Tbilisi, Georgia Report of what it's like to live there - 10/12/09

Personal Experiences from Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi, Georgia 10/12/09

Background:

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

Yes.

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2. How long have you lived here?

Aug 2007-2009.

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

US Gov't.

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

From US it's generally 16-24 hours depending on layovers. Munich or Amsterdam are probably the better lay over points, but most major European hubs are covered. (No budget carriers.) Kayak.com and travelocity can now help you find flights. (Not true in 2007.) E-tickets were new in 2007, but were working fairly smoothly by 2008.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Sabartalo took about 20-40 minutes to get to the embassy, and 10-20 minutes to get to most parts downtown.

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

Groceries and household supplies are fairly easily available at the "Goodwill" store. (Think super-Walmart from Germany.) Fruits & vegetables in season are cheaper and better on the street: 2 bags of the best tomatoes I've ever had cost $3.

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

Skis, mountain bike, UPS. (Power is semi-reliable at best. It usually comes back in a few minutes to an hour, but it blips fairly often.)

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

Only 3 McDonald's fast food restaurants. But other restaurants are pretty decent. There is at least one restaurant of every variety I can think of that was decent -- except Mexican and Indian. Thai and Chinese were also very good and pretty cheap.

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

Grasshopers while hiking, aphids on the rose bushes. That's about it.

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Daily Life:

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

Difficult if you don't have access to APO. APO took 3-4 weeks to arrive. You can get 2-night shipping from FedEx for documents and other items, but you pay a price for that.

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

Fairly available and not TOO pricey, but not as cheap as some other places. Hired help generally lacks training, though, and you will need to be VERY explicit about what you want. Expecting domestic help to see and take care of a problem with their own ambition will probably lead to disappointment.

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

Yes, though they run around $100/month.

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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?

This is generally a cash-only economy. Credit cards are sometimes taken (and sometimes literally "taken". ATMs are all over the place.

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

Yes. I'm aware of Catholic and Methodist services, but I think others were out there.

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

AFN and Orbit are available.

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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?

Most locals speak either Russian (only) or also English to various degrees. Learn some Georgian. You can get away without much.

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

Many. Sidewalks are in poor condition in the few places where they do exist. It's not a very walking-friendly city.

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Transportation:

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

Cabs are generally safe and readily available. The embassy advises against using them, but local buses and trains were safe for my wife during the two years she used them.

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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?

Roads are better than they were 5 years ago, but they are still a little rough. A sedan would be ok in town, but once you leave town a car with better clearance would probably be a good idea. If you are going skiing or camping, a four-wheel-drive vehicle is advised. Most major auto manufacturers exist, but parts may be hard to find or take a while to get there. Bring your own parts if you can. Traffic is becoming a problem. People drive at high speeds (80 mph in residential areas sometimes) and recklessly. Common courtesy is sometimes hard to find on the roads, even though people are generally very nice in person. Drunk driving after 8pm is fairly common, so be careful.

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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?

Depends on your specific location. DSL is available in some homes for $50/mo. I had to use 3G/HSDPA off of the cell networks ($45 / month).

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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?

You can buy phones/SIMs there without too much trouble.

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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, but they must be registered to leave the country.

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

Yes. Some well-trained vets really do care about dogs, and you can get high quality food in town. It may or may not be authentic, though.

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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?

I think so. The high volume of foreign aid coming into the country has created a large number of NGO-type jobs around.

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

I wore khakis and a button-down shirt most days to work. But flip-flops, running shorts and a t-shirt after a run didn't get me gawked at any more than it would in the U.S.

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Health & Safety:

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

Moderate/decent during warm months. Winter has some bad days if a weather system holds the smoke from people's fires in the city.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

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

No worse than in any other major city. If you're drunk, by yourself at 3am in a dark alley, you might get mugged. Just like in every major city in the U.S.

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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?

Medical care is a little sketchy, but apparently dentistry is good. Come prepared for your own special needs, though, as most major problems will get you medevac'd.

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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?

Summers can be warm/hot in town (80F-100F). But hiking on the ridges can help reduce the heat a bit. Winters are mild in town, generally (30-40F), but a few days will be in 10-15F. Once you leave the city, temps can drop 10-20F in the altitude pretty easily.

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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 is a decent school but pretty small. Good student-to-teacher ratio, but recruiting maybe a challenge for them, so some teachers are better than others.

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

Don't know. Probably not much due to school size.

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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?

I know some people had private nannies for reasonably decent prices.

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

Through the schools, yes.

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Expat Life:

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

Fairly small, but not too bad.

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2. Morale among expats:

High. Lots of stuff to do. Friendly folks.

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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?

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

Post is getting to be EXTREMELY family oriented. Singles can be fine, but dating locals has its hazards. (Green card hunters, etc.)

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

Marginally good. It's a pretty conservative culture, so you would probably have to be careful where that information was shared.

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

Locals are very friendly with Americans. African-Americans are gawked at quite a bit, but I don't think due to hostility --- we're just exotic. Proselytizing is frowned upon and may be a problem, but people are generally tolerant of other religions. There are a few churches/synagogues/mosques of most types in town.

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

Skiing is cheap and only 2 hours away. Good stuff, too. Austrians installed a new lift (#7) in 2008. Hiking/trail running/camping is pretty decent and generally safe if you keep an eye out for the dogs. Lots of history available in the country. Castles and ancient history are accessible downtown and throughout the country. Stalin was born in Georgia, where there are some interesting things to do. The Black Sea has a pretty decent resort. The tallest mountain of Europe (famous for the 7-summits) is on the Russian side of the border in the Caucasus Mountains. Other mountaineering options exist in Georgia to get you over 16,000 ft. Many guides are available.

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

Georgian wine is good, artwork isn't too bad.

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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?

Absolutely. We loved our 2 years there and would love to go back.

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

Road bike. Liver (or plan on needing a replacement when you're done.)

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3. But don't forget your:

Skis, tent, and sense of humor. (Driving can be frustrating.)

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

Ali and Nino, by Kurban Said. (# ISBN-10: 0385720408# ISBN-13: 978-0385720403)

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

Ali and Nino, by Kurban Said. (# ISBN-10: 0385720408# ISBN-13: 978-0385720403)

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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