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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Georgia

Georgia - Consular Information Sheet
November 17, 2000

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: A mountainous republic situated in the heart of the Caucasus range, Georgia has borders with Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. Living conditions are improving, but do not meet Western standards. Tourist facilities outside of Tbilisi, the capital, are not highly developed, and many of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. U.S. citizens may receive a visa upon arrival at Tbilisi Airport, the Port of Poti, and the Red Bridge ("Tsiteli Khidi") crossing on Georgia's border with Azerbaijan. Americans intending to enter Georgia at other points-of-entry must obtain a visa beforehand at a Georgian embassy or consulate abroad. Armenian and Azerbaijani visas are no longer valid for transit through Georgia. Travelers to Georgia must fill out a customs declaration upon arrival that is to be presented to customs officials when departing the country. Failure to declare currency and items of value can result in fines or other penalties. For further information, contact the Embassy of Georgia at 1615 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20009, tel: (202) 387-2390, fax: (202) 393-4537; Internet: http://www.georgiaemb.org.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: The U.S. Embassy advises American citizens to avoid travel to the separatist-controlled region of Abkhazia. There are reports of continued fighting and terrorist activity in Abkhazia (and around Zugdidi), including attacks and kidnappings of international observers. These incidents have included bombings and the mining of roads which pose a serious threat to vehicular traffic. While Abkhaz "border officials" may demand that travelers entering the region purchase "visas" from the so-called "Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia," the U.S. Government does not recognize the separatists' declaration of an Abkhazia independent from Georgia. As a result of the restricted access of U.S. officials to Abkhazia, the ability of the U.S. Government to assist American citizens there is extremely limited, even in emergencies. American citizens in areas of Western Georgia near the Abkhaz border are advised to be aware of their surroundings at all times and to avoid straying off main roads and traveling after dark.

American citizens are also advised to avoid travel to other areas of continuing security concern: specifically, the Pankisi Gorge north of Akhmeta and the northern mountainous areas of Georgia bordering Chechnya, Dagestan and Svaneti. There have been instances of kidnappings for ransom purposes in these regions.

As a result of a threat posed by banditry and other criminal activities, American citizens should carefully evaluate the implications for their security before considering travel to South Ossetia and along the Georgian Military Highway north of the Gudauri ski resort.

CRIME: While petty thefts and pickpocketing were previously the most common crimes, recently foreigners in Georgia have also been victimized by muggings, home break-ins and other violent crimes. Most muggings have occurred on side streets near Tbilisi's city center. In all instances, the mugging victims have first been knocked unconscious by blows to the head.

Petty theft is particularly a problem on the Tbilisi metro system and in mini-vans used for public transit. While the security of overland travel in Georgia has improved, vehicular and rail traffic remains vulnerable to robbery. Americans visiting or residing in Tbilisi should take the same precautions they would in any major city where crime can be a problem. American citizens in Tbilisi are advised to remain aware of their surroundings at all times, day or night; and to stay off dark or unlit streets even when traveling in a group; to avoid carrying large sums of cash; and to be particularly cautious of being singled out for victimization at establishments frequented by foreigners.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. Additional information on the region can be found in the brochure Tips for Travelers to Russia. Both publications are available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical care in Georgia is limited. There is a severe shortage of basic medical supplies, including disposable needles, anesthetics, and antibiotics. Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Georgian doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment before rendering medical services.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United Sates. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas may face extreme difficulties.

Check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas, including provision for medical evacuation, and for adequacy of coverage. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the department of state's bureau of consular affairs brochure Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the bureau of consular affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions which differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Georgia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Fair
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

As in the United States, vehicular traffic in Georgia moves along the right side of roadways. Speed limits range from 80 to 100 km/hr. on highways, and from 60 to 90 km/hr. on urban thoroughfares. Motorists are not permitted to make right turns on red at traffic lights. While legislation mandating seat belt use has yet to be enacted, drivers and passengers are nevertheless strongly advised to buckle-up on Georgian Roads. Children under seven (7) years of age are required to be restrained in child-safety seats. Under Georgian law, a driver may be considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol with any blood alcohol concentration exceeding zero.

Inter-City travel in Georgia by bus and public minivan is readily available, and expanding and improved train service links the capital to most large cities and towns. It is also possible to hire private taxis for inter-city travel at a reasonable cost.

The state road police, who come under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, are responsible for maintaining road safety in Georgia. As many local drivers do not operate their vehicles in accordance with established road rules, motorists should exercise extreme caution when driving, and pedestrians should be careful when crossing streets.

Roads in Georgia are generally in poor condition and often lack shoulder markings and centerlines. In addition, traffic signals may not work as a result of power outages and burned-out bulbs. Undivided two-lane roads connect most major cities, and motorists attempting to pass other vehicles may encounter oncoming high-speed traffic. Driving at night can be especially dangerous. Travel on mountain roads is treacherous in both rain and snow, and heavy snowfalls may make some roads impassable. During the first ten months of the year 2000, 375 traffic related fatalities and 1,670 traffic-related injuries were reported to the state road police. These figures indicate that the fatality and injury rate on Georgian roads is several times the U.S. rate.

For additional information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers at present, or economic authority to operate such service, between the U.S. and Georgia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Georgia's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards.

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet home page at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at 618-229-4801.

Power outages have occasionally disabled Tbilisi Airport's guidance beacon for short periods of time, forcing aircraft to land using visual flight rules.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating the laws of Georgia, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines.

CURRENCY INFORMATION: While the Georgian Lari is the only legal tender, dollars can be freely exchanged for Laris at market rates. Credit cards are rarely accepted outside of upscale hotels and restaurants, and travelers' checks are difficult to cash.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone (202) 736-7000.

REGISTRATION AND EMBASSY LOCATION: U.S. citizens living in or visiting Georgia are strongly encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi, where they may obtain updated information on travel and security within Georgia. The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi is located at 25 Atoneli Street, tel: (995)(32)98-99-67 or (995)(32)98-99-68, fax: (995)(32)93-37-59.

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