Gentle haggling is common in markets; in all other instances you are expected to pay the stated price.
Dangers & Annoyances
Mongolia is a reasonably safe country in which to travel, but given the infrastructure of the country, the state of the economy and other development problems, you are bound to run into bumps along the way. With a bit of patience, care and planning, you should be able to handle just about anything.
Alcoholism is a problem in Mongolia and you are bound to encounter drunks in both the city and countryside. Drunks (sogtuu khun) are more annoying than dangerous, except when they are driving your vehicle. Drivers who work for tour companies have been disciplined to hold their alcohol on trips, but hitchhikers may encounter drunk drivers.
Trains Drinking is pretty common on the trains, which is another reason to travel in coupe class or ‘soft seat’ (you can close your cabin door). If the offending drunk happens to be in your cabin, ask the attendant to move you to another cabin.
Camping If camping, always make sure that you pitch your tent somewhere secluded, and that no drunks see you set up camp; otherwise, they will invariably visit you during the night.
Stray dogs in the cities and domestic dogs around gers in the countryside can be vicious and possibly rabid. In the countryside, some dogs are so damn lazy that you wouldn’t get a whimper if 100 lame cats hobbled past; others will almost headbutt your vehicle and chase it for a kilometre or two.
Before approaching any ger, especially in the countryside, make sure the dogs are friendly or under control and shout the phrase Nokhoi khor, which roughly translates as ‘Can I come in?’ but literally means ‘Hold the dog!’. Getting rabies shots is no fun; it’s easier to just stay away from dogs, even if they appear friendly.
If you need to walk in the dark in the countryside, perhaps for a midnight trip to the toilet, locals have suggested that if you swing a torch in front of you it will stop any possible dog attacks.
Professional scamming is not common; the main thing to be aware of is dodgy tour companies that don’t deliver on their promises. We’ve had letters from readers who booked tours where the promised accommodation, food and service standards fell short of expectations. It might be good to get in writing exactly what is offered, and ask about compensation if things don’t work out as planned. The riskiest tour companies are the ones operated by guesthouses and the ones that specialise in onward trips to Russia.
Ulaanbaatar Petty theft is a fact of life in Ulaanbaatar and you need to stay vigilant of bag slashers and pickpockets, especially around Naadam time when muggers do a brisk trade on all the starry-eyed tourists wandering about.
Countryside In the countryside, keep an eye on your gear and don’t leave valuables lying around your campsite if you wander off. Lock your kit inside your jeep or hotel whenever possible (drivers do a good job of watching your stuff).
Horse trekking When horse trekking, be wary of Mongolians who seem to be following you; they may be after your valuables or even your horses, which are easily stolen while you sleep.
Heat Heating and hot-water shortages and electricity blackouts are common in aimag capitals. Some villages go for days (or weeks) without any utility services at all.
Quarantine This sometimes affects travel in Mongolia. Foot-and-mouth disease, malignant anthrax and the plague pop up all the time and may prevent you from travelling to certain areas. Some regions that have been hit by foot-and-mouth disease require drivers to decontaminate their cars when they enter and leave cities. This requires the spraying of tyres (or the whole car) and can cost a few thousand tögrög.
An ISIC student card will get you a 25% discount on train tickets plus discounts with some tour operators. Check the ISIC website (www.isiccard.com) for updates.
A student price might not always be listed but may be available; it’s a good idea to inquire if you’ve got a student card on you.
Embassies & Consulates
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots.
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs www.smarttraveller.gov.au
British Foreign Office www.gov.uk/browse/abroad
Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca
US State Department www.travel.state.gov
Mongolian Embassies & Consulates
You’ll find a full listing of Mongolia’s embassies and consulates at: embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/mongolia.
Embassies & Consulates in Mongolia
A growing number of countries operate embassies in Ulaanbaatar, though for some nationalities the nearest embassy is in Bĕijīng. If your country has an embassy in Ulaanbaatar, it’s a good idea to register with it if you’re travelling into the remote countryside, or in case you lose your passport.
