Tag Archives: georgia

What Bank to Choose for a Small Business in Georgia?

This blog post is destined primarily to foreigners when they shop for a bank for their small business in Georgia. It lists resources to help you make your own research and decision.

The largest commercial banks in Georgia by total assets reported on 31/03/2015 are(1):

  1. JSC Bank of Georgia, http://www.bankofgeorgia.ge/ (7 786 million GEL)
  2. JSC TBC Bank, http://www.tbcbank.ge/ (5583 million GEL)
  3. JSC Liberty Bank, http://www.libertybank.ge/ (1 530 million GEL)
  4. JSC Bank Republic, https://www.br.ge/ (1 297 million GEL)
  5. JSC ProCredit Bank, http://www.procreditbank.ge/ (1 134 million GEL)
  6. JSC VTB Bank Georgia, http://www.vtb.ge/ (1 124 million GEL)
  7. JSC Cartu Bank, http://www.cartubank.ge/ (920 million GEL)
  8. JSC Basisbank, http://www.basisbank.ge/ (674 million GEL)
  9. JSC KOR Standard Bank, http://www.ksb.ge (641 million GEL)
  10. JSC Privatbank Georgia (583 million GEL). Privatbank Georgia, subsidiary of the Ukrainian bank PrivatBank, was since acquired by JSC Bank of Georgia(2).

State of the banking sector in Georgia

Georgian banks are doing OK despite some issues affecting the country’s economy as a whole (high cost of credit, high rate of dollarization of the economy, etc.). That’s in essence the conclusions of a detailed report(3) of the Policy Institute of the International School of Economics (ISET) about the Financial Soundness Indicators (FSI) for Georgia.

The overall landscape may change, and while unlikely to affect your business directly, the “Law on the National Bank of Georgia” of July 2015 which strips the National Bank of Georgia of some of its banking supervision functions sparked a ongoing debate(4).

For reference, the website of the National bank of Georgia is https://www.nbg.gov.ge and the page for consumers is https://www.nbg.gov.ge/cp(5).

640px-National Bank of Georgia
The headquarters of the National Bank of Georgia(6).


All of the main banks’ websites are in English and Georgian. VTB Bank Georgia also maintains a version of its website in Russian. Customer service representatives will help you in Georgian or English. In practice, Russian-speaking customers will be served in that language at most banks, but this is worth checking.

Fees, Multi-Currency Accounts, Online Banking…

Browse the banks’ websites and visit them to confirm your understanding of their respective fee structures. Direct access to the fees for each bank (when such pages are available, or corporate customers’ homepages in other cases):

The legal currency of Georgia is the lari (GEL) and all payments in Georgia are made in GEL (typically at the day’s rate of the National Bank of Georgia if the amount is quoted in another currency). Opening a multi-currency account is easy: the most common currencies are GEL, USD, EUR and sometimes GBP.

Online banking is available for most banks. The websites of the 9 banks listed above also include “branches and ATMs locators”.

For foreigners: currency conversion, international bank transfers

Currency exchange rates at street booths offer better rates than those at commercial banks. For larger sums or currency exchange through online banking, you might want to stick with your bank and thus check their conditions and commissions for this service. The excellent Lari Explorer of Jumpstart compares the historical rates currency exchange of the 4 largest commercial banks(7).

International bank transfers can cost dearly. Check the rates as some stand out. For example, TBC has a competitive cap on the fees for transfers made by individuals to other banks, including abroad (about 15 EUR). Other banks may lure customers with attractive packages (for students for example), only for these to discover high hidden fees. Check online and check again with a sales representative at a branch.



Notes and Sources:

(1): Rating of Georgian Commercial Banks, May 11, 2015, http://cbw.ge/banking/rating-of-commercial-banks/. Please note that JSC Bank of Georgia is a commercial bank. It should not be confused with the National Bank of Georgia.

(2): http://expressbank.ge/ge/bank-of-georgia-and-jsc-privatbank-join-statement (Georgian)

(3): http://www.iset-pi.ge/images/Projects_of_MPRC/Financial_Soundness_Report.pdf. Pages 1-3 for the Executive Summary and page 57 for the Conclusion.

