Living in Georgia (country)
DISCLAIMER: I'm not an expert on Georgia in any way. This article is based on my personal experiences and observations. I'm pretty sure there's a mountain of things missing and I'll be fine tuning this article as time goes on.
The country of Georgia is located east of Turkey and south of western Russia. The once soviet country is now an modern nation with a strong European vibe to it. Georgian people are famous for their hospitality and the countries diverse and often untouched landscapes are a must see for nature lovers.
Georgia is also famous for it's wine and food culture. Keeping in line with your weight loss diet in this place is pretty hard no matter where you go.
But this is not about the touristic highlights of which there are many. I moved to Georgia around 2018/2019 looking for a place to settle down for a while. Time to share some of my experiences for anyone who maybe thinking about doing the same.
This article is pretty large, trying to act as a bit of a reference for most things related to life in Georgia. Feel free to pick and choose what interests you the most.
Choosing a new place of residence is a rather personal thing. So I won't tell you why you should choose Georgia. Instead what made it attractive for me personally.
Georgia is a business friendly nation that doesn't throw a lot of bureaucrat nonsense at you. Digital isn't some future plan that never materializes but the norm. Taxes - if applicable - are easy to deal with without the need for a tax advisor (if your business is small). Setting up a company takes good as no time and costs very little in administrative fees.
Taxes are collected in a territorial system meaning that only the income you earn within Georgia is subject to income tax. Taxation on dividends is usually 5% but may be reduced in some cases. Crypto asset trading profits gained by individuals are free of income tax and cypro assets themselves are liberally regulated and VAT free.
Aside from these strong practical reasons, Georgia is a modern nation with a lot of historic character. I love the clash of Europe and Asia, the character of many of the older buildings, the way the country side still feels rural and untouched in many cases.
As a European I enjoy the ability to come here by car when time permits. The drive via Turkey is stunningly beautiful (don't take the northern route, go a bit further south). But when in a hurry a quick 3-4 hour flight gets you pretty much anywhere in the EU.
But I think most of all it's the feeling of freedom I have in Georgia. This part is hard to describe. But let's just say, Georgia is a good place for anyone who's not fond of archaic laws and nonsensical rules.
There are several land based border crossings:
- Border crossings to Turkey
- Border crossings to Russia
- Border crossings to Armenia
- Border crossings to Azerbaijan
Expect some waiting time at each of these land based crossings. On the Turkish side of a smaller crossing I once had to wait for an hour for their computer system to restart.
Customs are usually painless. You may run into issues with expensive equipment like PC towers. While nobody raises a brow if you carry a top notch smartphone or a five figure laptop across the border some things may be subject to custom fees unless you can reasonably explain why you bring this only for your own use and that it'd leave the country again.
For example, if you bring a powerful PC and you're an IT professional it'll be OK to bring if you can show them your company website and explain why you need the additional computing power. In any case always be nice and truthful. Even so I had to argue about some of these issues on occasion, the customs offers have never been unfriendly in any way.
Georgia is (probably) the only country that allows visitors from most countries in the world to stay a whole year on a simple stamp. In most cases no visa is required. Best of all, this does include the right to conduct business while you're in Georgia. Check out the visa policy of Georgia to see if your country is within the extensive list of visa free places.
Border runs to renew that one year visa stamp are not usually an issue. However, I did hear from people who have been denied re-entry. So have some plan B in case this happens.
While the stamp is plenty enough to live in Georgia obtaining residency is highly recommended. Georgia issues temporary residencies that last from anywhere between 6 months to several years. Most of them are issues for a year. Permanent residency can be requested after six years of holding temporary residency or may be obtained by anyone investing 300.000 USD into real estate.
To obtain temporary residency you can:
- pay taxes on an annual income of at least 50.000 GEL
- invest a minimum of 100.000 USD in real estate (or 300.000 USD for permanent residency without waiting 6 years)
Other options include investment based permeints, etc. This news article contains a great overview of some of the current rules.
When you apply you'll need a bank statement showing a minimum balance of 10.000 GEL and ideally a lively transaction history. The latter part is priceless as it proves that you're serious and really living in Georgia. A busy statement can land you a multi year residency permit much easier.
During the COVID-19 era Georgia has decided entry to deny holders of temporary residency permits. This unpopular move showed that this kind of residency does not hold up as a serious plan B in such a troubled time.
I've also heard reports of many people being denied a renewal of their permits forcing a lot of them to leave the country.
