International Youth Association EstYES is a non-profit, non-political, non-governmental organisation. It was established in 1991 with the purpose of promoting youth and cultural exchanges for learning and better mutual understanding. EstYES was a pioneer organisation in the field of international youth voluntary service in Estonia.
Welcome to Estonia!
Volunteering in a foreign country is exciting, yet it can be challenging when simple everyday things are stressing you out. But don’t worry because we’ve got you covered. We’ve gathered the most useful tips to help you feel settled and ready to start a new and exciting chapter of your life.
This is your guide to everyday life in Estonia
Here are some facts you need to know first:
- Local currency: euro;
- Emergency number: 112;
- Electricity: 220 V;
- Language: the official language is Estonian. However, Russian and English are also widely spoken;
- Ethnic groups: Estonians (majority), Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Finns, and others;
- Safety: the law requires pedestrians to wear a reflector in dark conditions to avoid accidents on high traffic roads. You can purchase one for a few euros in any supermarket or souvenir shop;
- Weather: Estonia offers all four seasons. In summer, the temperature varies between 16 and 20 degrees Celsius, but can reach up to 30 degrees as well. Spring and Autumn are normally humid and rainy. In winter, the temperature drops below zero. The times of sunrise and sunset in Estonia are significantly influenced by the country’s very northern position in the hemisphere. Relatively high in the north the days in summer are long and short in winter. The longest and darkest nights are in winter (in December a night in Tallinn lasts almost 18 hours);
- Other: tap water is safe to drink all across the country;
- Population density: Estonia is reasonably populated and does not exactly suffer from overcrowding issues;
- Religion: Estonia is one of the least religious countries in the world.
It doesn’t really matter which part of the country you’re visiting, there will always be something to amaze you. While Tallinn is a beautiful city, there’s so much more to Estonia than Tallinn alone―Pärnu with its beautiful beaches; Tartu with its cosy atmosphere, brilliant architecture, hills, and lakes; Haapsalu with its old town and gorgeous castle; Viljandi with its medieval vibe and breathtaking lake. And the list goes on!
Now let’s talk about everyday life:
Ways to get around
There is a wide variety of local transport options available in Estonia. So getting around is pretty easy since there are a lot of direct routes to key destinations.
- Let’s start with public transport within Tallinn. Routes and schedules are available at transport.tallinn.ee. We recommend getting a prepaid Smartcard (Ühiskaart) that can be purchased at a number of supermarkets, r-kiosks and post offices. You can reload it online at pilet.ee and use any time you travel by bus/tram/trolleybus within the city. Tartu has a similar system.
- Now about the buses that will take you to most places in the country. The Tallinn Bus Station (Autobussijaam) is Estonia’s main hub for bus travel. All schedules and ticket prices are available at bussijaam.ee and tpilet.ee.
- Next, the train. The Baltic Station (Balti jaam) in Tallinn is Estonia’s main train station. Visit elron.ee for schedules and tickets. Note: Always bring cash with you when traveling by train; they don’t accept card payments.
- Next up is ferry. There are regular ferry trips to/from Estonia’s biggest islands (Saaremaa, Hiiumaa, and Muhu.) Visit praamid.ee for schedules and tickets.
- Taxi. The easiest and cheapest way to get verified private drivers is to download the Bolt mobile app and link your credit card. The price can vary.
Note: most buses and trains have free Wi-Fi
Grocery stores and restaurants
The most popular supermarket chains are Selver, Rimi, Comarket, Prisma, Maxima, and Coop.
- Some stores like Prisma might have a system where you’ll need a 1-euro coin or a little token to release a cart from the chain of locked carts. You get your coin or token back when you return the cart but you’ll need a coin to unlock it in the first place.
- At some stores you have to weigh the product of your choice and print the little price sticker to slap on the bag before you get to the register. That mostly goes to veggies, fruits, baked goods. Not all stores are this way so just keep your eyes open and see what shoppers around you are doing. If there are electronic scales, weigh your produce and print a sticker in the produce section, it’s not optional! Do it!