(4): http://dfwatch.net/constitutional-court-suspends-new-bank-supervision-agency-38591 (October13, 2015) and http://factcheck.ge/en/article/the-parliament-of-georgia-took-the-recommendations-of-international-organisations-in-account-whilst-adopting-the-law-on-the-national-bank-of-georgia-2/ among many others.

(5) List of commercial banks operating in Georgia: https://www.nbg.gov.ge/index.php?m=403&lng=eng. Consumers’ page: http://nbg.gov.ge/cp/index.php. Statistics of the National Bank of Georgia: https://www.nbg.gov.ge/index.php?m=304&lng=eng.

(6): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bank_of_Georgia_headquarters

(7): http://feradi.info/en/visualizations/lari-explorer?category=economy_business&view=interactive

Public transport maps and schedules for buses and minibuses in Tbilisi

I recently participated to a small workshop organized by a government agency to brainstorm useful services for tourists, visitors and foreign residents in Georgia. Most of the participants to that workshop had spend 6 months or more in Georgia but, together with a friends, we were surprised to see that not all of them knew about the official online websites for bus and minibus services in the capital.

Autobuses – http://transit.ttc.com.ge (previously http://transiten.ttc.com.ge)

The website of the “Tbilisi Transport Company” has a useful Journey Planner, route schemes and timetables (under the menu Timetables in the left column) and real-time data. The Bus in Realtime option gives you the location of buses along each line of the network, and the Stop Board Info shows you the expected waiting times at any of the bus stops (particularly useful to know when to leave your building and minimize your waiting time at the stop).

The journey planner information and real time data are shown on maps. Data entry uses addresses or the stop number (every bus stop has a unique identifier). Zoom and scroll to find the number of your departure and arrival stops on the map, then input those numbers in the journey planner to plan your trip.

Tbilisi_public transport network_bus stop and stop board

Pictured: bus stop in Shindisi village on the outskirts of Tbilisi. Notice the electronic LED board with waiting times. The other sign tells you to send an SMS to 93344 with the stop number (here 2885) in order to receive an SMS with the expected waiting time until the next bus.

Minibuses – http://tm.ge

This website is the public face of the Tbilisi Microbuses Limited Liability Company (შპს “თბილისის მიკროავტობუსის”). It has an excellent interactive map to figure out your way around town with marshrutkas (маршрутки) – the Russian name for minibuses. On the main page, click on “Eng” for English, choose the menu and sub-menu Routes > Search for Routes, click on “Eng” again and then click on your departure and arrival point on the map to find out the best minibuses between the two.

Unfortunately, those two websites aren’t integrated yet but with a bit of practice, the many hubs from which users transfer from minibuses to the metro or to autobuses become quite obvious (Baratashvili street, Didube station, etc.).

You have to pay the fare when you getting onto the bus but pay the driver of the minibus only when you get off the vehicle. Both buses and minibuses accept the “Metromoney” (მეტრომანი) prepaid card of the subway network. Typical fares are 50 tetri for a bus ride (0.50 GEL) and 65 to 80 tetri for a minibus ride. You won’t have to pay again if you transfer between two buses, from a bus to a metro or vice versa within an hour and a half.


Reference: more information about the public transport system in Tbilisi (Georgian), http://www.momxmarebeli.ge/?menu=73&rec=152

Translation Services in Tbilisi (1/2)

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Translation Getting it right buying translation-cover

A Look at Best Practices

This article is the first of two on the topic of translation services in Georgia. Whether for the translation of an official document like a passport, that of a website or a contract, knowing where to source good quality translation services in Tbilisi can be tricky if you don’t have a recommendation.

In this first part, we’ll be looking at a pearl: the “Getting it Right Guide: A buyer’s guide to sourcing and using translation services” published by 15 professional associations of translators(1). The guide is now available in 11 languages(2), among which American English as well as English (and those do differ on details reflective of the respective cultures of the United Kingdom and the United States).

