We have been living in Tbilisi for almost 6 months now. I feel that it’s a good time to share a bit about our experience and tell how life here is. For us personally.
Will this be a good city for you? Is it worth moving to Tbilisi for the long term? I answer some important questions that hopefully will help you get a clear idea of how your life in Tbilisi may go.
MOVING TO TBILISI – THE BASICS
The reason why we decided to move to Tbilisi was that we wanted to find a base and settle somewhere long term. We were in Northern Spain at the time when making a decision to move to Georgia, were tired of constant travels and sought to find a cheap place where to live.
Getting in touch with a few expats in Tbilisi, looking into prices for apartment rent, and taking into consideration that fact that we could stay in Georgia up to 365 days a year without a visa, we came to a conclusion that at this stage of life Tbilisi is a perfect city to move to. So we packed and left.
But after only a few weeks here we began noticing more cons than pros and started to question if this city was right for us.
Your perception may be different. Whatever we consider a disadvantage, you may see as gain. I do not tend to sing praises only and skip the realities. My goal is to reflect on the positive and negative sides of a destination.
So read it, analyze and draw a conclusion if Tbilisi is a good pick for you. If you have more questions, feel free to drop a comment.
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COST OF LIVING IN TBILISI
When it comes to the cost of living in Tbilisi, some foreigners proclaim (especially those who visit Tbilisi for a week or two) that everything here is very cheap or almost free. Compared with London, Paris or other major European cities, perhaps it is.
However, we live in Tbilisi and can attest that prices for many things are metropolitan, albeit it is not the richest city.
Tbilisi Prices for Food
Food in Tbilisi is not the cheapest. Of course, it depends on where and how much you eat, but even if cooking at home, expect to pay similar to what you would in many cities in Europe.
We personally cook most of the time and spend on groceries around $70 per week. This amount includes lots of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, grains, occasional meat, wine, and mineral water. A big variety of fruits and veggies comes from other countries and costs much more. Local produce is seasonal and rather cheap.
Gluten or dairy-free products in Tbilisi are not popular at all. Those that exist are insanely expensive (like $6-$7 for a pack of almond milk.) Seafood is pricey too.
Eating out at the restaurant costs around $15-$20 for two. A cup of latte costs $3-$4. In more simple cafes that sell khachapuri, we pay around $5-$7 for two (excluding drinks.)
The price of wine pleasantly surprises. Frankly speaking, it is difficult to try bad wine in Georgia. It may not impress you because of the taste, but the quality is always high.
The bottle of wine in a store starts from 10 GEL (unpretentious Saperavi or Tsinandali) or $4. Starting from 25 GEL ($10) you can indulge in a Kvevri wine (an old method of wine production in huge earthen vessels buried in the ground.)
Monthly Apartment Rent in Tbilisi
If you are looking to secure an apartment in Tbilisi for the long term, it may be a tad challenging to find it anywhere close to the Old part of Tbilisi. For the most part, owners rent it out on Airbnb starting from $30 per night and make much more money through a daily rent than a monthly one.
But, you don’t really want to make a base right in the center anyways. It is always noisy, crowded and more polluted.
Generally, expats who live in Tbilisi choose Vake, Saburtalo, Nutsubidze Plato, Ortachala, and Avlabari neighborhoods. This post explains in detail what some really cool neighborhoods in Tbilisi are.
Vake and Avlabari would be closer to the center. There, the price for a really nice spacious and comfortable apartment with recently made renovation starts from $400. For this money, you can get a beautiful one-bedroom flat. Of course, there are cheaper flats too, they are just smaller and more basic.
Just keep in mind that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is no central heating in Georgia. Everyone keeps his place warm as he can.
In flats in the Old town owners typically use an electric heater. In the newer built houses, you’ll find some type of a gas heating radiator, which is attached to the wall and most often only in one room. Flats that were built within the last few years have heating radiators on the walls of each room. They are heated by a gas heating system set on the balcony of each flat.
My advice is to try to rent an apartment in a newly built apartment complex to make sure you’ll be warm enough when cold times come.
