Estonia is a small nation, covering an area of 45,228 square kilometers, and with a population of just 1.3 million - half a million of which live in the capital city, Tallinn. The official language is Estonian, which is closely related to Finnish, but English, Russian, and German are fairly widely spoken, particularly in the areas visited by tourists. The cost of groceries can be more expensive than in larger countries, but housing costs tend to be cheaper.
Children start school at the age of seven in Estonia and must stay in full-time education for nine years. Some children attend pre-school, but it is not compulsory, and many children stay at home until they are seven years old. At secondary level, education is divided into academic and professional or vocational learning. There are over 30 higher education establishments in Estonia, including the prestigious University of Tartu, the oldest university in Estonia, which was established in 1632. Universities in Estonia have conducted world-class research in several fields, including pharmacology, biomedicine and environmental sciences.
Some schools in Estonia are Russian-speaking, with all lessons taught in Russian. This type of education is available in both the state and private sectors and from pre-school through to secondary level. Currently around 20% of school children attend Russian-language schools. However, the Estonian government has recently been promoting the conversion of Russian-language secondary schools into Estonian-language schools, with the aim of ensuring that students are best prepared for working life and are well integrated into society.
For expatriates living in Estonia only for a short term, international schools might be of more interest for their kids. The cities of Tallinn and Tartu both have international schools and a European school was established in Tallinn in 2013, with English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Italian, and Spanish all being used in the teaching of other subjects. Fees are payable for all of these schools.
There are several options for getting about in Estonia. Although it is not a large country, there are domestic flights between several of Estonia’s cities, with frequent passenger services to Tallinn, Tartu, Parnu, Kuressaare, and Kardla. There is also a good rail network connecting major towns and cities, such as Viljandi and Narva. Trains have spacious seating and free Wi-Fi is often available. Ferries provide transport to the country’s larger islands.
Estonia has a good bus service between and within its major cities. In Tallinn, all residents can travel free of charge on the city’s buses and trams with the public transport card. Students and people aged over 65 also qualify for free bus travel in Tallinn. Public transport is generally inexpensive.
Many foreigners are allowed to drive in Estonia using their own national driving license, but if in doubt, you should check whether you also require an international driving permit. The minimum age for driving in Estonia is 18 years. With less traffic than many other countries, it is rare to encounter congestion, and rush hour is barely noticeable. Motorists are required to have headlights on at all times. Seatbelts must be worn by the driver and passengers. Roads are well maintained and signs well lit in urban areas, but this is not always the case in rural parts, so finding your way in an unfamiliar area can be more difficult in the dark.
Pedestrians are required to wear reflective patches on their coats or attached to a bag. This is for their own safety, to allow them to be more easily seen by motorists during the long and dark winter days. This is particularly important in unlit rural areas, and failure to wear them can result in a fine.
Unlike some other former Soviet countries, Estonia enjoys political stability. Its government is democratically elected using a system of proportional representation. Estonia’s membership of NATO contributes to the security of the country. Public demonstrations are infrequent and normally peaceful.
Crime rates are generally low in Estonia. However, in places popular with tourists, for example, the Old Town in Tallinn, expatriates should always be vigilant as pickpockets are known to operate in these areas. It is important to be careful with valuables you are carrying and always lock your car before leaving it unattended.