Georgia,  Nomad Life,  Recent

Are You A Digital Nomad Considering Tbilisi As A Base? Reasons To Think Twice

I actually found this quite hard to write because I think I have some mild trauma after living in Tbilisi for two months. We initially planned a much longer stay in Georgia which we were really excited about. On paper, Tbilisi matched everything we look for in a stay. Unfortunately, things worked out rather differently…

A disclaimer for the below information: everyone will have their own experience of a place. This was ours. You can find many articles online extolling Tbilisi’s virtues. The purpose of this post is to provide a first-hand perspective of Tbilisi for people that might be sensitive to the issues we were.

Many people love Tbilisi and have made it their home. For a short holiday, I’m sure we’d have had a great time. However, it did not make a good place for an extended stay. After travelling pretty extensively and loving most of the places we stayed, Tbilisi was a huge disappointment for us.

Tbilisi is A Growing Hub for Digital Nomads, Remote Workers and Expats

Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, has enjoyed a lot of good press recently, being touted as Europe’s “most vibrant capital” and “most exciting city“. Georgia’s generous border policy (no visa needed for stays of 1 year for 97 countries) and 1% tax rate has made it a favourite for digital nomads, remote workers (and people fleeing the war in Ukraine). The country is having great success in promoting tourism in Georgia and is continuing to invest, including building a new airport in the capital.

Georgia as a country is known for it’s stunning landscapes and hiking possibilities, particularly in the mountain regions of Tusheti and Svaneti. Despite it’s small size, it has incredibly varied climatic zones from the warm, rainy Black Sea region to snowy peaks and even desert. It’s home to four UNESCO World Heritage sites and 16 national parks (the Georgia national park website is great for planning hikes and activities).

What We Enjoyed About Tbilisi

Before I launch into a tirade of rage about why we left Tbilisi 5 months early, I think it’s only fair to highlight the parts we did enjoy.

  1. It has some cool and unique buildings. Tbilisi old town has been nicely made and is mostly free of cars, so you can walk around and enjoy pretty, traditional little painted houses. Along the river, there are numerous historical Turkish Hammams (bath houses). A stroll up to the top of the hill (it’s very hilly) takes you to the castle has a fantastic view over the city. Behind that you also have a huge botanical garden – the perfect place to go to escape the bustle of the city.
  1. It has a big mountain in the middle. Tbilisi’s local mountain is called Mtatsminda. The city winds around the base of it, meaning it’s accessible from different parts. Perfect for hiking, biking and mountain biking. There’s also Turtle Lake on the Vake side which has restaurants and cafes along the side of it. Mtatsminda┬áPark is closer to the old town. There’s a funicular to the top and it also has a bunch of cafes and take-away places.
  1. Lively expat community. The generous border policy and relatively low cost of living has resulted in a deluge of people from all over the place making Tbilisi their home. It’s very easy to find expat meet-ups on social media and there are tons of events going on all the time.
  1. Great range of restaurants and bars on offer. Tbilisi is a food and drink city. Many foreigners that have moved to the city have opened restaurants offering different cuisines and there are of course many Georgian restaurants with great food. Wine is an essential part of Georgian culture and there is no shortage of offers for drinking establishments.

Why We Didn’t Like About Tbilisi

The Myth of Georgian People Being Friendly…

This is an odd one because you can read so much online about the hospitality and friendliness of people in Georgia. Let me tell you, whilst it may be true in other parts of the country, it does not apply in Tbilisi.

For a country that prides itself on hospitality, Georgians in Tbilisi are mostly impolite and unwelcoming. It’s not just a brusque, city business-like attitude but actual rudeness. We had situations where we were completely ignored after greeting people (in Georgian) – don’t even think about a smile being returned. We walked out of a restaurant that we had a booking at because the staff, who were stood right next to us chatting, just completely blanked us. I don’t think I heard anyone else saying “Madloba” (thank you) apart from us. Most people that you have an interaction with in a shop, restaurant or out and about just seem totally dead inside – no matter how much effort you make.

We did meet a couple of friendly Georgians – our local baker always went out of his way to wave at us and say hello. There were a couple of grocery stores where people would be happy to chat. The majority, though, treated you as you had just walked in and taken a shit on the floor.

What made this behavior stand out more is the fact there are so many foreigners living in Tbilisi who are so much more friendly. Due to the war, there are a lot of Russians – many of whom have set up businesses. Our favourite coffee place was run by a really friendly Russian woman. We also met a Lebanese family living there who moved after the financial crash in Lebanon. They were really struggling with the attitude of the locals. Even in the short time we were there, we made a few expat friends.

