Tbilisi, Georgia Report of what it's like to live there - 01/27/09

Personal Experiences from Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi, Georgia 01/27/09

Background:

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

Second expat experience--first as a missionary elsewhere.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2005-2007.

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

About 15 hours total--going through Amsterdam, Munich and Istanbul from DC.

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

Assigned to the 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 lived near the Embassy and so had a wonderful, enviable commute of about five minutes that we will never see again. Sigh.

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

We brought almost all our own household supplies--two year supply of TP (available but a little pricier), dishwasher (available but PRICEY) and laundry detergent (same), but didn't need to bring dish and hand soap (widely available and not pricey).We ate granola from Goodwill that wasn't too expensive and we made our own pancakes all the time. We brought most of our own pantry items in our consumables shipment. Cheese at Goodwill was pretty decent, too, but a bit pricey. We actually had someone send us Costco bulk pepper jack cheese and it made the trip just fine.

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

Same things I shipped before--real maple syrup, baking supplies, chocolate chips (though you can always chop up a chocolate bar), grains for grinding, feminine products, diapers (though locally sold Pampers are only slightly more expensive than Huggies via Amazon.com), nice fabric for tailoring. I wish I'd known how cheap it was to get things custom framed (circa US$20-50). I would have brought every last thing in my house I wanted framed.

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

McDonald's had two stores and was opening a few more. I ate there about three times. Disgusting. Cabbage on my Big Mac?!?! Reasonable cost. There were a few good pizza places but the quality was never consistent. It was like pulling teeth to get them to deliver out by the Embassy.

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

Sugar ants in the kitchen in summer.

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Daily Life:

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

APO. The ONE time I tried to receive a package sent to us via USPS directly to the Embassy, it never arrived.

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

About US$15/day. Another poster suggested getting someone new rather than an "expat retread."I disagree. It all depends. There is something to be said for getting someone who has already been trained in U.S. ways of doing things, knows expectations, etc. If they are lazy, then fire them. We did.

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

Bring a treadmill. I ran at the Hippodrome on Saturdays with friends. The Embassy has a "gym" and Vake fitness club is decent.

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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?

I used an ATM at the Marriott a couple of times because my bank reimbursed the fee. Generally I got cash from the Embassy cashier. I used my credit card once or twice in town. At the time, it was a cash economy.

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

Yes--there is an international non-denominational church, Catholic, Baptist, Jewish, and LDS (with an interpreter).

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Some but as another poster said, biased and silly most of the time. If you have Internet access why is this even an issue?

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

Depends on what your life is like. If you're working in the Embassy you will be speaking English all the time. But no matter what, please learn how to say and understand basic greetings and questions. Knowing how to read at least the alphabet so you can sound out words is also helpful. That way you can read what signage exists. Russian is spoken by some but not preferred. Most under 25 don't even know Russian at all.

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

I think I saw two wheelchairs on the street the whole time I was there.

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Transportation:

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

I never got on the subway, I rode a city bus a few times without incident. The Red Cab service is what I generally took or made personal acquaintance with cabbies who I would call on at other times. Generally I drove myself without a problem. The key is to drive with a purpose and don't go fast until you identify a problem.

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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?

We had an SUV with killer tires. Make sure you have good shocks and brakes. We never had an accident and consider ourselves very very lucky. We almost had several, though, because of the craziness of the driving."You don't need to wear a seatbelt inside the city." "Driving after I drink? Why wouldn't I?" "I just missed my road--never mind making a massive U-turn, I'll just fly backwards on the highway at top speed."

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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?

We paid about US$70/month for Telenet--TERRIBLE management but decent service.

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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 had one from the Embassy--nobody uses voicemail which took some getting used to. Apparently if you have Magticom and your phone number starts with a "6" you can't have voicemail. Strange. You might consider purchasing a CDMA phone you like in the States, getting it unlocked, and bringing it with you.

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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?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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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?

None to speak of.

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

Business casual to business. The Georgian women somehow got away with outfits most American women could never pull off at work--not skimpy but just interesting. The women generally always seemed to take care and pride in how they dressed. People were generally clean.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

It's all relative--in the winter people burn tires to keep warm. The smell is toxic.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Everything except probably malaria.

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

Plenty. Use your head like you would in South Philly. Don't drive outside the city at night without a good plan. Carry a knife.

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

Um, yeah. Just pray you or your family members don't get sick.

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

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Schools & Children:

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

I saw the new QSI school being built--decent construction standards.

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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?

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

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Expat Life:

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

A few hundred or so.

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2. Morale among expats:

Depends on your attitude. The Embassy had a toxic morale problem when we arrived. But the country as a whole was improving and the changes were visible on the street--people were not wearing as much black, streets were cleaner, etc. I don't know what it's like after the war in August 2008.

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

Dinner/game parties at home. Make friends with some Georgians and have them become part of your life. It will make all the difference.

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

As other posters have said, if you want to grow closer as a family and are willing to try to grow closer, this might be the post that does it. Not so good for singles unless you develop a good network of friends. It's all what you make it.

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

Probably not.

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

The Georgians are suspicious of the Chinese so Asians might have a tough time.

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

Get out of Tbilisi and just start driving. Drive anywhere. Talk to villagers. Ask them to show you their city.

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

If you like oil paintings you can find some gems. Just start looking at the beginning of your tour to determine your taste. You can even have some pieces commissioned. Rugs are decent but aren't as cheap as in Baku, Istanbul. You can spend money on flights out of the city as they are pricey. Travel, travel, travel as much as possible.

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9. Can you save money?

Absolutely.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Depends--if there were other options, no. If it was a forced move, sure--it's a known entity now.

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

Bad attitude, rollerblades, skis (unless you have special ones you like--local rentals are cheap).

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3. But don't forget your:

Wii, Uninterrupted Power Supplies, surge protectors, exercise equipment, consumables, winter clothing, bed linens, pillows, towels, and even your bed if you really like it. Embassy beds aren't that comfortable.

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

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

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Power Trip.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

The hardest thing to get used to was the lingering Soviet mentality, especially among the older generations. They preferred being taken care of. The younger generation is trying to make their country a better place and runs into obstacles at every turn. Really frustrating is trying to buy things not sold in grocery stores. When we first arrived we wanted to buy a TV. We finally bought through Peter Justesen because every shop owner we visited had a mean look on his face like, "I dare you to try to buy something from me. You should feel honored I even let you in my store." Capitalism, the entrepreneurial spirit, etc., are hard to come by.

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