Tbilisi, Georgia Report of what it's like to live there - 07/17/14

Personal Experiences from Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi, Georgia 07/17/14

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

This was our second overseas adventure. Our previous post was Dushanbe.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Hometown - Williamsburg, Virginia. 15 hour travel time. Dulles to Frankfurt to Tbilisi.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Aug. 2011 - June 2013

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. Government

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

The Embassy dealt with four different neighborhoods. Downtown, Saburtalo, Digomi, and Zurgovani. Singles and couples with no kids typically choose the first two and families were in the later two. Most we're very pleased with their housing. Commute times depending on the location weren't more than 15 to 20 minutes to as little as 5 minutes depending on which neighborhood you got. Shorter commutes for some meant longer trips to the city center.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Groceries were reasonably priced. We went to Goodwill and Carefore for staples and the Guldani outdoor market for our vegetables.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Zip locks, good trash bags, and American popcorn.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Georgian food was fabulous. Khinghali, chatchapuri, Georgian salad, shashlik, and kebabs. Our favorites spots were the Mill, Tartine, Pregos, and sadly my boys liked McDonalds.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None at all.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

There is a pouch for the Embassy folks.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

The cost of domestic help was quite low.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

The Embassy had a gym and some people went to the Raddison. The Embassy was free and the Raddison was pretty expensive.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Georgia is still a cash economy, but you could use a credit card at some places. We just chose not not.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There is a Catholic service and a universal service.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You could probably do without it, but a little goes a long way. Garmajobat!

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

It's getting better, but there are still many sidewalks where a wheelchair would have problems and most businesses didn't accommodate.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis are fine, but pay the difference get one with seat belts. The drivers in Georgia are very bad.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

You could get by with a sedan, but we wanted to travel, so a AWD in our eyes was the best choice. You wouldn't make it over some of the mountain passes in winter without an AWD and chains. Toyota was king when it came to parts. There are no restrictions on any vehicles coming in to Georgia. We hear that the pass is now paved but you still have to deal with the snow.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Internet was pretty good where we were, but I think it depended on your neighborhood.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

There are lots of companies to choose from.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No quarantine is required and there are a few decent vets.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are some.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Shirt and tie.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

None at all. The only issues that ever happened occurred in a bar at 2:00 AM.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

None. The hospitals are decent.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

The air quality is fine. Normally I have seasonal allergies, but I had no problems whatsoever in Georgia.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

The climate is very similar to Washington, DC. Four seasons. The only thing that was a shock was the wind. Saying that Tbilisi is a Windy City is an understatement. In the hills, you might need to tie the little ones down.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

QSI and the Georgian British Academy. We had two boys at the QSI and we were pretty happy with the teachers. We had friends that worked at the Georgian British Academy, which was becoming an up and coming choice. By the time we left, there was shift starting towards GBA.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

None that we were aware of.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

There were several preschools to choose from when we were there.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Basketball, Track, Cross Country - all through QSI.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

The size of the expat community was smaller than we had expected. Morale was generally very good.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

There is always something to do in Tbilisi.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

It's a great city for families, singles, and couples. The morale at Post and in the general expat community was quite high. My family and I loved it there.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

We had a number of good friends that were gay and they loved it there.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

It's a conservative country. Gay pride events always attracted trouble, but overall I'd say that it was a very accepting country.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Stomping grapes in Sighnaghi, swimming in the Black Sea, and experiencing Svaneti and Ushguli. They should be on everyone's bucket list.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

We loved to walk around downtown, visit the dry bridge for art and antiques, go to the Turkish baths, eat out, and visit one of the many local ice cream shops.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Wine, great food, sheeps skins, cool hats, wooden spoons, Svan salt, and cool paintings

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Georgia was an awesome Post. It's easy to travel throughout the country. From Tbilisi to Batumi at the Black Sea to Sighnaghi to Svaneti. The food was amazing, the wine was fantastic (500 different grapes.) Inexpensive skiing to Gudauri and Bakuriani.

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10. Can you save money?

You can if you want.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

The driving is seriously bad there.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

We would go there in an instant.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure and maybe a wine opener.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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5. Do you have any other comments?

Don't miss the opportunity to drive to Yerevan, Ushguli, Batumi, and, if you're up to it, Baku. You also need to eat a dozen Khinghali in one sitting and chase it down with a little cha cha!

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