Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy Tallinn does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED TALLINN AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Please review OSAC’s Estonia-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.
Crimes against persons mainly occur in congested areas. Tallinn and Ida-Viru county, which contains the Estonia-Russia border town of Narva, remain the leaders in per capita criminal incidents. Pickpocketing, theft, and petty crimes do occur, particularly in areas where tourists and foreigners congregate. The three highest crime areas in Tallinn are: city center, Lasnamäe, and Kopli. In the summer, pickpockets are very common, often working in teams in crowded areas, particularly in Old Town. Pickpockets use various diversionary tactics to distract victims; one method involves bumping the victim in an effort to draw his attention to one individual, while another takes his wallet. Victims should report the crime to the police and cancel their credit cards as soon as possible. The police monitor the most high risk areas with surveillance units, but incidents do occur. Theft from vehicles and vandalism of vehicles can occur almost anywhere, but these crimes are mostly concentrated in poorly-illuminated areas, unsecured parking locations, and in the vicinity of the port. The threat of thefts from vehicles, personal robberies, and residential break-ins are generally classified as crimes of convenience.
In 2016, 28,986 crimes were reported, a drop of 11% from 2015. 43% of those crimes were crimes against property. 7,641 violent crimes were reported, a drop of 3% from 2015. There were 44 reported homicides, a 12% drop from 2015. 8,982 thefts were reported, a drop of 21%. Theft and physical abuse showed the largest percentage drop from 2015 to 2016, while aggravated breach of public order and counterfeiting by officials showed the biggest increase.
The majority of incidents reported to the RSO involved individuals who were alone and/or intoxicated and occurred between 2200-0600 hours. Visitors who consume alcohol should exercise moderation and designate a sober member of the group to be in charge of security awareness. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.”
For those residing in Tallinn, it is advisable to ensure that leased residences have adequate security equipment including, but not limited to, security lighting, high quality locks, and an alarm system with 24-hour monitoring service.
A limited number of small, organized groups operate in Estonia and are typically involved in trafficking, drugs, and large-scale theft, though they are also active in vehicle theft and fraud. Tallinn’s organized crime groups are also active in automobile theft rings and scams at bars. Though the instances of these scams are limited, U.S. citizens have been impacted. For example, an American citizen may be lured into a drinking establishment, become heavily intoxicated, and then see grossly inflated charges run on their credit cards.
Cybercrime is a growing concern but does not represent a major threat to individuals or foreign businesses in Estonia, though it continues to be a major issue in neighboring countries.
ATM use is generally safe. But, several law enforcement agencies investigate transnational credit card fraud cases that have either originated in Estonia or transited Estonian institutions. The bulk of these crimes do not occur in Estonia; rather criminal elements use technically savvy Estonian criminals to commit crimes elsewhere.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Road conditions are generally good and approach Western European standards; however, the winter (October-April) provides a unique set of challenges. Estonia often receives heavy snow fall and sub-freezing temperatures, and road conditions can deteriorate quickly with a heavy accumulation of snow/ice with little warning. City streets, even the main thoroughfares, are often poorly plowed and difficult to negotiate, and many areas in the Old Town Tallinn area are cobble stone, making icy navigation more dangerous. Main arteries in the country have been shut down due to drifting snow, stranding passengers in their vehicles for extended periods. Additionally, there are fewer than six hours of daylight in the winter, further impacting visibility and exacerbating the already poor driving conditions. Estonian laws require the use of winter or studded tires from December 1- March 31. Tires should bear the mark “M+S.”
The streets are often poorly illuminated, and motorists should exercise care when driving after dark outside of the city centers. In rural areas, wild animals and icy road conditions can create unexpected hazards. One should also watch out for dark-clothed/intoxicated pedestrians along poorly illuminated roads or darting across dimly-illuminated streets/highways. Estonian law requires the use of personal reflective devices from December 1-March 31. Devices are available from most grocery and convenience stores.
Pedestrians have the right-of-way in signed/labeled crosswalks; drivers should be prepared to slow down when approaching a crosswalk if pedestrians are near. Drivers should also be prepared to stop for public transportation (tram/bus) stops that are in the middle of the road, allowing passengers to get to/from the sidewalk.
An International Driving Permit and a valid U.S. driver’s license are required to operate a motor vehicle in Estonia. Estonian police levy hefty fines on individuals not properly documented to drive. Estonian drivers can be aggressive, and the U.S. Embassy recommends that visitors drive defensively. To avoid vehicle-related incidents (theft, vandalism), vehicles should be parked in secured, well-illuminated parking lots, and an alarm/anti-theft device (steering wheel lock) should be used. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”
Estonian law enforcement authorities have a zero-tolerance approach to drinking and driving, and penalties are severe. Police are increasing the use of random roadblocks, speed traps, and breathalyzer tests. Drivers departing the ferry terminal are often subjected to breathalyzer assessment.
Public Transportation Conditions
The overall transportation system is effective. The local transit system is made up primarily of trains, trams, and buses that are widely used. Travelers who use the train or ferry services should not loiter at the station. Travelers should arrive with adequate time to purchase a ticket and board. The port and main train station can attract criminal elements and alcohol/drug-dependent individuals.
Taxis are commonly used and are generally reliable and safe, particularly those from larger, more established companies.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED TALLINN AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
There are no known indigenous terrorist organizations in Estonia, and Estonia is not a known base of support/sympathy for terrorists. Estonia faces the same threat of international terrorism as other European countries due to its participation in the Schengen area. Its border with Russia, political alignment with U.S. foreign policy, and military cooperation with the U.S. increases its vulnerability as a target of international terrorism. The issue of foreign fighters is not a significant one for Estonia, with less than five cases being reported.