Note that the German embassy also looks after the interests of Dutch, Belgian, Greek and Portuguese citizens. The British embassy can handle normal consular duties for Commonwealth countries that do not already have an embassy or consulate in Mongolia.
Emergency & Important Numbers
Entry & Exit Formalities
When entering Mongolia, by land or air, fill out the straightforward entry form. You’ll have to register if you plan to be in Mongolia for more than 30 days. Registering in Ulaanbaatar (UB) is fairly straightforward, and it’s also possible in Ölgii if you arrive in western Mongolia.
If you are legally exporting any antiques, you must have a receipt and a customs certificate from the place you bought them. Most reliable shops in Ulaanbaatar can provide this. If the shop cannot produce a receipt or if you buy the item from a country market, assume that you will not be able to export the item; it will be confiscated upon departure.
At some sites (especially Kharkhorin and Bayanzag) you’ll be offered furs of rare animals and even fossilised dinosaur bones and eggs. Please do not take up these offers. There are stiff penalties for illegally exporting fossils, including jail time.
Travellers entering at the airport with extra baggage can expect to have their luggage opened and inspected. You can bring the following into Mongolia duty-free:
- 1L of spirits
- 2L of wine
- 3L of beer
- three bottles of perfume
- 200 cigarettes
A 30-day tourist visa is required for some foreign nationals, although a number of countries can visit visa free, including citizens of the USA, Canada and Germany.
Tourist visas A 30-day tourist visa is required for most countries and can be easily obtained at any Mongolian embassy, consulate, consulate-general or honorary consul.
Visa on arrival If you are travelling to Mongolia from a country that has no Mongolian consulate, you can pick up a 30-day tourist visa on arrival at the airport in Ulaanbaatar. You’ll need T108,000 (or dollar equivalent) and two passport photos – you should also have a pre-approval letter from an organisation or company in Mongolia.
90-day visa-free nationalities Citizens of the following countries can stay in Mongolia for up to 90 days without a visa: Belarus, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macau, Serbia, Ukraine and USA. If they stay less than 30 days, nothing needs to be done, other than having their passport stamped when they enter and leave the country. If they stay more than 30 days, they need to register.
Other visa-free nationalities Citizens of Canada, Germany, Israel, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia, Thailand and Turkey can stay visa-free for up to 30 days; Philippines passport-holders can stay for 21 days without a visa, and Hong Kong citizens can stay visa-free for up to 14 days.
Registration All visitors who plan to stay more than 30 days must be registered within seven days of their arrival.
Extension Visitors can extend on a per-week basis. A one-week extension is T22,000. A 30-day extension is T108,000. If you overstay your visa the fine is also T108,000. When requesting an extension, you may be asked for a flight itinerary printout.
Regulations To check current regulations, try the website of the Mongolian embassy in Washington DC at www.mongolianembassy.us. Other websites to check include www.immigration.gov.mn and mfa.gov.mn.
Cost Standard tourist visas generally last 30 days from the date of entry, and you must enter Mongolia within three months of issue. Each embassy or consulate sets its own price. For single-entry/exit visas you can expect to pay: A$230 in Canberra, UK£40 in London, C$90 in Ottawa and Y405 in Bĕijīng.
Issuing time Visas normally take several days, or even up to two weeks, to issue. If you want your visa quicker, possibly within 24 hours, you will have to pay an ‘express fee’, which is double the normal cost. If you want to stay longer than 30 days, tourist visas can be extended in Ulaanbaatar.
Multiple-entry visas Multiple-entry/exit tourist visas are usually only issued to foreign residents who do a lot of travel.
These visas last 72 hours from the date of entry. This period will only allow you to get off the Trans-Mongolian train for a very short time before catching another train to Russia or China. A single-entry/exit transit visa costs between US$25 and US$60, depending on where you apply for it, and cannot be extended. You will need to show the train or plane ticket and a visa for the next country (Russia or China).
If you have a 30-day tourist visa, you can extend it by another 30 days. For extensions, go to the Office of Immigration, Naturalisation & Foreign Citizens. The only catch is that if you stay longer than 30 days you have to be registered at this office (which you should have done within seven days after arrival).
