True Lithuania

Warnings and dangers

Lithuania is generally a safe country. The crime levels are on par with those in the USA. However, unlike the USA and many other countries, Lithuania has no unsafe districts or ghettos and the crime is spread fairly evenly. Districts with many bars (e.g. Vilnius Old Town) may be less safe at night due to drunk people, however, common sense helps.

Lithuania is sheltered from natural disasters. There are no deadly earthquakes, volcanos, tsunamis, hurricanes or floods. Massive evacuation due to natural disasters is never required. Winter cold and summer heat take some tall but mostly among the homeless.

However, history has proven that aggressive neighbors can be deadlier than any natural disasters. Lithuania stands between East and West and in 1795-1991 suffered long occupations and genocides by the great powers, primarily Russia (a third of Lithuanians lost under 1940-1941, 1944-1990 Soviet occupations alone). While a foreign invasion may still be more likely in Lithuania than in the USA or Western Europe, the chances are slim (the last act of aggression took place in June 1991 when Russian soldiers massacred six Lithuanian customs officers).

On the positive side, no people have been killed or injured in terrorist bombings in the entire Lithuanian history.

While a decade ago many drivers would disobey rules and become a danger to others, campaigns against so-called "war in the roads" have curbed this (the accident rate is now similar to other European countries).

Given all of the above, the most likely nuisances for a foreigner in Lithuania are not outright crime or disasters but falling into some sort of tourist traps. Don't worry: Lithuanians are quite introverted and won't come to solicit.

That said, the group of people most notorious for cheating is the taxi drivers. A foreign tourist may be overpriced 10 times and more and some drivers are not even negotiating; out-of-town Lithuanians are also overpriced although less. Therefore it is suggested not to use taxi services in Lithuania.

In the unlikely event one gets into trouble in Lithuania and would seek outsiders' help, he/she should clearly indicate this (by asking/screaming). Lithuanians tend to be libertarian-minded and stay out of other persons' business as long as nobody gets harmed. So, for example, a streetfight is relatively unlikely to be reported to the authorities (as it would be assumed that both parties want to fight).

There are some beggars in the main tourist areas (Vilnius and Klaipėda old towns) who may approach you. Never give them anything: the ones approaching tourists are not poor but rather use this as a lucrative job. They earn sums larger than an average salary as foreigners frequently hand out sums of money based on the prices in their own homelands while in Lithuania they are lower. These beggars have invented stories which they could tell in multiple languages. Take note that Lithuania is richer than most of the world; there is an effective social security system and malnutrition is unheard of.

Should you encounter problems 112 is the emergency phone number (as in the rest of the European Union).

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Advice, Warnings, dangers and red tape 26 Comments

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 such practices are declining.

Adverts against corruption in the Vilnius clinics. The signs, aimed both at doctors and patients and available on many cabinet doors, declare: 'Do you want to show gratitude to the doctor? Please [just] say THANK YOU', 'The best gratitude to your doctor is your smile' and 'I follow the Hippocratic Oath, therefore I avoid patient disinformation and corruption'. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

This, as well as the Soviet "patient-is-always-wrong" attitudes in some public hospitals (also declining), makes a part of the population to pay the full price at the private clinics (even though they are still subjected to massive compulsory public healthcare taxes). The likelihood of choosing a "private doctor" heavily depends on the medical services needed: nearly everybody visits a private dentist or gynecologist just as nearly everybody uses the public hospitals for major surgeries. For a foreigner, the private hospitals may be less of a hassle in all cases especially if one has an insurance coverage for them. Even without such coverage, many procedures may be cheaper in Lithuania than the West. Lithuanian emigrants come back to perform non-urgent medical procedures (dentistry, plastic surgery) and there is already some medical tourism into Lithuania.

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. These tend to vary in quality from Soviet-level facilities (sometimes still state-owned) to modern facilities (private), therefore do your research before committing spending a week somewhere. Like with hospitals, often it is the attitudes of the personnel that makes the difference (rather than the quality of the procedures, which may be good everywhere).

