Tbilisi, Georgia Report of what it's like to live there - 01/08/19

Personal Experiences from Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi, Georgia 01/08/19

Background:

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

No, this was our last expatriate experience! We have also lived in the USSR, Italy, Belgium, Austria, former Yugoslavia, and Turkey.

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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?

Chicago, IL. About 22-24 hours door to door. Right not there is no direct connection from Tbilisi to the States, but we're hearing rumors that may change.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We lived in Tbilisi for 2.5 years (departed last year).

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

US Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

We had a larger house than most due to husband's position, so our situation was not typical. Typical housing is either walled houses in the outer part of Tbilisi near the embassy (Dighomi 7, 8. 9) or townhouses near QSI School (Zurgovani) or apartments in Vake, more trendy and closer to the center of town (but more polluted from car exhaust). Most commutes would be 10-40 minutes in traffic (traffic is heavy during evening rush hour).

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

Actually, not bad, but then again, we're not that picky, and this is a consumables post, so you can ship the deal-breakers like chocolate chips, vanilla, whole wheat flour, Karo, molasses, maple syrup, pecans, stuffing mix, canned pumpkin (although local fresh pumpkins are wonderful), and high-quality pet food. At Carrefour, you could find quite a lot. No one's going to starve in Georgia; food is plentiful and cheap. Produce tends to be seasonal, however. So you won't find certain vegetables and fruits all year long.

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

Nothing. Anything we needed we ordered through Amazon (not cheap, but if you need Ezekiel cereal, then you pay for it!)

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

There are some very innovative restaurants in Georgia, increasing all the time. Azarphesha, Poliphonia, Schuchmann, Keto & Keti, Cafe Littera, Baan Thai, just to name a few.

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

No, thank God.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO works fairly well; things can arrive in as little as one week, but one month is more typical. Haven't used local postal facilities.

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

Many people have housekeepers, and a few have drivers because driving is a bit crazy in Georgia. Generally fairly cheap.

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

Gyms are expensive by local standards. The embassy gym has some equipment.

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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?

Credit cards are mostly accepted, but small businesses often still want cash. They also don't make change. ATMs are relatively common in the center of the city and generally safe.

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

We attended Sts Peter and Paul Catholic Church on the Marjanashvili side of the river. I know there is a Baptist church in town as well.

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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 do need some language, but that language can also be Russian. Older people tend to speak Russian, younger speak English. Outside of the city, chances of finding English-speakers go down, but you can still find Russian speakers. Anyway, if you know any Russian, you'll be OK in most situations. Georgian is quite difficult but knowing a few phrases goes a long way.

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

Oh, God, yes. Terrible city for anyone in a wheelchair. Uneven pavement, potholes, sidewalks that abruptly end or don't exist at all, uneven stairs, and no elevators to get to metro or to cross highways -- it's hard for even for the able-bodied and a nightmare for the disabled. There are lobbying groups trying to pass legislation, but for now, very difficult.

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Transportation:

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

Affordable, yes. Safe, no. And not very efficient if you live outside the center.

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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 will want an SUV/off-road vehicle. Do not bring a sedan as once you're outside of Tbilisi (and even inside!) you'll hit unpaved, rocky dirt roads (except for the highways, which are pretty good.).

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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?

Yes, internet is available. The embassy helped us with that and to be honest, I don't know if they help everyone, but these days, they should, worldwide.

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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?

I made sure I had an unlocked phone with two SIM card slots, and kept my local (Magti) Georgian card in one slot, my ATT home phone in the other. It took awhile to get the hang of the Magti online site and loading money onto the SIM. I needed to talk to others who had more experience.

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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?

We used the veterinary clinic at the Agricultural College in Dighomi. There is also a new vet in Vake. Vets are not properly trained in Georgia. The ones at the Agricultural College have had training from the outside, and their techs are very nice. Although their clinic is cleaner than most of the other vets I've been to in Georgia, sterile surgical conditions are not standard there, unfortunately. Still, they took good care of my dog.

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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?

There are some embassy jobs. If you're a teacher, you can often get a job at one of the international schools. Other than that, not much on the market for spouses. Plenty of volunteer opportunities where you can get really involved with locals; that has its own rewards, if you have the right attitude.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Tons. Speaking at American centers around the country. Helping on projects in local villages. Helping Dog Organization Georgia (street dogs). Volunteering at the IDP (internally displaced persons) settlements both north and south of the city. Being a member of the Friends of the Georgian Ballet.

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

Suits at the embassy with some exceptions. Dressy casual for many functions, as well as cocktail attire for many functions, and definitely at least one formal outfit for Marine Ball and various charity events such as the Burns Supper (which is a ton of fun).

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Health & Safety:

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

For the most part, robbery and worse crimes are not inflicted on the expat community. There have been some tragic exceptions in the past year. Traffic accidents are the most unsafe aspect of living in Georgia. Do not get into a car without a working seatbelt. Driving requires constant focus and being on the defensive at all times. Parking in the center is a challenge.

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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?

Dental care is stellar, seriously good (I went to Cedex). The American Medical Center in Tbilisi is good, too, but bills at Western prices. Lots of people went to MediClub (I think that's the name) and had mixed reviews. There's also a cardiac center. I had MRIs done at a local clinic that were of good quality and cost very little. The embassy provides basic care but for anything serious you need to go elsewhere or even out of country. Get your rabies vaccine before you come; you probably won't get bitten but there are lots of street dogs and many cats are feral.