It is also possible to find a flat for $150-200 per month. But expect it to be an old apartment, sometimes kommunalka type one, from grandmother’s times. No renovations or repairs took place there since at least 1985. Furniture and plumbing saw a few generations. The washing machine and refrigerator are not common at all.
You can rent a long term apartment in Tbilisi through a broker (this type of service is mega-popular here) or online.
We opted for another option. We booked a new apartment on Airbnb for one month. Then we got to Tbilisi, saw we liked our new home, and just made arrangements with an owner to extend for a few more months. You can try to do the same. I have a lot of friends who are living in Tbilisi until this day and they secured their long-term flats with the help of Airbnb.
Public Transport in Tbilisi
Tbilisi has sufficiently developed and convenient public transport, although not always comfortable. And, it is not as developed as its European analogs.
There are new buses on the capital’s main roads that run on schedule. But at the same time, there are lots of “marshrutka” buses that come and leave as they wish. They don’t have AC, are very old and outdated, fall apart, and are often late.
Getting to a more distant neighborhood may be a challenge.
We live in Upper Vake, for instance, which is relatively close to the center. Still, getting in and out of our neighborhood takes a lot of time simply because we are waiting for a marshrutka for too long. On average the wait time for us is 25-30 minutes. Once we get to the central street though, there are plenty of other buses to hop on.
The schedule for buses can be traced on the board on most of the bus stops. If there is none, simply send an SMS with the stop number to the short number (both are specified at the stop,) and the schedule will be sent to you in a reply message.
For marshrutka buses, download TTC app which shows you buses in real-time.
Tbilisi also has a subway. But it has only 2 branches and doesn’t cover a lot. The metro is open from 6 am to 12 am. At peak hours, the number of randomly moving passengers becomes a bit intimidating. Yet, this is the only mode of transportation that delivers from point A to point B without any traffic jams.
The fare in public transport in Tbilisi ranges from 50 to 80 tetri ($0.2-0.5). There is a single ticket for buses, marshrutka buses, and cable cars. You can pay by a Metro money card that you top up with money as you need or by credit card.
GETTING A JOB OR OPENING A BUSINESS IN TBILISI
The unemployment rate in Georgia is quite high, and salaries are not the biggest. It is caused by the low standard of living in the country.
A good salary is considered to be around 1000 GEL ($400). But finding a job in Tbilisi as a foreigner is quite challenging and not sure if it makes sense at all. Even if having higher education and knowing 3 languages (Georgian, Russian and English) the chances of finding a good job are not really high.
We’ve met a few expats who are working in Tbilisi but each of them got his job through a transfer, not when arriving jobless here.
Therefore, I would not rely on local vacancies.
What I would recommend implementing is your own business idea. Opening a business in Georgia is very easy and takes literally two days. Or even one, if willing to fork out on the registration of individual entrepreneurs and pay double tax.
Company Registration in Tbilisi
All you need to do when opening a business is to come to the House of Justice, which is located in the center of the city and resembles huge white mushrooms (you’ll definitely see it if look at the city from above). Here, you can do everything at once and in just one place.
The House of Justice offers over 300 services and sees up to 15 thousand people a day. If you want to register a car, get a birth certificate, or open a business – you have to go to the House of Justice.
In order to become an individual entrepreneur in Georgia, you need to provide a passport, a copy of the apartment rental agreement and pay directly on the spot 20 GEL ($8).
A registration certificate will be ready for a pick up at the House of Justice the next day or print it out from your personal account at your convenience. If you pay 50 GEL ($20), then the certificate will be ready within an hour.
After this process, you have to visit the IRS and register as a taxpayer. The cost of the service is 10 GEL or $4.
If you do not resell anything and work on your own, you will able to register as a micro-entrepreneur. This means that with a certain amount of income per year you are exempted from taxes and can submit the declaration electronically once every 365 days. Easy!
CULTURAL LIFE IN TBILISI
If you are moving from a provincial city to a small, but nevertheless capital, life around becomes a real kaleidoscope of events.
But, if you come from a big city full of action and activities, the capital of Georgia does not have that much to offer.