The office is located about 1.8km east of Ulaanbaatar airport (next to the large sports arena), an inconvenient 15km trek from the city centre. The office can get quite busy, so try to arrive early to avoid the lines. There is a small cafe here that serves meals if you get stuck during the lunch hour. An information desk with English–speaking staff can help answer your questions and point you to the correct line.
The INFC office is a branch of the main visa office of the Ministry of External Relations (www.mfa.gov.mn). You may be sent to the ministry if your visa situation is complicated (ie you require a work permit). The entrance is on the west side of the building. In Mongolian it’s known as: Gadaadiin Irgen Haryatiin Asuudal Erhleh Gazar (Гадаадын Иргэн Харьяатын Асуудал Эрхлэх Газар).
If you have already registered, you should apply for an extension about a week before your visa expires. It costs T3600 per day and the minimum extension is seven days. You will need a passport-sized photo and must pay a T5000 processing fee. The extension will be issued on the same day. Credit cards may be accepted, but it’s best to bring cash in case the machine isn’t working.
Several guesthouses in Ulaanbaatar will take care of visa extensions (and registration) for a small fee. If you don’t have a letter of support, you can write your own (handwritten is OK); the letter should state the date of your arrival, the date of extension and the reason for travel.
Getting a visa extension outside Ulaanbaatar is difficult, as officials would need to send your passport back to Ulaanbaatar. In an extreme situation this might be possible at the INFC office in Ölgii.
Transit and tourist visas are good for one entry and one exit (unless you have a double or multiple-entry/exit visa). If you are working in Mongolia, or if you obtained your visa at an honorary consul, you are usually issued a single-entry visa (valid for entry only). In this case, another visa is required to leave the country. These visas are available from the INFC office.
The exit visa situation in particular applies to Israeli and US passport-holders (who usually enter without visas). Israelis need an exit visa if they stay more than 30 days and Americans need one if they stay more than 90 days.
Cost For most nationalities the exit visa costs around US$15, plus an additional US$2 per day that you stay beyond the expiry of your entry visa.
Duration It is valid for 10 days, which means that you can stay 10 days after your normal visa has expired.
If you intend to stay in Mongolia for more than 30 days, you must register before the end of your first seven days of being in the country (although this rule is sometimes overlooked and you might be able to register in the first 30 days). Note that you can only register twice per calendar year at the INFC office.
Requirements Registration takes place at the INFC office. The process is free, but you have to pay T1000 for the one-page application. You’ll need one passport-sized photo. Most guesthouses can rustle up an invitation to Mongolia for you if you require one.
Signing out As a formality, the registration also needs to be ‘signed out’; however, the official you are dealing with will usually do this when you register so you won’t have to come back. A specific date is not needed; just set the exit date as far out as possible and you can leave any time before that date.
Ölgii office If you’ve arrived in western Mongolia from Russia, the INFC office in Ölgii can get you registered.
Fine If you don’t register, you are liable for a fine (theoretically from US$100 to US$300) when you leave the country.
The only way to remain in Mongolia on a long-term basis (ie more than three months) is to get a work or study permit. The company or organisation you are working for should handle this for you, but if you are working independently you need to go it alone. You will almost certainly need a letter from an employer providing a legitimate reason for your stay. Registration typically takes place at the INFC office near the airport.
Visas for Onward Travel
The best place to get a visa for China is in your home country. Applying at home will require less paperwork and you’ll have a better shot at getting a multiple-entry visa. If you cannot get one in your home country, the Chinese Embassy in Ulaanbaatar is another option. Drop off passports between 9.30am and noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday (pick-up is 4pm to 5pm). Transit visas (single- or double-entry) last up to seven days from each date of entry, and single- and double-entry tourist visas are valid for 30 days from the date of each entry – you must enter China within 90 days of being issued the visa. Single-/double-entry tourist visas cost US$30/60 and take four days to issue. For two-day or same-day service, you’ll have to fork out an extra US$20 or US$30. You must pay in US dollars. Visas for US citizens are US$140, regardless of type.
