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.