Whenever a “Western” friend visits Latvia, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the words “oh my gosh this is so cheap” will escape their mouths at some point.
Pints of beer, ice creams, meals out, cinema tickets, public transport fares and similar tourist expenses are all branded cheap by these visitors. Sure, this makes for a cheap holiday but living here is a different story.
A single public transport ticket: 2 euro if bought from the driver / 1.15 euro if bought from a machine or at a shop
An 0.5 litre glass of beer in a decent Old Town pub: 3 euro
Set lunch in a fairly trendy central cafe: 5-8 euro
Brunch at one of Riga’s hip foodie establishments: ~ 10 euro
Takeaway coffee at a Narvesen convenience store: 1.65 euro
A loaf of white bread at a Top supermarket in central Riga: 0.45 euro
A litre of milk at a central Top supermarket: 0.82 euro
A weekday evening cinema ticket at Forum Cinemas: 6.50 euro
A litre of 95 petrol at a Riga branch of Statoil: 1.044 euro
(Prices last checked on 1st August 2016)
Moving here means learning to adjust your budget according to local standards, budgeting for things like whopping central heating bills in winter and steep petrol prices.
Take into account that the average monthly gross salary in Latvia was 486 lats (691.52 Euro) in the first quarter of 2013*.
(Note, this is an official figure that for obvious reasons disregards the “ēnu ekonomika” or shadow economy which sees a fair amount of people receiving all or part of their salary in an envelope thus avoiding taxes.)
As an expat you may be fortunate enough to be working for an international company or institution, earning a respectively “international” salary, or you may just be an average citizen working 9–6 and receiving sub-European average remuneration.
If the former applies, I’d advise caution when discussing prices. What may seem cheap to you may not be affordable to friends and family. Those on a lower salary may therefore take offence.
If the latter applies, it won’t take long for you yourself to realise that Latvia just ain’t that cheap if you’re used to living comfortably – not knowing how much you have left in your bank account at any one time, eating out more than once a week, buying drink after drink on a night out etc.
While the average salary continues to grow year on year, prices aren’t exactly staying the same let alone decreasing. Also, most of us locals live in the naive hope that business owners won’t take advantage of the upcoming currency switchover. Quite a few price increases were already reported immediately after 1st October, the date from which businesses are obliged to show prices in both lats and the equivalent in euros.