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Travel Security Advice for Georgia

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COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:

Georgia is a constitutional republic with a developing economy.  Tourist facilities outside of Tbilisi are not highly developed, and many of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Georgia for additional information.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:

U.S. citizens living or traveling in Georgia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate at the Department of State’s travel registration page in order to obtain updated information on local travel and security.  U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  Registration is important; it allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency.

Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.

U.S. Embassy Tbilisi

11 George Balanchine Street.
(995) (32) 27-70-00
Fax (995) (32) 27-79-91

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:

A passport is required.  U.S. citizens visiting for 360 days or less do not need a visa to enter Georgia.

For further information concerning entry requirements for Georgia, travelers should contact the Embassy of Georgia at 2209 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC, 20008 tel. (202) 387-2390, fax: (202) 393-453.  For additional information please visit the Embassy of the Republic of Georgia’s website for the most current visa information

HIV/AIDS Restrictions:

There are no restrictions on travel for HIV/AIDS positive tourist visitors to Georgia  who plan to stay for 360 days or less.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website.  For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.

THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY:

As a result of civil wars in the 1980s and early 1990s, there are two separatist regions in Georgia that are not under the control of the Government of Georgia: South Ossetia, in north-central Georgia; and Abkhazia, in northwest Georgia.  Tensions are high between the separatist regions and the central government, and fighting broke out in August 2008 between separatist, Georgian, and Russian forces.  The situation remains tense, with Russian troops and border guards stationed in both separatist regions.  Due to the volatility of the political situation, reported high levels of crime, and inability of Embassy personnel to travel to Abkhazia or South Ossetia, the U.S. Embassy advises American citizens not to travel to these separatist-controlled areas.  The restricted access of U.S. officials to Abkhazia and South Ossetia significantly limits the ability of the U.S. Government to assist American citizens in these regions, even in emergencies.  All travelers to these regions should register with the U.S. Embassy.  The U.S. Embassy recommends that any travel to Abkhazia or South Ossetia be conducted in accordance with applicable Georgian laws and that Americans regularly monitor warden messages on the Embassy website for the latest information on the security situation throughout Georgia.

Serious fighting occurred between Georgian and combined separatist and Russian forces in August 2008 in some areas adjacent to the conflict zones of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, resulting in civilian casualties and the displacement of over 100,000 people.  Russian forces occupied the area near the city of Gori in central Georgia for several weeks during and following the conflict.  The risk remains of unexploded ordnance in areas where fighting occurred.  Americans should avoid travel to those areas until they are cleared.

In addition to the August 2008 conflict, a number of attacks, criminal incidents, and kidnappings have occurred in and around the separatist regions over the past several years.  The situation near the separatist areas is unpredictable.  Abkhaz "border officials" may demand that travelers entering the region purchase "visas" from the so-called "Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia," but the U.S. Government does not recognize any jurisdiction of de facto authorities.

American citizens are advised to exercise caution when traveling in the northern mountainous areas of Georgia bordering the Russian Federation.  According to Georgian Law, American citizens cannot legally cross by land, air, rail, or sea between Russia and Georgia, even if in possession of valid Russian or Georgian visas.

Political demonstrations take place from time to time in Tbilisi, and frequently take place in front of the Parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue.  While these demonstrations are generally peaceful, some confrontations have occurred, and we wish to remind all Americans that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can escalate into violence.

Regardless of the region in Georgia one is planning to visit, American citizens are urged to review their personal security precautions, increase their levels of awareness, register with the consular section and as appropriate, take increased security measures.  American citizens in Georgia are also advised to be aware of their surroundings at all times and to avoid straying off main roads or traveling after dark.

Some members of religious minorities in Georgia have been targets of attacks.  The victims were primarily Jehovah's Witnesses, but also include Pentecostals, Baptists, and members of the Assembly of God.  Past incidents included the burning of literature, the destruction of private property and the beating of believers, including American citizens.  American citizens should remain cautious when engaging in missionary activity in Georgia.

For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs' website, which contains current the Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the U.S. and Canada, or by calling a regular toll line, 1-202-501-4444, from other countries. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.  For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s extensive tips and advice on traveling safely abroad.

