Why foreign workers are flocking to this 700-year-old European city


When Ricardo Schmitz’s brother was visiting him in Vilnius, Lithuania, the pair went for a wintertime walk at midnight — something he said they would never do back home in Brazil.  

“My brother hadn’t seen snow since he was a kid, so he was super excited. We walked from midnight to 3 a.m.,” Schmitz told CNBC Travel. “Not at any moment did I feel stressed or concerned. For me, this is priceless.”

Schmitz first came to Vilnius in 2018 as an exchange student in a study abroad program. After securing a full-time role, he returned in 2020 and now works as a senior consultant for Deloitte and a lecturer in finance and tax law at Lithuania’s Mykolas Romeris University.

“When I came back here I had that peaceful feeling that I’m at home,” he said. “The plan for the foreseeable future is to stay.”

Skilled workers wanted

Schmitz is one of many foreigners living in Lithuania, whose numbers rose from around 145,000 in 2022 to more than 200,000 in 2023, according to local media.

The tongue-in-cheek “Vilnius — the G spot of Europe” campaign hit global headlines in 2018, while government-funded organizations — like Work in Lithuania and Invest Lithuania — aim to attract skilled foreign workers and investment to the country.

Ricardo Schmitz.

Source: Ricardo Schmitz

With a population of just 2.8 million, Lithuania has a shortage of local talent to fuel the country’s growing technology and finance industries.

Young professionals like Schmitz are drawn by these career opportunities. In a survey of 1,300 foreign students currently studying in Vilnius, 42% said they see their life after graduation in Vilnius.

The streets of Vilnius at night.

Craig Hastings | Moment | Getty Images

“I started as an intern, then I moved to consultant, and now I’m in a senior position,” said Schmitz. “Because it’s a small market here, you’re exposed to more opportunities, and it helps you grow.”

Visa processing times decreased from eight months to just one, and there’s even an arrival allowance of 3,444 euros (around $3,764) awarded to foreigners who work in occupations the country needs. According to Work in Lithuania, around 400 allowances have been granted.

A healthy lifestyle

Indonesian national, Misha Johanna, in Lithuania.

Source: Misha Johanna

“My company here really encourages people to take all of their vacation. That’s very different from the working culture in Indonesia where I’m from,” said Johanna, who is from Jakarta.

Like Schmitz, she came to Vilnius for schooling, her choice influenced by her desire to be with her Lithuanian boyfriend, whom she had met in Bali, she said.

Indonesians tend to be more relaxed about work than Lithuanians, Johanna added. But in Indonesia, she feels bosses are less likely to approve vacation leave, meaning workers tend to make up reasons, usually involving family, to hide their vacations, she said.

“I don’t have to do that here,” said Johanna, who works nights from her apartment in Vilnius as a manager for the marketing data platform Whatagraph. It leaves her days free for her side hustle as an actor, she said. Johanna has appeared in commercials for Burger King, the delivery app Just Eat, and most recently, a campaign for Work In Lithuania.

The air quality in Vilnius is better than in her hometown of Jakarta, Indonesia, said Misha Johanna.

Aleh Varanishcha | Istock | Getty Images

“The air here is exceptionally good. In Jakarta, you cannot breathe when you step outside,” said Johanna.  “Vilnius is also very walkable, and that’s another thing I can’t really do back in my country, because roads there are not made for pedestrians.”

Laura Guarino moved to Vilnius from Italy in 2021, also through a study abroad program. She said she was happy to say goodbye to the traffic and crowds of Naples, swapping them for a 10-minute commute to her office.

“I just fell in love with the city,” said Guarino, who works as a business development manager for Teltonika Telematics.

“Napoli is so crowded, there are just buildings everywhere and so much traffic — it’s very annoying,” she said.  

“Vilnius has such a good vibe and is so relaxing, so I just don’t want to leave,” she said. “I also like swimming in the lakes and going for hikes in the countryside.”

Ups and downs

Guarino, Schmitz and Johanna all feel it’s been easy to fit in, as most locals are proficient in English, although they all said they’ve taken classes to learn Lithuanian too.

Culturally, they’ve had to adjust to a more reserved, structured approach, which is at odds with the open, emotional and highly conversational attributes of Indonesian, Brazilian and Italian cultures.

Laura Guarino moved to Vilnius from Italy in 2021.

Source: Laura Guarino

Vilnius, however, is not the cheap city it once was. Guarino and Johanna say the cost of rent, bills and groceries aren’t cheaper than they are back home.

The three foreign workers are adjusting to long, harsh, Lithuanian winters too. Johanna has embraced the local tradition of “ekete” — a sauna session followed by a dip in an icy lake, which she describes as “an out-of-body experience.” Schmitz, meanwhile, has taken up the winter sport of curling, competing at the Lithuanian national championships.

Brazilian Ricardo Schmitz engaging in the sport of curling.

Source: Ricardo Schmitz

And Guarino has her coping mechanisms for winter, which she admits can get tough.

“I just need to take my vitamin D, and make sure I travel back to Napoli for Christmas, and I’m going to be fine,” she said.

This article was originally published on CNBC