Tuesday, June 5, 2007

What About Money?

Although Latvia is now a member of the European Union, it has not yet met the convergence criteria necessary to convert to euros. The national currency is the lat (LVL 1 = 100 santims). In 2005, the peg rate of lat to euro was set at 1 EUR = 0.702804 LVL (and it remains close at 0.69435 with an economy described as “overheated.”) GDP growth last year was 11.6%. Inflation this spring has been at 6%, and fear exists that the currency may have to be devalued. To check exchange rates for the lat online, go to http://www.oanda.com/convert/classic.

As of June 1, the exchange rate to our currencies is as follows: 1 LVL = $1.93851 USD; 1 LVL = $2.05354 CAD; and 1 LVL = 0.97623 GBP. So an easy way to remember (at least for me) is that the lat is worth nearly twice as much as a US or Canadian dollar and is almost the same as a pound. But for the Norwegians among us (with their powerful kroner), 1 LVL = 11.66675 NOK (1 NOK = 0.08571 LVL).

BTW, although Sweden has joined the EU, it was not converted to euros. Therefore in Stockholm, we’ll have to convert to kronas (currently 1 USD = 6.91200 SEK.

Back to Latvian currency: with 100 santims to 1 lat, the coins are 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 santims, and 1 and 2 lats. Bank notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 500 lats.

To convert currency, look for booths marked “Valūtas maiņa,” but always check the posted buying and selling rates before exchanging. I noticed one booth is at the airport between the arrival gate and customs. Our hotel, most restaurants, and shops generally accept Visa and MasterCards. There are many ATM machines (called “Automats” by the Latvians) throughout the city including 4 at the airport and 1 in the lobby of our hotel (across from the reception desk, below the circular staircase to the Conference Center). As Arnhild mentioned, ATMs are the most convenient way to change money and give the best rates. Traveler’s checks can be cashed at many banks.


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