CRIME:

Crime is a very serious problem throughout Georgia.  There is a great disparity in affluence between foreigners and most Georgians.  Americans in particular are perceived as being wealthy, and are therefore targeted for economic- and property-based crimes.  Most of the crimes involving Americans, as reported to the Embassy, are residential break-ins, carjackings, car thefts, petty theft, and armed robberies.  Petty street crime, such as pick pocketing, purse snatching, and cell phone theft, is also common throughout the country.  Furthermore, violent attacks have become more commonplace.  Illegal firearms are readily available in Georgia, so assailants are likely to be armed with firearms and other weapons.

Crime remains a particularly serious issue in Tbilisi, where criminal activity against foreigners remains at levels disproportionate to metropolitan areas in Europe and the United States.  Many robberies and assaults have occurred in areas frequented by American citizens and foreigners, such as on side streets near Tbilisi’s city center; trouble spots include areas off the main avenues in the Vake and Vera districts, and Chavchavadze and Rustaveli avenues, as well as the Saburtalo region of Tbilisi.  These crimes often occur when the victim is alone, after dark, and in unfamiliar surroundings.

Petty theft is also a problem on the Tbilisi metro system and in “marshrutkas” minivans ” used for public transport.  American citizens are advised to use personal vehicles or taxis from established companies that carry passengers door-to-door.  While the security of overland travel in Georgia has improved, vehicular and rail traffic remains vulnerable to robbery.

Outside of Tbilisi, criminal activity is also a problem, especially in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Other regions of concern include: upper Svanetia, Samtskhe-Javakheti, the administrative boundary with Abkhazia (including Zugdidi), and areas along the border with Russia.  When visiting or traveling through these regions, American citizens are urged to increase their vigilance, review their personal security precautions, and take appropriate security measures, e.g. traveling with a native Georgian escort familiar with the local area.

Despite much progress in the Georgian Government’s efforts to reform police and fight internal corruption, serious concerns remain as to the police’s ability to deter criminal activity or conduct effective post-incident investigations.  Although police emergency response is good (see below for contact information), criminals continue to have freedom of movement throughout Tbilisi day or night.

In light of the serious crime situation, all American citizens visiting Georgia are strongly advised to exercise basic security precautions.  American travelers should vary times and routes, especially from places of residence to work locations.  Americans should maintain a low profile by not carrying large amounts of cash, not wearing excessive amounts of jewelry, and not behaving in a manner that draws unnecessary attention.  Additionally, Americans should be aware of their surroundings, travel in pairs or groups, and stay on main streets and routes.  The Embassy recommends that those traveling throughout the country do so during daylight hours only and provide a travel itinerary and contact telephone numbers to a friend or business colleague.  Americans should not hesitate to report any unusual incidents or suspicious vehicles or individuals to the Georgian authorities as soon as possible.

VICTIMS OF CRIME:

If you are the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates).  This includes the loss of or theft of a U.S. passport.  The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends, and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MOIA) has established a police emergency hotline.  This service is currently limited to larger cities, but the MOIA is planning to expand this service countrywide.

The local “911” equivalent to contact police in an emergency is: “022”.  Please note that the police dispatcher speaks only Georgian or Russian.

Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.  Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.  Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States.

Persons violating Georgia’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.  Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Georgia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:

The lack of lighting in public places, even when electricity is available, heightens vulnerability to crime (please see the Crime section above for details).

Georgia’s customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning the temporary import into or export from Georgia of items such as alcohol, tobacco, jewelry, religious materials, art or artifacts, antiquities, and business equipment.  Only personal medicines with a doctor’s statement can be imported without the permission of the Georgian Drug Agency section of the Ministry of Health.

American citizens may not import firearms into Georgia; however, hunting weapons may be brought into the country for a two-week period, based on valid Georgian hunting licenses.  While there is no limit to the amount of currency that can be imported, if more money is exported than was declared at the time of entry, the traveler is obligated to prove it was legally obtained.  There are limits on the amount of Georgian currency that may be exported.  For additional customs information, American citizens should contact the Embassy of Georgia in Washington, DC.

