One of the first things every newcomer to Georgia could do with is a local bank account. In some cases, a Georgian bank account is an attractive proposition even if you aren’t planning to move here.
First things first – this article talks about the opening of a personal account. Corporate accounts are a whole different ballgame, and opening one has gotten extremely challenging as of lately, even for Georgian companies.
Which Bank to Choose?
The first obvious decision you’ll need to make is which bank to choose. There are 17 commercial banks registered in Georgia, so the choice can seem pretty daunting at first. In reality, though, you’ll quickly find that the majority of people bank either with Bank of Georgia or TBC – the two largest banks in the country, by far.
While some smaller banks may offer you slightly better deals at times, I recommend you to stick with either TBC or BoG for several reasons:
- More branches means that it’s easier to get things done.
- Internet Banking facilities are generally better.
- Easier to find English-speaking personnel.
- An extensive ATM network means easy access to cash.
- Most other people use one of these two banks, making transfers instantaneous.
- Both banks are listed on the London Stock Exchange.
- “Too big to fail” is a real thing in the financial world.
As for whether you should go with BoG or TBC – it doesn’t really matter.
Ask this question on a forum, and you’ll find roughly half the respondents swearing by TBC and telling you horror stories about BoG and the other half saying the exact opposite.
At the end of the day, both banks are large, have excellent Internet Banking, ATMs and Pay Boxes everywhere, and a decent branch network.
If flipping a coin isn’t your cup of tea, then go with the one that’s closer to where you’re staying. After all, the account opening is free, so you can always switch.
The only exception I want to point out is that if you qualify for Private Banking, BoG currently has a significantly better offering through their Solo brand than TBC does. But this is likely to change soon, too.
Opening a Bank Account – The A-Z
Perhaps a little ironically, the actual opening of the bank account is the easy part. All you need is:
- Your passport
- A Georgian phone number
- Around 30 minutes of spare time
All set? Then walk into any branch of any of the banks and say that you want to open an account. Hand over your passport, sign the documents, and you’re done.
The only recommendation that I have is to try to find a larger branch. Most of these are in the city centre, and they’re better because there’s a higher likelihood that you’ll find an English-speaking agent.
Avoid a Common Mistake: Few Thoughts on Prepaid SIM cards
Getting a Georgian SIM card is incredibly simple. All it takes is walking into the office of any of the major telecom providers (Silknet, Magti, and Beeline being the Big Three) and paying a few Lari.
But not all SIM cards are made equal, and getting the wrong one can bite you in the back later on.
What you’ll want to avoid is signing up for tourist packages that expire after a certain amount of time. These packages are often cheap, but they’re only good for 14 or 30 days, after which the number stops working.
And this can cause huge issues with banking, as most banks send you an SMS verification code upon every outgoing transaction.
It’s not a big deal if you’re physically in Georgia, as a quick visit to the bank is all it takes to get your number change. But if you’re abroad and need to transfer funds from your Georgian account, not being able to receive an SMS on the number provided means you’re out of luck.
Another thing to check in this case is that your SIM card comes with roaming enabled and that roaming works in the country that you’re expecting to spend time in. I’m pointing this out because, in many cases (such as with Silknet’s prepaid packages), the list of roaming countries is relatively limited and often excludes even some major countries.
Bonus Fact – an Instant MasterCard
While Georgian banks are super quick with card issuing and usually take no more than a few days to get your card ready, there’s an even faster option: an instant MasterCard.
Both the Bank of Georgia and TBC offer this product. It’s a fully functional MasterCard, with the exception that it doesn’t have a name printed on it. And instant means, well, that it’s instant. You’ll be given the card at the end of your first and only visit to the bank to open your account.
It works like a normal MC debit card in every meaning, allowing you to withdraw cash from ATMs, pay at POS terminals, and even online. The only drawback is that some online vendors might reject the card because of the lack of the name.