In recent decades the quality of services in Lithuania has improved greatly.
Three tiers of services in Lithuania
Services in Lithuania generally fall into these three types:
1.Modern private services that have the same marketing gimmicks, locations and amenities you could expect in Western Europe or the USA. The prices are also often comparable or somewhat lower. They are usually owned by foreigners or Lithuanian mega-businessmen. Main cities have modern private services of all types, while modern shopping, cell phone, and internet services are available all over Lithuania.
2.Private 1990s-styled services, which may be harder to find, lack advertising and may lack some other common features (e.g. a 1990s-styled accommodation may lack online booking opportunities and credit card readers). But they can be much cheaper, far more authentic and more "humane", with money not "the king". They are usually owned by some self-made (wo)men who discovered how to do business by trial-and-error in the 1990s and did almost everything with their own hands. The services of this type predominate in smaller towns but are available in cities as well (especially out of downtowns and shopping malls).
3.Public services, which are owned by the government and often plagued by Soviet attitudes that client is a nuisance. Inconvenient opening times, inefficiency, queues and corruption are common. Public services predominate in healthcare, education and cultural activities (e.g. theaters, museums). Railways and many buses are also government-owned. The prices of public services are usually somewhat arbitrary (two services demanding the same amount of work may have very different prices).
List of services
Lithuanian media is all-private, but it has lost much of credibility recently due to perceived political and business meddling in its articles and reporting.
Lithuanian utilities are usually a state monopoly administered by private companies. These tend to have a dubious reputation as the monopoly fails to encourage them to respect clients. Ceasing to buy utilities (such as public heating) is often banned, completely destroying clients' market power.
Transportation in Lithuania is provided by public companies (railways, municipal buses) and private companies (some intercity buses, taxis, airlines, ships). While public companies are noticeably worse at management, they have improved their vehicles and may offer services at times when there are no private services. Private taxis are infamous for scams.
One remaining case where Soviet attitudes are well-entrenched is the healthcare. While Lithuania has great doctors, public hospitals tend to view clients as a nuisance, even expecting bribes for non-substandard treatment. Private hospitals, on the other hand, respect clients and perform much better.
In education private schools and universities tend to be better equipped and managed. However, key public institutions still trump them in size and faculty. In the case of universities, public ones attract the best students too, arguably contributing to better prospects there.
As Lithuanian salaries are lower than those in the West, the prices of services are also significantly lower than in the Western Europe. They are more expensive than in Asia however.
Communicating to the world is easy while in Lithuania as the country's internet and cell phone facilities are among the world's best.
The expansion of the internet has been especially massive. So much so that Lithuania now firmly holds the 1st place in Europe according to high-speed internet users as the percentage of total population. With nearly every city dweller having internet at home internet cafes became rare. PCs are available at some libraries, however. Wireless internet (Wifi) access is possible (free) in the major shopping malls, libraries, restaurants and hotels (ask in advance). A few streets and squares in the main cities and resorts have free municipal wireless internet coverage.
Moreover, nearly every location in Lithuania is covered by a 3G GSM cellphone network. Roaming charges are significant but fierce GSM network competition ensures that for local clients the charges are the lowest in Europe. A foreigner may easily buy a cheap pre-paid SIM card such as "Ežys", "Pildyk" or "Labas" and thus pay the negligible local rates. These are sold at every kiosk and at specialized provider shops at the malls. At the latter, one may inquire about the specific plans depending on your needs (international calls/internet/local calls/SMS). The subscription plans (paid for monthly) are useful only for residents.
Some public payphones still exist in cities (as required by law) but barely anybody uses them today. Payphone cards may be acquired at kiosks.
An international phone prefix for Lithuania is +370. When calling from another Lithuanian phone it is replaced by 8. This is followed by either a city prefix or a cell phone provider prefix (1-3 digits) and then the number itself (5-7 digits). The prefix(es) may be missing from phone number listings.
If you prefer sending postcards the old way post offices are now available at many of the largest shopping malls (open 7 days a week until late evenings). The traditional post office locations at the ground floors of some residentials have been recently downsized and may be hard to find as they are not well-advertised - ask a local to show them and hope that the office will be open (unlike in the malls the opening times are limited to working week). Stamps, envelopes, and some postcards are sold at the post offices.
Healthcare of Lithuania is of a formidable standard with numbers of doctors per 1000 people larger than in most Western societies. Hospitals are well-equipped to perform even the most difficult surgeries. The doctors are well-trained and sought-after by Western hospitals.
For Lithuanians and people of the European Union, most medical services are free of charge. However, corruption is rampant, meaning that a person with relationships among doctors (or a bribe) may get a preferential treatment bypassing the queues (which may get long, depending on location and procedure). This used to be the norm in the Soviet Union when all goods and services were in theory equal-to-all but in reality depended on bribes and relationships; today it declines.