Why are people in Tbilisi so miserable and rude?

It’s not clear. The attitude of locals has been discussed on Reddit a number of times. People tend to blame bad wages and living standards. However, after travelling to other Eastern block countries and places with even worse working conditions, we’ve never encountered such unfriendliness. Our friend from Yakutsk reckoned it was more of a hangover from Soviet times. There’s also a great deal of xenophobia in the country. It’s partly historical, as Georgia has fought off and been conquered by various empires over the centuries. Georgia isn’t known for it’s love of the neighbouring countries.

That was our experience of Tbilisians. I’m sure there are people who have more positive stories to tell and others who had even worse experiences. Some can handle this kind of behavior but we just found it totally wearing.

Tbilisi is A Very Noisy City

Maybe one reason that people are so miserable is that no one gets any sleep. The city has absolutely no control over the traffic and you get people driving top speed down side roads. A regular occurrence was some idiot on an overpowered motorbike that would do laps of the city late at night. But by far the worst was the fact that they have roadworks ALL NIGHT in residential areas. For weeks, they kept digging up the road to do some kind of plumbing work anywhere between midnight and 5am (sometimes from midnight until 5am) right outside our window. I can’t imagine anyone in the neighourhood got any sleep, it was so loud. Even earplugs hardly helped…

Walkability of Tbilisi

Tbilisi is the least walkable city we’ve been to. Plenty of places are not known for being pedestrian-friendly but, for us, Tbilisi won on this account too. The city is just not designed for pedestrians and cars have priority. One of the issues is the enormous five lane highway going through the city centre (Tbilisi’s answer to it’s horrific traffic issues is simply “add another lane bro”). Getting to the other side is impossible unless you’re lucky enough to find an underpass or crossing. There are not many underpasses or crossings. On top of that, people drive like idiots so you really have to watch out.

The other crappy thing about walking in Tbilisi is the dog shit. There are an incredible number of dogs (and strays) in Tbilisi meaning there is an incredible amount of dog shit everywhere. It’s not fun trying to dodge being hit by cars and also avoid stepping in crap all the time.

Beige Points to Digital Nomad Life in Tbilisi

The Cost of Living in Tbilisi (2024)

Compared to Eastern Europe (especially considering the wages in Georgia), we found the the cost of living pretty high. Inflation has been mad and rent prices driven up a lot due to the influx of Russians. Our Yakutsk friend told us she was shocked to discover the groceries were the same price as her Siberian hometown, where most has to be imported.

AirBnb Prices

We paid 1000 USD a month for a one bedroom rental in Vake. The apartment was newly refurbished and close to the park. Vake is one of the more expensive areas but you would struggle to find somewhere with separate living and sleeping space with a full kitchen for less. Gas and Electric were charged separately and were around 100-120 USD in winter/spring.

Taking out a rental agreement is a cheaper option, with the average cost of a rental in the city centre being ~ $760.

Food prices

  • We spent about 150 USD a week on groceries. That included buying locally made, quality products. Prices vary between shops though – I remember being charged 15 dollar for a few tomatoes and avocados at one greengrocers. We didn’t go back.
  • Coffee – usually around 2-4 USD.
  • Bread – from a local bakery is around 30 cents

Restaurants

Prices vary but they can be pretty expensive. Our favourite pizza place cost around 60 USD for a starter, pizza to share and soft drinks (it’s special pizza though). An average kind of price for two people would be around 40 USD.

Transport

Taxis are so cheap. If there’s some than one of you, it’s almost cheaper to take a taxi than a bus. To get halfway across town won’t cost more than 3-4 USD. Buses charge a flat rate of 35 cents. There is also a metro but we never used it as there isn’t a connection to Vake.

Services

  • Gyms, sports facilities. OMG so expensive! A normal gym subscription costs 100+ USD.
  • Lawyer – 30 USD. If you have the misfortune to need legal advice (quite likely, with Georgian landlords) then don’t worry about the cost.
  • Private healthcare – really cheap 30-50 USD for appointment and basic tests. The clinics we went to were fairly decent with online booking systems and even provided a translator if the doctor didn’t speak English.

Is Tbilisi Good for Digital Nomads?

Not for me! I didn’t want this post to come across as a load of whining. However, I felt it was only fair to provide an honest opinion in contrast to the overwhelmingly positive blog posts I found before moving. I’m not alone in finding these issues hard to deal with: I’ve since found other people online or in person reporting with the same complaints.. Something to consider before committing to a move, especially if you are sensitive to the issues we found.


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