American citizens should exercise extreme caution in purchasing property in Abkhazia.  Land for sale in that region may rightfully belong to internally displaced persons forced to leave Abkhazia in the early 1990s and may have improperly been placed on the market by the de facto authorities in Abkhazia.  In such cases, the government of Georgia considers the sale of property in Abkhazia illegal under Georgian law and the property could be reclaimed by original owners at a future date.

The Ministry of Culture‘s Department of Expertise and Evaluation must license any valuables such as artwork, antiques, jewelry, paintings, etc.  This license describes the object, assesses its value, and provides permission to export it from Georgia.  The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi can provide more specific information on quantities of items that can be imported duty-free, as well as duties excised for specific items.  It is also advisable to contact the Embassy of Georgia in Washington, DC. for specific information regarding customs requirements. Please see our information on Customs Regulations.

While the Georgian lari is the only legal tender, dollars can be freely exchanged for laris at market rates.  Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are widespread within the city of Tbilisi.  Credit cards are accepted  in upscale hotels and restaurants, but travelers’ checks are difficult to cash.  American citizens in Georgia have reported incidents of credit card fraud and identity theft.  Travelers should closely monitor their credit card statements to avoid any fraudulent charges.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:

Western standard medical care in Georgia is limited, but Georgian healthcare continues to improve. There is a shortage of medical supplies and capabilities outside of Tbilisi, Kutaisi, and Batumi.  Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities.  It is recommended that travelers who intend to visit Georgia for at least two weeks get the hepatitis A vaccine and a pre-exposure rabies vaccine.  Travelers are also encouraged to bring medicine to treat diarrhea, which regularly afflicts newcomers.  Georgian doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment before rendering medical services.

For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website.  The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Georgia.  For further information, please consult the CDC's information on TB.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:

The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to determine whether the policy applies overseas and whether it covers emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.  For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.

As in the United States, vehicular traffic in Georgia moves along the right side of roadways.  Speed limits range from 80 to 100 km/hr on highways, and from 30 to 60 km/hr on urban thoroughfares.  Motorists are not permitted to make right turns at red traffic lights.  While legislation mandating seat belt use has yet to be enacted, drivers and passengers are strongly advised to buckle-up on Georgian roads.  Georgian law requires that children under seven (7) years of age be restrained in child-safety seats.  A driver with any blood alcohol concentration exceeding 0.00% is considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol.

Motorists should exercise extreme caution when driving in Georgia, as many local drivers do not operate their vehicles in accordance with established traffic laws.  Traffic signals and rules of the road are often completely ignored.  Motorists drive erratically, often recklessly, and at excessive speeds.  Motorists frequently encounter oncoming high-speed traffic attempting to pass other vehicles at blind turns or over hilltops.  Pedestrians enjoy no right-of-way and need to be extremely careful when crossing streets.  The Georgian Patrol Police, who come under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, are responsible for maintaining traffic safety in Georgia, but enforcement of traffic regulations is haphazard.

Undivided two-lane roads connect most major cities in Georgia.  Roads are generally in poor condition and often lack shoulder markings and centerlines.  In addition, traffic signals may not work because of power outages or poor maintenance.  Driving at night can be especially dangerous.  Travel on mountain roads is treacherous in both rain and snow, and during winter, heavy snowfalls may make some roads impassable.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information Visit the web site of Georgia’s national tourist office.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:

As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Georgia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Georgia’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.  Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.

Travelers on regional airlines among the countries of the South Caucasus may experience prolonged delays and sudden cancellations of flights.  In addition to frequent delays, flights are sometimes overbooked.  Basic safety features such as seat belts are sometimes missing.  Air travel to Georgia on international carriers via Europe is typically more reliable.  Ticketed passengers on flights departing from Georgia should reconfirm reservations with the airline 24 hours prior to departure.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:

Please see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction. This replaces the Country Specific Information dated September 18, 2008 to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Aviation Safety Oversight, Special Circumstances, and Registration/Embassy

 


 

Looking for an Embassy ?, You can also check out our World Wide Embassy Listings Section HERE (For US Citizens) or HERE (For UK Citizens).............

The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office also has information regarding travel to Georgia HERE....

The Security Website has also provided a travel warning for Georgia HERE.......

There is also a Malaria Warning for Georgia HERE.....

Regards

The SW Team.....

 

Direct Gov Travel News and Alerts