This guide will take you way beyond the usual translation blunders posted on social media. We particularly liked the distinction “for publication” and “for information”, the former adding more attention to style and culture-bound clichés than the latter. Even typography conventions vary from language to language. The added cost and proofreading steps of a translation “for publication” may well be worth it if you’re about to publish your company’s website in another language to enter a new market.

The guide reviews the whole process of getting a document translated. Have you really trimmed it so that only relevant sections are translated? Can you use pictures instead of text? Can you provide a glossary of essential terms in the context of your company or line of business?

Considering the publishers, it’s not surprising that “Getting it right” warns you against the risks of using language students or translating software to get it done. Overestimating one’s bilingualism (not a guarantee of written fluency or skill in translation) is also a common pitfall, but rather to proscribe these means, the guide explains the risks you expose yourself to.

“Welcome an inquisitive translator” is yet another piece of advice that translators themselves would sometimes better keep in mind, and if your translator doesn’t ask, tell him: a speech isn’t a website and a sales brochure isn’t a catalog entry. You want a “foreign-language version with maximum impact for that particular audience and medium”(3).

The guide concludes that getting involved is the surest way to make sure you make the most out of your time and money.


(1) Institute of Translation & Interpreting, www.iti.org.uk
American Translators Association, www.atanet.org
Asociación Española de Traductores, Correctores e Intérpretes, www.asetrad.org
Associazione Italiana Traduttori e Interpreti, www.aiti.org
Assoziierte Dolmetscher und Übersetzer in Norddeutschland e.V., www.adue-nord.de
Bundesverband der Dolmetscher und Übersetzer e.V., www.bdue.de
Bandalag þýðenda og túlka, www.thot.is
Japan Translation Federation (JTF), 日本翻訳連盟, www.jtf.jp
Japan Association of Translators (JAT), 日本翻訳者協会, www.jat.org
Союз переводчиков России, www.translators-union.ru
Syndicat national des traducteurs professionels, www.sft.fr
Sintra Sindicato Nacional Dos Tradutores, www.sintra.org.br
Abrates Associação Brasileira de Tradutores, abrates.net.br
Panhellenic Association of Professional Translators, Πανελλήνια Ένωση Επαγγελματιών Μεταφραστών Πτυχιούχων Ιονίου Πανεπιστημίου, http://www.peempip.gr

(2) The guide is available at http://www.iti.org.uk/about-industry/advice-buyers/getting-it-right in 11 languages at the time of writing: French, American English, Brazilian Portuguese, English, German, Greek, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Russian and Spanish.

(3) Page 14 of the American-English guide published in 2012.

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Last hours in Batumi: of tradition and wages in Georgia.

Batumi, 150 thousand inhabitants, is a major coastal city of Georgia on the eastern shores of the Black Sea. Every summer, its large waterfront dubbed the “Boulevard” attracts throngs of visitors from the wider region, among them Turks, Russians, Ukrainians and nationals of the countries surrounding the Persian Gulf.

At about 10pm last week-end, while sitting on a bench in the spotlights of a few medium-size cargo ships, I had one of those rares flashes of lucidity, in this case a good idea to improve business. The burst of enthusiasm that followed and the distraction of a long display of fireworks across the bay of the harbor made me forget my sleeveless jacket on a low wall. With it, I had lost my Georgian residence permit, a credit card, a public transport card for the city of Tbilisi, my RFID card to access CospoT and a 5 lari banknote. The jacket was a gift from my colleagues in Bahrain and I was already regretting it almost as much as the residence permit.

20150605_125345_where_400   The WHERE sign in Batumi.

After an hour spent running to ask the restaurant, the hostel and the waterside restaurants “if anyone had seen a black jacket,” I ended up in a first police station. There, I was made to point at the exact location of the loss on a map. A few phone calls later, a police officer drove me to a police station in another jurisdiction.

I had three hours left before the departure of my train to Tbilisi. I learned the Russian word for “filing a report” and, in the second police station, met L., a young policewoman on duty.

The tourist season had barely begun and there weren’t any translators on-site. L. gave calls every ten minutes while keeping an eye on the clock. She requested an English translator and finally got the promise of a Russian one (since I write and read Russian). She kindly brought me water in a mug decorated with the image of Stalin, the kind of mug you find cool to buy when on vacation but hard to get rid of when having to figure out who to offer it to.