So if you're looking at Georgia as a place to escape to quickly during tumultuous times a basic permit might not be enough for you. Might be a good idea to hold other residency permits as a backup. In any case your goal should be a permanent residency permit. Those have not been affected. So start building up these six years as soon as you can.
Georgian is an independent language all on it's own. It's not related to Russian however a lot of people speak Russian.
Learning Georgian is niche. Not many people speak it. Unless you plan to live in Georgia for a looong time it may not be worth it. Russian isn't easy to learn either but at least you can use it in a lot more places. English is common enough but by no means does it get you everywhere.
The only Georgian learning app I've found so far is Ling Georgian. The first two lesson blocks are available for free. To access the whole thing will set you back up to 120 USD depending on your "subscription". Since they do other languages it might be worth it.
When I tried the Ling Georgian app on the phone some of the spoken bits where in a different language (Thai?). That problem went away when I used the web based app.
Finding real estate for all sorts of purposes online is fairly easy on SS.ge and MYhome. However the quality of these listings isn't always great. Listings may already be unavailable for a long time. I often ended up talking to an agent telling me that that place I inquired about was no longer available but they'd come back to me with other offers. That's when I give them the ground rules of what I want. When they come back, the offers have NOTHING to do with what I told them. So agents like that are a massive waste of time - avoid them.
Almost all rental apartments are furnished and the landlord is either unwilling or unable to take out clutter you don't need/want. I'm a minimalist with a strong aversion to furniture and random clutter. I was lucky to find an apartment listed as commercial real estate. Those are usually unfurnished. However, you will have to pay 20% of the monthly rent as tax to revenue service and you must have a Georgian company with a business bank account to do that.
Rent is paid monthly. Rental contracts usually expire after 6 or 12 months. Longer contracts can be had but are unusual. If you want to lock in a certain price for 24 months or longer you can negotiate of course.
Additional cost are Electricity, Gas, Water, Internet and garbage collection. The landlord gives you ID's for those. You'll have to note them along with the name of the service provider. With that ID you can then check the amounts owed in your Georgian banking app every month. They will not take it out of your account and there's no paper invoice or other such antiques. Instead simply pay by the app and you're done. Some apps actually cluster these fees on your overview. Also prices aren't fixed but depend on you actual usage that month. So no worries about having to pay more later or having to fight over a refund.
There's no security deposit. But you will be responsible for damages caused by you. However I found moving out of places to be quite relaxed. The landlord comes over and checks quickly if there's any major issues. Then you're done.
Of course you can just buy a place which is fairly easy. Ownership is transferred at the "mushroom" building (Justice house** and doesn't require a notary or anything. Again, be careful. It's a good idea to get help from a lawyer who'll check the seller, the conditions, etc. Georgians are usually very upstanding and trustworthy but a bit of triple checking won't hurt you.
I will add more info about the buying process once I'm through with a purchase.
Update: I'm back in the market looking for a new rental. This time in a higher price bracket and with some rather specific requirements. Up until now I had no problems finding places but this time I get to see the full force of the notorious lack of professionalism of many Georgian real estate agents. Most don't answer. Many good listings are straight out bait. They show you a nice place and then tell you it's already rented. In THREE HOURS?! Seriously? Some are just outright rude. They told my assistant calling them that they have no time for to look for places unless we're interested to rent them. Well, here I am, the interested customer who will now look elsewhere.
If you look for real estate don't expect this to be easy. Some people simply don't care, don't know the first thing about their job or simply lie about everything. Be careful and most of all patient. As always when it comes to real estate, be less desperate then they are.
Taxis and tour drivers are widely available all over the country and are very reasonably prices. Taxi drivers pay (no?) low taxes and aren't regulated. So no worries about getting bankrupt during a ride to the airport. The most used taxi apps are Bold (Android | iOS) and Yandex (Android | iOS).
I prefer Bolt for two reasons. First it's integrated in Google Maps. Both apps have horrific maps. Second, they have better service. Yandex cars may be pretty low end while Bolt seems to have higher standards even at the lower tiers.
Not all drivers are equal. Most of them will get you where you want to go (especially with one of the apps) without issues. But some are less talented. So make sure to check your progress and if needed tell the driver about a wrong turn or something alike ;)
Many taxi drivers don't speak English.
Tours can be booked all over town. Doesn't matter where you go, if it's a bit touristy people will offer to drive you around. Prices vary but it's usually quite affordable. If you can check the car, especially the tires. If they are worn badly, walk away.
Driving in Georgia differs greatly from the strictly regulated roads in Europe and some other parts of the world. It's a lot more Asian style with drivers "working it out" as they go. If that's not your cup of tea, stick to taxis.