This, as well as Soviet "patient-is-always-wrong" attitudes in some public hospitals (also declining), makes a part of the population to pay full price at the private clinics (even though they are still subjected to massive compulsory public healthcare taxes). This heavily depends on a specialist: nearly everybody visits a private dentist or gynecologist just as nearly everybody uses the public hospitals for major surgeries. For a foreigner private hospitals may be less of a hassle in all cases especially if one has an insurance coverage for them. Even without it, many procedures may be cheaper in Lithuania than the West (dentistry, plastic surgery). Lithuanian emigrants come back home to perform them.
If you choose public hospitals the best ones (and the largest) are in Vilnius and Kaunas.
Lithuania has a wide range of health resorts and spas, especially in Druskininkai resort.
There is generally no need to get any vaccination before going to Lithuania. Major infectious diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C or HIV are extremely rare.
Lithuanian media is surviving an upheaval these days as a newspaper after a newspaper closes, dailies become weeklies and the audiences grow older. The main remaining dailies are "Lietuvos rytas" (leftist, anti-religious), "Vakaro žinios" (tabloid, conservative) and "Lietuvos žinios" (center).
At the same time, the share of internet news portals expands, despite them being notorious for liberal attitudes towards countless insulting comments under nearly every article (some psychologists even claim this became a new Lithuanian way to vent off anger). Main portals are delfi.lt (leftist), lrytas.lt (leftist, anti-religious), alfa.lt (centre-left) and balsas.lt (centre-right).
Magazines are doing better than newspapers. Veidas (conservative, laissez-faire) is the longest-running weekly of political insights. Most female-oriented monthly magazines are catch-all while male-oriented ones tend to have particular topics (automobiles, fishing, etc.).
TV has been hit less by internetization. Still, while the average viewing times change little TVs are no longer considered a necessity as some 40% of young people opt not to own a TV set and some take pride in this, associating television with cheap programming of the commercial stations (TV3 and LNK are two catch-all market leaders and both have many smaller specific-audience channels). State-owned LRT TV station provides less glitzy programs and is more popular among the old.
Radio is mostly used for music (especially while driving) by the youth while in other contexts a turned-on-yet-unwatched TV effectively serves as a radio.
TV stations are all national (Vilnius-based) and while important regional and local newspapers do exist Lithuania may be too small a country to have a strong regional media.
English, Russian and Polish media in Lithuania
Main internet portals own scaled-down English versions to cater for expatriate community and also there is The Baltic Times newspaper (joint with Latvia and Estonia). Major foreign media reports on key Lithuanian issues but lacking representatives and knowledge in the Baltics they usually base their articles on local media.
If you are interested only in the most important news and analysis, Truelithuania.com news section provides that.
Russian and Polish media are more widespread. Polish one is largely limited to the Polish minority in southeastern Lithuania (Znad Willi radio, Kurjer Willenskij daily). Russian media, on the other hand, is also enjoyed by some non-Russian people who grew up under the Soviet occupation and speaks Russian at near-native levels.
The aficionados claim Russian TV shows to be of higher budget and thus higher quality. Opponents have been quick to note anti-Lithuanian programming of some Russian TV stations. Both primarily apply to production created in Russia itself (which has a popularity far outweighing anything created by the local Russian minority).
History of Lithuanian media
The crisis of Lithuanian media goes further than print/internet divide. Back in 1990-2004 libertarian Lithuania media used to be the Fourth Estate in the strictest sense. Every opinion poll indicated that media was the most trusted institution (surpassing the church, army, and all the government agencies). Journalists seemed to be chivalrous "fighters for truth" and some even sacrificed their lives for it (Vitas Lingys was murdered for his articles on the mafia, his name still printed on every back-cover of Respublika newspaper he worked for). In the corrupt atmosphere of the era, only a fear of publicity could have prompted judges, prosecutors, and politicians to refuse mafia bribes.
Later, however, media grew increasingly partisan while several business groups consolidated their control over large numbers of newspapers, TV and radio stations as well as internet portals. Advertisement packages are now commonly believed to include media silence on the advertiser's wrongdoings. Confidence in media plummeted after people noticed one-sided coverage of some events (but still more trust it than distrust it according to opinion polls).
Whatever the current situation would be it is still lightyears in front of the Soviet occupation era (1940-1990) when the media was all nationalized and heavily censored. Crimes and disasters used to remain unreported to promote the "nothing bad happens in the Soviet Union" thought (even the Chernobyl disaster was initially hidden from the public, precluding anti-radiation precautions). Word of mouth thus used to be the "media" most people would rely on, in addition to ephemeral illegal press.
Internet is the top way to receive information and arguably the favorite pastime in Lithuania for those under 50. While internet was slow to start, Lithuania has overtook the West ~2010 in terms of internet usage. Today, internet is accessible in nearly every home and workplace, wifi hotspots cover many public spaces while 4G internet is the cheapest and fastest in Europe.
Popular websites in Lithuania
According to the Alexa rankings, the most popular websites in Lithuania, just like in many Western countries, are Google, Youtube, and Facebook, in that order. All of them have Lithuanian translations and lots of local. The Google has a virtual monopoly on the Lithuanian and English internet search, while Youtube is *the* video site and Facebook is *the* social network of Lithuanians.
