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Georgia 2017 Crime & Safety Report

Europe > Georgia; Europe > Georgia > Tbilisi

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

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

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED TBILISI AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Please review OSAC’s Georgia-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

Crime continues to be a concern despite the establishment of a professional law enforcement presence and active enforcement. According to official statistics, there was a small decrease in criminal cases in 2016, compared to 2015. However, crimes involving domestic violence and financial crimes increased in 2016.

Crimes against U.S. citizens and other Westerners are reported. The number of crimes reported to the U.S. Embassy involving U.S. citizens increased in 2016 and included reports of aggravated assault, domestic violence, sexual assault, and robbery. There continue to be periodic reports of violence and intimidation against foreigners in bars, nightclubs, similar venues, and on streets nearby.

There continue to be reports of nuisance street children who beg from, hassle, and behave aggressively toward foreigners, with a seemingly increased level of aggression.

Organized crime in the Tbilisi administered territory has been on the wane since the adoption of harsher legislation more than 10 years ago. Most organized crime growth now transpires outside of Georgia. However, street gangs and drug dealers continue to be a problem. These do not specifically target foreigners.

Crimes involving weapons, including armed robberies and assaults, remained a concern in 2016. An emphasis on enforcement by Georgian authorities resulted in significant seizures of illegally possessed weapons, including handguns, rifles, hand grenades, and rocket propelled grenade launchers. The numbers of weapons seized reflects the overall number of weapons in circulation and the fact that Georgia is a post-conflict nation with a large amount of weapons leftover after the fall of the Soviet Union and two internal conflicts (Abkhazia and South Ossetia).

Fraudulent documents of varying quality are readily available for purchase. The government is working to arrest and prosecute document vendors; however, the penalties for these types of crimes are minimal. Fraudulent bank documents, employment records, and fake seals/stamps are common. Government offices easily verify fraudulent civil documents, but they are readily available and are still encountered.

Cybersecurity Issues

Financial crimes (credit card fraud against individuals, larger targeted attacks against banks/financial institutions) are not uncommon. Georgian law enforcement agencies put substantial resources into combatting financial crimes in 2015 and made several significant arrests.

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, and 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. U.S. Embassy personnel are restricted from traveling to Abkhazia or South Ossetia, even in the case of emergencies involving U.S. citizens.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Driving can be extremely hazardous. Local drivers pay little attention to speed limits and lane discipline and regularly encroach into oncoming traffic. Despite a zero tolerance law in regards to drinking and driving, intoxicated drivers are a problem, especially in the evenings and on holidays. The Embassy strongly advises drivers to maintain an acute level of situational awareness, drive defensively, and wear seatbelts. Georgian law requires use of seat belts in the front seats. There is little access to emergency medical services outside of Tbilisi.

The Embassy does not recommend travel between cities after sundown due to insufficient lighting and poor road conditions. There is also a heightened vulnerability to crime during vehicle malfunctions or stops.

Public Transportation Conditions

The RSO advises caution in the use of any other form of public transportation (the underground Metro, marshrutka mini-buses).

The government poorly regulates the taxicab industry, and foreigners are often charged higher rates higher than local residents. The Embassy advises staff to negotiate a fare before using a taxi. The majority of taxis are operated by private individuals who use their private vehicles as unofficial cabs as a source of income. The Embassy advises staff to use official taxicab companies; several exist with English-speaking dispatchers. Established taxicabs use fare meters, have permanent painted exteriors (listing their phone number and cab company name), and use dispatchers. 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.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The primary airport is Tbilisi International Airport (TBS). This is a modern facility through which more than 1.5 million visitors passed in 2016. The airport services several international airlines with most flights going to Europe and Asia.

There are two other international airports: one in Batumi and one in Kutaisi.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED TBILISI AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Georgia’s proximity to Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and the North Caucasus region (all have seen some measure of terrorist-related activity in the last three years) continues to be of concern. While Georgia has made small 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, have joined ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria in 2016.

The areas in/contiguous to Abkhazia and South Ossetia have seen periodic shootings, kidnappings, remotely-detonated car bombings, booby-traps, and other acts of violence that have primarily targeted Georgian police or other officials but have also targeted civilians and international observers/diplomats. Russian forces are stationed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Concerns remain with regard to extremist elements in separatist South Ossetia and Abkhazia who are responsible for kidnappings, roadside bombings, and attacks on Georgian citizens and government officials.

In 2015, Georgia enacted a Law on Combating Terrorism, a substantive updating and expansion of its counter-terrorism legislation. Georgian law enforcement has actively enforced this new law, which has led to the arrest of several ISIS-affiliated suspects, including an alleged Georgia-based ISIS recruiter.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

The country faces two separate and distinct streams of anti-American sentiment: U.S.-Russian relations and anti-American rhetoric that originates within small Islamist groups.

  • While there have been no direct cases of violence that can be solely attributed to anti-American/anti-Western sentiment, a key component of Georgian geo-politics is whether Georgia should be aligned with the West or with Russia. Further, the country continues to deal with the geopolitical effects from the 2008 war with the Russian Federation.
  • Georgia’s population is 10% Muslim, which is concentrated in several areas adjacent to predominantly Muslim countries or territories. 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/Iraq to fight on behalf of ISIS. A small number of Islamist groups in Georgia openly support these fighters.


Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED TBILISI AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

In 2016, three days prior to parliamentary elections, there was an assassination attempt against a prominent political leader; a car bomb exploded in front of the United National Movement (UNM) office on Kolmeurne Square, near Rustaveli Avenue and Freedom Square. The suspected target of the attack was a senior UNM official.