People enjoying a free relaxation in the Birštonas spa resort. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Advice, Services, Warnings, dangers and red tape 4 Comments

Lithuanian Visas and Entry Requirements

After Lithuania joined the European Union (2004), it also ascended to the Schengen Treaty. This treaty establishes a single Schengen visa to enter all the member states. Within the Schengen area, there is no customs nor border control meaning that you could easily combine a trip to Lithuania with some neighboring countries (Latvia, Poland) without having to worry about time lost on the border or rental car policies.

A person may apply for a Schengen visa at any Lithuanian embassy or consulate. Furthermore, if there is no Lithuanian embassy or Lithuanian consulate at your country, Lithuania is represented by an embassy or consulate of some other EU-member state; a visa could be applied for there.

While Lithuania would be willing to extend visa-free regime to more countries, the Schengen regime means that Lithuanian visa regime has to be similar to that of Western Europe (which is plagued by illegal immigration and therefore is reluctant to grant visa-free regime to most countries except for the richest or far-away ones). Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, UAE, Brunei, Hong Kong, Israel, Macau, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, and most of Latin America are the only areas outside Europe whose citizens could travel visa-free to Lithuania. Moreover, nearly all Europeans can do this with the exception of Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Turkish citizens.

Citizens of the green countries do not need a visa to Lithuania.
Citizens of the red countries need a Lithuanian visa.
Citizens of light green countries do not need a visa if they have biometric passports.
2016. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Schengen visas are short-term only; a longer visa is called "national" (and must be applied at Lithuanian embassies/consulates) but still allows traveling inside all Schengen area. If you are just transferring at the airport you need no visa unless you come from a migration-sensitive country (some Asian and African countries).

Photography and video in Lithuania

In general, any public places in Lithuania may be pictured and taped for private use, whereas in private areas the owner decides what could be pictured.

Under the Soviet occupation, photography was heavily restricted even to the few that owned cameras. Most of these limitations were abolished, but it remains forbidden to take pictures at the international airports. When taking pictures of other key infrastructure (especially the railways) one may still draw some interest from the security, although it is no longer that restricted.

Private shops, marketplaces, casinos and nightclubs usually ban taking images - while this policy may be not explicitly stated anywhere, the security enforces it. While it may be possible to take a quick selfie or picture your friends without generating attention, any longer "photo shoot" will surely attract it. Chain stores tend to especially hate when their price tags are pictured, even if on the background.

Most museums allow photography but some forbid, while an even smaller minority levy a fee on every camera. Usually, this is specified near the entrance (otherwise, you may ask).

In the case of live events (concerts and professional sports), the rule of the thumb is that only the most expensive, important and popular ones ban taking images. E.g. it will likely be forbidden to take pictures during official international basketball games but allowed during friendly matches or national league games. Even where photography is banned, an exception may be made to taking pictures using your cell phone alone.

Lithuanians usually don't care that they are photographed in public and they don't expect anything in return for it (this includes women and children). Photography of private areas (even if visible from public zones), such as yards, may cause concern - but it is not very likely. The overall rule of the thumb is simply not to be too intrusive and take pictures from a distance or, if a close-up is needed, then ask the person.

It is not advisable to take pictures of drunk people (especially in the evenings) as they may be looking for a fight.

In case you want to publish the pictures, more stringent rules may sometimes apply. Some museums that allow free private photography impose a fee on those who want to publish images (especially for a material gain). Additionally, it is forbidden to publish pictures of people without their permission (even if taken in public) if those pictures show them in compromising situations or are used for advertisement.

Specialized photo stores became rare after digital imagery displaced the analog one. However, memory cards, batteries, and other photo materials may be easily acquired at electronics stores, common at the shopping malls. Additionally, such digital photo supplies are available at the larger supermarkets.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Advice, Warnings, dangers and red tape No Comments