How’d You End Up Living in Georgia?
Well shit, it’s been more than a while between drinks, hasn’t it?
The last time I set fingers to keyboard on this little corner of the internet, it was early 2020, COVID was not yet a glimmer in a bat’s eye, and Richelle and I were settling into the first of three months living in Tbilisi, Georgia.
Somehow, it’s now late 2022 and we’re still here! How on earth did that happen?
In case you haven’t guessed, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic put paid to the best laid plans of many, us included. Not only were we essentially trapped on foreign soil for a year, but my own country wouldn’t reopen its borders until late 2021.
Not that we were complaining. What had started as a holiday destination had evolved into a place we were stuck and, quickly, into a place we now call home.
Over the course of that almost-three-years, we’ve both undergone career changes, we’ve adopted two cats, had our (delayed) second wedding, made new friends, seen amazing places, and I even came out as bisexual.
To say that our life in Georgia has been eventful would be an understatement, but why are we still here? Borders have reopened, COVID-19 has simmered down, and the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine has caused a huge cost of living spike here, so why did we just sign on to spend year #4 living in Tbilisi?
Let me tell you why I think Tbilisi, Georgia is one of the best places for expats, digital nomads, and immigrants to make their home.
1. Having a Home
In many ways, expat life in Georgia happened to us by accident.
We’d been planning to spend a few months here, return to the US for our second wedding, and then base ourselves in Costa Rica or Mexico until the weddings of some of Richelle’s sorority sisters later in the year.
Then COVID happened, borders slammed shut, flights got expensive, and Tbilisi life was kind of… thrust upon us.
They say a rolling stone gathers no moss, and deprived of our momentum, we’ve certainly accumulated our share of well-loved detritus in the intervening years. Early in our time here, we fostered an injured old cat who was on death’s door. Two and a half years on, she’s healthier than ever, and we somehow managed to adopt a kitten along the way.
With lockdown forcing us to remain indoors, we began to accumulate stuff: a Nintendo Switch, an Oculus VR headset, new PCs, a hammock, bookshelves and the books to fill them, an air fryer…
Somewhere along the way, our apartment on Chavchavadze in the city’s bougie Vake district became a home. A paintings on the wall, wall-mounted flat screen, “I might need a bigger bookshelf” kind of home.
But Why Tbilisi?
All of the accoutrements aside, what makes Georgia the place we can do this, rather than Portugal or Vietnam or Costa Rica?
There are two major factors that make Tbilisi an excellent place to put down roots: its visa policy and its tax policy. Both of these are incredibly conducive to a comfortable, long-term stay, and they’re really only the tip of the iceberg once you factor in additional stuff like access to health insurance, affordable property prices, and the option to get a limited form of residency.
On the visa front, Georgia offers a fantastic one year visa-free window upon arrival for a whopping 93 countries. This isn’t just a one and done thing, either, as it is automatically renewed when you depart the country and re-enter.
While some make use of the proximity of Armenia or Azerbaijan to do an old-fashioned visa run, we’ve simply used the imminent expiration of one visa-free window to make a trip back to Australia or the United States to see family. Hell, next month, we’ll renew our visa-free window as a by-product of our anniversary trip to Crete.
On the taxes front, Georgia offers an insanely generous tax rate of 1% for registered independent entrepreneurs. There are specifics that I won’t get into here, but compared to paying 24% to a government that does nothing for me (looking at you, Australia), I’m much happier paying 1% towards a country that took care of me during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For more information on both visa policy and taxes, I’d suggest having a chat with my good friends, Tom & Janar, at ExpatHub.
2. The Expat/Immigrant Scene
Speaking of good friends, Richelle and I have been loving Tbilisi’s expat scene.
Don’t get us wrong, we had some terrific friends in Hoi An, and I’ll forever miss my friends from living in Nanjing, but both cities suffered from having a largely transient population of backpackers and one year teachers, respectively.
Georgia’s excellent visa policy, tax rates, and general quality of life means that it is possible for people to really put down roots here. We have multiple friends who own their own homes here, with one pair of awesome friends even starting their own bar: the Tipsy Bee.
We know countless business owners selling everything from homemade bagels and hot sauces to microbrew beer and Georgian wine tours.
All of this means that there is an active, long-term social scene in the city. We’re inundated each week with invitations to day trips, trivia nights, and dinners, most of which my introverted ass has no choice but to turn down.
