Shipping your car to Georgia

If you are coming to the Republic of Georgia for an extended stay, you may want to ship your car here. When I floated a query to local ex-pats, the general consensus was, “Why, when you can buy a car so cheap in Tbilisi?” We did ship our car and I want to share with you our experiences. (This does not apply to diplomatic personnel.)

First, choose a reliable shipping company. You will pay somewhere between $800 USD and $1000 USD to ship your car to Georgia, depending on where your car is loaded. Your car will be handled somewhat roughly by a forklift, since the usual method is to stuff four cars into a container. You can choose RORO, roll on, roll off, but then your car is exposed to the world. (When I shipped a car from Germany in 1975, before containers were common, I was warned to remove everything that might be removed by those at the docks or on the ship.) ┬áSo when I speak about a reliable shipper, you’ll want one who will assist you at either end of the shipment. Buy insurance. I recommend against buying it through the shipper, who may choose an undesirable policy and who may name the wrong insured.

When your car arrives, usually at the port of Poti, you should be present when it is removed from the container. If you are shipping your personally owned vehicle, it will have its local license plates (tags; titles or whatever you call those tin things with numbers and letters from your state or country) attached. Be alert. The workers at the port will remove the plates, toss them aside, and attach temporary Georgian plates. Retrieve your plates. I’ll explain why in a minute.

Take photos immediately. (The shipper will photograph and survey your car at the point of departure. You should do the same.) Your insurer should allow a few days (check the policy and their web-site) to take photos and submit a claim.

You may ship household goods, clothing, etc., with the car. But if you are not a Georgian citizen, you will pay a customs duty on those worn out sneakers. The customs fee is determined by the weight of the household goods. Check the Ministry of Finance and the Revenue Service for details. (www.rs.ge/en).

The temporary license plates permit you to drive your car for 60 days before you register it. You are actually renting the plates for 1 GEL (lari) per day. Before those 60 days pass, you will need to appear in a the Revenue Service office outside Rustavi, about 30 minutes from Tbilisi, to register your car and to pay your customs and other fees. The customs fee is based on the year of manufacture and the size of your car’s engine. Hybrids get a discount. To calculate your customs fee, go to the Revenue Service’s vehicle customs calculator. ( http://www.rs.ge/Default.aspx?sec_id=5091&lang=2) Bring your vehicle title, registration, bill of lading, and your (the vehicle owner’s) passport.

Georgian law permits non-citizens to defer paying customs fees for three years. Sounds good, right? Not really. In order to defer the fee, you must deposit the fee in an escrow account at a Georgian bank. You will pay the bank a fee for the privilege of leaving your money with them. Various banks have different fee schedules. TBC, for example, charges a one-time 300 GEL (about $130 USD) for the privilege. Others have annual fees between 180 GEL and 360 GEL per year. If you decide to defer your fees, you will need your home-state or home country registration as well as the vehicle title. This is where the license plates come in. We spent several trips to Rustavi trying to persuade the officials there that we qualified for the customs deferral. They kept asking where the plates were and argued that an inspection stamp on our title indicated that the car’s registration had been cancelled. So keep your plates.

The registration process will take about one hour, if you go on a weekday, or two hours on a Saturday. Bring cash to pay your fees. You may charge them to your credit card but the bank will add a 2% fee.

In the end, the first advice we received was the best. Why ship?

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