Secondary education in Latvia begins with the compulsory pre-school level, attended by children of ages 5-6. Then there comes a 9 year period of compulsory schooling. State and municipal schools in Latvia are free. In private schools, the cost of training is about 1,026-1,232 USD/year. After graduating from primary school for the next 3 years a student can get a full secondary education. This may be a gymnasium, the main task of which is academic preparation for a university. Or, a student can go to a vocational school or college and get a diploma of secondary specialized education in such fields as art, business, medicine, etc. This document allows you to immediately start working or continue education at a university.
A large Russian diaspora lives in Latvia (about 40% of the total populace), thus the country has many Russian-language schools. Nevertheless, according to educational reform of 2019, all of the schools should switch to Latvian-only programs until 2021.
Education in Latvia is increasingly oriented towards the international market. Universities are moving away from post-Soviet standards and are developing English-language programs that attract applicants from abroad with high European quality and affordable prices. And the leisurely pace of life amid stunning architecture and nature captivates every foreigner who has visited Latvia.
Low prices. Tuition fees in Latvia are very low by European standards. At the same time, the graduate receives an international diploma recognized in all of the EU. The prices for goods and services are also quite affordable.
Multilingualism. For foreign students, universities in Latvia provide a wide range of programs in English. At the same time, students can attend Latvian language courses at their university, and more than half of the country's population speaks Russian or at least understands it. The language barrier will not stand in the way of employment and adaptation.
The ability to travel. Riga has the largest airport in the Baltic countries. The convenient location and low-cost flights allow Latvian students to see neighboring countries and not spend a fortune doing so.
Difficulties in finding a job. The Latvian government is very concerned with the unemployment rate among the local population, therefore, when choosing between a Latvian and a foreign candidate, the employer most often prefers the former. Graduates of Latvian universities who are not citizens of the country cannot stay in the country to look for work, even for a short period.
Scholarships. There are very few opportunities for a foreigner to receive financial assistance to pay tuition. In addition, only citizens of a limited number of countries can apply for it.
Guidance in the admission process
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Options and schemes for admission to Latvian universities
Study in English in Latvia
Latvia actively seeks to integrate into the international community and get rid of traces of the Soviet past. This could also be seen in the education system. Earlier, training in many institutions of Latvia was bilingual (teaching was conducted in Latvian and Russian), but after the reforms in 2019, the country began to pay much more attention to education in its native (Latvian) language, as well as attract foreign students from the EU countries with the help of a large the number of English-language programs. For students from abroad, this is a great opportunity to get a world-class diploma at a relatively low price.
Most major universities, such as the University of Latvia and Riga Stradiņš University are targeting their fully English-language programs specifically at international students. The required level of language proficiency is low and starts at IELTS 5.5. Some universities do not even require an applicant to have a language certificate and conduct their own entrance testing. Nevertheless, English-language education is not a guarantee of employment within Latvia: this requires at least basic knowledge of Latvian. That is why foreign students studying in Latvia in English often use it as the transit point before they go to live and work somewhere else, for example, the UK.
If the student plans to study in the Latvian language, most universities require the Valsts valodas prasmes pārbaude exam. You can read more about this test on the website of the State Educational Center of Latvia (Valsts izglītības satura centrs).
Legalization of a diploma in Latvia
Upon admission or employment in Latvia, foreigners may be required to undergo the legalization of educational documents. If your country is a part of the Hague Convention, to legalize a diploma or certificate an apostille must be placed on them.
If the university or the employer asks you to go through the procedure of academic or professional recognition of foreign qualifications in addition to legalization, you should contact the Academic Information Center(Akadēmiskās informācijas centrs).
Academic recognition is required to continue studies in Latvia or to carry out labor activities in a profession not regulated by national legislation. In this case, you will need to provide a document of education and an identity card, as well as pay a fee of 42 USD.
Professional recognition is necessary if a foreigner plans to work in Latvia in a regulated profession. Most often this applies to medical professionals. A complete list of regulated specialties can be found here. The fee is 246 USD.
Application (the form can be downloaded on the website);
Copy of the ID;
Education certificate + transcript with grades;
Documents confirming the right to perform professional activities in the home country (if any);
Documents confirming professional experience (if any);
Certificate of lack of disciplinary write-ups (for medical professionals, veterinarians and architects).
Foundation — Preparatory programs in Latvia
International students can enter Latvian universities immediately after graduating from high school, even if their education was shorter than 12 years of secondary school. Nevertheless, if a foreign applicant wants to improve his knowledge of English and Latvian, as well as specialized mathematical disciplines before starting his studies at the university, some universities offer this opportunity. Such courses, as a rule, last from three months to a year. Prices range from 500 to 3,079 USD per course, depending on the duration and number of academic hours. Teaching is conducted in English, so you will need to provide proof of a minimum level of language proficiency: IELTS 4.5 or TOEFL iBT 56. There are also online training courses, for example, at the Riga Transport and Telecommunication Institute.
