Bargaining is sensible in markets and when agreeing on taxi prices. In shops, prices are fixed. Asking for a discount on hotel accommodation during low and shoulder seasons is a good tactic.
Dangers & Annoyances
Kazakhstan is a safe country to travel in, provided you follow normal safety precautions. Since 2011 there have been a few scattered violent attacks, blamed by the government on Islamist terrorism, and that year security forces shot dead at least 14 demonstrators in the western town of Zhanaozen – but you would have to be very unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- If hiking in the wild, be mindful of venomous snakes and large fauna such as wolves and bears.
Embassies & Consulates
Kazakhstan Embassies in Central Asia
Embassies & Consulates in Kazakhstan
Most embassies are in Astana, although a few remain in Almaty.
Visas for Onward Travel
Visa practices change all the time.
The best option is a 30-day tourist e-visa which you can get online for US$23 at https://evisa.gov.az/en/, no strings attached (note that there are also similar sites which force you to book hotels and tours; you should avoid these). You receive the visa by email (within about a week), and there is no need to bother with any consulate. No confirmed hotel bookings are needed, normally.
Paper 30-day tourist visas may also be available within five working days from the Azerbaijan Astana embassy or the Aktau consulate if you have a LOI (letter of invitation), but this affects few travellers. Visa on arrival may be an option again shortly.
Getting a Chinese visa in Kazakhstan and elsewhere in Central Asia remains difficult-to-impossible. Policy and practice change frequently; at the time of writing, visas were not being issued at the Chinese Almaty consulate for nonresidents, and only a few people succeeded in getting tourist visas (in five to seven days) at the embassy in Astana in the past; showing proof of sufficient funds (for example bank statements), flight bookings in and out of China, hotel bookings and an itinerary for their whole stay, and proof of employment. No LOI needed but don't say you are going to Xinjiang. You can try your luck but in general, China insists that visa applicants apply in their own country of residence.
It's much better to get your Chinese visa before you leave home (bearing in mind you have to enter China within three months), or in Hong Kong, where procedures are easy and inexpensive.
For those who still need visas, the Kyrgyzstan Almaty consulate's 'normal' processing time is 10 working days, with most visas costing US$55 to US$80; but same-day express processing is usually available for US$100 to US$150. Take your passport, a photocopy and one photo. Some nationalities also have to provide a LOI which must be used within a month's issuance. You have to make three visits to the consulate: one to put in the application, one to come back with the bank receipt for payment, and one to pick up the visa.
The Russian Almaty consulate and Astana embassy have reluctantly been issuing tourist visas again for up to 30 days, and still issue transit visas for those they deem unworthy of a tourist visa. Travellers have obtained transit visas in one or two days without LOIs for around 15,000T. You may have to show an onward ticket out of Russia and a visa for the onward country. Visa duration is up to 10 days depending on the duration of your transit in Russia; you may have to enter Russia within three days of the visa being issued. Opening hours for applications are just one or two mornings a week: no one speaks English but if you can manage to call ahead for an appointment it should help. Application forms are available online (only), at http://visa.kdmid.ru. Astana is generally less unfriendly than Almaty. It's worth checking in advance via email whether you're likely to be issued a tourist visa given your Kazakhstan visa status. Stantours has been successfully helping travellers with LOIs for tourist visas in both Almaty and Astana.
Most travellers are now able to get a flexible online e-visa and GBAO permit (for travel in the Pamirs) for up to 45 days at www.evisa.tj for US$50 with a few days' processing. Be careful to get all details correct and exactly as in your copies, otherwise the application may fail and you lose your money.
Paper tourist visas are issued in Tajikistan's friendly Almaty embassy office without LOIs. For a one-month tourist visa (US$100 for same-day processing), provide photocopies of your passport and Kazakh visa and a written request to the ambassador. This office also issues the GBAO permit, hassle-free.