If you bring your own car from abroad you can keep the number plate. Foreign cars need a special Georgian car insurance. This goes on top of your regular insurance. Again, affordable. Just make sure to have it at all times. Police checks for these quite frequently.
Your car may stay in Georgia for up to three months. So either plan for some border runs or consider importing the car.
Importing your car requires you to pay customs. The fee can be calculated on the RS website.
I'm about to import my car to Georgia. Once I'm through that process I'll extend this section.
If you plan on buying a car locally MYauto seems to be the place to go. Be aware that prices may not include the import fees. Also, Georgia is a bit of an old car dump. Regulations are lax so a lot of used cars are in a less desirable state.
Car ownership as such is fairly cheap. I'm not aware of any additional taxes beyond the import fees. Petrol is around 2 GEL per liter. Insurance is (still) optional and much more reasonably priced then in let's say Europe. Garages vary in quality of course. A good one will keep your car going with custom made parts and a lot of hands on time if needed. Make sure to have a good garage and a number to a guy who speaks English. My garage has saved me many times when I ended up stranded on the side of the road.
Most main roads are very well paved. There's one (unfinished) motorway connect the west to Tbilisi. No toll roads anywhere. However some roads are brutal. Either unpaved or simply covered in crater sized pot holes. In 2020 alone I went through three flat tires. Once it was so severe that the rim had to be restored after hitting a small but brutal pot hole.
Some roads aren't accessible without a serious 4x4. That said, I'm driving a Mercedes SLK, hardly an off road talent. Yet I managed to climb through the snowy hell to Kazbegi or accross sheep covered paths accross fields trying to find the motorway again. A lot is down to your driving skills and not going too hard on your car. So don't stress it and maybe rent a 4x4 if you really need one.
Parking in the cities is fairly easy. Buy a permit at one of these little terminals peppered around every city (I recommend the orange ones from Bank of Georgia, they are usually the ones with the best interfaces and translations). Permits are available for up to a year and are generally quite affordable. That's enough for you to park almost anywhere.
Be aware that there are some areas that have additional requirements. Those are rare and usually focus around some central areas.
Parking violations in Tbilisi cost me around 10 GEL every time. I've been towed only once. If that happens to you call 112 to verify they have your car. Then go and pick it up here. Being towed on a weekend is bad news. They have a Monday to Friday, 9-5 thing going there and it takes ages to get it out. Pro tip: avoid parking on Davit Aghmashenedbeli Ave all together.
One Georgian oddity are the "yellow gang". In some of the busy areas you'll see parking guides wearing yellow vests. Those guys are NOT OFFICIAL! They just sit at their spots and require payment for helping you parking. Those "entrepreneurs" are little more then beggers. Their service is useless and annoying. Sometimes they'll deny you parking in a perfectly good spot and "assign" you to another one.
If you can, avoid them. Otherwise maybe pay them a Lari or two to make sure they won't do anything nasty. I haven't heard of them damaging cars but I'd rather not take the risk.
Georgia is not a shoppers paradise. Tbilisi is home to a great many shops where you'll find everything you need. But it might prove difficult to get what you're used to. Let's take furniture. IKEA for example doesn't have a regular presence in Georgia. All you'll find in Tbilisi is an IKEA basket. That's a franchise outlet that has a tiny fraction of the regular selection on display and they're able to order in everything else. However these are imports from Turkey and cost at least a cool 30% more.
Electronics are another good example. You can find plenty of them but don't expect huge stock piles of high end computer parts for example. I've also been unable to find a single decent photography store. Cameras you can get but other things like studio equipment proved to be very hard to get a hold of.
Online shopping is limited. Amazon doesn't usually deliver to Georgia and the one time I tried the book arrived long after I was already gone on a business trip for which I needed it. You may order via Ali Express which is about one of the worst website user experiences you can have. But once you fought your way though their hyper annoying banners and popups you may find some stuff. However delivery takes months.
The local Craigslist is MYmarket where you can find some gems here and there. It might be worth using a translator to convert your search terms into Georgian to get better results. Aside from looking for specific items, you may use it to find shops that interest you. Tbilisi is peppered with little stores. One of them may actually has what you're looking for.
Some areas like Dinamo Market have specific areas for things like cloths or electronics. The electronics area is plastered with fakes and low end tech. But as usual, you get what you pay for. Some shops are whole salers. You may not be able to see that right away. I wanted ended up in such a shop once trying to buy a cable. They refused and it took a while until I got it that they only sold to shops.