In 2016, the Embassy was the site of a single, registered demonstration by approximately 100 people in support of the peaceful resolution of the Dakota pipeline protests.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED TALLINN AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
The geo-political situation in Eastern Europe has raised concerns that events, unrest, and tension there could indirectly or directly affect the Baltic countries. There is no indication of these broader regional issues extending to Estonia, but travelers would do well to stay abreast of current events in the news and post-specific information.
Civil unrest has been rare. Demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience are generally limited and peaceful. Demonstrations in 2016 were identified in advance via the government’s permit process and were closely monitored by law enforcement authorities. Demonstrations are generally held near government buildings, significant landmarks, or other areas of significance to the ethnic Russian minority.
Even though statistics indicate that incidents against individuals based on race, religion, or sexual orientation/gender identity are limited, the U.S Embassy noted an increase in reports of race-related incidents in 2015. This uptick appeared to coincide with Europe’s refugee crisis, and though the number of reports decreased in 2016, there are still occasional comments by fringe elements of Estonian society against refugees, signifying that the underlying sentiment is still present in certain elements of the population.
Falling ice from buildings can be a substantial problem in the winter and spring and has resulted in deaths, in addition to slippery roads and sidewalks.
Flooding can be an issue in low-lying areas near rivers during the spring thaw.
Fire is a concern because many of the Soviet-era buildings contain antiquated electrical/structural components. Visitors who are considering leasing/buying residential or commercial property should conduct a thorough inspection of the property to ensure that the structural integrity is sound, the electrical system meets safety standards, and that emergency egress routes are designed/retrofitted with features that facilitate quick and safe evacuation. When viewing multi-tenant buildings, potential renters/buyers should consider the safety of the entire building. Many multi-tenant units have been renovated to appear new; however, the building’s common areas contain outdated electrical infrastructure and other conditions that pose safety/security concerns.
Personal Identity Concerns
All racially-motivated incidents experienced by visitors should be reported immediately to the U.S. Embassy.
Combating drug-related crimes is a priority for police agencies. Cross-border smuggling of drugs is a major problem for the Baltics. The rate of illegal drug use in Estonia has increased in recent years, with the rate of intravenous drug use among the highest in Europe. This contributes to an increase in the number of high-risk crimes.
Police response times can vary from several minutes to an hour, depending on the nature of the call, time of day, call volume, and resource constraints. Response times should not be misinterpreted as a lack of professionalism or competence on the part of local authorities. Police agencies are professionally-trained and competent, and police officers who speak English are very common. Police have become more respected and better trained in recent years, but they continue to deal with a lack of resources. Recent initiatives have resulted in increased wages, aiding recruitment and retention of police officers, but this was accomplished by a reduction in overall staffing levels. In order to respond to the needs of visitors, police concentrate most of their patrols (vehicular, foot) in tourist and highly populated areas.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
Visitors detained by police should comply with police instructions. Incidents of police abuse and corruption are very rare. Foreigners detained by police who experience a language barrier should request an interpreter and should not sign any documents/reports until they are confident that the document’s contents are consistent with the details of the incident or the victim’s statement. This is especially true for traffic accidents, as the initial police response will often attribute fault for the accident in their initial report.
Crime Victim Assistance
Emergency services: 112
Visitors who are victims of crime should report it immediately to the local police department. After reporting the incident to the police, victims should contact the American Citizen Services Unit of the U.S. Embassy (+372-668-8100) to report the crime and request assistance. A U.S. citizen who wishes to request emergency assistance should call the Embassy’s Consular Section during normal business hours (8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Estonian time) at 668-8128, -8111 or -8197. Outside of normal business hours, you may call 668-8100 and ask to speak to the Duty Officer.
Estonian government security services are divided into two agencies:
The Estonian Police and Border Guard serve as the first response police force. They investigate all levels of criminal activity, provide border security, and issue identity documents.
The Estonian Security Police (KAPO) operates on a federal level to fight corruption, terrorism, and threats to national security.
Group 4 Securicor (G4S), Securitas, and several smaller private sector security firms maintain formal agreements with law enforcement that allow private security firm personnel to intervene in the interest of public safety. These same companies offer contract personal security.
Emergency services: 112
The use of English is less prevalent in the healthcare sector than in other parts of society, and communication could be difficult in hospitals for visitors who do not speak Estonian or Russian.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
In the event of a medical emergency, North Estonia Regional Hospital is the main hospital for all major medical emergency care:
North Estonia Regional Hospital (Põhja-Eesti Regionaalhaigla)
19 J. Sütiste Tee (Mustamäe neighborhood)
13419 Tallinn, Estonia
Help Line: +372 617-1300.
Information line: +372 617-1995
Fax: +372 617 1200
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
Closely linked to the high rate of intravenous drugs use, Estonia has the highest HIV rate in all of Europe.
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Estonia.
OSAC Country Council Information
The Tallinn Country Council currently meets twice a year and has approximately 20 members. Please contact OSAC’s Europe team with any questions or to join.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
15099 Tallinn, Estonia
Hours of Operation: Mon-Fri, 0830-1730
Embassy Contact Numbers
Main: 372-668-8100 (Embassy Operator)
After-Hours: 372-668-8100, press 0 for Post One.
Duty Officer: 372-509-2129
The Embassy urges all U.S. citizens, even those visiting Estonia for a short time, to sign up with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This is often referred to as "enrolling with the U.S. Embassy”. In the event of an emergency, the Embassy will provide information and other critical assistance to U.S. citizens. Enrollment is the only way to guarantee that the Embassy is aware of your presence in the country and is able to contact you and assist you in such circumstances. Enrollment in STEP is for U.S. citizens only.
Estonia Country Information Sheet