To get a Turkmen visa you either need to book a tour through a travel agency, or have visas for the bordering countries from which you will enter Turkmenistan and leave Turkmenistan (these can include Azerbaijan), enabling you to get a transit visa. Transit visas are also available if you fly in or fly out (but not normally both). You have to go in person with your passport to the Turkmen embassy or consulate (get there before opening time). Transit visas cost US$55 for most nationalities and processing takes five to 20 working days: it's sometimes possible to apply in one city and pick up your visa in another, as you don't have to hand over your original passport with the application.
Citizens of some, mostly Western, countries can obtain visas without a LOI but processing for these at the Uzbek Almaty embassy takes much longer – typically four or five working days, against on-the-spot processing if you have a LOI. Some Almaty travel agents can provide Uzbek LOIs hassle-free if given enough time – US$70 for about two weeks’ processing at Stantours. Go to the embassy at least 30 minutes before opening time, put your name on a list and you’ll probably get in before the door closes. In the peak summer travel season you may need to get there in the morning. All applicants should take their passport, a photocopy of it, their Kazakh visa and registration (or migration card with entry stamp), one photo, a LOI and a completed application form (normally supplied with an LOI or available at http://evisa.mfa.uz). Tourist visas cost US$55/65/75 for seven/15/30 days, US$95 for three months; for more than one entry, add US$10 per entry. US citizens pay US$160 for any visa. Payments must normally be in US dollars at the bank indicated by the embassy.
Emergency & Important Numbers
- Ambulance 103
- Emergency 112
- Police 102
Entry & Exit Formalities
Customs declaration forms don’t need to be filled on entering the country unless you're carrying goods above normal duty-free limits. Up to US$3000 cash in any currency can be taken in or out of the country without a written declaration.
Citizens of 45 countries, including EU states, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Switzerland, the USA and some other countries can travel to Kazakhstan without a visa for up to 30 days until the end of 2017; it remains to be seen whether this arrangement is extended.
For most other visas you must obtain a letter of invitation (LOI) before applying, available through most travel agencies in Kazakhstan and Central Asia travel specialists in other countries.
Registration is required if you are staying in Kazakhstan more than five days – only if you enter by land or sea and your entry form is stamped once rather than twice. If it's stamped twice, you don't need to register. It is not necessary to register if you enter by air.
Special permits are needed to visit areas close to the Chinese border and are only available through tour firms taking you to these areas. Processing can take up to 45 days.
Extending a Kazakh visa is generally only possible with a medical certificate stating you are unable to travel.
Kazakhstan visa rules and practices change quite frequently; information on recent changes is available from recommended travel agents and the websites of Kazakhstan embassies and consulates.
Citizens of 45 countries may travel visa-free for 30 days. These are EU states, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Liechtenstein, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Singapore, Switzerland, South Korea, the UAE and the US. Likewise, no visa is needed for visits up to 14 days for Hong Kong citizens, 30 days for Turkish citizens, or 90 days for CIS or Georgian citizens.
For other visas, or if you are not from one of the visa-free states, you must obtain ‘visa support’ in the form of a letter of invitation (LOI). This is available, usually by email, through most travel agencies in Kazakhstan, Central Asia travel specialists in other countries, or Kazakh businesses. You'll need to submit a copy of the LOI in your visa application to the embassy or consulate. Agents’ fees for providing LOIs normally range from around US$30 to US$100 depending on the visa required. LOIs must be applied for at least two weeks before the date of your first entry into Kazakhstan, and you should allow one to two weeks to obtain the LOI before you apply for the visa itself (but note that LOIs cannot normally be issued more than two months before your arrival in Kazakhstan).
Single-entry tourist or business visas on arrival for a stay of up to 30 days can be obtained only by nationals arriving from a country without a Kazakh diplomatic mission. The fee is approximately US$80, and you must hold a LOI. The visa on arrival is available at the airports of Aqtau, Almaty, Astana, Atyrau and Uralsk. If you request a LOI from a travel agency for this purpose, tell them why: not all agencies can provide LOIs suitable for visas on arrival. Also check with the agency about any other paperwork you must provide on arrival and about currently acceptable means of payment: you may be required to pay in cash US dollars or tenge.