When you apply for the visa you must provide one passport photo, proof of departure from China (eg an air or train ticket), proof of a booked hotel stay of three nights and a bank statement. This is not as difficult as it sounds. For the proof of departure, you can go to any travel agent in Ulaanbaatar, make a booking for a flight and get a printout (you don’t need to actually buy the ticket). As for the hotel bookings, the best way to do this is to book three nights at a hostel in Bĕijīng using your credit card. These bookings are usually 90% refundable so even if you never stay at the hostel this exercise should only cost a few dollars. Payment for the visa is made at the Golomt Bank across the street from the embassy front gate.
In August and early September lines are long due to students lining up for visas. At this time the line starts to form at 6am (or earlier). Before the embassy opens, the guard will give out a limited number of tickets. If you don’t get a ticket, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get inside that day. For updated information, see http://mn.china-embassy.org.
The consular section at the Kazakh Embassy is open from 10am to noon and 4pm to 6pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Single-entry, one-month visas cost US$160 for Americans and US$30 for most other nationalities and take four to five days to process. Double-entry and multiple-entry visas are not usually available. Before trekking down here, call the embassy to make sure the consul is in town and the hours are still the same (and to check that they are even issuing visas, as this service periodically stops).
Getting a Russian visa is by no means a straightforward process, but it's getting easier. If at all possible, obtain a your visa in your home country, rather than on the road.
The consular section of the Russian Embassy is open for visas from 9am to noon daily. Costs and processing time vary depending on nationality (and some nationalities won't be able to get a tourist visa), although most nationalities are charged US$70. You will need one photo. Some (not all) nationalities can get a visa for one month. You can send an email to the consulate and ask about costs and eligibility for your nationality (they will respond but correspondence may end up in your junk mail).
There is a catch – you will almost certainly be required to have a tourist voucher (also called visa support letter), which can only be arranged by a private tour operator. The consular section of the embassy will pass out business cards of companies that can arrange this; Legend Tour, located on Seoul St behind the embassy, has been a long-time player in this game.
For full visa-support service Legend Tour charges Australians US$150 and will process in 16 business days. Americans are charged US$205, with seven business day processing. French and Dutch nationals are charged US$100 and will be processed in 12 business days. You may need to show proof of health insurance and/or cash.
Citizens of Germany, the UK and New Zealand are a few of the nationalities that cannot get a tourist visa here (unless the applicant has been living in Mongolia for more than 90 days). However, they can get a transit visa. You must bring all your tickets into and out of Russia to get the visa. The length of the transit visa depends on your travel route but you are usually given a maximum of seven days (enough to take the Trans-Siberian to Europe). Regular processing time for a transit visa is four days, although rush visas can be done the following day. Prices are the same as for a tourist visa.
For additional information, contact http://waytorussia.net.
Make sure that your passport is valid for at least six months from your date of arrival. If you lose your passport, your embassy in Ulaanbaatar can replace it, usually in one day.
The Office of Immigration, Naturalisation & Foreign Citizens, which registers passports, is located about 2km from the airport in Ulaanbaatar. If you need to register your passport or need to apply for a visa extension, you should visit this office when you land (if that's during working hours). This will save you having to make a second trip out to the airport for registration. To get there from the airport, walk out to the main road, turn right and walk 900m, then turn right again and walk 350m. The large round building (a sports arena) is a nearby landmark.
- Touching shoes Should you accidentally step on someone’s foot, quickly shake their hand.
- Meeting seniors When meeting a senior citizen, always ask about their health before beginning a conversation.
- Bargaining Mongolians usually don’t bargain – the price stated is generally what you are expected to pay.
- Gift giving Guests are usually expected to bring a gift when visiting a home; even flowers or sweets will suffice.
- Dress Mongolians dress with pride; holes in clothing, especially socks, are considered to bring bad luck.
