Latvia is one of the three Baltic States situated on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. It’s 1150 km of border runs along Estonia, Lithuania, Russia and Belarus, and it shares maritime borders with Sweden. This small country has a largely flat landscape punctuated with beaches, rivers, lakes, marshes and forests.
Latvia’s population is 1,895,668 and has been on the decline due to emigration to other EU member states, an ageing population and declining birth rate. It is a member of both the EU and the Schengen zone. The country’s imports and exports make up 27,6% of GDP. Export commodities are sawn wood, refined petroleum, liquor, wheat and packaged medicaments. Imports include refined petroleum, cars, broadcasting equipment and petroleum gas.
Agriculture accounts for 5% of GDP while forestry makes up 17% of total export income. Industry makes up 19.52% of GDP and focuses on wood and food processing, textiles and machinery. The economy is driven by the services sector spurred by Information technology and tourism, which contributes 75.2% of the GDP and employs 68.1% of the active population.
Latvia’s public healthcare system is funded by social security and overseen by the Latvian National Health Services. Small contributions are necessary for some treatments and most nationals purchase private medical aids. Latvia offers free education compulsory for children up until the age of 15, or the end of primary school. Learners may continue to secondary education at 15 or enter the workforce.
Latvia enjoyed brief independence between the two World Wars before it was annexed by the USSR in 1940. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Latvia gained its independence in 1991 and continued to revamp its economy for eventual integration into various Western European political and economic institutions.
Latvia has rich historical and cultural sites for travellers to enjoy. Architecture from Gothic cathedrals to grandiose Art Nouveau, lively cafes and bars and gastronomical dining from local produce to haute cuisine are all to be found in this historical country. Hike or drive through the Gauja National Park where medieval castles are to be seen, and bungee jumping and bobsleighing can be experienced.
The seaside resort of Jūrmala offers a vibrant breach life and unique spas. Latvia is home to 140 medieval castles among them the fairy tale Turaida built in 1214 and Cēsis Castle incorporating the sorrowful old Wenden castle founded by Livonian knights in 1214. The diversity of Latvian beer production is best depicted in Rīga’s choice beer hall, Folksklub Ala Pagrabs.
No country of history will be without grand museums, galleries, historic buildings, ancient cathedrals, vibing marketplaces and dining experiences, all of which are plentiful in Latvia.
Australians should be aware that the public consumption of alcohol is illegal outside of designated places.
The European Commission proposed the implementation of the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) as a visa-waiver option. The system is somewhat the same as Australia’s ETA, European Travel Authority, and will impact Australians when it is rolled out in 2021. Under ETIAS, nationals from those non-EU countries outside the Schengen zone currently enjoying the benefits of the visa liberation policy will have to apply for ETIAS pre-authorisation before travelling to Europe.
Australians will be required to apply to travel through an online process which takes only minutes to complete and will carry a nominal fee. The authorisation is received electronically within minutes and is held in the passport. This authorisation to enter the European borders is valid for three years or until the holding passport expires, whichever is first.
Recent terrorism and uncontrolled immigrant issues experienced in Europe have prompted the implementation of ETIAS. This pre-authorisation system will identify risks to European safety and security during the online application process before they even reach the borders. Although current Schengen restrictions will still apply, it is expected that security across Europe will be improved by its implementation in 2021.
In 1829, Aaron Wolf was the first Latvian brought to Australia as a convict. Latvian sailors followed early in the 20th century, seeking new beginnings and refugees fleeing the 1905 revolution also arrived in Australia. Between 1947 and 1952 around 19 700 refugees arrived, and in 1947 an agreement was entered to accept refugees in Australia.
The conditions were that Australia would only accept people physically capable of working and each immigrant must work two mandatory years in a government-assigned job. In 1947 843 refugees arrived, among them Latvians, who were set up in a camp in Bonegilla.
Australia and Latvia enjoy bilateral agreements covering Trade and Economic Cooperation, Extradition and Social Security. Two-way merchandise trade exists between the two countries. Australia exports primarily alcoholic beverages and civil engineering equipment and parts to Lithuania, who exports telecom equipment and parts, furniture, mattresses and cushions, and alcoholic beverages to Australia.
4,675 Australian residents were born in Latvia, and 20,514 have Latvian ancestry.
Australians wishing to travel to Latvia once ETIAS is in place will have to apply online as required.