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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Georgia 2019 Crime & Safety Report

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Georgia at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Do not travel to the Russian-occupied regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia due to civil unrest, crime, and landmines.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Georgia-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is a moderate risk of crime in Tbilisi. Crime in Tbilisi is comparable to a moderate sized American city. Georgian police maintain a visible presence throughout the city and other major urban areas. According to official statistics, there was an approximate 58% overall increase in crime in 2018 compared to 2017 based on January through November 2018 reporting by the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MoIA). However, the MoIA attributes this rise in crime to increased reporting and trust in law enforcement institutions. In general, the Regional Security Office notes Georgia has experienced a decrease in violent crimes, yet petty theft and other crimes of opportunity remain a concern.

U.S. citizens and other Westerners have been victims of crime in Georgia. The number of crimes involving U.S. citizens in 2018 was similar to that of 2017, and included reports of aggravated assault, sexual assault, credit card fraud, and robbery.

Refuse invitations by strangers to come into bars or nightclubs. These ploys lure individuals into small bars, where hustlers extort travelers for large amounts of cash; they threaten physical harm if they refuse to pay for exorbitantly priced drinks. For more information, review OSAC’s Report Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

There continue to be reports of street children who beg from, hassle, and behave aggressively toward foreigners. The Embassy is aware of incidents where groups of street children approach and distract unsuspected U.S. citizens in order to rob them of their wallet or purse.

Organized crime remains an issue. Several high profile arrests of Georgian members of transnational criminal groups have occurred in Western Europe. Street gangs and drug dealers are common in Tbilisi and other urban areas of Georgia. These groups do not specifically target foreigners.

Reports of armed robberies and assaults involving firearms have increased substantially in 2018 compared to 2017, based on MoIA statistics. Georgian authorities have seized illegal weapons caches that have included handguns, rifles, and hand grenades. Georgia is a post-conflict nation with weapons remaining in the country after the fall of the Soviet Union and two internal conflicts (Abkhazia and South Ossetia). There is no indication of a correlation between the seized caches and crime.

Completing due diligence activities is difficult. Fraudulent bank documents, employment records, and fake seals and stamps are common. Government offices easily identify fraudulent civil documents, but such documents are readily available and still encountered. The government is working to arrest and prosecute document vendors; however, the investigation and prosecution process can be lengthy and criminal penalties minimal.

Financial crimes in the form of credit card fraud against individuals and larger targeted attacks against banks and other financial institutions are not uncommon. Georgian law enforcement agencies put substantial resources into combatting financial crimes in 2018 and made several significant arrests. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Other Areas of Concern

The Department of State strongly warns U.S. citizens against travel to the Russian-occupied regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. These regions are not under the control of the Georgian government. Tensions remain high between the de facto authorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the Georgian government. Russian troops and border guards continue to occupy both regions. Entering the occupied regions without proper documentation can lead to arrest, imprisonment, and/or fines by Russian, Georgian, or de facto officials. The U.S. Embassy restricts its personnel from traveling to Abkhazia or South Ossetia, even in the case of emergencies involving U.S. citizens.

As an added precaution, U.S. Embassy personnel are not permitted to travel within five kilometers of the administrative boundary lines (ABLs) dividing Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Tbilisi-administered territory unless on approved official business and with the use of a fully armored vehicle. Personal travel on major highways within the five-kilometer border zone is not restricted.

Per Georgian law, it is illegal to undertake any type of economic activity in Abkhazia or South Ossetia if such activities require permits, licenses, or registration. Georgian laws also ban mineral exploration, money transfers, and international transit via Abkhazia or South Ossetia.

The Department of State cautions U.S. citizens against travel to the Pankisi Gorge region (north of the villages of Matani and Khorbalo, to the border with Russia, including the city of Duisi) because of the current security environment and the potential for civil unrest. There are also restrictions on U.S. Embassy personnel traveling to this region. Terrorist recruiting has occurred in Pankisi in the past, and some known terrorists have confirmed ties to the Pankisi Gorge region. 

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Georgia has the highest per-capita accident rate of any country in Europe; correspondingly, the leading cause of death in Georgia is traffic accidents. One U.S. Embassy employee died in a traffic accident in early 2018. Local drivers pay little attention to speed limits or lane discipline and regularly encroach into oncoming traffic. Intoxicated drivers are a problem, especially in the evenings and on holidays. Maintain an acute level of situational awareness, drive defensively, and wear seatbelts. Georgian law requires use of seat belts in the front seats.

Due to poor lighting and dangerous driving conditions, avoid traveling at night outside cities except in emergencies. There is also a heightened vulnerability to crime during vehicle malfunctions or stops at night.

Free-ranging livestock on the roads may pose a danger to drivers.

There is little access to emergency medical services outside of Tbilisi, Kutaisi, and Batumi. The effectiveness of emergency response to traffic accidents depends on resources, or lack thereof, and the level of training among medical personnel varies.