The maximum length of a tourist visa is 90 days (triple entry with three visits of a maximum 30 days each). It is no longer possible to get either a business or tourist visa for more than 30 days in Kazakhstan at a time.
Fees for the visa itself depend on the type of visa and your nationality, and with the on-arrival visas – on the mood of the immigration officer. A single-entry, one-month tourist visa is normally US$45 to US$100 (but US$160 for US citizens). Some consulates will deal with visa applications by mail; others, including most in Asia, require you to apply for and collect your visa in person. Processing time at consulates in the West is normally two to five working days.
As of 2017, visitors may only apply for a Kazakhstan visa in their country of residence (unless their country does not have a Kazakh consulate). If you are in a country without a Kazakh embassy or consulate (such as Australia, Ireland, New Zealand or Sweden), you can apply to Kazakh missions in other countries; those in Brussels and Vienna are among the more efficient and less expensive in Europe.
Overstaying your visa, even by a single day, carries the penalty of US$5000 or 20 days in jail – your choice!
- Greetings Standard handshakes are common, particularly between men. Women kiss each other on the cheek.
- Giving Thanks If you visit some of Kazakhstan's holy sites with pilgrims and share a meal with them, it's customary to run your hands over your face afterwards as a way of giving thanks.
- Vodka If staying with a Kazakh family or invited out by Kazakh friends, drinking shots of neat vodka may be involved. It's customary to make a toast before downing the shot in one.
The gay scene in Kazakhstan in largely underground and low-key. It exists only in large cities, such as Almaty, Astana and Karaganda, and gay-friendly venues are few. Homosexuality is frowned upon by the general population, so overt displays of affection are best avoided.
It's a good idea to have full insurance when travelling in Kazakhstan.
Checking insurance quotes…
Kazakhstan is a wired country. Internet cafes have largely gone out with the dinosaurs, and the few that remain are usually used for online gaming by teenage boys. With the exception of cheapest, down-at-heel hotels in remote towns, it is now rare to encounter accommodation that doesn't offer free wi-fi. Free wi-fi is ubiquitous in cafes, bars and restaurants. If you have an unlocked smartphone or tablet, it's easy and inexpensive to purchase a local SIM card with oodles of data.
Carrying Your Passport
Officially, foreigners are supposed to carry their passport and migration card with them at all times in Kazakhstan. Police may ask to see it at any time, though they rarely do these days. In practice, police may often be satisfied with photocopies of your passport's ID and visa pages and your migration card.
On balance, it's best to carry both your original passport and migration card (and take very good care of them) and photocopies – and produce the latter initially to any police.
The national currency is the tenge (T). ATMs abound and credit cards are accepted at many shops, restaurants and hotels.
ATMs abound at banks, shopping centres, supermarkets, hotels, some train stations and elsewhere. Look for ‘Bankomat’ signs. Most accept at least Maestro, Cirrus, Visa and MasterCard.
Tenge (T) notes come in denominations of 200, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000 and 20,000T. There are also 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100T coins. 1T and 2T are not legal tender on public transport. If you have 10,000T or – heaven forbid! – 20,000T bills, get change as soon as you can and hold on to smaller bills, as public transport, taxis and small convenience stores find it difficult to deal with larger bills. Prices in hotels are usually quoted in the national currency, but occasionally US dollars or euros.
Exchange offices (marked ‘Obmen Valyuty’) are common on city streets. Dollars, euros and roubles are the most widely accepted currencies.
You can make purchases with credit cards (Visa and MasterCard preferred) at a fair number of shops, restaurants, hotels and travel agencies. There is sometimes a surcharge for doing so.
Tipping is not customary in Kazakhstan, as hotel and restaurant bills often include a service charge. However, since the restaurant service charge doesn't go to the waiter, a tip is always appreciated.
