Entering Georgia during COVID-19 on a business invitation

This article explains my process of entering the country of Georgia (not the US state) on a business invitation. Like many countries Georgia imposed significant travel restrictions on anyone wishing to enter the country. The borders are practically closed. This goes as far as them not allowing holders of a temporary residency card (more information below) to enter the country.

However foreigners are still welcome in Georgia under some special circumstances. A remote working program aims at location independent professionals and entrepreneurs, another allows local companies to invite people from abroad. I’ve been granted access through the latter method and I’d like to share my experience for any one else who’s thinking about entering Georgia in this or a similar way.

Requesting a business invitation

The process is straight forward. Have the inviting company fill out a standard letter (you can download mine here). If you don’t have a Georgian ID, no worries. If you have a Tax ID, you can add this instead or simply leave it empty.

Submit the letter using this form. You’ll need a scan or photo of your passport and you should have a good idea when you’ll be entering Georgia. Make sure to apply well in advance. The website says that they’re done within 10 working days but it took way longer for me. Try to apply at least one month ahead of time.

The form also asks you for the Permit issuing authority. I got my permission from the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development for Georgia even so I’ve originally selected the one for foreign affairs. You may get a quicker response selecting the correct entity (if there is such a thing).

Once the form is submitted you’ll receive a confirmation email. After that, silence. You can try and contact that sender email address. People do get these but they don’t respond.

By the time your permission is ready (of you’re rejected) you’ll receive another email. No document or anything just a plain email that states the conditions. Mine looks like this:

Dear Traveler,

This it to confirm that the relevant authorities have processed the request {# <YOUR_REQUEST_ID>} on granting permission to enter Georgia and has made positive decision with the following terms and conditions:

Permit granted to: 
- Mrs./Ms./Mr. <YOURNAME>
- The citizen of <YOUR_CITIZENSHIP>
- Passport # <YOUR PASSPORT_ID>
- Date of entry <DATE_OF_ENTRY>

Condition of entry: 
- SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostic method upon the entry
- Obligation to stay in quarantine in the hotel authorized by the Government of Georgia within 8 days from the entry, followed by obligatory PCR testing upon the completion of quarantine. 
- Submit sample for PCR testing at the 12th  day from the entry
- Responsibility to cover all expenses related to quarantine and diagnostics
- In case of significant change of entry date (2 days) the traveler is obliged to notify the permit issuer through this email and provide new date of entry

Recommendations:
- It is recommended to use Public Safety Command Center “112” and StopCovid mobile applications while traveling to Georgia. Please consider that local mobile number (available at the airports) will be required to activate both applications
- In case of any emergency situations, including health conditions contact 112

The list of clinics that provide PCR tests can be found on the following link

https://registration.gov.ge/clinics/en/index.php
https://registration.gov.ge/clinics/ka/index.php


Respectfully,

Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia

Your conditions may vary. And that brings me to the next part.

Conditions of entry

The information I’ve received on these conditions vary WILDLY! Don’t trust anything but this email.

There are several official government websites stating that it’d be enough to bring a negative PCR test result no older then 72 hours and you’d be free to go or isolate at home.

At the airport I was told that I’d have to stay in a hotel until the Georgian test was concluded negative as well. Well it was just as negative as this information was untrue.

The conditions in this email seem non negotiable and are the ones you have to prepare for. I think they differ depending on your passport or residence permit.

My fellow citizens aren’t well behaved in terms of COVID and even so I haven’t set foot in my passport issuing country for ages that passport still caused these restrictions. So even if you come from one of the green listed countries you might be held to the standards associated with your passport(s).

Traveling to Georgia

From what I understand you have to enter Georgia via plane and it has to be a direct flight (not sure on the latter part). I chose Georgian Airways departing from Berlin.

Tickets with that airline seem to cost the same no matter when you book. So there’s no rush. If you can, book exit row. Wouldn’t recommend business. Not much to be gained on these flights.

Don’t freak out if your flight isn’t listed on the airport’s homepage or sites like flightaware. They still fly.

The morning before my flight I was called by the airline on how I plan to enter Georgia. Tell them about your invitation letter and also have it printed out (that plain email will do). You’ll need it at check-in.

Arrival in Georgia

In Tbilisi security makes sure distances are kept. The line is slowly guided to immigration. I was impressed how well they handled the crowd. Other countries could learn a lot from Georgia in that regard!

At some point I was asked for my passport by an officer with a list. She found me on the list and another police officer escorted me to a waiting area. I was the only guy treated like that, felt strange, almost like they’d arrest me in a minute. They also didn’t really tell me what would be happening next which is part of the reason I’m writing this.

After around 15 minutes an airport staff member escorted me to a bus. My passport was still with immigration.

At this point: don’t worry. That’s normal. Immigration is working out your paperwork and your luggage will be waiting for you at the lost luggage counter when you’re done.