- Demeanour Mongolians rarely show anger towards one another to get something accomplished. Always try to keep your cool.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
While homosexuality remains a fairly taboo topic in Mongolia, attitudes towards the LGBT community are changing, especially in Ulaanbaatar. Homosexuality was decriminalised in 2002, and in 2013 the LGBT community hosted its first Pride Week, with a film festival, workshops and a parade (all in a private venue). Harassment by police is becoming less of a problem, and the gay community has become better organised; an LGBT centre opened in 2007.
D Otgoo, the head of the LGBT centre in Ulaanbaatar, explained to us that Mongolia's youthful, tolerant and adaptable society has led to a better understanding and acceptance of the LGBT community.
Meeting places come and go quickly, so you’ll need to tap into the scene and ask. At the time of writing the best gathering spots were D.d/h.z and 18cm, both in Ulaanbaatar. As you never know what sort of reaction you’ll get from a Mongolian in person, try making contacts through the web. Check out the LGBT centre (Mongolia) Facebook page for more details.
A policy covering loss, theft and medical expenses, plus compensation for delays in your travel arrangements, is essential for Mongolia. If items are lost or stolen you’ll need to show your insurance company a police report. You may also need to prove damage or injury, so make sure to take photos. All policies vary, so check the fine print.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/bookings. You can buy, extend and claim online any time – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
A handful of internet cafes can be found in Ulaanbaatar and other cities. Signs are often in English or Mongolian (Интэрнэт Кафэ). Wi-fi hotspots are just about everywhere in bigger cities. In villages you'll need to ask around.
Internet cafes Every aimag capital has an internet cafe at the central Telecom office. Some sum centres also have internet access. Expect to pay around T1000 per hour at internet cafes, double or triple that for hotel business centres.
Wi-fi and cable In our reviews, places with free wi-fi, or internet-connected computers, are indicated with an icon. Some hotels will just have an internet cable sticking out of the wall but require you to have your own laptop; if this is the case, it is described in the hotel listing.
ISPs Internet service providers such as Skytel charge T44,000 for 5mbs of internet service per month.
Mobile broadband 3G is available where you can get a mobile-phone connection. Use sparingly as it does tend to drain your phone units.
Foreigners’ rights are generally respected in Mongolia.
Drugs If caught, drug use will give you a peek into Mongolia’s grim penitentiary system.
Borders The most common offence committed by foreigners is straying too close to a border without a permit. Violators end up paying a fine, and a few unlucky souls have been imprisoned for a few days. If you run into serious trouble, ask to contact your embassy.
Police The police get mixed reviews. Some travellers have reported fast response and results, while others have been let down with lacklustre work. Overall, police are harmless, but can be unreliable when you really need them. In Mongolia, it is often the victim who is blamed (because of 'carelessness'), so never expect much sympathy from the police in any given circumstance.
Among the maps produced outside Mongolia, the best is the 1:200,000 Mongolia map published by Gizi Maps (www.gizimap.com). The map is in both Latin and Cyrillic letters, handy for both you and your driver. It’s available at Seven Summits in Ulaanbaatar for T34,000.
While shopping for maps in Ulaanbaatar, look out for the 1:1,500,000 Road Network Atlas (T36,000) produced by MPM Agency. Another handy map is the 1:2,500,000 Road Map of Mongolia (T13,600). It has the most accurate road layout and town names and usefully marks the kilometres between all towns. Also useful is the Tourist Map of Mongolia (T8100), which marks a host of obscure historical, archaeological and natural sights, as well as ger camps. Most maps are updated every couple of years.
Explorers will want to check out the 1:500,000 series of topographic maps, which covers Mongolia in 37 maps. Each sheet costs around T10,000 to T12,000, but don’t count on all being available. The topographic maps are particularly useful if travelling by horse or foot or using a GPS, but they can get expensive. A cheaper alternative is a series of all 21 aimag maps (T25,000, or T1500 per sheet).
You will also spot handy regional maps (from T7000 to T10,000 each) of the most popular tourist areas, including Khövsgöl Nuur (1:200,000), Gobi Gurvan Saikhan (1:200,000) and Terelj (1:100,000).
