If you follow me on social media, you might have seen my posts about my ordeal in Georgia.
Note: This picture was takes at the Stalin Museum in Gori, Georgia.
I traveled from Moscow to Tbilisi where I landed at 2am and went through passport control with no issues. After collecting my bag, I was walking towards the airport exit when a female officer stopped me. I was taken into an office where they searched my bags, strip searched me and took away my phone and I had to wait in a locked room with no information for an hour. I was released and told I can go, there was no explanation as to what I did wrong and the officer also refused to tell me her name. This was probably the scariest experience I’ve ever had when arriving in another country. When I arrived at my hotel, I told the receptionist and she said I’m lucky the police didn’t take all my money and belongings as they tend to do this to tourists. What made matters worse was when I was leaving the country, I was subjected to a similar treatment this time from a male officer at the border of Turkey and Georgia. I was pulled aside, searched and questioned for two hours. The officer kept asking why I was in America and I explained that I worked there and he became aggressive and I started crying. Eventually after two hours, he let me go and I walked over to the Turkish border control and my passport was stamped and no one asked any questions.
I was relieved to be in Turkey. I felt safer, I understood the legal system because I lived there for a year and I also understood the language. I felt like I was home and I could relax but I had so many questions. Was I interrogated because I am a female solo traveler, or was it because I am black? Was I dressed inappropriately (I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt on both occasions)? Also, both officers were asking why I was in the United States? I am a South African citizen whose been to 30 countries so why was I being questioned about one (USA)?
Tips to survive an interrogation in a foreign country:
- Take a deep breathe.
- Always remember that every country has different laws and as a visitor you need to be respectful. Going to jail especially in a foreign country is one thing you should avoid at all costs.
- Before you visit any country. Google and find out where your nearest embassy is. I always write down the address and contact number for the South African embassy in every country I go to. I write this on a piece of paper and I place the paper inside my passport sleeve.
- Always print out your flight details, hotel details, itinerary (tour confirmations) and travel insurance etc. I think this was one of the things that helped me because I had everything written and printed out.
- Don’t raise your voice or be aggressive. This will aggravate the officer.
- Don’t trust the officers, I know this is a bad thing to say but not everyone is honest. Not everyone has good intentions. Just trust your gut.
- Don’t allow the officers to take your belongings (luggage) or search it unless you are present.
- Don’t leave your handbag behind. When they were taking me into another room to strip search me and when they put me inside a body scanner machine, I took my handbag with me. The officer kept saying leave the bag but I declined. I later learned that police take everything (including money) from tourists all the time so this was a wise decision.
- Always answers all the questions truthfully and make eye contact. If you have nothing to hide you will be fine.
- Always get travel insurance Incase you need to be evacuated. Some countries like South Africa will always be willing to assist you if you have issues abroad but you and your family will have to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees to the government. With a good travel insurance policy this will be covered.
Suggested Reading: Best travel insurance for solo female travelers
Will I return to Georgia?
Honestly, I’m not in a rush to go back to Georgia. I will go back one day but not right now as I have other countries I’d like to visit first.