Public Transportation Conditions

Exercise caution while using the underground Metro, marshrutka mini-buses, and any other form of public transportation.

The Georgian government regulates the taxicab industry poorly, and foreigners often must pay higher rates. The government has begun to implement new regulations for the industry, which include, but are not limited to, vehicle inspections. The majority of taxi drivers are private individuals who use their personal vehicles as unofficial cabs as a source of income. Since the government does not regulate these taxis, the Embassy advises its staff to use official taxicab companies whenever possible, and to negotiate a fare before using a local taxi. Established taxi companies employ dispatchers, often English-speaking; their vehicles use fare meters and have permanent painted exteriors listing the company name and number. Many of the major hotels in Tbilisi and Batumi offer their own private cab services, or can refer guests to a trusted service provider. Passengers should instruct taxi drivers to slow down if they do not feel comfortable with the operating speed. Only patronize taxicabs with functional seatbelts.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is moderate risk from terrorism in Tbilisi. Georgia’s proximity to Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and the Russian North Caucasus region (all of which have experienced some measure of terrorist-related activity in the last three years) continues to be of concern. While Georgia has made strides with respect to border control and integrity, its geographic location makes it a natural transit area for individuals from these regions. Foreign fighters from Georgia, or who transited Georgia, joined ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq.

In 2015, Georgia enacted a Law on Combating Terrorism, a substantive update and expansion of its counterterrorism legislation. In 2018, Georgia detained, prosecuted, and sentenced several Georgian nationals affiliated with Chechen ISIS member Akhmet Chataev, following his death in a State Security Service of Georgia (SSSG)-led counterterrorism operation in November 2017. Operations in Tbilisi and Pankisi led to the detention of eight individuals, all of whom courts convicted on terrorism charges. In 2018, the SSSG also investigated three cases of false notifications of terrorism, one case of public incitement to terrorism and illegal purchase and storage of firearms and ammunition, and two cases of preparation of an act of terrorism.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

The country faces two separate and distinct streams of anti-U.S. sentiment: U.S.-Russian relations, and anti-U.S. rhetoric that originates within small Islamist groups. There have been no direct cases of violence solely attributed to anti-U.S./anti-Western sentiment.

A sizeable minority prefer alignment with Russia. Georgia also continues to deal with the geopolitical effects from the 2008 war with the Russian Federation.

Georgia’s population is 10% Muslim, concentrated in several areas adjacent to predominantly Muslim countries or territories (i.e. Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Russia’s Chechen Republic). While there have been no direct threats against U.S. interests by Georgian-based Islamist groups, some members of these groups have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight on behalf of ISIS.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

There is no known threat of political violence directed specifically against private U.S. citizens.

In August 2008, an exchange of gunfire/artillery between Georgian and separatist forces in South Ossetia escalated into a full-blown war between Georgia and Russia. Since 2008, Russia has stationed forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This includes the Akhalgori region of South Ossetia, which was not previously part of the conflict zone and occupied only startgin in 2008, and the Kodori Gorge area of Abkhazia, which was Georgian-controlled before the 2008 war. Russian forces withdrew from Perevi, near the administrative boundary line with South Ossetia, in 2010.

During the 2016 Parliamentary Elections, there was an assassination attempt against a prominent political leader. In addition, a car bomb exploded in front of the United National Movement (UNM) political party’s office on Kolmeurne Square, near Rustaveli Avenue and Freedom Square. The suspected target of the attack was a senior UNM official.

Civil Unrest

There is considerable risk from civil unrest in Tbilisi. In 2018, large political rallies/marches occurred in downtown Tbilisi. The rallies drew large crowds, and affected traffic and pedestrian movement in the area significantly. Although the rallies caused some logistical difficulties for businesses in the area, no major violence occurred; in addition, there was no demonstrable effect on the safety and security of U.S. citizens in Tbilisi.

Avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution near large public gatherings when possible, as even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Though rare, violence or threatening behavior motivated by religious or ethnic differences occurs occasionally. The Prime Minister and other leaders have stated the government will not tolerate religious or ethnic prejudices, and have condemned such acts in the past.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Georgia occupies a seismic zone. Several minor tremors in the range of 2.6 to 4.9 on the Richter scale occurred in 2018.

Weather in the mountains can change quickly, even in the summer months, with low overnight temperatures and unexpected snowstorms. There have been reports of hikers getting lost in the mountains in snowy/stormy weather, and there have been fatal accidents. Flash floods in spring or summer can be hazardous or deadly.

Eight known venomous snake species are endemic to Georgia; you are more likely to encounter them between March and October. For more information, review OSAC’s Report When Wildlife Attacks.

Critical Infrastructure

The government has enacted laws to ensure that new construction meets seismic standards, but enforcement is uneven. Many buildings, both new and old, have inadequate anti-seismic construction. Gas leaks and explosions have occurred in old and new buildings alike, causing injuries and death, especially during the winter.

Economic Concerns

Foreigners should safeguard sensitive information. Pirated software, music, and films are widely available on the black market.