Pharmacies are well stocked and plentiful. They're often 24/7 and sell a wide range of medication and other products at rather normal prices (no premium). Medication you may need a prescription for in other places of the world is freely available here. Only some need to be prescribed by the doctor. Other products they sell include hygiene articles, beauty products and other body care.
Food can be found in many places. The largest super markets are Carrefour branded. Another very western shopping experience is Agrohub which seems to be a bit more top notch. As far as vegetables and fruit are concerned, try to buy them on the street or on the local markets. They're usually amazing and you get bucket loads of them for very little money. Tomatos, cucumbers, Apples, nuts, melons, they all grow here. Support your local farmers :)
Georgia has it's own cheese culture that may or may not be to your liking. Imports exist but are rather basic and usually pricey.
Here's also a list of smaller shops I found to be gems:
- Blauenstein - Butchers shop offering high quality meat.
- Ponath - Meat, cheese and other mostly imported goods. Has a bit of a french vibe going.
- Entrecote - Another higher end butchers shop.
- Coffee & Tea - Reasonable selection of various teas.
(This list is subject to future additions)
The biggest single construction market in Tbilisi is Domino at East Point. Another big one is Bricorama. However, there's also a huge market area called Eliava where many of the local craftsman get their stuff. Difficult to navigate but worth it nevertheless.
One way around the limited online shopping options is to use one of the dedicated USA to Georgia shipping services. The way it works is that you buy online in the US, send it to their warehouse and then have it shipped to your home in Tbilisi locally or pick it up at a store location.
Simple enough but it does have issues. I made some much needed purchases for my photo studio at B&H photo. The first delivery was fine. However the second didn't go through. I tried again and again until I found out that they basically considered me a credit card scammer. The result: I had to renew that card, didn't get my delivery and it was huge headache to figure out why the order was blocked. While I won't ever buy at B&H again this showed me some limitations.
I didn't have any issues with Amazon, ebay and some other places however.
In terms of cost it's not too bad unless your stuff is very heavy. Each kilogramm will set you back around 8 USD. Aside from that you'll have to pay customs and taxes. However, that's not a big deal as you don't have to pay those in the US.
The service I use is called USA2Georgia but there are others.
The process is rather simple. You may announce the arrival of a new package. They will send you a message when they receive it, send it off, etc. You can file a customs declaration online along with the invoice, etc. When it arrives you'll be billed and receive a barcode via SMS. With that code you can pick it up from the store location. Delivery alternatives are available but I don't really trust those.
Banking in Georgia is world class. I'm not a fan of banks. But the level of service Georgian banks offer is just something else.
Opening accounts is fairly easy. Private accounts require little more then a passport and a quick form. The card is usually ready for pickup a day later. In some banks you don't even need an appointment.
There's no need for a large deposit. All you need is the first month of service fees being covered. Those are very reasonably. Depending on your account those fees can be a few Lari or maybe 20 GEL in a more luxurious bank. The only thing you might need to worry about is producing enough of a turnover every year for them to be happy. I think the "worst" requirement I've seen there was around 30.000 GEL (~10.000 USD). Most banks don't have such a requirement however.
Business accounts are harder to get. Only companies registered in Georgia can apply. They ask quite a few questions. A physical business location is a big plus in the process. Yet again, you'll have your answer the within a day or two with the card ready for pickup a day later. If your account is refused you'll never learn about the reason. However a second application at a different branch might work just fine.
Most relevant banks in Georgia:
- TBC bank - Georgia's number one in size.
- Bank of Georgia - Second biggest bank in the country
- SOLO - Luxurious private banking branch of Bank of Georgia. Highly recommended for foreigners.
- TeraBank - Smaller with some of the best term deposit yields.
Only small deposits (I think it was around 1500$) are insured. However, I'd not depend on any of those insurance funds no matter how great their promises are. So keeping money in your account may be more risky then in a higher insured bank like in Europe.
What the Georgian banks have going for them are very large percentages in assets like Gold, real estate, cash, etc. You may also choose a private bank that doesn't issue loans to businesses for some additional safety.
A little known gem in Georgia are term deposits. Depending on the currency they can yield up to around 12% annually. Even USD deposits have been rewarded with 4.5% for quite a while. Compared to the 0.1% and other nonsensical interest rates in the west this is insane. Terms may be as short as 3 months.
It's complicated. Religion plays a big role in Georgian life. Don't expect Georgians to desire a western style liberal sex life.
