One of three Baltic states, Latvia lies on the Baltic Sea and is bordered by Estonia, Russia, Belarus and Lithuania. Formerly under the control of the old U.S.S.R., Latvia gained its independence as recently as 1991 and joined the United Nations shortly afterwards. Membership of the UN was soon followed by the country’s enrolment in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) and full membership in the European Union in 2004 and Latvia also became a Schengen Member state in 2007.
Covering an area of just under 65,000 square kilometres, Latvia is not a large country but still attracts a sizeable number of tourists every year. The capital city, Riga, is particularly favoured by visitors and has achieved UNESCO World Heritage Site status mainly thanks to the beautiful and fascinating Old Town area.
Is a Schengen Visa Necessary?
Situated in the north-eastern part of Europe, Latvia is easily accessible for most Europeans. Visitors with passports from a European Union or Schengen Member state only require a valid passport to enter the country. The same is true for citizens of the United Kingdom although this situation may change in the near future as Europe gets set to roll out its ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) in 2024.
Apart from EU and Schengen area passport holders who do not require a visa, the European Union also operates a visa-waiver programme for a number of the world’s major countries whose citizens can also avail of visa-free travel to and within Latvia.
All other visitors are termed “world travellers” and this group of people must be in possession of the correct form of Schengen Visa in order to enter Latvia or even pass through Latvian territory.
The Correct Schengen Visa
Every Schengen member state issues different types of visas and which one is applied for will depend upon the primary reason for visiting the country. This could be for business or pleasure, medical or educational reasons or to simply use an airport or seaport and it is important to ensure that the form of visa applied for is the one that most closely matches the reason for the visit.
There are a number of visa types issued by the Latvian authorities and the most commonly applied for and issued are:
Airport Transit Visa
World travellers wishing to transit through a Latvian airport en route to another destination will require a valid Airport Transit Visa. It may also be necessary to possess a valid visa for the next Schengen country being visited and to produce the appropriate airline ticket.
A Transit Visa pertains to seaports rather than airports but the rules are basically the same as for the Airport Transit Visa. The holder must also possess a Schengen Visa for the next destination (if applicable) and travel bookings for the next leg of the trip. Registered seamen will also need to produce a Seaman’s Book and letter of employment from the shipping company.
The bulk of applications processed every year are for a standard Tourist Visa. This is the form of visa required by tourists wishing to visit Latvia for a short period of time. A Tourist Visa is required if Latvia is the country in which most time will be spent even if Latvia is only one of a number of Schengen countries being visited.
Similar to a Tourist Visa, a Visitor Visa is issued to world travellers wishing to visit friends or family members residing in Latvia. As well as the usual documentation that accompanies every visa application, an applicant must also submit a letter of invitation from the Latvian hosts.
Specifically for the use of businesspeople, a Business Visa permits the holder to attend meetings, conferences and other business-related events in Latvia. Applicants must supply a letter of invitation from the Latvian business or organisers sponsoring such an event and a letter from an employer stating the dates and location of any event being attended as well as details of how all expenses involved will be paid.
If a world traveller requires a medical procedure, surgery or treatment in Latvia it is necessary to possess a Medical Visa. In order to acquire this form of visa an applicant must provide:
- A medical report from the applicant’s doctor, hospital or clinic
- Confirmation from the Latvian medical institute where treatment will be carried out
- Proof of payment, or agreed payment plan, to cover treatment
- Copies of any correspondence between the two medical authorities concerned
Official Visit Visa
Members of official delegations from governments or institutions must possess an Official Visit Visa. Applications for this form of visa must be accompanied by a copy of the official invitation and a detailed account of the reason behind the visit as well as plans for accommodation and relevant dates.
Students wishing to attend short courses of less than three months should possess a Study Visa. A letter confirming the course and dates as well as a letter from the educational establishment stating the student will return home on completion of the course will be required as part of the application process.
A Student Visa is only suitable for short courses and not for a long period of study at a university or college. A special form of long-stay Study Visa is required for this purpose.
Regardless of which type of Schengen Visa is being sought there are a number of documents that will be necessary in every case. A Tourist Visa, being the most common, is probably a good example of which documents an applicant will require as these are fairly standard. Common requirements for any form of Schengen Visa are:
- Current, valid passport*
- Letter explaining the main reason(s) for visiting the country
- Day to day planned travel itinerary including dates of arrival and departure
- Copies of any booked accommodation
- Proof of adequate funding for the duration of the stay
- Copies of airline, ferry or coach tickets (as applicable)
- Proof of sufficient health insurance coverage
*Note that passports must be valid for at least three months after the last scheduled date of the visit and contain two blank pages to accommodate the visa.
These are the very basic requirements for a Tourist Visa but the application process can become very complicated in some cases. Depending on a traveller’s particular situation, and the type of visa being sought, there can be an array of further documentation required including birth and marriage certificates, employer’s letters, proof of vacation being taken and much more.
There are no hard and fast rules as each applicant’s case is different and different people may be asked to provide different documents. It is important to read the application form thoroughly and ensure that all documentation requested has been provided.
An incorrectly completed Schengen Visa application or failure to provide the documents requested will inevitably lead to delays in the application process or even a rejection which is not the desired outcome.