Banking & Transactions in Georgia ( USD & GEL ) (Tbilisi)
Debit & Credit Card Processing - ATM Machines are abundant in most cities, however in some small towns, there may be limited availability. In some cases, and usually in small villages, ATM machines may have limited funds available. I strongly suggest withdrawals before traveling to smaller villages. All ATM services will accept VISA & MASTERCARD endorsed banking cards.
Cards Tested: Bank of America, TDBank, Dime Bank, CHASE, & American Express, have all operated without problems and only charged the standard non-bank ATM fee ( Usually around 2.00 USD fee ). Since GE Banking are seeking non-national service trade, they do not attach additional service fees on ATM transations. Keep in mind, the internal ATM machine will process as a Credit service if your account provides the service, which will still be processed just like an ATM transaction.
In-Store Card Processing - This is actually a sporatic availability. It is much more common in stores that offer products of Protected content higher GEL. None of the stores I have been to ( Outside of Tourist Areas ) have a display sign advertising CC availability. There have been very few instances where 'The Cube' is available, however given the amount of Fraud reports in Georgia, I stongly suggest not using such services when offered. As a Software Developer I can guarantee that a person with enough time, can manage to record CC and AUTH numbers with ease!
Large Scale Money Transations - There are multiple ways of transfering money without having to suffer local Georgian banking fees ( which are rediculously high ):
Bank Trasnfers - Usually Protected content 7 ) Business Days depending on the Sending Banks routing service. This will often leave the recieving parties to cover the brunt of the transaction fees which are relatively higher.
Certified Post - My preference of sending currency, which is legal ( so long as currency amount meets Customs Importing laws of $10,000 USD) and can take Protected content 9 working days Protected content if using priority mail ), but often frowned upon. I strongly suggest Postal Insurance to match the exact amount being sent. US Poastal service provides up to 25,000 in coverage. ( Be prepared to answer questions from local Customs ( They DO X-ray ). Explination of avoiding the horribly high banking fees is usually sufficient reasons.
Currency Exchange - Surprisingly, the availability of locations to exchange currency is nearly as readily available as ATM machines. Even ( MOST ) the ATM machines provide a choice as to which currency the client wishes to accept. A brunt of the profit made from these exchange businesses are made from holding a currency till a higher exchange rate is available. This allows the business to provide a lower cost of service to the exchanger. NOTE: I strongly suggest NOT exchanging a large sum of currency at the local airport. If you need local currency for a taxi, ONLY exhchange a small enough amount to cover the taxi!
Bank Accounts - The requirements for opening a bank account as a US Citizen only require a Passport, and a minimum balance ( fluctuates for each bank ). This is usually the standard for all European Countries. However, I strongly suggest NOT maintaning a Bank Account in Georgia. Georgian Banks offer NO FREE SERVICES. Of the 9 branches I have inquired, ALL charge service fees for Deposits, & Transactions of any kind. The only thing that I have found that differentiates each branch is the percentage fee of each type of transation. Georgian Banks also provide 0 Security ( FDIC ) on Balances. If a bank goes bankrupt, NONE of the money is insured, and the Client is left out of pocket. Again, I strongly suggest NOT participating with any Georgian Banking! ( You have been warned! )
Before coming to Georgia, I suggest checking with your US bank to check ( ATM fees, & Fraud Protection ). None of the other services are available thus useless. Also note: VISA endorsment has had several instances where former soviet countries have been blockaded. Please understand that this is the 'Process Center' and NOT controlled by individual banks. In Protected content blocked transactions to and from Federation of Russia, & Estonia without notification to its clients. These blocks are usually never announced publicly, and your bank can ONLY allow minimum transaction allowances Protected content per 24 hour period ) in such events. It is always important to stash a little local currency in a hidden location to be prepared for such events.
Checks & Bank Notes - I have yet to find a European Country that utilizes checking of any type. You may as well leave your check book at home, because this is purely a US service, and completely unheard of in Europe.