One of the museums always has interesting exhibitions. In summer, there are lots of various wine, cheese and tea festivals. Different open-air events and concerts take place too. And nightlife in Tbilisi is very rich.
During the summer, on Saturdays, you can enjoy the performance of the famous dance group “Sukhishvili.” Or jump on a speed train to Batumi and visit a Black Sea Jazz Festival. For more information on concerts and events in Tbilisi check this page.
Lovers of nightlife will also find what to do in Tbilisi. The famous techno club Bassiani is constantly in the ratings of various international publications as one of the best music clubs.
Foodies and gourmands will have plenty of restaurants to check out. And they are not limited to local cuisine only. In just one neighborhood you can have a French-style breakfast, come back for the best khinkali in the world, then move to an authentic Thai snack bar, and finish the day by eating a burger.
There are also a few hiking trails right in the city, lakes where you can relax and park on the top of the mountain where you can escape the heat.
Other than this, there is not much to add.
ADVANTAGES OF LIVING IN TBILISI AS AN EXPAT
If you are a digital nomad who is making money online, life in Tbilisi for you will be cheap and easy. The food here is delicious, people are easygoing and open-minded. If you open your business, taxes you’ll pay will not be high.
The quality of a rented apartment is really high. And prices are still low (for those who make a Western world salary.) You can be paying $400-$500 per month for a new spacious and beautiful flat in a safe nice neighborhood. Just look to stay away from the center and go for newer buildings.
Utility payments in the winter period (this includes water, gas, electricity and garbage pick up) cost about 50 lari ($20), in the summer period – 25 lari ($10). The price for the Internet in Tbilisi is around 30 GEL or $12.
Among all the flats we rented during our digital nomad years, the one where we live now is simply the best. Our hosts are very accommodating, generous and understanding people.
If you move to Tbilisi, you’ll come across the same experience. And there will be so many beautiful homes to choose from.
The weather in Tbilisi is OK. Even though winters are gloomy and wet, it never gets too cold and snowy. Summers can be really hot and heat comes early. But if you can tolerate it well, you will enjoy it. In fact, visiting Tbilisi in December is really nice. The city looks bright and festive.
Another advantage is safety. There are a lot of poor people who live in Tbilisi, the city looks old and in many places shabby, but it is very safe.
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WHY LIVING IN TBILISI AS A FOREIGNER IS NOT FOR EVERYONE
Nature is Near But Nature is Far
When we were moving to Tbilisi, one of the reasons we were so excited was the fact that the mountains are near.
We love being close to nature and, even if living in the hustle and bustle of a dusty city, we need to know we can get away to the wilderness at least once a week.
In the beginning, we were so excited. And we believed we could travel around the country every weekend. Or at least that we could travel from Tbilisi to Kazbegi or Kakheti region. In reality though, it turned out to be more difficult than we initially thought.
Indeed, besides the mountains, there are so many other beautiful natural landmarks that seem to be within a short distance from Tbilisi. But as experience showed, it is not that easy to get to them.
Buses (or “marshrutkas”) often don’t run on schedule. Due to the lack of driving culture, being a passenger in one of them is complete stress. But the most important thing is the fact that you can’t reach many places by public transport. Sooner or later you need to have your own vehicle or get a cab. Neither one is cheap.
Car rental on average costs between 30-50 euros per day. In the summer, it costs more. To know more about the process of renting a car in Georgia, you are welcome to read my guide.
There are a few cool parks and lakes right in Tbilisi. Still, knowing how much beauty lays out there, will make you want to get outside of the city. Plus, if you are a nature addict, the city itself will never be enough.
So, if you are living in Tbilisi as an expat or digital nomad, and you love spending more time in nature, do not expect it to happen a lot.
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No Driving Culture in Tbilisi and Georgia in General
Only in Georgia, we learned how depressing driving a car and going on a road trip can become. Seriously, we’ve driven in many countries around the world, but somehow here, in particular in Tbilisi, being on the road as a passenger (in marshrutka or taxi) or as a driver stresses us out so much.
