Moving to Latvia: Māra & Daniele’s story

Māra is a Latvian who identifies herself as a third culture kid. Daniele is Italian. They met while working in Brussels and now call Latvia their home. Our entire conversation was in Latvian, it’s taken Daniele just one year to learnt it fluently. Kudos!

We spoke about the practical and emotional aspects of moving to Latvia, from finding a job in Riga to adapting to the local way of life.

Finding a job

Māra: I pretty much started from zero. Although I did have a small network of contacts in Latvia, they weren’t in the right industries. So I took the traditional route of sifting through the job ads on cv.lv. I was surprised by how quickly some companies responded to my application and how soon they wanted me to start. It made it seem as if they were struggling to find qualified staff and it freaked me out a little bit since I was so used to a lot of competition for jobs in places like Brussels.

A few of them were consultancy firms and I had to tell them I needed more time to decide because I couldn’t just start the job in two weeks. I had to give one month’s notice to my employer in Brussels, and I still had to move to Latvia.

Eventually, I applied for a position and was taken on. They even adapted the job description to better suit my skills and experience. That’s something that seems common in Latvia so I would encourage people to apply and go through the interview process even if the position doesn’t sound exactly right. There may be flexibility!

My employer certainly appreciated my international experience and the reference I was able to provide from a past employer whose name they knew. Who you know does matter in Latvia.

During the interview process it seemed like the interviewer was surprised at my decision to work in Latvia and I was asked if I was sure I wanted to work there. I was only given a one-year contract and had to prove myself throughout the year.

Daniele: Finding a job wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. There’s no lack of jobs but it’s hard to find a good job. I turned to cv.lv but also started emailing companies directly. Latvian companies have good websites and it’s easy to find contact details. I hadn’t experienced that in the UK and Germany where they seem to have more streamlined recruitment processes.

I had three offers but one of the companies needed someone to start right away. The offer that I accepted was for a job that Māra found advertised through Twitter via the #teirdarbs hashtag.

Ideally, they were looking for someone with Russian and English language skills but I could only offer English language skills. Nonetheless, they took me on. All the companies I contacted were aware that I didn’t speak Latvian at the time of applying.

However, I must note that I work in sales and export so my skills are quite transferable. It would have been more difficult to find a job if I were an engineer, for example.

Finding a place to live

Māra: From the very start I lived in my parents’ house in Sigulda and commuted to Riga every day which meant I had to wake up at 5:30. Soon after I found an apartment through people I knew. That seems to be the only way of finding something decent! Websites like ss.lv are risky, you can get bad deals.

Daniele found our current apartment through colleagues. It’s a really great place in a fantastic location so we were sure it would be gone by the time we phoned the landlord. We got lucky though. He wanted us to move in two days but I managed to negotiate and make it two weeks. In any case, the key lesson here is that you have to be ready to make quick decisions in Latvia.

Our friends can’t believe we pay so little for such a great place. It came semi-furnished which seems to be the standard in Latvia.

Adapting to life in Latvia

Daniele: I had previously lived in the UK and Germany but that was during my student years so this move was different. It quickly became apparent how everyone knows everyone in Latvia. I made friends through work and within the expat community which is small. Of course, it’s easier to make friends if you speak Latvian.

To me, it’s strange how passive people become in winter. I mean, I know it’s cold outside but I still want to go out and do things!

Māra: I tried to become friends with the people at work. On my first day, I invited some of them out for lunch together and they seemed surprised. As it turned out, they hadn’t really done that previously but seemed to enjoy it and talking about things other than work.

Daniele: People don’t discuss their private lives at work as much as they do in the UK!

Māra: I was very conscious of the fact that I had different, international experience and I didn’t want to force my alternative views or approaches on anyone. I made sure not be the annoying newcomer and showed respect towards the company.

On another note, we had a funny situation recently with finding a physiotherapist. I’d heard about a guy through a colleague who warned me it’s impossible to get an appointment since he only works with celebrities etc. etc. Well, I decided to call his office and put my negotiation skills to use. By the end of the conversation I had secured an appointment for that same day! So it’s all about talking.

Best things about living in Latvia

Daniele: You have to accept that your salary will be lower than it would be in countries like the UK and Germany but in Latvia you can afford to live in the city centre. I can walk or cycle to work! That’s such a luxury.

Māra: The nature. It’s so accessible and so beautiful.

Thanks to Māra and Daniele for telling their story! If you’d be keen on sharing your experiences, get in touch.

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