Colleges in Latvia are rarely an attractive educational option for international students, as they teach mainly in Latvian: they train specialists for the domestic market. In college, you can get a secondary vocational or applied higher education. Training lasts 2-3 years. The received diploma of higher education will have a lower level than a bachelor's degree at a university or higher school, and a graduate will not be able to immediately continue studying at a master’s without studying for another 1-2 years.
Colleges can exist as independent institutions or be part of larger universities. Training is focused primarily on practical skills. It gives qualifications such as junior medical personnel, firefighter, accountant, mechanic, police officer, preschool teacher, children's trainer, etc. Graduates can quickly find work in Latvia.
Bachelor’s in Latvia
Bachelor’s programs (bakalaurs) in Latvia are divided into standard academic and professional. In general, this division is formal, but there are still differences in the curricula. The duration of the bachelor's studies is 6-8 semesters (3-4 years), depending on the chosen specialty.
The purpose of academic education is to prepare graduates for research, as well as to provide them with a solid theoretical foundation for further professional activities. Examples of academic specialties are: lawyer, teacher, translator.
Academicbachelor’s degree covers 120-160 Latvian credit points1 CP = 1,5 ECTS = 40 academic hours, 45 minutes each or 180-240 ECTS and includes the following:
Compulsory subjects — at least 50 CP (75 ECTS);
Electives — at least 20 CP (30 ECTS);
Thesis — at least 10 CP (15 ECTS);
Optional items make up the remaining CP.
The purpose of professional education is to provide students with in-depth knowledge in a specific field of applied science, to prepare graduates for the creation and improvement of various systems, products, technologies. Examples of specialties would be logistics specialist, engineer, etc.
Professionalbachelor’s programs cover a minimum of 160 CP (240 ECTS) and include the following:
General courses — at least 20 CP (30 ECTS);
Theoretical courses in the selected field — at least 36 CP (54 ECTS);
Specialized courses — at least 6 CP (9 ECTS);
Manufacturing practice — at least 26 CP (39 ECTS);
State exams and thesis — at least 12 CP (18 ECTS).
The process of admission to universities in Latvia is not centralized. Each university determines a list of entrance tests and the necessary documents individually. Below is the standardized list of documents for admission for foreigners to the English-language bachelor’s program.
Application (can be found on the university website);
School certificate with an apostille (if necessary) and translation into English (in some specialties grades in specialized subjects are important);
Online test in specialized disciplines (a requirement for certain specialties of specific universities);
IELTS or TOEFL B1 certificate (the university can conduct its own language exam);
A motivation letter explaining the choice of a study program and describing relevant experience;
Copies of student publications (if any);
Copies of certificates confirming the completion of additional courses or participation in conferences in the chosen specialty (if any);
Copy of ID;
Registration fee ~ 103 USD;
Legalized police certificate no older than 6 months;
Bank statement proving the availability of funds for the whole duration of study, approximately 441 USD/month.
Doctoral studies in Latvia
Doctoral studies are the final, third stage of higher education in Latvia. This degree enhances the competitiveness of graduates in the labor market. In the process of writing a doctoral dissertation, primarily research skills are improved. Holders of PhD may in the future be invited to the position of a teacher at your university or other universities. Doctoral students usually spend 3 years training. An average number of credits: 120 CP (180 ECTS). The program may include:
Research activities (work on a dissertation);
Compulsory subjects related to the methodology of scientific work, quantitative and qualitative research;
Documents for admission:
Master's degree in related specialty with an apostille (if necessary);
When searching for positions in the academic field in Latvia, one may come across the designations R1-R4, which are used in other EU countries as well. They reflect the career stages of researchers. This classification applies to scientists from both private and public educational institutions. Each career level has certain characteristics. You can read more about the rights and obligations of a representative of each step here.
R1 — First Stage Researcher (before obtaining a PhD) — specialists conducting research under the supervision in industry, research institutes, or universities.
R2 — Recognized Researcher — holders of a doctorate or equivalent degrees who are not yet fully independent due to their little experience and set of competencies.
R3 — Established Researcher — researchers who have reached an independent level.
R4 — Leading Researcher — scientists conducting their own research. This includes the leaders of research groups or industry laboratories, development teams.
Salaries in academic positions start from 462 USD/month and can reach up to 3,592 USD/month for leading high-class researchers. The average salary in the field of education is very low for the EU — 975 USD/month.
Scholarships and grants
Latvian universities have few state-funded places, and only citizens of the country can apply for them. The cost of education for third-country nationals is much higher than for immigrants from the EU and EEA. Doctoral programs may have a cost that is three times higher. Universities often offer students discounts for excellent studies (up to 20%) and the possibility of paying by installments. You can also apply for funding for your research projects.
The most prestigious (and actually the only) scholarship for which foreign students in Latvia are fighting is the Latvian State Scholarship from the State Agency for Educational Development (Valsts izglītības attīstības aģentūra). Citizens of 25 countries that have signed an agreement with Latvia on cooperation in education and science can apply for it. The list of countries can be found on the site.
Student visa to Latvia
EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens do not need any visa to stay and study in Latvian register institutions. However, if the duration of an academic program exceeds 1 year, they are supposed to apply for a residence permit within 3 months upon arrival. Check the details here.
