Most people who live here are citizens, who of course require no additional right to live in Latvia. 'Non-citizens' are also a large group of people that can live here legally but don't have certain rights -- crucially, the right to vote. The number of non-citizens in Latvia was 247,104 in July 2016, or about 12% of the population.
Provided you're not a citizen or non-citizen, you have to have a residency permit in order to stay in Latvia longer than 90 days within a six month period.
How to obtain Latvian residency?
There are several ways people can become legal residents of Latvia, including by way of marriage with a citizen, by finding work here, joining a monastery, or investing in the Latvian economy.
The legal side of things must be handled through Latvia's Citizenship and Migration Office (PMLP), which offers a handy guide about residency permits in Latvia.
According to PMLP, in 2016, there were 38,193 people staying in Latvia on a short-term residency permit and a further 52,186 staying on a permanent residency permit.
Third-country nationals often obtain temporary residency permits by way of investment. In 2014, a total of 5,603 people obtained a permit by investing into companies, property, or making a substantial bank deposit. The figure dropped to 1,355 in 2015 and just 609 in 2016 as the state introduced tighter vetting and higher investment requirements.
How to become a Latvian citizen?
People who have lived in Latvia for five years on a permanent residency card can become citizens (naturalize) and thus fully participate in public life. Note that if someone has lived in Latvia for five years on a temporary residency card, they would then need to do an additional five years on a permanent card before being eligible to apply for citizenship.
The potential citizens must be at least 15 years old, speak Latvian and know some basic cultural facts, like the words to the national anthem and the country's history, in addition to having a legal source of income.
From February 1995 to January 2017, a total 144,515 people have become Latvian citizens by way of naturalization.
The PMLP website says that, for most people, becoming citizens takes less than a year. The language exam tests mostly for fluency. People taking the exam can make some mistakes in writing and in speech, but they should be able to understand others and make themselves understood in Latvian.
As a couple of our colleagues are describing how they're becoming Latvian citizens (although they applied as non-citizens rather than citizens of another country, their case isn't much different, with the caveat that Ksenija doesn't have to take the language test), please refer to their experience for more details.
- How long does it take to become a Latvian citizen?
As stated above, it takes most people less than a year.
- How long does it take to get a residence card for an EU national?
EU citizens will get a reply over their card being granted (or not) ten days after they've submitted the required documents.
- What are the most common mistakes when becoming a citizen?
a) The name and surname of the applicant is incorrectly transcribed into Latvian (the Latvian language, unlike English, depicts foreign names based not on writing but on sound);
b) The applicants submit documents that have not been certified;
c) Applicants submit foreign documents that aren't certified according to the law;
d) The applicants don't submit all the required paperwork.
For all additional details concerning residency and citizenship, contact the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affiars.