- The stores are not 24/7. The 24-hour, seven-days-a-week shopping culture hasn’t arrived to Estonia. All supermarkets are open Monday to Sunday. So get familiar with your local shops’ hours.
- Also, there’s an option of ordering grocery delivery through FreshGo. They deliver food and other goods from different supermarkets, farmers’ markets and other suppliers such as pet shops. Registering is easy and they also offer to take away your empty bottles.
- While there are a lot of products that have English names on them, make sure to have a translation app (or a local buddy) to help you out! Sometimes even choosing between shampoo and conditioner can be difficult if you don’t know the language.
Estonian cuisine has been heavily influenced by Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and Russia. The food here is simple, seasonal and made with locally sourced ingredients. And that means you’re sure to find something to your taste!
During lunch time many cafes and restaurants offer daily lunch specials (päevapakkumine/päevapraad) for a very small price of around 3-6 EUR. Different meals are served every day, Monday to Friday at a certain time of the day. Make sure to check the time of lunch. Restaurants normally announce these menus on their websites or Facebook pages. Booking ahead is always a smart move.
Many restaurants serve breakfast and brunch is a thing at a growing number of restaurants. Lunch is an important part of the day and people enjoy eating together, although packing a lunch for the office is also popular. Dinner is usually eaten relatively early (at 18:00-19:00). Many restaurants accept walk-ins, but keep in mind the season and time of day (summer evenings can be quite busy).
Vegetarians & Vegans
Some restaurants in Tallinn will offer at least several options of vegetarian and vegan food. It’s easy to self-cater at markets, or take the salad/vegetable option at lunch buffets (which is usually cheaper). Many restaurants also have a salad buffet. You can check out vegan/vegetarian restaurants nearby by downloading the Wolt mobile app.
If you want to eat late, keep in mind that kitchens close about an hour or so before official closing time. Service culture in Estonia is still developing, so expect varying levels of service, from the indifferent to the exuberant. Tipping is appreciated, but not considered an absolute necessity by most people. 10% is the norm, 20% if you’re really impressed.
Shopping and online shopping
Shopping in Estonia revolves around big shopping centers, which have everything from clothing stores and restaurants to all the places of entertainment in one place. Remember the names of Kaubamaja, Viru Keskus, Solaris, Stockmann, Kristiine, Ülemiste, and Rocca al Mare, the most popular malls that should cover most of your needs. Narva, Tartu, and Rakvere are also home to large shopping centres that attract people from nearby areas. These centers are open seven days a week. Clothing stores are typically open from 9:00 to 21:00 (a couple of hours longer for supermarkets).
- Most malls have free parking, wifi, ATMs, a currency exchange or bank, a pharmacy;
- Major cards are accepted, and American Express can be used in banks and larger supermarkets, but not in smaller shops;
- Opening hours of small village shops can vary greatly, and some may not be open year-round. The selection can be limited, so when travelling to more remote corners of the country, stock up on any specialised items.
- Market stalls, where you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and dairy products, handicrafts and household necessities, may accept cash only.
- WC usually costs 20 cents;
- All plastic and paper bags cost money.
- Big bookshops (Rahva Raamat and Apollo) have reasonably-sized foreign-language sections.
Online shopping is becoming a thing but it’s still less popular in Estonia than in the rest of Europe on average. If you’re used to ordering from Amazon, expect longer delivery times. Your local options are hansapost.ee, kaup24.ee, and 1a.ee.
Post offices are open on weekdays and some on Saturdays. Find information and opening hours on the website of Omniva, the national postal service provider. Mailboxes in Estonia are orange. You can find them outside all post offices, in shopping centres, and at most gas stations.
If you’d like to check out local news in English, visit news.err.ee, news.postimees.ee, estonianworld.com. Most content on local TV is in Estonian, but on the bright side, most foreign-language content (and at the cinema) is subtitled, not dubbed. International channels are available too, of course. Printed media is predominantly in Estonian/ Russian, but malls and kiosks usually carry a selection of international magazines, too.