These websites are followed in popularity by the local so-called "internet portals", which are the most popular locally produced Lithuanian websites. These portals provide a massive amount of information ranging from news to articles on various topics to videos. They also provide lively comment sections, traditionally the most popular online locations to discuss. The top Lithuanian internet portals are Delfi.lt [4th] and 15min.lt [5th], with Lrytas.lt further behind [14th] and then Tv3.lt [21st]. and Alfa.lt [33rd]. Some portals (Delfi, Alfa) are the sole business of the respective companies, while others were established by media companies (TV3 moved in from TV business and Lrytas from newspapers).
There are also "specialized portals" which provide similar information on some particular topic. The largest among those is Vz.lt (business and economy, 29th). Others may be less popular but all together their traffic form a significant part of the Litnet, as Lithuanian internet is sometimes called. The most popular topics include sports (basketball, football, F1) and child rearing. Many of the specialized portals have been started by hobbyists but later bought out by the main internet portals and effectively serve as subsites (e.g. moved to subdomains).
As merely 3 million people speak Lithuanian worldwide, the number of available websites in Lithuanian language is generally smaller than in larger languages. As such, the users who seek more specialized knowledge sometimes revert to foreign websites. These are either Russian or English as those two foreign languages are the most popular. Russian is spoken by 70% and English is spoken by 30%. However, as Russian speakers are mostly older, the non-Lithuanian-language web traffic is more evenly divided among English and Russian websites.
As Lithuania also has a significant Russian-speaking minority (~8% of population), the Russian websites that are popular in Russia are also somewhat popular in Lithuania (among the Russian-speakers and their friends). This includes the top Russian-language search (Yandex.ru) and the top Russian-language social network (Vk.com).
Also popular in Lithuania are the local pirate websites, providing torrents (Linkomanija.net, 27th) and, even more popular, an ability to watch illegal films online in browser, like on Youtube (Filmai.in, 24th, Filmux.org - 45th). Unlike in the West, most pirate websites in Lithuania are paid, earning money by selling the stolen content (for a fraction of the price of "original"). They even provide added value in the form of original Lithuanian translations of otherwise untranslated films. The ability or will of Lithuanian authorities to combat these websites has been limited so far. Despite them being both easily accessible and owned by Lithuanians, little initiative is made to close them down.
All this, as well as the language barrier, make the international pirate websites rather unpopular in Lithuania. Likewise, the legal ways to get music or films online (e.g. Netflix) are nearly unknown in Lithuania.
Other global websites that enjoy less popularity in Lithuania than in the west include LinkedIn and Twitch.com.
History of the internet in Lithuania
In Lithuania, the internet was slower to start than in the West. As Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union until 1990, PCs were effectively banned and not available in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the freedom arrived but the Soviet-ravaged economy meant that few people could afford a PC. The same was true even for newly-started small businesses, while larger businesses were initially still Soviet-minded and saw little use for computers.
The situation gradually changed as the economy improved in the mid-1990s, yet until the early 2000s, the Lithuanian internet consisted entirely of hobbyist websites. The general population was unable to even make a distinction between a PC and a video games console, believing that PCs are only needed for games and adults have no use for them. At the time, the use of PCs was discouraged in schools and universities. Interestingly, internet services were free-of-charge in Lithuania throughout the 1990s (a remnant of Soviet rules for state-owned telephony) but even that attracted just a few users. Therefore some forms of internet popular in the West of 1980s-1990s (such as Usenet) never really took hold in Lithuania.
In the 2000s the situation changed. Inspired by the success of internet in the West, some businessmen (foreign internet businesses and local non-internet businesses) established their own websites which eventually started to turn in profits as the internet became increasingly more popular. As the telephony was privatized, the internet was no longer free, however. Yet the Lithuania experienced an economic boom and that did not discourage people, while the price of PCs have fallen enough for them to become widely accessible. As such, the numbers of hobbyist websites boomed. Forums and IRC became the most popular ways to discuss things online as well as to meet up new people. Internet cafes initially sprung up (in the early 2000s) but later closed down one after another ~2010 as by that time there were no Lithuanians remaining who did not own a PC (save for some older people who didn't use it).
In the 2010s internet established itself as the main way to get news and even a major pastime for everybody under 50-years-old and even for many above that age. Internet portals have outcompeted newspapers in that age range and largely replaced TV for under-30s. As former hobby sites became lucrative, they were often bought out by larger internet business companies, forming the internet conglomerates. However, in many areas, the local companies have lost the competition to foreign ones (especially the startups). Facebook has outcompeted local social networks, for instance, as well as many forums and IRC. In the light of this, Lithuanians have also attempted establishing startups, but have failed to achieve true worldwide success so far. Internet was now a necessity, and cheap mobile telephony as well as wifi made it accessible everywhere save for a few deep forests.