Crossing the land border of Georgia (country) in June 2021
This is a report of my June 1st land border crossing out of Georgia into Armenia and back again. The reason for this run was simply the fact that I entered Georgia shortly before the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 in a foreign car. The car has been "stuck" here since then. Normally a car can't stay longer then 90 days. If you overstay a fine of around 50 GEL per day will be charged.
On June 1st 2021 the land border finally opened for the first time since the COVID related shutdown. It was time to get out and back in to renew the car's "timer". After all, I'm a guest in Georgia and I pay attention to play by their rules.
I went there early to avoid traffic and queues. It was quiet at the border, much more so then I expected. But the border did not open before 10:00. Not sure if that was a first day issue or if that's a permanent "feature". Perhaps call ahead if you plan on crossing.
UPDATE: Speaking with my advisor I learned that just recently another driver having the same issue won the case against RS and will be refundend. I myself haven't reached that level yet but am confident to achieve a similar result. This is a good indicator for EVERYONE to stand a realistic chance to get their money back. Just make sure to put in your claim. Updates will follow as the situation develops.
When they checked my papers on exit I was pulled aside (like all foreigners) and had to wait for more then two hours without any knowledge of why and what's going on. I assumed it had to do with the overstay but wasn't sure.
I called the Georgian Revenue Service and even my local embassy multiple times during the COVID closure to inquire about possible overstay fines and update myself on current regulations. Their word was, as long as the borders are closed, no fines would be counted.
Yet here I was, fined 1000 GEL for overstaying (same as all other foreigners. Nobody was amused!). They quoted new regulation as the reason. Ah, yes of course. That regulation was never mentioned anywhere.
This is a slap in the face of all of us who pay attention to the rules and make sure to do the border run on the very first day the borders open.
Expect a fine. However I will seek legal council shortly and if possible sue over this. I recommend you consider similar steps if you're in a position.
So you have to pay a fine. Liberty Bank is the bank of choice for all governmental bodies. I would not recommend this bank to anyone. They are nowhere near the service level of TBC, Terabank or BoG, let alone Solo.
This time it was very bad indeed. I had to pay by card as I don't usualy carry thousands of GEL in cash. However the card reader was broken. It took them 30 minutes to fix it, process the transaction and FINALLY clear me.
There are no ATMs at the border. There is no second branch of liberty bank in the other building. You can't pay the fine using your Georgian bank account. Mobile payments won't be accepted (a guy in the line had only his phone and Apple pay).
The only last ditch effort I could have made would be to call a friend in Tbilisi to go to a Liberty Bank branch paying the fine.
My recommendation: bring cash.
This was my first visit to Armenia. It's a shame I only came for a border run - but I will try and make time for a proper visit next time.
First, you are not allowed to go directly to the customs agend. First present your PCR test or proof of vaccination to a tribunal of doctors. I'm not sure why they where there in the first place but they looked at my documentation in bewilderment before clearing me after a few minutes.
Make sure to have any documentation in English or Armenian and Georgian. English only worked for me. If you get your documentation in Tbilisi order your documents in English BEFORE they are printed.
While the doctors tried to make sense of my documentation I was bombarded with questions about my reasons to live in Georgia and why I would come to Armenia by a customs officer. As usual, be nice, smile, tell the truth, nothing more, nothing less.
With the medical stuff cleared I was allowed to have passport control done.
That was reasonably quick. Only took two guys and 5 minutes.
When coming to Armenia in a foreign car (Georgian cars excluded) you need to declare it.
For that you go to the Armenian equivalent of Liberty bank which will no accept card and cash only to pay a bit over 10.000 AMD (roughly 15 EUR at the time of writing) to declare. With that you go to the customs officer (who was extremely nice!) and they will write a book about your car.
At least it felt like they did given how much typing was needed.
The good news is, that a declaration is valid for a one year stay. So if you ever need to park your car somewhere long term, this might be an option. However it's not valid for multiple entries. For that I'd recommend using a Georgian car if available.
To my shame I spent only a good two minutes in Armenia. Turned around to get back home.
This is where I almost ran into major trouble. They pre check your documents. During that process they asked for the Georgia Registration. I had such an invitation for my last entry during the height of Georgias COVID outbreak. Took three weeks and a business invitation letter (see my article on this webiste) for me to get that.
This time there was no mention of a need to register. So I didn't bother. However, they did not let me proceed.
Shocker at that point. Saw myself apartment hunting in Yerevan already.
Luckily it didn't come to that. I put in my registration on this stopcov.ge page which is the form for "Simplified entry to Georgia". This isn't valid for all citizens so make sure to read the list carefully.
That form was half broken. It returned a JSON object
This email wasn't really an invite or anything. They just say they received my application. Tried it anyway and it worked.
Left Armenia and was asked for that same documentation on the Georgian side. Passed once again. However the customs agent looked confused. I assume he hasn't seen many of these letters before.
After that it was plain sailing. A quick stamp, welcome back and off you go.
Border crossings in this part of the world aren't easy at the best of times. This time it was an absolute mess. The fine wasn't totally unexpected but I still think it's not based on a solid legal foundation. Make sure to keep that in mind or talk to RS about this before you do your own run.
Bring cash. You can pay for customs in Armenia with GEL. There are no ATMs anywhere and cars don't work everywhere.
The whole process took me north of three hours. So don't make any plans for that day. I started my journey at around 8:30 and came back home around 15:00. I was exhausted.
Also consider going to Turkey for border runs. That way you can avoid an extra payment. However, given the extra fuel burn, it might not be worth it unless you enjoy the beautiful ride from Tbilisi to the closest land border with Turkey.
If you are about to cross into Georgia this way, good luck and I hope this report was of some use to you helping you to prepare.