True Lithuania

Services in Lithuania

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

Hotels and restaurants are all private. While a few Soviet-style institutions remain in smaller towns, generally they have been all built or renovated after 1990, offering a good service quality.

Lithuania has some of the world's most competitive cell phone, internet provider, and food retail markets, offering considerable quality even at the lowest end of price range.

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.

A list of ways to send money to Lithuania is provided by the IMT website.

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Internet, Cell Phones, and Post in Lithuania

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.

A first floor post office with its logos visible in Vilnius Old Town. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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Healthcare in Lithuania

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.

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Education in Lithuania

In Lithuania, the education is mostly public (taxpayer-funded) with private or religious facilities being an exception. The school life is especially long with university education being a norm for modern youth. Literacy is at 99,8%.

Schools and pre-school education

Most children attend state (public) schools where the education is free (taxpayer-funded). These have three tiers: for ages 7-10 ("primary schools") a single teacher teaches most subjects, for ages 11-14 ("progymnasiums") there are separate teachers for each subject but still no choice on what to learn (save for religious education and 2nd foreign language), while at ages 15-18 ("gymnasiums") students have a limited choice of their lectures. While there are prestigious gymnasiums, at the earlier tiers most pupils are enrolled at schools closest to their homes as the quality varies little.

The official language is Lithuanian but there are minority-oriented public schools that use their languages for instruction. The network of Russian schools covers the main cities while the Polish schools are concentrated in the southeast.

Private schools tend to be expensive (by Lithuanian standards) and not very popular. Few schools cover the entire school life with private schooling more popular for younger kids. For English medium-of-instruction education, however, "private" is the only option and largely limited to Vilnius.

There are also a few Roman Catholic schools in the cities.

Pre-school education (kindergartens) is not compulsory. With more women than ever working (the female share of the workforce is larger in Lithuania than in every single Western society), there is a shortage of public kindergartens in the main cities. It is common to write your child into a queue immediately at birth. Akin to schools the private kindergartens are expensive although the shortages make them somewhat popular. Some families rely on (great) grandparents to rear their toddlers instead of kindergartens.

Lithuania has a wide range of paid informal education, most of it in the Lithuanian language. Lithuanian basketball academies are especially famous.

Universities and colleges

In Lithuania, most young people attend public universities of which there are many. Vilnius University is the oldest and the most prestigious but some others successfully compete at specific fields (Mykolas Romeris University in social sciences, the Kaunas University of Technology in technological sciences, Lithuanian University of Health Sciences in medical sciences). Public university tuition is state-subsidized for Lithuanian citizens; to many better local students the education there is free.

Yet other public universities are however widely known to be "second-choice" and some politicians doubt their need. The few private universities (limited to social sciences) are somewhat infamous for being a choice of "rich-yet-incapable" as they accept nearly everyone whoever pays a large tuition. Even the largest tuitions are small by the US standards however with a 3000 USD annual fee considered expensive.

University education takes 4 years (Bachelor's degree), 6 years (Master's degree, the most sought-after) or 10 years (PhD). Some universities offer English medium-of-instruction studies and attract a sizeable foreign student population (up to 10% in Lithuanian University of Health Sciences).

Numbers of Lithuanian people with varying levels of education in different decades. In the 2000s the numbers of higher-educated people in Lithuania increased rapidly as it became the social norm for anybody of mediocre capabilities or above.

Alternatively, there are colleges with 3-year education and more practice-oriented studies - but they all are regarded as less prestigious.

Even less prestigious is the vocational education opted mainly by those seriously incapable of doing anything "more". However, even some of those people attempt to seek a Master's degree regardless (at some obscure humanity they dislike but were able to successfully apply to). The government would prefer to popularize vocational training as many of the less capable university graduates ends up in blue-collar jobs anyway.

Enrollment into Lithuanian universities and colleges is largely based on the annual Lithuanian National Exams (May-June) taken by those graduating gymnasiums that year. Each potential student may choose which of 14 subject exams to sit, while each study program has a pre-decided set of National Exam results taken into account when admitting. A student then drafts a National Application (one for all Lithuanian universities and most colleges), listing up to 20 study programs by priority. In July-August, he/she is automatically admitted to the highest-priority one where National Exams results have been enough. The National Exams are hyped as making-or-breaking a person as they decide both the career path and scholarships/tuition discounts. To prepare for National Exams many students hire tutors one or two years in advance. Foreign students may pay the full price and enroll into universities without sitting at National Exams.

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Media of Lithuania

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.

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Living in Lithuania: utilities and more

It is useful for everybody who stays in Lithuania for a longer term (especially if renting an apartment or room) to familiarize himself with the utility system, utility bills, and other legal requirements.

Water and electricity

Lithuanian tap water is among the cleanest in Europe and is perfectly drinkable. This is because 100% of it is taken from abundant underground sources sheltered from human interference (rather than from surface lakes or rivers where it could be easily contaminated).

88% of all homes now have access to municipal water (75% to hot water) and 85% have sewerage. The remainder is mainly old wooden village homes that use wells for water and outdoor toilets (but the number of such homes nearly halved between 2001 and 2011).

