Famous for its lush landscapes and medieval architecture, Estonia is the centre of old-world Northern Europe. While most expats moving to Estonia may feel it is not the most typical of expat destinations, the country has much to offer those who choose to explore it. Though small, an expat community does exist in Estonia, mostly in the capital city, Tallinn, and the university city of Tartu.
Living in Estonia as an expat
Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia’s economy has developed rapidly. The country now boasts booming timber and shipping industries, and Tallinn is quickly becoming a commercial hub. Estonia is also beginning to receive more interest from foreigners looking to invest in property.
Expats looking to work in Estonia will find opportunities in the ICT, healthcare, education, tourism and engineering sectors. The Estonian government also encourages entrepreneurship, and makes it simple for both locals and expats to open their businesses in the country.
Finding accommodation in Estonia's large cities such as Tallinn and Tartu will not be challenging, but the rental market has seen an uptick in demand, meaning expats will have to act fast once they find something they like. Most expats are better off renting an apartment in a newly constructed building, as these are likely to be furnished with the modern conveniences they may be used to.
While Estonian is the official language, Russian is also widely spoken throughout the country. Estonians also tend to speak good English, so expats shouldn’t have too much difficulty communicating. It is worth learning a few key Estonian phrases to help break the ice with the locals, though.
Cost of living in Estonia
The cost of living in Estonia is quite low, especially when it comes to accommodation, transport and food. Expats living in Tallinn or other Estonian cities will find that public transport is efficient and economical, leading to little need for a car.
Reflecting this affordability, Mercer's 2023 Cost of Living Survey ranks Tallinn as the 100th most expensive city out of 227 cities surveyed globally. Although this places it in the middle of the pack overall, it's far cheaper than most Western European cities, including neighbouring Helsinki, which is ranked at 34.
Families and children in Estonia
Families living in Estonia are spoilt for choice when it comes to outdoor activities. Recommended pastimes in summer include picnicking, hiking, cycling and sailing, while winter is a great time to go sledding or skiing. This Baltic country also has a wealth of historical heritage that can be explored by those who enjoy cultural pastimes. Estonia boasts a significant number of medieval churches, castles and palaces for history buffs to explore.
There are a number of good international schools in Estonia, particularly in Tallinn. Most expats prefer these over local public schools due to the language barrier.
Expats moving to Estonia should ensure that they have adequate health insurance. While the standards of healthcare in Estonia are improving, the facilities usually fall short of the standards expected in Western Europe or North America.
Climate in Estonia
The climate in Estonia boasts four distinct seasons. Summers are mild and moderately rainy, but winters can be freezing. From November to March, snowfall is common. May through November is the most pleasant time of year.
Though Estonia is not yet a popular expat destination, foreigners have begun to see the potential of this Baltic state on the brink of expansion and development. Those adventurous enough to move to Estonia and give expat life in the country a chance will be rewarded with a low cost of living and good entrepreneurial opportunities, as well as a host of sporting and cultural activities.
Population: Over 1.3 million
Capital city: Tallinn
Neighbouring countries: Estonia is bordered by Latvia to the south and Russia to the east.
Geography: Nearly half of Estonia’s flat landscape is covered in forest. The rest is farming land, meadows and grazing plains, with more than 1,400 lakes scattered across the country. In addition, there are two main islands in the Baltic Sea, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, which are favourite holiday spots among locals.
Political system: Unitary parliamentary republic
Major religions: Christianity
Main languages: Estonian
Money: Estonia uses the Euro (EUR), which is divided into 100 cents.
Tipping: Tipping is accepted, but not expected. A 10-percent tip on a restaurant bill is polite but not required, and excellent service can be rewarded at the client’s discretion. Taxi drivers do not expect tips, but rounding up the fare to the nearest euro is accepted practice.
Time: GMT+2. Between March and October, the time zone changes to GMT+3.
Electricity: 230V, 50Hz. European-style two-pin plugs are used.
Internet domain: .ee
International dialling code: +372
Emergency contacts: 112
Transport and driving: Vehicles in Estonia drive on the right-hand side of the road. The country boasts an impressive and extensive public transport system, with buses operating within and between all major urban centres.
► Making the move? See Public Holidays in Estonia to plan your first holiday
What do expats love about living in Estonia?
"Tallinn is a small city and I quite like that everything is close by. Also, the old town looks like a fairytale! I simply love it." Learn more about the nuances of expat life in Estonia in Alina's interview.
Are you an expat living in Estonia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Estonia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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