[Guide] Opening a bank account in Georgia

banking
(Ekami) #1

Hi nomads,
Just a little article for you to share my personal experience in opening a bank account in Georgia (the country, not the state).
I’ve put “Guide” in the title to not mix up the fact that I’m not looking for a piece of advice but rather giving them. So it’s not really a guide but rather a bunch of advice and personal experience sharing.

A little background about me: I’m a resident of French Polynesia (so basically with a French Passport). For the context: I’m not a native English speaker but I think I speak the language well enough so native speakers don’t have any difficulties understanding me (and I don’t have the horrible French accent when speaking in English).

So I went to Tbilisi to open an account in Georgia, not knowing which bank I should choose, I decided to open an account in both TBC Bank and Bank of Georgia then test their client support and basically get a hand on how they both work and then close the account in the bank that I like the less… That ended up being Bank of Georgia for 3 reasons:

  1. It was very difficult to communicate in English with the in-person representative in one of their branch (the closest branch to TBC headquarters)
  2. They told me many times that I must have a Georgian phone number even tho I told them that I’m a foreigner and I don’t plan to live in Georgia (hence I do not plan to get a permanent phone number from that country). After arguing quite a lot they accepted to try using my US phone number (Google Fi) and that worked… For my registration. Then afterward, after getting access to my online account I would try to re-add my US phone number to activate the 2 steps auth and that wouldn’t work as only Georgian phone number were accepted from there.
  3. After testing their online chat (there is no asynchronous messaging) the person in the chat would tell me she doesn’t speak English very well so someone else would call me back to answer my questions (which happened 2h later). Even tho the language of the web interface was set to English (which logically should send them a signal that I’m expecting someone to speak that language…).

At that point, that was the account with a red flag.
The experience in TBC bank was much smoother, they didn’t open the account I asked for tho (I asked for a Universal package account and they created a Gamarjoba account, I can tell that by the transfer fees =/).
Still, I decided to give a try to the account before moving to a Status account (by putting 30k USD into the account) and I asked the representative if I could make that move remotely… she told me yes.
In that bank, using a US phone number wasn’t a problem, most of the 2 auth verification code they’ll send you will also be from the US. The only downside is that I couldn’t add my email address to my online account at the time of writing as this feature was under reconstruction (and they wouldn’t give me an ETA of when this would work again). So as of today, my only link to the bank is my phone number (and eventually my physical presence with my passport).

So the first day I opened the 2 accounts in both banks, asked for a MasterCard and tested the services. On the second day, I went to Bank of Georgia and closed my account. That’s sad because they offer higher rates, lower fees and their “Prestige service” seemed better (with access to lounges, etc…) but they don’t seem to be ready for prime time when it comes to foreign customers.

After leaving Georgia I decided that I was ready to put the 30k USD into the account to get the TBC Status package (with higher rates, lower fees and a personal Banker reachable via WhatsApp and Email) and ofc… that didn’t work as expected. The banker would tell me that I can’t do that remotely and they need my physical presence to sign the contract package… I tried to explain to them that I was told the contrary and they wouldn’t hear anything. Now I have no other choice than to stay with the most basic Gamarjoba account as I don’t want to waste my time flying back to Tbilisi yet. I’ll probably do that next year but up until that time, there is no solution.

Few things you need to be aware of with a TBC bank account.

  1. There are hidden fees for incoming transfers in both USD and EUR. Transferring 1500 euros from Transferwise to TBC would cost me around 15 euros on arrival (so basically you pay the Transferwise fees + the fees on arrival). I asked their support and they told me that’s because of the Intermediary Banks wiring the money. When I did the same for the 30k USD I had around $20 of fees on arrival (not counting the Transferwise fees again) because of the Intermediary Banks.
  2. Don’t think you can get away by transferring your money exclusively with your Mastercard. For instance, I tried topping up 10USD with my TBC Gold MasterCard and Revolut charged me 10.18USD, I asked them why the extra 0.18USD and they wouldn’t tell me how it was calculated. It’s ok if they charge me a little amount, I don’t mind. On the other hand, claiming Revolut is 100% transparent in regard to fees is a wrong statement if their support can’t tell me how this fee was calculated.

So overall I’m more or less satisfied by my TBC bank account, more or less because when you come from banking systems like Transferwise Borderless/Revolut/N26 you pretty much get used to low fees, fast transfers, and more transparency. Also, you usually don’t get someone telling you something wrong from one person to another (like what happened with the Status account). But I was worried about storing all my money in those digital banks (maybe I’m worried for nothing) as there is not a lot of options for good banking systems when you are a resident of French Polynesia.

Don’t hesitate if you have question or want to share a similar experience. I hope I was able to help someone who planned to do the same thing.

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(Thomas K. Running) #2

Thanks, Ekami, for this detailed guide! :bowing_man:‍♂

Regarding your two final points of what to be aware of with TBC:

  1. This is true for any transfer that goes over the SWIFT network that needs to rely on intermediaries, and there’s unfortunately nothing TBC/TransferWise can do about it.
  2. You might be better off getting a Curve card (and connecting your TBC card in the app). It will remove most of the fees for spending, and even allow some cash withdrawals per month for free. The reason why Revolut charges the 1.8% fee is that the card is issued outside the EEA, which means it is more expensive for them to process. But if you add the Curve card in between (which is issued in the EEA), the Revolut fees disappear. I wouldn’t recommend relying on this for transferring large amounts, but if you also use the Curve card for daily spending I don’t think they will mind the occasional Revolut top-up.
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(Ekami) #3

Thanks @tkrunning , I didn’t know about the fees for these intermediary banks. I don’t really know how it works but it feels like people with a bag of cash are physically running from one place to another to move your money and they take their share on it lol.

As for Curve I think I’ll pass my turn on that. I feel like it’s a gimmick which is useful only if you don’t use N26/Revolut/Transferwise. If you do, I don’t see the point of using Curve. For TBC I do not plan to use the Masteracard that often (if not at all), this bank account just serves as a coffer to diversify my assets and store some of my money in case of a bank failure of one of my banks.

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