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Tartu, Estonia

Pros and Cons of Living in Tartu

By Betsy Burlingame

Last updated on Feb 25, 2023

Summary: The pros of living in Tartu, Estonia include its vibrant culture, excellent educational opportunities, and its close proximity to nature. Tartu is a university town, so there are plenty of cultural activities and events to enjoy. The city also has a great selection of universities and other educational institutions, making it an ideal place to study. Additionally, Tartu is surrounded by forests and lakes, making it a great place to explore the outdoors. The cons of living in Tartu include its cold climate, the lack of job opportunities, and the language barrier. The winters in Tartu can be quite harsh, and the summers are short. Additionally, the job market in Tartu is quite limited, so finding employment can be difficult. Finally, the majority of the population speaks Estonian, so those who don't speak the language may find it difficult to communicate.

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What are the pros and cons of living in Tartu?

Expats, digital nomads and retirees living in Tartu responded:

"Expats and digital nomads living in Tartu appreciate the city's vibrant culture, with its many festivals, events, and activities. They also enjoy the city's low cost of living, which allows them to stretch their budget further. Additionally, the city's excellent public transportation system makes it easy to get around. On the downside, some expats and digital nomads find the language barrier to be a challenge, as English is not widely spoken in Tartu. Additionally, the city's cold winters can be a bit of a shock for those coming from warmer climates," explained one expat living in Tartu.

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What do expats in Tartu appreciate most about the local culture?

"Expatriates in Tartu appreciate the city's vibrant cultural scene, which includes a wide variety of festivals, concerts, and other events. They also enjoy the city's rich history, which is evident in its many museums, galleries, and monuments. Expats also appreciate the friendly and welcoming nature of the locals, who are always willing to help out newcomers. Additionally, Tartu's natural beauty, with its forests, rivers, and lakes, is a major draw for expats. Finally, the city's low cost of living and high quality of life make it an attractive destination for expats," remarked one expat in Tartu.

"The education of people here. Bonfires. Jaanipäev. Birthdays. Jõul. The healthy food and healthy lifestyle. Healthy food is more affordable than unhealthy food and at gatherings I don't have to worry about unhealthy things being served. It's almost always high quality and healthy. It's also easy to walk or ride your bike everywhere. The appreciation for nature - both being in nature and also how green the cities are and how green the lifestyle is here. I'm still thankful over how easy it is to recycle and that I don't have to drive a car. I also don't produce as much waste here. The air quality is great too. There's free buses in some cities. The train is clean and a joy to take. The sincerity and honesty. People mind their own business out of respect. There's no small talk with strangers. I don't have a lot acquaintances or any fair weather friends. Even friends and family here respect my privacy and I do the same. I like what "respect" is here and what's considered manners. There's not as much classism. People don't ask where I work unless it's for a reason. My value isn't on how much money I make. In fact, it's not a flashy culture. That might actually be a little taboo. What is considered success is not the same as in the states and I like that. People don't flash being happy either and when it is there, it is genuine. It's not a competition. I see happiness now as a reserved sacred thing. It's a valuable treasure that I share with loved ones not strangers. I'm somewhat joking but somewhat not. Kohuke and kohupiim The humour. Lots of sarcasm and dry. It can be dark at times or just plain ridiculous. The movie Vanamehe Film is funny. I joke around with a straight face now sometimes. Family oriented and friends for life. It's one of the cliches here. I don't know how much of this is true but for me it is. The friends I have here mean the world to me and it is for life. The work and leisure balance. I know I am saying a lot of cliches here but these things are what I appreciate. I like living within the EU. I can travel easily and traveling is more a part of the culture here. I also like all the perks that most hear about in the states like vacation time and affordable medical. SPRING!!! Electric scouters Cafe culture The quiet break during the first part of winter, after an exciting summer. After this short break, it's time for saunas and the national winter sport of complaining. Complaining about how cold it is in the winter but really it isn't that cold, I'm just complaining because it's dark. Everything is miserable and all hope is lost..... or at least everyone acts like it during winter. It's a fun national winter sport that I like to take part in. It's not a religious nation and if others are it's kept private and seen as a personal thing. It's other's business not mine. I feel a type of contentedness and security that I never did in the states. I don't know what exactly it is about the culture here but I feel a type of safeness and comfy feeling that I don't really have a word for. It solidifies more and more as time goes on. I now experience culture shock when I go to the states which I hardly ever go anymore. How adaptable everyone is. Humble and adaptable. Also how quickly things progress here. Things change quick. There's always a new building being erected or fresh paint being put on somewhere. Even more rural places have made so much progress since I've been here yet people are still humble. Estonia is developing so rapidly that there is something new every year. The people are just as adaptable and they are the reason why things have progressed so wonderfully. Go Estonia!!!! It's peaceful and quiet. I can keep going on because I appreciate all but three things about Estonia. Estonia really is my home. I am in it for the long haul. One more thing and it's too hard to break down why this is but..... The very high quality of life I have here in comparison to how it was in the states. You won't see me smiling in public but my life is good. I'm thinking it's this way with a lot of people here. You just have to know where to look or more like....how to live in Estonia. The things that matter really do matter. So you get those things and live that way and then you're good. It's as simple as that," explained one expat living in Tartu.

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What do expats find most challenging?

"Expats in Tartu often find the language barrier to be the most challenging aspect of the local culture. As the majority of the population speaks Estonian, it can be difficult for expats to communicate with locals and to access services. Additionally, the local culture is quite different from many other countries, and expats may find it difficult to adjust to the customs and traditions of the area. Furthermore, the winter months can be particularly challenging for expats, as the temperatures can drop to below freezing and the days are much shorter," said one person in Tartu.

"1. There was tension surrounding the language and I was harrassed a couple of times because I didn't speak Estonian. The worst part about this is that they were medical professionals. The situation with the language has changed and I haven't had a bad experience for awhile but it was the most challenging part. 2. There's tension between Estonians of Russian decent and Estonians that are not of Russian decent. This could also play into the language being made out to be something to hold over others who don't speak the language. It's not everyone though. It's just loud by a small few and it has gotten better. Estonia is a place of improvement and progression at a rapid speed. So this and the above challenge might not even exist anymore. 3. The quality of medical care is below westernized standards. It's not just with equipment but also with the professionalism and the education of some of the medical staff. I'm also going to include customer service in general with this one. The customer service has gotten better and in the bigger cities it's great but the more rural areas could still use some changing. I heard it was so much worse in the soviet times. I am looking forward to this aspect to continue getting better and just as rapidly as everything else," remarked one expat in Tartu.

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

Tartu, Estonia

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