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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?

Bad, unregulated air quality. Tons of old cars on the road with no emission control standards - that's the biggest problem. People are now getting tested for blood lead levels because of this. Air quality in Dighomi, which is outside the center of the city, is much better, because it's not as much in the "bowl" of the center. One good thing about Tbilisi is that strong winds come through every 2 weeks or so, bringing in fresh air.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

The climate is fairly dry, so allergies are probably not as bad in Tbilisi as elsewhere, but it really depends on the allergens and the person.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

The CLO does a good job of bringing people together, but in this nomadic life, there are always some mental health issues, aren't there? From my perspective -- which may be slanted -- morale was good at post.

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

Very temperate. Snowy and cold in the mountains, of course. There are something like 72 different microclimates in Georgia! Tbilisi tends to have one or two cold weeks during the winter, one or two hot weeks during the summer, and is mild the rest of the time.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are several schools: QSI very near the embassy; The New School, an international school above the center of town, the Georgian-American school (high school) near Lisi Lake that is mostly for elite Georgians; the British-Georgian school also near Lisi Lake, and I believe there is a French and a German school as well. I worked at QSI for a year. Nice community, wonderful place for younger kids, but high school's mastery system has pluses and minuses for high school students. Still, lots of AP courses are offered and standardized testing offered as well. Dedicated teachers.

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

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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?

Pretty sure people pay nannies/housekeepers.

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

QSI has a ton of after-school activities for both kids and adults. The International Women's Association also have a ton of weekly activities and clubs going -- if you're a woman! :)

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Expat Life:

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

Good morale. It's a beautiful country with lots to do and explore. Hundreds of people in the expat community, maybe even thousands and growing.

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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?

If you're young, energetic and like staying up all night, the club and techno scene is supposed to be great. Even if you're not young, you'll see that Georgians of all ages tend to stay up late. It's an enormously social culture, with food, wine and song part of any good evening. As I mentioned, IWA is a good way to socialize if you're a woman; I met many women from many different countries through this organization.

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

Good for all. Only thing that's difficult is pushing a stroller in the city center... fugeddabboudit.

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

There are not very many people of color in Georgia. That said, if black Peace Corps volunteers can wade into rural communities and be accepted and loved, I'd say anyone can! Most Georgians are pretty friendly and hospitable. However, I am white, so I really can't speak to what it would be like to be a person of color in Georgia.

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

Hmmm. While LGBT folks are starting to come out, Georgia has a long way to go in accepting them. It's a conservative Christian country and LGBT still seem to be discriminated against.

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

Not too much in the way of religious prejudices that we encountered. There is definitely a bit of a gender bias, as there is in so many countries. However, more and more women are now in parliament and in positions of leadership.

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

Georgia is stunningly beautiful. Highlights included staying up in Rooms Hotel Kazbegi, in the High Caucasus; staying in the Crown Plaza Borjomi, in the freshest air in the country; traveling back roads, driving to Svaneti and exploring there, including visiting the medieval towers and small family churches with ancient frescoes; the National Museum in Mestia (Svaneti); going to Pheasant's Tears in Sighnaghi and exploring wine country in general (Kakheti); Tsinandali (Chavchavadze House Museum); Mtskheta; Jvari: Uplitsikhe; Vardzia; Akhalsikhe; Batumi Botanic Garden. In Tbilisi itself: The Dry Bridge antiques flea market; exploring the windy streets of the Old Town; the Botanic Garden; shops such as Ornament; and artist's galleries and studios (so many good artists!). Going to the ballet, and going to the opera -- both fantastic.

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

(See above) Will add the Sukhishvili Dance Troupe -- if they're in town, go see them!

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

Favorite shop: Ornament, for gorgeous Georgian enamelware. Cool little fashion boutiques with one-of-a-kind apparel, in both the center and in Vake. Handicrafts in shops in the center (especially in the basement of the Tbilisi City Museum) and at the Dry Bridge Market. Really cool international stuff to buy at the annual IWA Winter Bazaar (usually first Saturday in December). Some antiques and fun shops in the Marjanashvili section of town, both in the newly restored and pretty pedestrian street, and also a few blocks further up from the river. Crafts boutiques at Fabrika. (Also, breakfast at Fabrika!)

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

Art, music, culture, generous people, ancient history and traditions. Christianity was founded here at the same time it was started in Rome, in the early 4th century. There is always some surprise around the corner here. Georgians really like Americans -- that's something you don't find in every country on earth!

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Nothing! I came with no expectations, and ended up falling in love. It's got some serious flaws that need to be fixed. But it's just such a wonderful place in so many surprising ways.

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

In a heartbeat.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Wine. Try the plentiful, exotic and interesting Georgian wines, and go to the wineries to learn more about the grapes.
Art: It's fun to find new artists here.
Pride in your language ability: Georgian is hard and you may be humbled.

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4. But don't forget your:

Dog supplies. Because, even if you don't have a dog now, you will have one by the time you leave. So many need homes and somehow, they find you and "adopt" you before you have a chance to defend yourself.



Hiking equipment and boots, skiing equipment (although rentals are very cheap, but you might prefer your own skis).



Camera. You're going to want to take pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.


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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Just the usual guidebooks.

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