Non-EU citizens may be required to obtain a long-term national category D visa at the visa center depending on the country (countries are subdivided into visa and non-visa ones). The average consular fee is 62 USD, and the application takes 2-4 weeks, but these figures may vary depending on the place of application.
Completed and signed application form in English or Latvian (the template can be found here);
Passport and copies of its pages;
2 photos 3,5x4,5 cm (on a white or light gray background);
Health insurance (coverage should cover at least 43,720 USD, the territory of the policy — the Schengen countries);
Copy of the pages of the internal passport on which there are any marks;
An invitation letter from the host university;
Document confirming accommodation in Latvia;
Certificate of admission to a university in Latvia;
Certificate of income/certificate of scholarships/bank statement with an amount of at least 3,505 USD;
A fee of 62 USD;
Notarized consent of both parents or legal guardians (for minors).
A student visa is valid for 90 days from the moment of entry to Latvia. However, no matter if you are a national of a visa or non-visa country, in case the period of your stay in Latvia is more than 90 days, you must obtain a temporary residence permit (TRP). You can apply for TRP both upon arrival in Latvia through the Citizenship and Migration Affairs Office (Pilsonības un migrācijas lietu pārvalde — PMLP), and at the Latvian Embassy in your country of residence. If the student submits documents through PMLP, this should be done no later than 30 days after entering the country, since the examination of the application may also take up to 30 days. The list of required documents is the same in both cases.
Application form for a residence permit (template can be found here);
One photo 3.5x4.5 cm (colored on a white background) ;
Confirmation of admission to a university in Latvia;
Passport, copies of information, and previously issued visas pages. The passport must be valid for at least 3 months after the expected end of the TRP;
Bank statement (minimum 4,721 USD);
Confirmation of accommodation in Latvia (for example, a rental agreement);
Legalizedif necessary documents of previous education (certificate and/or diploma);
Police certificate issued in the home country;
Health insurance (coverage of at least 43,720 USD, the territory of the policy — the Schengen countries);
The fee payment (10 USD).
TRP is valid for 1 year, then it must be renewed. It is necessary to apply to the PMLP for a new TRP no later than 3 months before the expiration of the document. If the application is submitted later than 45 days before the TRP expiration date, the student is required to pay a fine of 292 USD.
Opportunity to work while studying in Latvia
Foreign students in Latvia with a student visa (and then TRP) can be employed part-time (20 hours a week), provided that the part-time job does not overlap with the time of study at the university. During holidays and study breaks, students have the right to work a full day (40 hours a week). In the presence of TRP,additional documents for a work permit in Latvia are not required for foreign students.
Most often, students without a good knowledge of Latvian can only get low-skill jobs. Salaries in this position are only enough to cover pocket expenses even with the low cost of living. For example, working as a waiter half-time will bring 205-257 USD / month. Nevertheless, large universities are sure to send their students for internships, which is a good chance to get an invitation to work after graduation.
Opportunity to stay and immigration to Latvia
If a foreign student of a Latvian university is not an EU or EEA citizen, after graduation he does not have free access to the labor market in Latvia: he cannot stay in the country with the goal of finding work. Staying in Latvia after graduation is only possible with an invitation from an employer before completing education. But getting the contract is also not easy: the Latvian government is preoccupied with the issue of unemployment in the country, therefore, local residents have an advantage over foreigners when they apply for the same vacancy. The employer is obliged to place a vacancy in the database of the State Employment Agency (Nodarbinātības valsts aģentūrā) and can hire a foreigner from a non-EU country only if no responses from citizens of Latvia, EU or EEA are received within 30 days.
Nevertheless, if a foreign student manages to get a job, after 5 years of living in Latvia (including the time of the study), he has the right to change his temporaryresidence permit to a permanent residency. And after 10 years in the country, a person can apply for Latvian citizenship. However, it should be borne in mind that Latvia does not recognize dual citizenship and you will have to refuse a native passport in this case.
Prospects and employment opportunities
In Latvia. The number of young Latvians wishing to graduate in their native country has declined by more than 30% over the past 10 years. Applicants choose more developed countries for study and work: for example, Germany or Great Britain. Because of this, employers give preference to locals in the hiring process, and not to foreigners. Finding a job in Latvia can be quite difficult. At the time of 2018, foreigners made up only 1% of the country's workforce.
In Europe. Graduates of English-language programs of Latvian universities have every chance to get a job in the EU countries. The diploma is accepted as the diplomas of other European states. In the QS rating, 3 Latvian universities are in the top 200 in the world in terms of the percentage of graduate employment.
In Russia and the CIS countries, a Latvian diploma coupled with the knowledge of the English language is regarded higher than the local one. A graduate will easily find a well-paid job there.
Academic career. Statistics show that academic positions in Latvian universities are not attractive to foreigners. Even at the University of Latvia with a large number of English-language programs, the share of foreign lecturers does not exceed 10%. In other universities, this is even 2-3%. Perhaps the reason is the low salaries relative to other European countries, as well as the compulsory knowledge of the unpopular Latvian language.