What’s it like to live in Tbilisi as an expat from Britain or elsewhere in the world?
After what felt like years of discussing the idea of spending summer in Tbilisi, me and my Scottish husband, Alan, decided to pack our bags in Manchester, UK, and move to Tbilisi for a few months. It was early May and while it was very warm and sunny Tbilisi heat had not yet arrived.
I was raised in Old Tbilisi, then moved to London over 20 years. Going back to spend a few months in Tbilisi with my husband as an expat felt both exciting and daunting. The idea was to pack our computers and carry on remote working in Tbilisi while renovating our Old Tbilisi apartment that we had purchased a few months before our move.
In the end, we ended up living in our one-bedroom apartment in Tbilisi near Marjanishvili for nearly half a year. Here’s what we loved and did not love so much after living in Tbilisi as expats.
As somebody who is from Tbilisi, I am of course biased, but there were a few highlights I enjoyed rediscovering about Tbilisi through different lenses.
Rediscovering behind the streets of Old Tbilisi was a real treat. Our Tbilisi apartments are located near New Aghmashenebeli, close to Metro Marjanishvili and the famous Fabrika, Tbilisi. We really made a point to stay as local as possible. It was a real pleasure to enjoy the shabby and faded glory of Old Tbilisi Architecture. I finally had time
to appreciate elaborate details on some of the buildings. We loved the fact that we could get everything in our Tbilisi neighborhood, from coffee shops to local food stalls, to gyms and yoga classes. We really enjoyed the 15-minute city commute to pretty much everything we needed.
2. The Sunshine in Tbilisi and the Slower pace of life
This can be great and not so great, depending on what type of person you are. But for us, it was certainly enjoyable to adjust to a slower pace of life. What I mean is, for example, in the UK, we are already sipping coffee in our local Costa at 7AM! But finding anything open at this time of the day in Tbilisi is a distant dream. Still, we were able to walk down Aghmashenebeli Avenue at 8AM and be one of the first customers at our local Entree cafe at Marjanishvili Square. We loved grabbing super fattening almond croissants and double cappuccinos while watching the world and Tbilisi’s mad traffic go by. On the other hand, nightlife really starts late in Tbilisi. Especially in summer, after the scorching sun is out and the evening cools off, that’s when people like to meet and mingle. So if you are more of a going out in the evening person, this can be great for you.
2. Working remotely from Tbilisi
OK, working remotely was not new for us. I’ve been working remotely for over 10 years and Alan for nearly 20. But still, it gave us a different perspective and opportunity to approach our work differently without sacrificing income. For example, Alan finally had time to finish writing books, actually, he wrote and published 2 books that he just did not seem to have time to complete in the UK. On another note, entirely unexpected fresh opportunities arrived that we simply would not have had in the UK.
3. The Cost of living in Tbilisi
What’s the cost of living like in Tbilisi? It depends of course how you spend your days. But it is possible to maintain a good quality of life for considerably less amount of money compared to the UK living.
For example, food shopping is certainly a fraction of the cost if you know where to shop. Living near Marjanishvili area means you can access farmers' stalls and buy fruit, veg, and cheese from the local farmers at a lower cost compared to supermarket chains in Tbilisi although supermarkets are also reasonable in pricing.
We were able to hire weekly housekeeping, something I just do not do back in the UK as I simply do not justify adding such extra expenses.
Gyms in Tbilisi can be relatively high but still spending from 99 to 160 GEL means it’s not that much different from the UK prices, but it is not as cheap as say cheap UK gym chains.
Theatres, concerts, and cinemas. Theatre experience (even if you do not speak the language) is the experience I recommend to anyone living in Tbilisi. You can enjoy such cultural activities every week without feeling too much pressure on your wallet.
Coffee culture is really booming in Tbilisi. OK, it depends on where you like sipping your cup of coffee. Somewhere like Entree prices are probably similar to the UK. Other options of course exist, and sometimes we really enjoy sitting on a terrace off, here’s the twist, McDonald. And before you raise your eyebrows, Mcdonald's is a very different experience in Tbilisi, so give it a go :)
4. Day-tripping and weekend aways from Tbilisi
We are fortunate that we have a summer getaway house in the mountains of Georgia in Imereti, 3 hour drive away, but even if you don’t you can still easily enjoy day and weekend trips away from Tbilisi on any budget. But it is a very enjoyable experience, especially when the heat in Tbilisi can become unbearable in summer.
What we did not like so much about living in Tbilisi as expats
Air pollution in Tbilisi
Air quality can be very poor indeed. Heat, fumes, traffic, all of those together make the air very polluted. But you can make this manageable. For example, where our apartments are we have a micro-climate in our yard. Our Italian yard, Ezo, is covered is huge trees and you can really feel the difference as soon as you step inside the yard. If you are staying somewhere on the heels, the air is a lot cleaner. We enjoyed walking through many little squares in our neighborhoods, which makes the air quality cleaner.
2. Service quality in Tbilisi
On a day-to-day basis, customer service in Tbilisi can feel rather poor. People don’t really like to smile as much, certainly not to strangers. But once they get to know you in the neighborhood, Georgians by nature love to be hospitable and helpful. Just give them a chance;). In other places where young kids in particular are getting trained on the job quality of service is as good as you’d expect in most places. I mean places like chain shops, hotels, and cafes.
3. Tradesmen in Tbilisi
Now, I don’t really know how relevant that can be for you as an expat in Tbilisi, but if you need to deal with tradesmen that can be a real challenge. It was very relevant for us as we were building and renovating our Old Tbilisi apartments. Firstly, finding a tradesman is a challenge, and once you do, you really need to be in charge of quality control, that is of course you understand everything from plumbing to the building works. Good luck! :)
4. Lack of building regulations in Tbilisi
Again, I am not sure if this will be relevant for you as an expat living in Tbilisi, but lack of regulations often means, houses and blocks of apartments can be built what feels like randomly. The entire city of Tbilisi seems to be under either renovation or reconstruction, which means noise from the building sites can be hard to escape. Health and safety are also quite poor. So if you are living next door to the building site, take extra care!
That’s about it, living as an expat in Tbilisi can be exciting, refreshing, and a totally different experience from the norm. So if you are considering, there are more pros so Give it a go. We had so many guests living in our apartments as expats they and us included all seem to love it.
Happy relocation to Tbilisi
Tamara Machavariani Forrest-Smith
PS. Relocating to Tbilisi and looking for a long-term Tbilisi apartment? Check out our Tbilisi Apartments that are perfect for Tbilisi expats here.