Drivers here don’t use turning signals, they often tailgate, speed, run red lights, cut off each other on the road, weave through traffic, always message on their phones and create lots of situations that increase the crash risk.
On many occasions when we ride in a car in Tbilisi, we have pre-accidental driving situations. Sometimes it happens to such an extent that both of us are shaking.
A few times it was so bad that we had to change our plans and go either back home or some cafe just to relax. It felt so stressful and uncomfortable that we needed to recharge.
What is even worse – it’s being a pedestrian.
Crossing a road or walking on a sidewalk more often is bigger stress.
It is not normal and it is definitely not for us. A few times we were bringing this question to drivers but they made stupid jokes, laughed at us or simply responded: “accidents happen, what can you do about them?”
The only thing we personally can do is not to live in such an environment because it ruins our peace and damages us from within.
I don’t think it really depends on which country you come from. I am originally from Ukraine, where driving used to be so bad, and it is really challenging for me to adjust and accept bad driving behaviors on the road.
If you are like us, prepare to have a lot of related to driving stress when living in Tbilisi. Oh, and don’t forget, as a pedestrian, you don’t matter at all.
Too Many Depressing Things in Tbilisi
I may be biased since I come from Ukraine which was, like Georgia, part of the USSR. But a lot of things in Tbilisi and Georgia, in general, remind me of Ukraine 20 years ago. Back then I really wanted to run away from them. It seems now, 20 years later, I find the same things here in Tbilisi. And they upset me so much.
Some of those can make you feel depressed too. Especially if encountering them on a daily basis.
The level of poverty in the country is high. And we clearly see its presence in Tbilisi. There are cute streets with pretty cafes, trendy shops, and expensive cars parked nearby. But once you turn around the corner, you find yourself among the shacks where families live on $5 a day.
There are also so many abandoned and neglected buildings that are totally falling apart all over Tbilisi. You can find them everywhere and should be careful when walking nearby. If you are visiting Tbilisi as a tourist, seeing these houses may be an attraction. But if living long-term, running into them every day for some people is not that fun.
Lots of stray dogs, absolutely unsustainable development and living by many, loads of dogs’ poop on the streets, high level of pollution, and trash don’t make Tbilisi that comfortable. Of course, if you are like us and that matters at all.
One of the Least Eco-Friendly Cities in the World
One of the reasons why we feel uncomfortable living in Tbilisi is this city’s unfriendliness towards the environment.
You don’t really need to look up the statistics to see the details (although, here is just one of many posts on this topic.) From the first days in the city, you can feel how difficult it is to breathe, how incredibly heavy the air is, how much trash is on the streets and how many people do not care about recycling, cleaning up, and taking care of a place they live in.
There are so many old, outdated, dirty vehicles on the roads that mainly run on diesel, emitting more soot and particulates. With each day, more and more private vehicles enter the roads of the city, making pollution even worse.
Another huge problem is trash.
People do not recycle and do not think it is important at all. Today, in entire Georgia, there are only two landfills that meet international standards. And they are not even around Tbilisi.
Usually, when waste gets to the landfill, special machines press it and then cover with some soil. No steps are taken to fence it and put a special bottom liner to prevent the trash from coming in contact with the outside soil, particularly the groundwater.
It poses danger. And not only for those who live in close proximity to the dump. The rainwater seeps through the garbage, gets underground, and in this way pollutes groundwater which later ends up in the rivers.
Multiple initiatives and programs on waste management are not successful since the majority of residents do not care and do not take any action.
No matter how much we try to be sustainable in Tbilisi, we still add to the pollution. The country as a whole doesn’t take any measures to protect the environment. And that’s pretty depressing too.
There is no perfect place where you, as a foreigner or digital nomad, can live. Each destination has its own pros and cons. And you are the only one who can decide how comfortable you’ll be there.
We personally feel that it’s great to live in Tbilisi during the short term. We still get to know another culture and go through a new experience. But living in Tbilisi as digital nomads during a longer time is very questionable and not for us.
I hope after reading this post you get an idea of what type of city Tbilisi is. Will it be a great home base for you? Would love to know!