they have created themselves. In this scheme the money passes through a bank in Latvia and is quickly withdrawn by ATM or transferred to a bank in another country. It is very difficult in these cases to discover the identities of the account holders or recover the funds.
The second common scam involves identity theft through false job offers. In this scheme, a company claiming to be located in Latvia, but which has a non-existent address, offers the victim employment as a U.S.-based agent or freight forwarder. When the victim responds to the job offer, commonly posted on one of several popular internet job sites, a Social Security number and other identifying information-needed for the identity theft-is required under the guise of conducting a background check.
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 Latvian 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. Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the U.S., for U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens to exploit children sexually via pornography, the Internet or other means or to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a person under the age of 18 in a foreign country, regardless of whether there was intent.
MEDICAL FACILITIES ^
Medical care in Latvia is steadily improving, but it 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 produced in Europe or Russia, they often have different names and instructions are usually not printed in English. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Diphtheria, 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 112 anywhere in Latvia. However, quick response is poor in rural areas. Air ambulance service is available for medical evacuations. In general, private air ambulance services are very expensive.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND 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 Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Fair
Latvia has one of the highest rates of automobile accidents and fatalities in Europe. Drivers should be alert for pedestrians and slow moving vehicles in traffic. Violation of traffic rules is common and it is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles, traveling at high speed, even in crowded urban areas. Drivers do not always yield to pedestrians, even at marked intersections. During winter, most major roads are cleared of snow. However, drivers should be alert for fog, snow, and ice while driving. Driving while intoxicated is a very serious offense and carries heavy penalties. Local authorities use roadblocks and Breathalyzer tests as enforcement tools. Drivers and pedestrians should be alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians wandering onto the road. Drivers must use their headlights at all times day and night. Speed limits are usually 50 km/hr in the city and 90 km/hr on the highways. U.S. driving licenses are not valid in Latvia and American tourists must possess a valid international driving permit, which can be obtained in the United States from the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance. For more information about road safety and traffic regulations in Latvia, please visit the website of the Latvian Road Safety Administration
For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at
http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html. For specific information about Latvian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Latvian Road Safety Administration of the Latvia Tourist Board at 4 Pils Square, Riga, Latvia, LV 1050, tel and fax: 371-722-9945, or via the internet at
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT ^
As there is at present no direct commercial air service by local carriers between the U.S. and Latvia, or economic authority to operate such service, 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's Internet website at
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 DOD at (618) 229-4801.
Please also refer to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.
May 4, 2004