One of the Baltic countries that declared their independence in 1918, Estonia became a republic and remained so until June 1940 when it was taken over by the Soviet Union. It regained its independence in 1991. During the years when it was occupied, there were significant changes to the demographics of Estonia, with thousands of Estonians deported to Siberia or killed, and thousands of Soviets from former Russian territory being sent to live in Estonia. In 1934, 98.8% of the country’s population were Estonian citizens. This fell to 68% in 1992, but by 2015 had risen again to over 84%. The non-Estonian population consists primarily of people from Russia, Ukraine, Finland, Latvia, and Germany. Today, the government actively encourages its non-citizen residents to seek naturalized citizenship. Unusually, all residents, even non-citizens, have the right to vote in the elections for local government.
Expats relocating to Estonia can also look forward to discovering some of the hundreds of islands belong to Estonia. Most of them are small, with the largest being Saaremaa, Hiiumaa, and Muhu. The country also has hundreds of lakes, including Lake Peipsi and Lake Vortsjarv. The capital is a charming city, and the Old Town area is particularly attractive with its medieval buildings. Nature enthusiasts will love the opportunity to explore the peaceful countryside, where crowds are never a problem.
Estonia’s temperatures typically range from -2°C to 20°C, although they can drop as low as -20°C in a harsh winter and reach as high as 30°C in a hot summer. At their longest, days last for over 18 hours, and at their shortest, they last for just six hours.
Estonia has a low level of rainfall, but the majority comes during summer and autumn. It is sometimes perceived to be a wet country, not because of the volume of rain, but because it rains little and often. When flooding occurs, it is in springtime and is caused by snow melting rather than rainfall. Snowfall usually begins in December and continues through to at least February.
Skiing and snowboarding are popular sports in Estonia. Cross country skiing is more common than downhill as Estonia is a relatively flat country, but where there are slopes, the facilities for downhill skiing are very good. Winter temperatures are low enough for lakes to freeze over, and many people use this chance to go ice skating.
Tallinn’s Lennart Meri Airport is Estonia’s largest airport, named to commemorate the former president who strove to restore independence to the country. Also known as Ulemiste Airport, it has flights arriving regularly from many cities in Europe and is the entry point of many an expat moving to Estonia.
Estonia shares borders with Russia and Latvia and there are frequent train services from Estonia to these neighboring countries. Tallinn is 350 km from St Petersburg and 310 km from Riga. Passengers traveling to Moscow can also choose to use the sleeper service. A 3.5 hour ferry ride across the Gulf of Finland takes you from Tallinn to Helsinki. However, during the winter months, the Gulf often freezes, causing disruption to ferry services.