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Georgia - Travel and visas
Citizens of the European Union, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel and many other countries do not require visas for visits to Georgia of up to a year. Otherwise you’ll need to buy a single-entry visa at an embassy or consulate, or online. Visas are no longer issued at rail or sea entry points. Citizens of 94 countries can now stay for up to 360 days, after which you just need to leave the country and re-enter to stay another 360 days, and you’re even allowed to work in Georgia.
For further information, contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It’s better not to overstay – there’s a penalty of GEL190 (US$75) for up to six months beyond your visa’s expiry or GEL 360 beyond that, and you may not be allowed back for three months.
It’s easy enough to cross from Georgia to Abkhazia but you cannot travel from Russia to Georgia via Abkhazia; however, it’s not possible to visit South Ossetia or Tskhinvali for the time being. British and US embassies advise against visiting both Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
There was a great deal of petty corruption and grafting at Georgia’s borders in the past, with officials demanding a few dollars from travellers, but this has been cleaned up since the Rose Revolution. The problem now seems to be racism, with too many cases of people of colour being refused entry, even with a visa.
Direct flights from London were introduced in 2017, both from Gatwick with Georgian Airways to Tbilisi and from Luton with Wizzair to Kutaisi. You can also go via Istanbul – Turkish Airlines give the most options: from Britain there are eight flights a day from London (both Heathrow and Gatwick), two from Manchester and one each from Birmingham and Edinburgh, the latter connecting with a midnight flight from Istanbul (Ataturk) that reaches Tbilisi at 04.30 (there’s also a 14.00 flight that arrives at 17.00); they also fly from Ataturk to Batumi.
Coming from Turkey, you’re mostlikely to travel by bus (the rail link from Kars to Tbilisi via Akhalkalaki opened at the end of 2017 but still has a limited passenger service). There are two main routes, along the Black Sea coast to Batumi, and by the Vale border crossing to Tbilisi; a less useful third crossing has opened at Çıldır in Javakheti. There are also minibuses and shared taxis between Yerevan (Armenia) and Tbilisi.
The main mode of public transport is the bus. Cities have fairly substantial bus stations, while smaller places may just have a yard by the rail station or in the centre of town. Departure bays will have the destinations served written in Georgian, but if you look at the rear of this sign you may find the same information in Cyrillic or even Latin script. Comfortable modern buses run from Tbilisi to Kutaisi and Batumi. Fares are generally about GEL1 per 20km, eg: GEL8 to Lagodekhi, GEL18 from Tbilisi to Batumi or GEL10 from Kutaisi to Batumi.
Driving is difficult, given the awful state of the roads and the excessive urgency of the other drivers. Self-drive car hire is not yet common, and the cost of a driver is not high, so this may be the easiest solution; in Tbilisi it’s easy to hire a taxi (including 4x4 vehicles) at the Didube bus station. The only major international car-hire chains represented in Tbilisi are Avis and Hertz, whose agents are Caucasus Travel. A licence from almost any of the developed Western countries is valid in Georgia.
Distances are not great: by road it’s about 85km from Tbilisi to Gori, 128km to Khashuri, 230km to Kutaisi and 384km to Batumi (349km by rail).
There has been a remarkable revival of Georgia’s railways, making it the safest and most pleasant option for tourists travelling to the west of the country. The tracks were previously neglected and pounded by heavy trains transporting oil from Baku, but now the pipelines are open and new trains have been introduced, in addition to the long-distance overnight trains – although there are still enough oil trains to cause delays. The main line from Tbilisi to Samtredia is almost all double-track, and all Georgia’s railways are electrified, though at one time power cuts were causing US$30,000 of damage a month to delicate traction equipment, and causing oil trains to take an average of 35 hours from Baku to Batumi instead of the scheduled 21 hours. Now, new day trains run from Tbilisi to Batumi (5hrs), Poti (4hrs 5mins), Ozurgeti (8hrs 10mins) and Zugdidi (5hrs 25mins).