Electricity in Lithuania is 230V (thus American or Japanese devices may be incompatible). Power plugs have two round pins. The electricity is now universal and there are nearly no service disruptions.

Lithuanian power plug and socket, compatible with continental Europe. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The European Union has ordered Lithuania to have even more environmentally friendly electricity system, leading to more expensive wind power as well as a ban on incandescent lightbulbs.

Fridges, WCs, cooking stoves and showers are nearly must-haves, while bathtubs, dishwashers, and washing machines are also common.

Heating, cooling and gas

Heating in Lithuania can be especially expensive, with the costs to heat a two room apartment approaching 50% of average salary in the coldest months. Both the bad insulation of Soviet-built homes and the punitive Russian gas prices are blamed for this, leading to calls for home renovation and construction of gas terminal that should provide energetic independence from Russia. This is especially true for the 55% of all dwellings (mostly Soviet-built apartments) that have public central heating without any possibilities to either regulate temperature, choose another supplier or disconnect altogether. The remainder of buildings is lucky to have local heating systems, ~21% of them (mostly in villages) using wood, which is cheap yet labor-intensive.

The annual "public heating season" is declared by a municipal decree and it is usually longer in kindergartens and hospitals. Given the costs of heating and inability to freely regulate home temperature, this season is nearly always controversial, with many preferring it to be as short as possible while others claiming this would be detrimental to health.

In cities, many homes have centralized gas pipes for kitchens. Others use electricity to prepare food.

Air conditioning has been virtually unknown in Lithuania as late as the early 1990s but now is increasingly believed to be a must in middle-to-upper class public buildings and cars. Few personal homes have it, but the increasingly hot summers make many wishes to consider installing ones.

TV, radio, phones, and the internet

Television broadcast in Lithuania is DVB-T MPEG4 (free and not taxed). Traditional PAL transmitters have been turned off. The DVB-T broadcast gives one access to ~10 free channels, nearly all of them Lithuanian but also one Russian and one Polish.

Many Lithuanians own a cable TV (paid) which gives an access to some 50 channels, adding more foreign channels to the ordinary Lithuanian ones. As television, in general, is more popular among middle-aged and older people (with the youth preferring internet). They speak better Russian than English so Russian TV stations predominate over Western ones.

Some Lithuanians own satellite TV antennas, which allow them to see many foreign channels free of charge (this was especially popular in the 1990s with the opening of the world).

HD TV broadcast is very limited.

Radio broadcast is nearly all FM. Most radio stations are Lithuanian but at least one is Russian and one is Polish (although the music played is usually English in many of them).

While a home telephone has been a must until well into 2000s today it has been nearly outcompeted by cheap cell phones. Most new homes and even some offices lack telephone and rely on cellphones while older homes disconnect their telephones. While cellphones, like the other bills, are often paid monthly, pre-paid SIM cards are also popular among young people and visitors.

Internet is now held to be compulsory by the younger and middle-aged families and most homes have a broadband access. Young families with the internet often abandon TV, watching the best shows on their computer screen.

Utility bills and payments

Lithuanian home owners pay utility bills every month. Typically, every home has hot water, cold water, gas and electricity meters installed. At the end of the month, the owner checks the meter, writes down how much he/she used and pays for such amount based on then-current rates (by bank transfer or at terminals). In case the authorities suspect incorrectly declared usage, they may come to check the meter. In case the utilities are left unpaid, they may be eventually turned off.

Additionally, owners receive bills for their phone and the internet (based on usage), as well as "common services" (includes building maintenance, trash collection, stairwell cleaning) and cable TV (fixed rates). In winter, heating bill is added, often amounting to the rest of the utility payments put together. The colder the winter, the more has to be paid.

If the apartment is rented out, then the lessee is usually expected to pay for all the utilities rather than the owner. In the case of short-term rentals, however, the owner may pay.

In villages, it is common for homeowners to produce and gather some utilities by themselves (especially heating and water). In urban environment, the possibilities to replace municipal/governmental (now usually privatized) services to self-catering are difficult. However, some Apartment block communities (which exist in most apartment buildings) vote to curb the "common services" at least by opting for apartment owners to perform some building maintenance themselves.

Parking and other rules for apartment block living

While the apartment block communities may set some rules on behavior in public spaces (such as the necessity to clean such spaces on a certain schedule), these are generally limited.

The municipal regulations are also more liberal than in many Western countries. The main / only actions they ban are typically loud music at night and smoking in public staircases.

Parking is usually in the apartment block courtyards on a first-come-first-serve basis. It is free, but in many courtyards, it may be hard to find a place for a car at many times. In city downtowns, street parking is paid, but those who live in the respective streets may often buy a monthly permit (at a great discount) to park anytime. In other districts and suburbs, street parking is free. Public transport offers an adequate but slow alternative to cars.

It should be noted that very different people (of difference affluence, ethnicities, jobs, ages) live in each Lithuanian apartment building and finding some common ground on caring for the common property. Therefore public spaces are often neglected and people cherish their apartments instead. As such, "a bad neighbor" (or, often, "a very different neighbor") is often the main nuisance, while an apartment block where "the neighbors are good" is highly sought for, although so rare that it is not even expected by property buyers.

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