Personal Identity Concerns

There continue to be periodic reports of violence and intimidation against foreigners in bars, nightclubs, and similar venues, especially against members of the LGBT community.

Drug-related Crimes

Georgia is a transit point and an end-use destination for various illicit drugs. In 2018, Georgia’s Constitutional Court abolished the mandatory prison sentence and administrative fines for marijuana use and possession (up to 70 grams). Harsh penalties remain in effect for marijuana distribution and for all other illegal narcotics use, possession, and distribution.

Georgia continues efforts to increase border security with the support of the U.S. government, the EU, and international donors. Georgian police have a special emphasis on counter-narcotics work, with a special division to combat international narcotics trafficking.

Kidnapping Threat

The threat to U.S. citizens of kidnapping exists, particularly in the occupied territories. There have been no recent reports of instances of bridal or parental abductions in Georgia involving U.S. citizens.

Police Response

In general, police are attentive and responsive to requests/calls for assistance from foreigners and U.S. citizens. However, their effectiveness is contingent on resources, or lack thereof, and the level of training among officers varies. Police response in Tbilisi can range from several minutes to more than one hour. Police response outside of Tbilisi can be considerably longer.

Although there has been much progress in the government's efforts to reform the police organizations and improve overall professionalism, work to effectively deter criminal activity and conduct effective post-incident investigations remains.

Emergency services will respond to the best of their ability, but terrain, road, and weather conditions, as well as limited resources, could severely affect response times.

Georgia’s customs authorities enforce regulations concerning the temporary import/export of items such as alcohol, tobacco, jewelry, religious materials, art or artifacts, antiquities, and business equipment.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

U.S. citizens detained or harassed by the police should contact the U.S. Embassy's American Citizen Services unit in the Consular Section at the following numbers:

Embassy 24/7 Main & Emergency Number: (995) (32) 227-70-00

American Citizen Services: (995) (32) 227-77-24

Crime Victim Assistance

The Embassy’s Consular Section has information available to assist victims of crime seeking assistance from local police, medical attention, finding a local attorney, contacting family or relatives in the U.S., and contacting airlines regarding travel arrangements. For local first responders, refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.

Contact the police through the general emergency phone number:  112.

Police/Security Agencies

The most visible police presence is that of the Patrol Police, who patrol in marked vehicles throughout the country; they increase their visibility by patrolling with their emergency lights on.

The Protection Police are a visible presence throughout the larger cities of Georgia near government buildings and crowded tourist areas.

Medical Emergencies

Western-standard medical care is limited, but healthcare continues to improve. There is a shortage of medical supplies and capabilities outside Tbilisi and Batumi. Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities.

Travel with a doctor’s statement and a personal supply only of any prescription medication. Many medicines legal in the U.S. are controlled/illegal in Georgia. There has been a notable recent increase in enforcement (and related detentions) of U.S. citizens related to the possession and importation of controlled substances. For more information, refer to OSAC’s Report, Traveling with Medications.

Medical services in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are extremely limited. Hospitals have little to no infectious disease control capabilities and may lack medicine. There are no commercial airports in either region, making air ambulance evacuations (medevac) for medical emergencies impossible.

For all general emergencies, call 112. Consider downloading the Georgian MoIA 112 app with an emergency text and location identification feature. 

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Insurance providers offer 24/7 air ambulance service and emergency medical assistance if required by local medical professionals.

Insurance Guidance

Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment before rendering medical services. Hospitals do not accept credit cards or medical insurance. The Embassy highly recommends both short- and long-term travelers purchase overseas medical insurance and medevac insurance. Two overseas medical insurers used by U.S. citizens are:

International SOS, www.internationalsos.com (1-215-942-8000)

MEDEX Assist, www.medexassist.com (1-800-732-5309).

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The Embassy strongly recommends travelers who visit for at least two weeks get the Hepatitis A vaccine and the pre-exposure rabies vaccine series. There has been a recent measles outbreak, and tuberculosis is a serious health concern. Bring medicine to treat diarrhea, which regularly afflicts newcomers. Take care that food is cooked thoroughly to reduce the risk of food-borne illness.

Anti-venom is available for some species of snakes in a small number of facilities. Treat all snakes as potentially venomous.

High levels of lead appear in some spices made in Georgia. Consider purchasing spices only from recognized U.S. or international manufacturers.

Georgia has a high rate of Hepatitis C. Exercise caution if you plan to get a tattoo, piercing, dental work, or other procedure with potential for blood exposure. Ensure the provider uses proper sterilization procedures.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Georgia.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Country Council in Tbilisi is active, meeting quarterly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Europe Team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

11 George Balanchine Street, Didi Dighomi, Tbilisi 0131

U.S. Embassy hours of operation are Monday-Friday 0900-1800

Embassy Contact Numbers

Embassy 24/7 Main & Emergency Number:  (995) (32) 227-70-00

Website: https://ge.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Georgia should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Additional Resources

Georgia Country Information Sheet

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