A fantastic blog article about Sex in Georgia can be found here. Mind you that article is from 2010 and Georgia has most certainly moved on a bit. Still, but be respectful of the more conservative views on dating, sex and relationships and you shouldn't get into trouble.
Dating apps like Tinder work fine here and seem popular enough.
There are no physical sex shops in Georgia, not even Tbilisi. The ones who've tried had such a hard time dealing with angry conservative folks they had to give up. This article "Sex-shops in the South Caucasus: there is sex, but no shops" provides a great insight into this topic.
Condoms, lubricants and other essentials can be found in almost every super market, drug store and pharmacy. Toys and other sex related items can still be found online (e.g. Cupidon) and aren't illegal. Having them shipped from the US is an option too (see shopping above).
Homosexuality is legal in Georgia but homophobia still reigns strong. I haven't heard of ltbtq foreigners running into any serious trouble. I think they're mostly left alone by the more conservative folks. But you may want to refrain from displaying too much of an affection for one another in public.
Georgia has a long way to go in regards to LGBTQ rights. There's no legal status for same sex couples, adoption is not allowed and marriage is still some sacred idea that revolves about different chromosomes being involved.
Success Bar in Tbilisi seems to be the only dedicated gay bar (everyone can go there gay or not).
However Georgia isn't some gay hating hellhole. Georgia makes progress and so far ranks as the most accepting country in the Caucasus region. Violence and tense situations happen but aren't a common occurrence. Legal protection a big step and younger generations seem a lot more accepting about same sex relationships. Life just isn't as easy as in more progressive regions of the world.
Georgia is an incredibly safe country. Nowhere have I ever felt threatened or in danger. Georgians aren't a bunch of thieving crooks but generally honest and upstanding people. That doesn't mean crime doesn't exist. As always, be mindful of your surroundings, lock your doors, etc.
Police is strong and ever present. Patrols are frequent, especially in urban areas. Yet I don't get the feeling of a police state. Except for that one angry, miserable little existence who takes his parking duties along Davit Aghmashenedbeli Ave. I have never had issues with any of the officers. They're generally quite friendly and leave you alone.
Should you ever find yourself in trouble call 112, the emergency number. English operators are available to help you.
Georgian law seem to care a great deal about what you put into your own body. And while the country prides itself as the birthplace of wine other drugs can land you in jail for a very long time. They don't fool around here so stay away from that shit. There are no legal substances aside from alcohol and nicotine.
Georgia is extremely business friendly. You may choose from various types of business structures all of which are fairly cheap and easy to set up. Common choices for many foreigners who come here to start businesses are Micor- and Small business registrations or LLC/Ltd model.
Micro/Small business is similar to western models that basically register you as self employed. Taxes are at a very reasonable 1% flat up until 100.000 GEL in turnover/income. No deductions, no other income tax. If you get beyond that limit you may be subject to 20% income tax when you live in Georgia.
This model is ideal for on-the-side ventures. You'll still receive a tax ID and have to file your income reports monthly. You'll have until the 15th of the following month to do so. The website is in Georgian only but you can use Chrome with the integrated translation feature to find your way around. Having an accountant help you the first time is usually enough.
Taxes have to be paid from a business account. A personal account won't do.
For a more substantial company an LLC is better suited. It works similar to the US LLC where the company is it's own legal entity. Taxes are more complex but still reasonable. Dividends are usually taxed at 5%. Corporate tax depends on what your business is doing. IT businesses can reduce their corporate tax to 0% which is a huge incentive.
Company registration is fairly easy. You may need to register as an entrepreneur at justice house (mushroom building) and then have revenue service register your small/micro business. LLCs are handled by justice house as well. Formation of micro/small businesses cost around 26 GEL + translation fees if required. Online services selling this for four figure sums may be convenient but the whole process is super easy and costs very little.
LLC registrations are a little more involved but again don't justify four figure price tags by some agencies selling this stuff online. However, you should invest in a tax advisor/bookkeeper. They can shave of a lot taxes through expenses and their in depth knowledge. Plus they will help you set up with all the right paperwork. Having a local helping you will still be a lot cheaper then many of the online offerings.
Beyond that I can't give you advice. The overall climate is very pro business. Georgia has a well educated workforce, many opportunities in the tourism sector, great online infrastructure, etc. There's no shortage of ways to build your business here. In any case you'll need more personal advice from people on the ground. Choose somebody who's very used to working with foreigners as they know the ins and outs of their special needs.
Having a business is also a great way to file the required taxes for your residency permit.