Civil Unrest

In October 2016, the UNM held a large political rally/march in downtown Tbilisi. The rally drew large crowds and significantly impacted traffic and pedestrian movement. Aside from creating some logistical difficulties for businesses, no violence was reported; in addition, there was no demonstrable effect on the safety and security of U.S. citizens in Tbilisi.

U.S. citizens are encouraged to 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/ethnic differences does occur.

  • In September 2014, in Kobuleti in the Adjara region, Orthodox Christians nailed a pig’s head to the door of a residence in which the local Muslim community was planning to open a madrasa. The Prime Minister spoke against this incident and stated the government will not tolerate religious prejudices. Civil society leaders also condemned the act.

  • Post-specific Concerns

    Environmental Hazards

    Georgia is situated in a seismic zone.

  • The most recent significant seismic activity was a minor tremor on September 17, 2013, in the Republic of Dagestan. The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the quake measured a 5.3, and its epicenter was 21 kilometers (13.05 miles) north of Gvareli, Georgia.


The weather in the mountains can change quickly, even in the summer, 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.

Critical Infrastructure

The government enacted laws to ensure that new construction meets seismic standards, but enforcement is uneven. Many buildings have inadequate anti-seismic standards.

Economic Concerns

Pirated software, music, and films are widely available on the black market.

Drug-related Crimes

Georgia is a transit point and an end-user destination for various illicit drugs. The 2007 national Anti-Drug Strategy increased penalties for drug offenses and adopted anti-drug legislation. The government is continuing efforts to increase border security with the support of the U.S. government, the EU, and international donors. In 2014, Georgia put special emphasis on countering narcotics trafficking through Georgia and created a special police division to combat international narcotics trafficking. In 2014, authorities interdicted, what is reportedly, the world’s largest land-based heroin seizure (estimated at over two metric tons).

Kidnapping Threat

The threat to U.S. citizens of kidnapping exists. In recent years, instances of kidnappings have been significantly reduced with no recent reported instances of bridal/parental abductions involving U.S. citizens.

Police Response

In general, police are attentive and responsive to requests/calls for assistance from foreigners and U.S. citizens in particular. However, much of their effectiveness is based on resources, or lack thereof, and the level of training among officers varies. Although there has been much progress in the government's efforts to reform the police organizations and improve overall professionalism, work remains to deter criminal activity and conduct effective post-incident investigations.

Police response in Tbilisi can range from several minutes to more than one hour. Police response outside of Tbilisi can be considerably longer. Emergency services will respond to the best of their ability, but terrain, road, and weather conditions, and limited resources could severely affect response times.

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

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

U.S. citizens who have been 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 Main & Emergency Number: (995) (32) 227-70-00 {24/7}
American Citizen Services: (995) (32) 227-77-24

Crime Victim Assistance

The 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.

You may contact the police through the general emergency phone number:  112.

Police/Security Agencies

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

The Protection Police are also visible throughout Tbilisi and other large cities 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. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment before rendering medical services.

The Embassy recommends traveling with your prescription medication. Many medicines that are legal in the U.S. may be considered controlled/illegal in Georgia. A recent increase in enforcement (and related detentions) of U.S. citizens related to the possession and importation of controlled substances has been noted. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”

Medical services in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are extremely limited. Hospitals do not accept credit cards or medical insurance, have little/no infectious disease control, and lack medicine.

For all general emergencies, call 112.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

MediClub

22a Tashkenti St, Saburtalo

(995) (32) 225-1991

Emergency Department Duty Phone: (995) 599 581991

 

General Physician Dr. George Lolashvili

Medical Center Cito, 40 Paliashvili Str, Vake

(995) (32) 229-0671

Recommended Air Ambulance Services

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

There are no commercial airports in Abkhazia or South Ossetia, making air ambulance evacuations for medical emergencies impossible.

Insurance Guidance

The Embassy highly recommends travelers purchase overseas medical insurance and medical evacuation insurance. Two insurers used by U.S. citizens are: International SOS, www.internationalsos.com (1-215-942-8000), and 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 and rabies vaccines. Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern. Travelers are also encouraged to bring medicine to treat diarrhea, which regularly afflicts newcomers. Travelers should take care that food is cooked thoroughly to reduce the risk of food-borne illness.

There are eight known venomous snake species that are more likely to be encountered between March-October. Anti-venom is available for some species in a small number of facilities. Treat all snakes as venomous.

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

OSAC Country Council Information

There is currently no active Country Council in Georgia. Please contact OSAC’s Europe team if you are interested in private-sector engagement in Tbilisi or have questions about OSAC’s Country Council programs.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

11 George Balanchine Street, Didi Dighomi, Tbilisi 0131

Hours of Operation: Mon-Fri 0900-1800
Consular Services hours of operation: Mon-Fri 0830-1730, excluding holidays.

Embassy Contact Numbers

Embassy Main & Emergency Number: (995) (32) 227-70-00 {24/7}
American Citizen Services: (995) (32) 227-77-24
Website:  http://georgia.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

The U.S. Embassy enjoys an excellent, cooperative relationship with the government of Georgia, through which it stays abreast of crime, safety, and terrorism related issues.

All travelers to Georgia should enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs' website, which contains current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution. The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s extensive tips and advice on traveling safely abroad.

Additional Resources

Georgia Country Information Sheet