Banks 9.30am to 1pm and 2pm to 4.30pm Monday to Friday
Museums Generally closed on Mondays
Offices 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm Monday to Friday
Restaurants 11am or noon to midnight
There are post offices in all towns, and the postal service is reasonably reliable, if slow. If you have anything of importance to post it’s generally safer and quicker to use an international courier firm. DHL has a particularly wide network of drop-off centres around the country.
New Year 1 and 2 January
International Women’s Day 8 March
Nauryz (Navrus) 21 to 23 March
Kazakhstan Peoples Unity Day 1 May
Victory Day 9 May
Astana Day 6 July
Constitution Day 30 August
Independence Day 16 December
Smoking in public places is forbidden, but many people smoke if a restaurant or bar has an outdoor terrace. Many new hotels are now non-smoking.
Taxes & Refunds
Sales tax of 12% is included in the price of goods. Hotel tax also tends to be included in the price.
How to Dial from Kazakhstan Phones
Mobile in Kazakhstan or Russia
8 + mobile number or 7 + mobile number
Other countries except Russia
8 + 10 + country code + area code + local number
Landline in other Kazakh city or Russia
8 + area code + local number
Landline in same city
local number only
Landline in Kazakhstan or Russia
8 + area code + local number or 7 + area code + local number
Other countries except Russia
country code + area code + local number
Almost everyone in Kazakhstan has a mobile (cell) phone and it’s easy to get a local SIM card for your phone if you have an unlocked GSM-900 frequency phone (this includes most European mobiles and North American smartphones). Shops and kiosks selling SIM cards with call credit and plenty of data for a few hundred tenge are everywhere. Take your passport when you go to buy. The same outlets often sell inexpensive phones too, and will top up your credit for cash or with PIN cards.
- KCell and Beeline are the best networks for nationwide coverage; Beeline works better in the countryside around Almaty.
- Typically 1000T credit gives you at least two hours of talking to a combination of mobile and landline numbers.
You can cut costs for international calls from landlines or mobile phones by using prepaid cards such as the Nursat i-Card+, sold at mobile-phone shops, petrol stations, kiosks and some supermarkets in units from 5 to 50. You scratch off a PIN then dial a local access number given on the card. Calling instructions are then available in English. Calls cost around 10T per minute to the USA, Canada or China; 15T per minute to Uzbekistan or Russia; 30T to 80T per minute to other Central Asian countries, Britain, Germany, Italy and France.
Alternatively, get a local SIM card with data and use Skype or another VoIP service to call home for free.
- Mobile numbers have 10 digits.
- Landlines have a three-, four- or five-digit area code followed by a local number: the area code plus the local number always totals 10 digits.
- The Kazakhstan country code is 7.
Kazakhstan is GMT plus six hours, with the exception of western Kazakhstan, which is GMT plus five hours. Daylight savings time is not observed.
Public toilets range from sanitary and flushing (both Western-style and squat toilets), with some industrial wood-chip toilet paper provided when you pay a small fee (50T or so) to revolting holes in the ground in some rickety shack. Bring your own toilet paper, just in case.
There are very few tourist offices in Kazakhstan, two notable exceptions being Almaty and Shymkent. In their absence, travellers have to gather information from tour companies – hardly impartial sources, locals, and the excellent source of Central Asian info that is Caravanistan (www.caravanistan.com).
Travel with Children
Travelling in Kazakhstan with children isn't difficult, since children are made welcome in many restaurants, many hotels offer family rooms and supplies such as nappies and baby food are very easy to come by. Cities tend to have many parks and playgrounds, though there are few child-specific attractions.
Travel in Kazakhstan is a challenge since few hotels and sights have disabled access.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Weights & Measures
Kazakhstan uses the metric system.
The majority of expats in Kazakhstan work in the oil and gas industries. Teaching English is also a possibility if you are a native speaker; it helps if you have done an international TEFL course. Getting a work visa is relatively straightforward.