Latvia, the "heart of the Baltics," has made a successful and fascinating transition from Soviet Republic to a member of NATO and the European Union. The university is located in the historical capital of Riga (founded in 1201), which boasts medieval architecture and cobblestone streets, extravagant Art Nouveau buildings and manicured 19th century parks.

Languages Spoken:


Education System


The first institution of higher education, the Riga Polytechnical Institute, was founded in 1862. Before this, Latvian intelligentsia was educated primarily at the University of Tartu in Estonia, or the University of St. Petersburg in Russia. Using the facilities and staff of the Riga Polytechnical Institute, the University of Latvia was established in 1919. In 2004, there were 34 accredited higher education institutions in Latvia, most of which belong to the state, the rest having been founded by other legal entities or private individuals. A positive tendency is the rapid rise in student numbers seen in recent years. The number of registered students at the beginning of the 2001/2002 teaching year was over 110,000, most of whom (almost 90,000) attended public institutions. About a third of these study at state expense, while the rest pay fees. The regulation of tuition fees is under discussion.

Institutions of higher education provide academic or professional instruction. Professional education offers one- or two-year programs, but some institutions offer four-year programs leading to both the academic Bakalaurs (bachelor's) degree and a professional qualification in fields such as agronomy, pharmacy, engineering, performing arts, social work, teaching, dentistry, technology and veterinarian science. 

The academic higher education programs are based on fundamental or applied science. It is divided into two stages; at the end of each stage, students must present a thesis based on their own research. The first stage, which normally takes four years, leads to a Bakalaurs (bachelor's) diploma. The degree of Magistrs (master's) is conferred after the second stage which takes one and a half to two years. Doctoral studies can be undertaken after a master's degree, and lead to a Doktors degree (the equivalent of a Ph.D.). 

The academic year begins in September and ends late June or mid-July. As a general rule, it is comprised of 40 weeks of lectures, seminars and practical work and is usually divided into two semesters. In some faculties, students also do practical training in the summer.

Credits and Grading

The Latvian credit refers to an average of 40 hours (one week's study workload), leading to 40 credits per year. One Latvian credit equals 1.5 ECTS.

Latvian Grade Explanation ECTS
equivalent grade
10 (izcili) With Distinction: knowledge of student is substantially higher than an estimated normal level A++
9 (teicami) Excellent: knowledge of student is higher than an estimated normal level A+
8 (loti labi) Very Good: Knowledge corresponds to the highest expected level A
7 (labi) Good: The student has good subject understanding, and is progressing within the expected limits, but makes minor errors B
6 (gandriz labi) Almost Good: The student has generally achieved the necessary knowledge and understanding of the subject, but either is reproducing the knowledge rather than actively applying it, or makes more substantial errors C
5 (viduveji) Satisfactory: Student is progressing within the limits of their general ability, but make substantial errors and memorize rather than analyze the data D
4 (gandriz viduveji) Almost Satisfactory: The lowest passing grade. Awarded to students who do their best, but make serious errors and are only reproducing the necessary material; little understanding demonstrated. E
1-3 (neapmierinosi) Unsatisfactory: Student performs well below the expected level F

Visa and Residency

Please note that students should ALWAYS check the website of the embassy/consulate with jurisdiction over their place of residence first, as the information in this handbook regarding visa application instructions is subject to change without warning. 


Students staying longer than 90 days (starting from the first day of arrival) within a half of a year must register in the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs and apply for the residence permit. A student may apply for the residence permit for studies in Latvia for a period not longer than one year.

Before applying for the residence permit, the International Relations Department should have an invitation approved at the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs.

You must apply for the residence permit in person (by presenting valid passport) in the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs in Riga. When applying for the residence permit, the following documents should be submitted:

  • Residence permit application form
  • Copy of the passport
  • One photo
  • Medical certificate on tuberculosis
  • Document confirming the necessary financial subsistence (your certification letter from ISEP will serve)
  • Document which approves the place of accommodation in Latvia
  • A copy of cooperation agreement or confirmation issued by the host university that you are an exchange student of the university
  • Copy of a valid health insurance (an original must be presented)

You must receive the residence permit personally.

Passport should be valid at least three months after departing from Latvia. Take into account that at least 30 days will pass from applying for the residence permit until receiving decision about issuing this permit.

Upon receiving the residence permit in Foreign Service Centre of Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, you will have to present the life and health insurance which is valid in Latvia.


A Note Regarding the Schengen Area

Latvia is a member of the Schengen area. Review the important regulations that dictate travel and visas within the Schengen area.


Daily Life

Health and Safety

Your health and safety is our number one priority. Please read and reference our Guides and Tips section for general information regarding health and safety abroad. 


Detailed information about Latvia can be found here. Please pay special attention to the Safety and SecurityLocal Laws and Special Circumstances and Health sections. 

Note: Information sourced on this page is provided by the U.S. Department of State. Non-U.S. nationals should disregard the Embassies and Consulates and Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements sections. 




The Latvian lats (Ls) has been the legal currency in Latvia since 1993 when it replaced the transitional Latvian rouble. Units of lats are called santimi (1 lat = 100 santimi). Lats come in banknote denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100. Coins come in denominations of 1 and 2 lats as well as in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 santimis. Money can easily be changed at numerous exchange bureaus, hotels and banks. It is best to bring cash (crisp, clean, newer bills) in small denominations to exchange for Latvian currency.

Most banks are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday; some banks are also open on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

International credit cards are accepted at all major hotels, restaurants and shops. Traveler's checks are not accepted in restaurants or shops, but most banks will exchange them. Banks will also give cash advances on most credit cards. ATMs are available in Riga and other major cities.

Sources of Information

Embassy of Latvia
The Latvian Institute
Welcome to Latvia
Latvian Tourism
The Baltic Times: English Language newspaper
Riga This Week: The official city guide.
In Your Pocket: Latvia guide.


*All links below will take you to the Web site for content and purchasing information.


Lonely Planet Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania

Lonely Planet Baltic Phrasebook (Lonely Planet Phrasebook: Baltic)


O'Brien, John (editor). The Review of Contemporary Fiction (Spring 1998): New Latvian Fiction

Rainis, Janis (real name: Janis Plieksans, 1865-1929). Distinguished Latvian poet and playwrite. Read any works that you are able to locate.

Culture, History, and Politics

Asmus, Ronald D. Opening NATO's Door

Doub, Siri Lise, et al. A Taste of Latvia (Hippocrene International Cookbooks)

Dreifelds, Juris. Latvia in Transition

Eksteins, Modris. Walking Since Daybreak : A Story of Eastern Europe, World War II, and the Heart of Our Century

Lieven, Anatol. The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Path to Independence

Mazzarins, Laimdota (translator). The Murder of the Jews in Latvia 1941-1945 (Jewish Lives)

Michelson, Max. City of Life, City of Death: Memories of Riga

Ratz, Jack. Endless Miracles.

Skultans, Vieda. The Testimony of Lives: narrative and memory in post-soviet Latvia

Wilson, Edmund. To the Finland Station (New York Review Books Classics)

Wyman, Mark. Dps: Europe's Displaced Persons, 1945-1951

Traveler's Health

International Travel Health Guide

CDC Health Information for International Travel 2010


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