Here is the most interesting part of our discussion:

– “Do you live in an apartment in Tbilisi?”, she asked.

– “Yes.”

– “Ah! My dream.”

Read: the dream of a young public servant in Georgia is to earn enough money to rent her own apartment. The rents are so expensive (or the wages so low) in Georgian cities that many young people still live with their parents, who themselves most probably live in the apartment that their parents were left with when the Soviet Union collapsed. Over 90% of Georgians are homeowners.

I hit on the topic again when we talked about France where – I explained – unemployment is high. Georgia also has many unemployed(1) but the situation differs in that, in France, the rules make it difficult to hire and dismiss employees. In Georgia, those rules are more relaxed and, if it appears easier to find a job, this one will most often be poorly paid (and more so even in times of crisis(2)).

Young people therefore live at their parents’ home. They are never really independent, always on a leash, and the system sustains itself. With exceptions, unaffordable rents thus are a powerful tradition-keeping force, a force towards the conservation of society (regardless of whether this is a good thing or not).

The epilogue of the evening is also revealing. At about half past midnight, three Turks entered the police station and, before our eyes, produced the jacket they had found nearby: my jacket with the residence permit and all the documents and everything. L. congratulated me (in the Russian manner where you are congratulated for your birthday, as if you did anything special for it), gave some calls, and handed me a piece of paper with a phone number and the word “Police” on it: “Come back to the police station on your next visit to Batumi, as a guest. ”

(1) Unemployment in 2015 according to GeoStat: 12.4%  (http://geostat.ge/index.php?action=page&p_id=146&lang=eng). In practice, unemployment is widely perceived to be much higher.
(2) The national currency of Georgia – the lari (GEL) – fell 30% against the US dollar between November 2014 and May 2015. The historical foreign exchange rates of the National Bank of Georgia are available on the website of the National Bank (https://www.nbg.gov.ge)

Why so many night flights out of Tbilisi airport?

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Newcomers note it and regulars resent it: why do so many flights in and out of Tbilisi airport operate at night?

Is it true – first of all – that so many flights take off and land at night? The answer is: only partly so. A study of the weekly schedule of the Georgian Civil Aviation Authority (GAAC)(1) reveals that 52% of all international flights out of Tbilisi every week at the end of March took off between 3am and 9am whereas 44% of flights took off between 9am and midnight. The difference between day and night flights is not as pronounced as some may think.

What’s remarkable though is that only about 10% of international flights which took off between 3am and 9am did not fly to geographical Europe (including Istanbul). The distribution of destinations was more even during the day: between 9am and 9pm, international flights taking off from Tbilisi airport in March were as likely to fly to other European cities (incl. Istanbul) as they were to destinations South and East of Georgia. This resentment against night flights out of Tbilisi airport is most likely a bias of Westerners or travelers heading West. The question we’re left with is then: “Why do so many flights to Europe leave at night?

In the following graphs, the thickness of the lines reflects the flights’ frequencies. Night time flights connect Georgia to the rest of Europe more than daytime ones do. Source: (1).

GCAA flights Ial TBS 2015-05-20_night

GCAA flights Ial TBS 2015-05-20_day

Why do so many flights to Europe leave at night? The short answer is “curfews and connecting flights”. Taking off at night in Tbilisi lands you in Europe not only at a time during which landings are allowed, but also at a time convenient to catch connecting flights to onward destinations (short-haul to the rest of Europe or long-haul to North America).

Interestingly, night curfews in place in European airports are critized by other, mostly developing countries. In a working paper of the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO, http://www.icao.int/), 53 African states condemn night curfews(2):

The issue of night curfews imposed at some airports particularly in Europe, has brought
about increased operational problems and financial burden for African airports which are kept open for operations at odd hours, since North bound aircraft are forced to depart Africa usually from midnight in order to arrive Europe after dawn by 6:00 a.m.

And conclude that:

Removing the night curfews of some international airports of Europe will significantly
reduce the night congestion of a lot of African airports.