Conservation Ink (www.conservationink.org) produces maps (US$8) using satellite images combined with useful information on culture, wildlife and tourist facilities. The national park series includes Altai Tavan Bogd, Khövsgöl Nuur, Gobi Gurvan Saikhan, Gorkhi-Terelj and Khustain.
Chinggis Khaan junkies will want to check out the Chinggis Khaan Atlas, available around Ulaanbaatar for about T8000, which maps his every presumed movement in obsessive detail.
- English–language newspaper The UB Post (www.theubpost.mn) has good articles, events listings and classified sections.
- Websites Gogo (www.gogo.mn), News.mn (www.news.mn) and the state agency Montsame (www.montsame.mn) have up-to-date reporting and information in English.
- Radio BBC World Service has a non-stop service at 103.1FM.
ATMs are widely available. Credit cards are accepted in most hotels, restaurants and shops. Money changers are easily accessible and give better rates compared to hotels.
The tögrög has been a quite unstable currency in recent years. IMF assistance from 2017 should help the currency to stabilise. ATMs are everywhere, but only a few accept debit cards with a microchip. Credit cards are widely accepted at shops, hotels and restaurants.
Currency The Mongolian unit of currency is the tögrög (T), often spelled tugrik because this reflects the pronunciation more accurately. It comes in notes of T5, T10, T20, T50, T100, T500, T1000, T5000, T10,000 and T20,000. (T1 notes are basically souvenirs.) The highest-value note is worth around US$8.
Money changers Banks and exchange offices in Ulaanbaatar will change money with relative efficiency. Banks in provincial centres are also fine; they change dollars and give cash advances against debit and credit cards.
Payments When paying out large sums of money (to hotels, tour operators and sometimes airlines), it's fine to use either US dollars or tögrög; the merchant will act as a money changer, though the rate will not generally be very good. Other forms of currency aren’t usually accepted, although the euro is probably the next best. Cash offers the best exchange rates and you won’t be paying any commission charge, but for security purposes you can also use debit cards.
Travellers cheques These are no longer accepted anywhere in Mongolia.
Leaving Mongolia Remember to change all your tögrög when leaving the country, as it’s worthless elsewhere.
Depreciation Bear in mind that the tögrög fluctuates widely against the dollar, and local businesses often raise prices to keep up with the changes. Prices are likely to adjust upwards if the currency continues to devalue.
- Golomt, Trade & Development Bank, Khan Bank and XacBank all have ATMs in their Ulaanbaatar and countryside branches. ATMs are also found in many shops and malls. These ATMs accept Visa and MasterCard and work most of the time, allowing you to withdraw up to T800,000 per day, although the amount may depend on your home bank. Chip cards are not accepted at most ATMs – try the XAAH Bank ATMs. You could also visit the HQ of Trade & Development Bank on Peace Ave.
- Before leaving home check with your bank about fees for making ATM transactions overseas. A 3% charge is standard nowadays but some banks will only charge 1%. If you plan to use your debit card a lot, it may be worth opening an account with a bank that has the lowest ATM fees.
- Credit cards are becoming more widely accepted across the country – card readers are available even in small grocery shops and cafes. Bring one that won't charge a foreign-transaction fee. Note that some merchant names might appear as a series of numbers on your statement, so retain your receipts if you are keeping track of your accounts.
- Banks can give cash advances on credit cards, although a fee of 3% usually applies.
Traditionally, Mongolians don’t tip. However, Mongolians working in tourism-related fields (guides, drivers, bellhops and waiters at restaurants frequented by foreigners) are now accustomed to tips. If you do feel service was good, a 10% to 20% tip is appreciated.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Operating hours in Ulaanbaatar are generally consistent. In the countryside they are more loosely followed, and banks, museums and other facilities may close for an hour at lunch, some time between noon and 2pm.
Banks 9am–6pm Monday to Friday. Main branches remain open on weekends.
Restaurants 10am–8pm (to 10pm in UB) Monday to Saturday. Some remain open on Sunday.
Markets Outdoor markets usually open 9am–7pm daily (or sunset in winter); indoor markets open 10am–8pm.
