Due to COVID, a lot of foreigners are stuck in limbo in Georgia. They don’t want to leave, but their visa waiver (365 day stamp) is getting close to expiring. If they cross the border in order to renew it, they may not be able to cross back.
With border closures seeming likely to continue for an indefinite time, what are the options for those who want to continue to stay in Georgia?
The bad news is, there is no simple, standard visa extension (to the 365 day entry stamp) from within Georgia. However, there are some options for emergency visa extensions, if you can prove cause beyond simply COVID making it tricky to fly home (see item 5 below on force majeure extensions).
You also cannot just head to the border and get passport control to stamp you out and then in again, as that would constitute legally crossing the border, and would mean that your re-entry is still restricted.
DISCLAIMER: This information in this article does not constitute legal advice, and you use it at your own risk. We do not guarantee results and take no liability for fines or other problems resulting from following this advice. Article updated Friday, December 18th, 2020.
We recorded a webinar to explain the main points, and we also answered 107 questions from attendees in the Q&A, so there is a lot in the webinar that is not in the article below.
Please note, the government announced a further extension (to July 1st, 2021) on December 16th, 2020. We’ve written a full assessment of the new changes and who they apply to, here.
Based on these new changes, quite a few parts of the below webinar are now out of date – including most discussions of Emergency Extensions. Register for our new live webinar on how to get residency within the 6 month extension, on Tuesday 22nd December.
You’ll find resources referenced in the webinar below, as well as a concise summary of the main options.
Keep up to date with the latest visa changes and residency options:
Options To Extend Your Stay:
1. Get A Residence Permit
Apply for a residence permit, as long as you still have more than 40 days validity on your current stamp.
You could apply based on the income of a business you own in Georgia, or a Georgian company you work for (Work Permit).
Also, permits based off of property ownership, family connections, study at a Georgian educational institution, or a few other options are also possible.
Learn more about getting a Georgian Residence Permit.
NOTE: A residence permit will allow you to stay longer, but during COVID, residence permits have not been sufficient to cross the border for re-entry.
If you do not currently have 40 days of legal stay left on your passport stamp/visa, you might be eligible for option 5 below, which will then allow you to extend your stay just long enough to then initiate a residence permit application. When you take into account the risks and costs of having to leave and re-enter Georgia and potentially pay for quarantine and PCR tests, then residency might actually be a better and cheaper option for many people.
2. Overstay And Pay The Exit/Re-Entry Fine
Overstay the 365 day visa waiver until borders reopen and pay the fine when you eventually depart and/or re-enter.
- Overstay up to 90 days = 180 GEL fine.
- Overstay more than 90 days = 360 GEL fine.
Typically, this sort of overstay has no repercussions. As long as you pay the fine, you can re-enter Georgia again the same day with a new stamp for 365 days.
This has been tested many times over the years and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence showing that there is no problem at all with overstaying and paying the fine when you leave or come back. This is backed up by the awkwardly worded last paragraph on this article of the migration commission. That same article also explains some very specific options for a 3 month extension that can be applied for if you are seriously ill or if there is a natural disaster (not COVID, probably, as that has been covered in the new legislation – see item 4 below). For most reading this article, none of the given options are likely to apply.
That said, if you stay here on an expired stamp, if for some reason you get checked (they had police spot checks during lockdown- I got stopped once), or if you need to apply for any official things using your passport (bank account, wedding certificate, etc.), then you could in rare cases face deportation (expulsion). If forcibly deported, there is the possibility of an entry ban of 2 to 5 years. That is also explained briefly in the previously mentioned article.
Whether this would be enforced in the current COVID climate is very hard to say. But the government has made it very clear to the various embassies here (including the UK & USA) that if you don’t extend your stay legally, it’s time to go home. We simply have no way of knowing if, in 2021, those leaving Georgia on a long expired stamp will just have to pay the fine, or if additional repercussions will be applied.
3. Apply For An Entry Permit Before You Depart, Then Re-enter.
Apply for one of the entry permits (remote worker / business traveler) if you meet their requirements, and get that approved before leaving, then re-enter on that permit.