India essentially does the same(3):

Unilateral night curfews are an increasing phenomena all over the world and as noise
awareness grows, night curfews, if imposed by countries like India or South Africa,
would limit the flight timing options between the countries. The present night curfew
in Europe has effectively transferred the problem of night-time noise burden from the
communities around their airports to communities around airports of Mumbai, Delhi,
Johannesburg, etc.

But a paper presented later on (in 2013) by the Secretariat of the ICAO lacks any specific or constraining recommendations(4): don’t expect the situation to change anytime soon.


(1) Flight schedule for Tbilisi airport for the period Oct. 26th, 2014 to March 28th, 2015 at http://gcaa.ge/eng/tbilisiout.php. Only flights still scheduled in March 2015 were considered.

(2) “AIRPORT CONSTRAINTS: SLOT ALLOCATION & NIGHT CURFEW”. Presented by fifty-three African States, September 2008, paragraphs §1.3 and §2.8,  http://www.icao.int/Meetings/ceans/Documents/Ceans_Wp_061_en.pdf

(3) “REVIEW OF NIGHT CURFEW RESTRICTIONS”. Presented by India, September 2010, paragraph §3.2.2). http://www.icao.int/Meetings/AMC/Assembly37/Working%20Papers%20by%20Number/wp270_en.pdf

(4) “NIGHT FLIGHT RESTRICTIONS” at the 6th meeting of the Worldwide Air Transport Conference (ATCONF). Presented by the Secretariat, 18 to 22 March 2013,  http://www.icao.int/Meetings/atconf6/Documents/WorkingPapers/ATConf6-wp008-rev_en.pdf

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The pulse of the Georgian economy: the Khachapuri Index

The Economist created the Big Mac index in 1986 to compare purchasing power parity (PPP) between countries. The basic principle is simple and consists in comparing the prices of Big Mac hamburgers bought at MacDonald’s fast food restaurants in different countries.

The ambition of the Khachapuri index is different because there aren’t as many countries between which to compare Khachapuri prices. As a matter of fact, few who haven’t been to the Caucasus are likely to know about this traditional Georgian dish, not mentioning that it comes in various sorts and appearances.

Khachapuri is a cheese pie at least as widespread in Georgia as pizza is elsewhere. Check this article entitled “Georgia’s Cheese Bread Might Be Better Than Pizza” (1).

Adjarian Khachapuri Batumi  

Photo: The best Adjarian Khachapuri in Georgia!

The Policy Institute of the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University (ISET) defines the Khachapuri index as the average cost of cooking one standard Imeretian Khachapuri. The evolution of this cost is indicative of inflation and economic trends in the country. The basket of goods for calculating the index comprises only the ingredients necessary for its preparation (flour, cheese, yeast, eggs, and butter) and its energy costs (gas and electricity).

The homepage of the index is http://www.iset-pi.ge/index.php/khachapuri-index. The average cost of cooking one standard Imeretian Khachapuri in November 2014 was 3.34 GEL. In March 2015, this cost dropped to 3.15 GEL, driven down by the expected seasonal decline in cheese prices: increase of the supply of fresh milk and lower demand during the fasting period preceding Easter. Year on Year, the overall average cost of preparing an Imeruli Khachapuri fell 3.1%. Prices fell for locally produces goods (egg and cheese, cheese is the most expensive ingredient) but increased for imported ones (yeast, butter, flour) following an upward trend of the US dollar against the lari (GEL).(2)


(1) http://munchies.vice.com/articles/georgias-cheese-bread-might-be-better-than-pizza
(2) At the time of writing, the new website of the Policy Institute of ISET is under construction. We report on the updated version of the index published on April 6th, not available at the time of writing on the website of the institute but cached by search engines:
– http://www.iset­-pi.ge/index.php?article_id=415, retrieved on April 27th, 2015 from http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:IePk4kvvkN0J:www.iset-pi.ge/index.php%3Farticle_id%3D415+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ge
– http://www.iset-pi.ge/index.php?article_id=1369&clang=0, retrieved on April 27th, 2015 from http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:GlH4uhW98F8J:www.iset-pi.ge/index.php%3Farticle_id%3D1369%26clang%3D0+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ge