The bus transported me to the test center. I was the only foreigner there along with a Georgian lady who didn’t seem very happy about being tested. Took them a while to prepare. I had to pay 250 GEL for the test right there. They give you a sticker and a receipt. Give that sticker to the person taking the samples. Don’t lose it!

Sample collection is quick (one form the mouth and one from your nose).

After that you’ll go back to the terminal. An officer will escort you through immigration and hand you back your stamped passport. I picked up my suitcase at the left luggage counter and was then escorted into another bus.

Arriving in quarantine

The police escorted bus brought me to the Dormitory Hualing Tbilisi Hotel. I had no choice of hotel or anything like that. Check-in is you handing over the passport for a moment and being sent to your room.

Again, no instructions. One of the staff members seemed afraid of me and kept a very large distance. So don’t expect a warm welcome. Also, no information on the cost. I only found out later on that they charge 59 GEL a night. So for me that’s 472 GEL for the entire stay.

At the room I found instructions … in Georgian. No translation, not even Russian. There’s a chair in front of the door that acts as your mailbox. Food and other supplies will be left on that Don’t leave your garbage on there. Put it on the floor instead. People will pick it up.

I walked back to reception and asked what would happen if I ordered food using one of the delivery apps (Wolt and Glovo are the two big ones in Tbilisi). The lady was shocked to see me but answered my question. Also told me that I had to stay in my room and call 101 for reception for further questions.

Fair enough … could have been avoided with a translated “manual” ;)

To spare you the same experience, just order food to the hotels address and your room number. Maybe add the hotel’s phone number in case the courier needs to call for directions.

Processing your PCR test result

You will receive your test result (hopefully negative) the next day on that same email address you received the original invitation. Once you do, call reception. They will give you an email address of their doctor. Send your test result, your invitation letter and your passport copy to that address.

The doctor has no say in any of this but forwards the data to that same ministry that invited you. They will then instruct the doctor on what happens next and that’s what the receptionist will tell you … in my case, 8 days of quarantine. YAY! So be prepared for this when you apply and plan for it accordingly.

Life in quarantine

You’re not allowed to leave the room. Reception will take care of your needs. Meals will be at your door three times a day (at 0900, 1300 and 1900). It’s not exactly Gordon Ramsey cooking. So maybe have somebody bring you food from the outside or simply order via one of the apps.

The hotel room is simple and not in perfect shape. You have all you need but not much more. Internet is sluggish but stable. Maybe bring offline copies of your favorite movies so you don’t depend on streaming.

Other then that try to bring some work you can do on whatever device(s) you bring along. Might also be a good time to learn the Georgian Alphabet or maybe get into meditation. You’ll have a lot of time on your hand.

When I do get upset about my “prison” I remind myself about two things. First, I chose this. I’m back in Georgia, a country I love and I will soon be able to go home. Second, I’m healthy and not in some ICU hoping for a respirator to become available before I suffocate. Puts things into perspective, trust me.

Organizing your release

Occasionally the hotels doctor will call you asking for your temperature. Use this opportunity to ask them about your release process. I’ve been told multiple dates/times when I can leave. However the doctor is the one giving the release permit once the “emergency service” or ministry clears you.

It’s important to note that your arrival time matters. If you enter Georgia after 18:00, the day of your arrival DOES NOT COUNT as a day in quarantine. So if you can find an acceptable flight that comes in earlier.

I’ve also been told that on the morning of release day the doctor will take a sample for a COVID quick test. You’ll have to pay for that test yourself of course. The result will be ready within the hour and is vital to your release. The doctor will then request your release with the emergency service (whoever that is) at around 9:00 AM which is their opening hour. The idea is that by 10:00AM you’re finally allowed to leave.

Make sure to talk to your quarantine doctor about that. Ideally the same doctor who will be on duty the day of your release. Again, many people will tell you different stories. Don’t let that mess with your head. So far only that doctor seems to be a source of reliable information.

Summary

This article is about my experience. There may be other ways but I didn’t really find anything useful about the entire process. It’s not complete yet as I’m still going through the process. I’ll fill in the blanks later on as I learn more about this mini imprisonment.

There are some things I don’t know yet. Like how to get the second PCR test in at the 12 days mark.

One thing that bothers me a lot is that there’s no outline about what’s happening to you. You end up in some place the government chose for you without any idea of what to do and when you can leave. This is the reason for this article to exist. But be aware that the process may be completely different for you should you choose to come to Georgia this way.

I’d not recommend coming to Georgia without a good reason or at the very least for a long time stay.

And that’s not me complaining about the process. I’m happy to be back but would sit it out somewhere else if I didn’t have a strong foundation in Georgia already. If you go is up to you. I’m more then happy to answer questions if you have any (Twitter might be the best way to get in touch). In any way I hope this answers some questions and I wish you all good luck!