So far this strategy is untested, and I’m awaiting feedback from some people who are considering trying it. So this one is still theory. What we do know now (as of 9th Dec 2020) is that many people have applied and been approved for an entry permit within Georgia. I am just waiting to hear of actual cases of exiting and re-entering immediately without issue.
As there is nothing in the official legislation about this being unlawful, it seems likely that it will work.
If you try this option and fail or succeed, please message firstname.lastname@example.org with your experience so I can update this section.
Essential considerations with this method:
- The permits are NOT visas. They are entry permits coordinated by the ministry of economy. The visa is controlled by the border police / immigration department. Getting approved for a permit does not constitute a legal stay in Georgia. Those applying, then deciding they don’t need to cross the border to get a new visa stamp, are staying in Georgia illegally.
- You may have to enter quarantine upon re-entering georgia, at your own expense, even though you were only out of the country for a few hours. Or, you may be required to self-isolate.
4. Consider The COVID Extension
As of December 16th, 2020, the new COVID Legal Stay Extension will apply to most foreigners stuck in Georgia, so long as:
- They were already present in Georgia on a legal stay as of March 14th, 2020.
- They continue to be unable to return home due to 1 of the 4 criteria (i.e., home country still has high COVID risk, border re-entry to home country is restricted, the individual has COVID or another medical problem preventing travel, or flight cancellations.)
The COVID extension is NOT a blanket extension, so you should read the full information to make sure you qualify.
5. Force Majeure Visa Extension
With the new extension (option 4 above) very few foreigners will need to consider an emergency extension at this time, until perhaps May or June of 2021, unless the COVID situation changes and the Georgian government updates their legislation.
The emergency visa extension based on Force Majeure is available to apply for, up until June 30th, so long as you qualify for option 4 above.
The rest of the information below for option 5 & 6 is legacy information and may not be needed again until June 2021, at which point we will update. I’ve left it here so you can familiarize yourself with the concepts and be prepared in case we are still in need of emergency extensions by June.
The best solution though, is to spend the next 6 months qualifying for and getting residency, then all the below and above issues will no longer be a problem.
This visa extension can extend your legal stay up to 3 months from the date of approval. You will also be here legally while they make a decision. Processing should take 3 business days, but we expect a huge volume of applications, so delays are possible.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The Public Service Hall is closed from Jan 1st to 15th. During this time no application processing is likely to happen. This could be a good thing – because it might give you an extra 2 weeks in limbo while the decision is made. Or it could be a bad thing – because you won’t be able to get an appointment before they close, and hence will miss the deadline. We suggest getting your appointment at least 7 days before the expiry date on your stamp, or before December 31st, if your stamp has already expired.
Our lawyers are currently working on active cases to help with getting these extensions granted. Something to observe is, simply applying and saying you need an extension because of COVID, has mixed results. With force majeure cases, each is assessed on individual merit, and the simple answer to “Extend because of COVID” can get an answer along the lines of, “You’ve had months to book a flight and go home”.
In a case where flying home is incredibly difficult (eg. Australia / New Zealand) it’s an easier sell. However, for those who can go home on direct flights without too much trouble (e.g., France / Germany / etc.), then a more compelling argument is required.
That said, we 100% recommend that you do not ONLY put COVID as your reason for the extension. If you want to attempt this process yourself, here are some general pointers:
- Create a cover letter which explains multiple reasons why you need to stay. Include links to official government websites that back up your arguments.
- If you intend to apply for legal residency (which normally requires 40 days validity on your passport stamp) and hence need the visa extension to become eligible, state that, and include evidence to support that you will actually be able to apply for residency.
- Include the number of days of extension you require, and justify why you need that many days (the agent who assesses the case decides how many days to award you; it is not a fixed number of days).
In addition to the cover letter and any relevant supporting documents, you must also bring:
- Passport (they will scan it)
- Visa stamp or visa document
- 3×4 passport type photo
- Preferably, a Georgian translator – it will make the process much easier. They will have to argue at the door to be allowed to enter with you due to entry restrictions, but this normally works.
Book an appointment at the Public Service Hall. You must attend in person, or provide a power of attorney as your representative. The category to choose for the appointment is “Receiving applications for the services of the Public Service Development Agency (ID, passports, citizenships).”