Museums Reduced hours and normally closed an extra couple of days a week in winter.
Shops 9am–6pm (to 10pm in UB) Monday to Saturday.
Mongolia’s remote and beautiful landscapes make for some incredible photography, but it’s this same remoteness that requires extra planning when taking pictures. For professional tips on how to take better photos, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel Photography, by Richard I’Anson.
Digital photography As you may go several days in a row without seeing a shop, internet cafe or electrical outlet, you’ll need extra batteries and memory cards for your digital camera. These are best bought at home or in Ulaanbaatar as electronic goods in aimag centres can be hard to find. Once you reach an aimag capital you can go to an internet cafe and upload your pictures to the cloud.
Light In summer, days are long, so the best time to take photos is before 10am and between 6pm and 8pm, when Mongolia basks in gorgeous light. As bright, glaring sunshine is the norm, a polarising filter is essential.
Dust If you do a jeep trip on an unsurfaced road, you can expect plenty of dust, so keep the camera well sealed in a plastic bag.
Always ask before taking a photograph. Keep in mind that monks and nomads are not photographic models, so if they do not want to be photographed, their wishes should be respected. Point a camera at an urban Mongol on the street and chances are they will cover their face. Don’t try sneaking around for a different angle as this may lead to an argument. Markets are also places where snap-happy foreigners are often not welcome.
On the other hand, people in the countryside can be happy to pose for photographs if you ask first. If you have promised to send them a copy, please do it. One way to do this is to print out the photos at an aimag centre or in Ulaanbaatar. To simplify matters, bring blank envelopes and ask them to write their address on the outside. On the inside, make a note to yourself about who they were in case you forget.
When Mongolians pose for a portrait they instantly put on a face that looks like they are in mourning at Brezhnev’s funeral. You may need to take this Soviet–style portrait in order to get a more natural shot later. ‘Can I take your photograph?’ in Mongolian is Bi tany zurgiig avch bolokh uu?
- Photography is prohibited inside monasteries and temples, although you may photograph building exteriors and monastery grounds. You can sometimes obtain special permission to take photographs for an extra fee.
- Don’t photograph potentially sensitive areas, especially border crossings and military establishments.
Photography Charges in Museums
In most museums throughout the country you need to pay an extra fee (often outrageously high) to use your still or video camera. The fees tend to vary, between T12,000 and T25,000 for photos and from T25,000 to T50,000 for videos. It is best to have a look around first before you decide whether to fork out the extra tögrög.
Service The postal service is generally reliable. Allow at least a couple of weeks for letters and postcards to arrive home from Mongolia.
Stamps You can buy stamps in post offices (and top-end hotels) in Ulaanbaatar and aimag capitals.
Poste restante The poste restante at the Central Post Office in Ulaanbaatar seems to work quite well; bring along your passport as proof of identification. Don’t even think about using poste restante anywhere else in the country.
Couriers The more reliable courier services include DHL and FedEx.
Postal rates Normal-sized letters cost T1320 and postcards cost T1100 to all countries. A 1kg airmail parcel to Europe or the USA is around T70,000.
The Naadam Festival and Tsagaan Sar each warrant three days off, plus there’s a day off for Children's Day, New Year and Chinggis Khaan's birthday. Most tourist facilities remain open during holidays, but shops and offices will close down. The following holidays are observed:
Shin Jil (New Year’s Day) 1 January
Constitution Day 13 January; to celebrate the adoption of the 1992 constitution (generally a normal working day).
Tsagaan Sar (Lunar New Year) January/February; a three-day holiday celebrating the Mongolian New Year.
Women’s Day 8 March (generally a normal working day).
Mothers’ & Children’s Day 1 June; a great time to visit parks.
Naadam Festival 11 and 12 July; also known as National Day celebrations.
Chinggis Khaan's Birthday Early November; the date is the first day of the first winter month, based on the lunar calendar. Most government offices and banks are closed.
