It is generally safe to travel around on your own, although some petty crime exists. A thing to watch out for is bicycle theft, and it is advisable not to leave valuable things in your car. Mind the forest roads, collisions with wildlife animals can easily occur.
Much like Estonia and Lithuania, roads are congested with traffic and accident rates in Latvia are high. Take care while crossing the road as most drivers can be reckless.
When visiting bars and restaurants in Riga, make sure you know the price before you order and follow your spending, so no cheating is possible. Beware of scammers who strike up conversations out of the blue and invite you to visit their favorite club or bar; this is often a favorite way for the mafia to rob foreigners, and the police are unlikely to help if you get scammed. The Police of Latvia (http://www.vp.gov.lv/?sad...) has a website with advice for travelers.
Emergency phone number: Single European Emergency Phone Number 112.
If bitten by a dog, wild animal or a snake, seek medical attention immediately. Snakes are not venomous in Latvia, except for the European Adder which is a possible death threat if no treatment is received within the next few hours after the bite. A dog or cat bite can carry the risk of rabies. Mosquitoes carry no disease and are only an annoyance in the summer months.
Forest ticks can be abundant from May-September, depending on previous year's weather, especially in brushwood/scrub areas, but also occasionally in town parks. Their bite carries the risk of tick-born encephalitis (http://en.wikipedia.org/w...) infected ticks can be quite common, vaccination possible before season and Lyme disease (http://en.wikipedia.org/w...) -- less common; delayed or inadequate treatment can lead to disabilities.
There is no problem turning to any doctor or hospital to seek medical help, just by paying an outside patient fee. However, it can prove difficult to obtain medical assistance in many rural areas, as the service can be slow and unresponsive; therefore, it may be a good idea to bring your own first aid kit. There are virtually no air ambulance helicopters in the country, except for the army, so when exploring sparsely-inhabited, remote areas on your own, it's important to be well-prepared for emergency situations. If you get to a doctor, he/she will probably only speak Latvian and Russian.
Few drugs are available without a prescription; bring your own medicine if you require it.
If you need to seek medical attention of a doctor, be prepared to pay a fee under the table; in Latvia, it is estimated that 1 in 4 doctors take "private donations" to see patients.
Tap water is safe to drink; however, most locals prefer to boil it before drinking. Purchasing bottled water is an alternative.
Latvia is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty - the European Union except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country or you may have to clear immigration but not customs travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country.
Please see the article Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information about how the scheme works and what entry requirements are.
Latvian' Latviešu valoda is the only official language and belongs to the Baltic language group of Indo-European languages and its closest relative is Lithuanian, but it is very different anyway, so most likely Latvian will sound completely foreign for you and it is hard to guess what written words mean, even if Latvian uses Latin alphabet, just like English. However, some words are borrowed from other languages and it is not hard to understand that Restorans means Restaurant, but what about Veikals? It means Shop. The language has complicated grammar, the most complex being usage of verb prefixes and suffixes, which can change the meaning completely, as well as many kinds of participles majority of which do not have equivalent in English.
The pronunciation is more or less easy; however there are some complicated rules for some letters like e and o, and any foreigners trying to speak Latvian have an accent, because it is really hard to speak perfect Latvian. In Latvian, there are three pitch tones and sometimes the meaning of the word changes if you change the tone, e.g. loks can mean leek or bow, depending on the pronunciation tone. Zale can mean a hall or grass, again depends on the tone you use. The easiest part is the stress, which is almost always on the first syllable. Latvian is spoken natively by only 1.5 million people in the whole world, most of them of course in Latvia, but also in Ireland, UK, USA, Russia, Brazil, and Australia.
Besides Latvian, Russian is spoken fluently by most people 67% of people are able to converse in Russian according to the Eurobarometer poll of 2012, since Latvia was part of the Soviet Union, and in fact some places like Daugavpils have Russian as the majority language. It is also possible to get by with English, especially in Riga. According to the 2012 Eurobarometer poll, 46% of Latvians are able to have a conversation in English.
telephone & internet
Any GSM phone that works in Europe will work in Latvia. For local communication, it is much cheaper to buy a local prepaid SIM card, which can include data as well as voice and text. These cards and separate renewal vouchers can be easily bought in gas stations, kiosks, or supermarkets. All brands are more or less equal in price and service. Popular brands include LMT (http://www.lmt.lv/), Tele2 (http://www.tele2.lv/), Bite (http://www.bite.lv/). All prepaid SIM cards come with a manual in English, Russian, and Latvian.
Free wifi is available in many cafes, libraries, and the Riga Airport. Most hotels will provide free wireless access spots for laptops.
To call from a public phone, you need a phone card telekarte which cost as little as €2. International calls are possible from every public phone.
The postal service, Latvijas Pasts (http://www.pasts.lv/en/) is reliable and a fast way to send letters and parcels up to 10kg.
One should be cautious when mentioning Latvia in the context of the USSR to ethnic Latvians. Latvia became a USSR province after World War II, and praise of the Soviet or Russian regimes is unlikely to be understood or appreciated by Latvians, especially young ones.
It is very common to give up your seat for an elderly passenger on the public transport in Latvia. It is also considered polite to let women board a train or bus first.
There are many bins and trash cans on the sidewalks and near most shops. Littering is considered a very bad manner and may be fined.
Also, you do not need to specially greet, smile, or offer help to people. Latvian citizens are not so easy-going in relationships. Friendship is seen as a very serious affair that develops in the long term.