Due to incredibly high demand on this topic, we cannot currently offer free consultations to assist with visa extensions. Our paid services for consulting on your strategy, drafting the cover letter and assisting with the application, start from 400 GEL. We also do not currently have the manpower to answer emails on this topic other than for booking the paid consultation.
Please contact us only if you are interested in the paid service.
In addition to the force majeure extension, there are some other extension options, but these revolve around things like:
- Medical reasons preventing travel (childbirth, hospitalization, having COVID, etc.) However, keep in mind that having COVID will likely only result in a 3-week extension, not a 3-month extension.
- Actual flight cancellations (If you had flights scheduled to leave this month, but everything was cancelled and you can’t rebook). However, you might not get a 3 month extension for this condition, unless all flights are cancelled indefinitely.
- If you already applied for residency and it has been delayed. You can also simultaneously apply for residency and the emergency extension at the same time, in order to apply the 40 day validity needed to make the residency application.
- Involvement in court proceedings.
You can read Article 48 in the official legislation Law of Georgia on the Legal Status of Aliens and Stateless Persons, for the exact wording.
Note: Other types of visa extensions defined in Article 48, other than force majeure, may require at least 7 days validity of your legal stay (passport stamp/visa) to apply. We cannot guarantee successful applications using the information above, or with our paid services.
6. Visa Extension + Legal Residency Combo
If you qualify, this is by far the strongest option, apart from option 1.
You can apply for the emergency visa extension and legal residency at the same appointment. This will mean that you can bypass the 40 day validity problem on the basis of getting the extension (more than 40 days, up to 90 days) and simultaneously apply for legal residency based on that new legal stay date that will be processed after the fact.
The surprising double whammy of this approach (unlike in the force majeure approach above, where you’ll be assessed on a case by case basis), gives you almost a 100% chance of your emergency extension being approved, because of the “Law of Georgia on the Legal Status of Aliens and Stateless Persons,” (Article 48.1.a):
1. Aliens who fail to fulfil the obligation of Article 47(3) of this law may have their obligation to leave Georgia deferred in the following cases:
a) if they have applied to the Agency for a Georgian residence permit or citizenship of Georgia;
Essentially, by simultaneously applying for a Georgian residence permit, Article 48.1.a must be adhered to, which means that your extension must be granted for a period suitable for you to complete the residence process.
Even if your residence permit is eventually denied, you could still get the extension for up to 90 days. Obviously, the best case scenario is making a residence application that will succeed, so that you will have the right to remain for the length of the residence permit (up to 12 months, with the option to extend for another 5 years). Be aware that you should have 7 days of legal stay left to use option 6, although sometimes they will overlook this and allow less than 7 days and/or the 31st December extension (option 4).
We can also help with this method, but similar to option 5, our resources are limited to paid clients only.
NOTE: The above information for option 6 is a summary and not even close to the entire picture. There are also other considerations, such as if you still have a valid passport stamp or are relying on the Dec 31st extension as your “legal stay” which, as discussed in option 4 above, may not apply to you.
If you are interested in our paid service for Extension + Residency, please get in touch. Prices start from 400 GEL for the extension service, from 1,200 GEL for our standard residency service, and from 1,000 GEL for student services.
More than 183 days in Georgia? Like it or not, you are now a tax resident.
After 183 days in Georgia in any 12 month rolling period, you automatically become a tax resident. This is not a choice or an action you have to take- it is automatic.
There has been no indication that the government will exempt foreigners from the taxes they owe here because of COVID.
So, you are bound by law to make a declaration of all your taxable income, including taxable “foreign” income (FYI: If you were told or read somewhere that your foreign-generated income is tax exempt, the reality is that in most cases it is not, and you have fallen for a common internet myth. Read this article to find out why).
Those declarations must be made by March 31st of the year following when your tax residency began.
If you are smart about it, you might actually pay less tax overall this year than you would owe in your current country of tax residency.
So, it is important that you make sure you know the steps to do that, and to stay legal, as soon as possible. Delaying tax decisions typically results in more tax paid when it comes to the Georgian system.
Make sure you understand your tax liability and how to minimize it – Read our full guide here.
Or, book a free consultation to explore your options and liabilities – in Vake, Tbilisi, or online via Zoom.