3. Cost of Living
While the recent conflict in Ukraine has meant a flood of Russians trying to avoid getting embroiled in the conflict, and this has translated into a sharp rise in the cost of living (especially apartments), Tbilisi remains a far more affordable option for us than Sydney or Seattle.
While things such as rent are slowly reaching levels closer to what we’d be paying in the US, other areas remain far more affordable than life in either of our home countries. Dining out ranges from $20 – $40 USD for the two of us, but we can easily cook at home for considerably less. While not every ingredient we’d be used to back home is readily available here, it is relatively easy to order from US or UK Amazon and have whatever you need within a week.
Utilities are cheap (our summer electricity bill, with three air conditioners running 24/7, comes to $60 USD a month), we’re able to afford both a cleaner and an assistant, and we’ve been able to put money aside for creature comforts like a VR headset, new desktop PCs for both of us, a treadmill, bookshelves (and the books to fill them), an air fryer, and even a hammock out on our balcony.
Travel around the country is incredibly affordable, especially if you avail yourself of public transport or have a vehicle. For those (like me) who don’t drive, GoTrip has drivers for between $60 – $100 USD for the day, dependent on the distance driven.
All told, we’re enjoying a much better quality of life than we could back home. While it isn’t as cheap as Vietnam or Tanzania were, there really is no comparing the two as far as access to modern conveniences. Georgia wins this by a mile.
4. The Food & Wine
I’m not gonna lie, Georgia is going to be hell for your waistline. This is a country where the most famous dishes are made with cheese, bread, and meat. When you couple this down with cheap, amazing wine for as little as $4 a litre, you’ve got a recipe for weight gain.
Hell, when we landed in Tbilisi back in 2020, immigration gifted us each with a small bottle of Saperavi whose label specifically told us to invest in larger pants. COVID lockdowns definitely played a part, but our time in Georgia has seen be pack on an additional 7kgs/15lbs that I am now working off.
That isn’t to say that Georgian food is universally unhealthy, as there are plenty of lighter, vegetarian-friendly options. The cheese-filled khinkali, smoky lobiani, succulent mtsvadi, sweet churchkhela, heavenly khachapuri, and the wine are just too damned tempting!
What About Western Food?
For me, no matter how good a country’s food is, I need variety. We had this in Beijing, but it was sorely lacking in Arusha and Hoi An.
You’ll be pleased to know that most international cuisines are represented in cosmopolitan Tbilisi, be it a juicy burger, delicious Italian, authentic Hunan cuisine, or Mexican. While the more niche cuisines are underrepresented (we’ve only found one decent Korean restaurant, for example) and sushi is inexplicably cream-cheese-filled, there’s still enough variety to ensure we’re never bored on a night out.
As I mentioned earlier, you can also order from US or UK Amazon through services like KiwiPost and have your mail within a week, should you need something specific like Tim Tams or Old Bay.
5. Travel Opportunities
While COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns made European travel difficult, one of the main draws of living in Tbilisi was the ease of access to Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East.
With the pandemic dying down thanks to vaccines, we’re finally able to avail ourselves of Tbilisi’s central location and affordable flights, and we’re off to Greece for our first European trip.
In the past two years, with international travel limited, we’ve instead traveled extensively around Europe. Whether it was a wine tour, a trip to the Black Sea to soak in the sun, touring historic sites in Tbilisi and across the country, venturing through the depths of the cave city of Vardzia, or a simple weekend away in wine country, we’ve explored the width and breadth of Georgia, but still have so much to see!
One of the best part about expat/immigrant life is being able to explore not only your base, but also the countries that surround it. We’re excited to have places like Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Egypt, Armenia etc. right on our doorstep.
And, as history has shown is necessary, we never travel without travel insurance.
Loving Life in Tbilisi
As you might be able to tell, we’re absolutely loving expat life in Tbilisi. Indeed, we’re in very real danger of having to change it from “expat life” to “immigrant life”, as we can definitely see this gorgeous, hospitable, amazing country becoming our forever home.
Assuming Putin doesn’t fuck it up for everyone…
I could come up with a million more reasons why we’re loving Georgia as our expat base, but these are the five that really make it feel like home to me. If you’d like to know more about life in Georgia, don’t hesitate to post a comment!