- Smoking All public places in Mongolia are no-smoking zones, including hotel lobbies, cafes, restaurants, public transport and even stairwells of apartment blocks. Cigarette sales are banned within 500m of a school. There doesn't seem to be any regulations against vaping.
Taxes & Refunds
Value-added tax (VAT) is a 10% sales tax levied on most goods and services. Hotels may not always include VAT in their prices, so be sure to ask when booking. Restaurants sometimes also leave off the VAT from menus. It’s sometimes possible for visitors to claim a refund of VAT paid on goods.
It’s easy to make international or domestic calls in Ulaanbaatar and the aimag capitals. Technology is still lagging in many sum centres; however, it’s now possible to use mobile (cell) phones in most of the country.
Calling Mongolia To make a call to Mongolia, dial the international access code in your country (normally 00) and then the Mongolian country code (976). Then, for a landline number, dial the local code (minus the ‘0’ for Ulaanbaatar, but include the ‘0’ for all other areas) and then the number. If you are calling a mobile phone, dial the country code (976) without the area code. Be aware, though, that there are different requirements for area codes if you're using a mobile phone.
Calling out of Mongolia If you are calling out of Mongolia and using an IDD phone, dial 00 and then your international country code. If you have a mobile phone and you are roaming on your regular plan, add the + sign, then country code and the number. For ease of use and lower costs, you can also use Skype, Viber or a similar VoIP app.
Operator In Ulaanbaatar, the domestic operator’s number is 109. Outside normal working hours, call 1109.
Local SIM cards can be used in whatever phone you bring. You can also keep your own SIM card if you have a plan that allows roaming, but be wary of roaming charges.
The main companies are Mobicom, Skytel, Unitel and G-Mobile. Mobicom and Unitel operate on GSM (Global System for Mobile communication) 900/1800. G-Mobile and Skytel are both on the CDMA network. (Make sure you buy a SIM card appropriate for your phone.)
- Buying a SIM card in Mongolia will probably work out cheaper than paying roaming charges on your home country network.
- Mobicom booths can be found in the Central Post Office and on the 5th floor of the State Department Store. Buy a SIM card (around T7000), and top up with units as needed. It is free to receive calls, and text messaging charges are almost negligible.
- Every aimag capital (and many sum centres) has mobile-phone service, and calls are fairly cheap, making this a good way to keep in touch with home. If a sum centre is not covered by Mobicom, it probably will be covered by an alternative network, such as G-Mobile.
- It’s a good idea to have a phone while travelling in the countryside, as it allows you to communicate with your tour operator should problems arise on your trip. You can also use it to call ger camps or hotels to make a reservation.
- If you have a smartphone (Edge, 3G or 4G), you should be able to access the internet with a local SIM card.
- New and used mobile-phone shops are everywhere in UB and also in some rural cities. The cheapest phones will cost around US$20. In UB, try the Tedy Centre on Baruun Selbe Gudamj.
If you’re planning a serious mountaineering or horse-trekking expedition, considering bringing or renting a satellite phone, which isn’t too bulky and can be used anywhere. If you haven’t already purchased one in your home country, these are available for sale in Ulaanbaatar – make inquires at the Mobicom office in the State Department Store.
- Numbers starting with 99, 96, 95, 91, 88, 77, 94 or 81 are mobile numbers and therefore don't require an area code.
- Every aimag has its own area code.
- Ulaanbaatar has several area codes: 11 is the most widely used. If a phone number begins with a 23, 24 or 25, then the area code is 21. If the phone number begins with a 26, the code is 51.
- If calling from a landline to a number in Ulaanbaatar, add a '0' before the phone code.
- If you are calling from a mobile phone, just dial the number in the listing.
Note that Mongolia has two types of phone codes:
New codes Have four digits (which always start with 70) followed by another four digits.
Old codes Those in Ulaanbaatar have two digits (followed by six-digit phone numbers) while in the countryside the codes have five digits (followed by five-digit phone numbers).
Time zones Mongolia is divided into two time zones: the three western aimags of Bayan-Ölgii, Uvs and Khovd are one hour behind Ulaanbaatar and the rest of the country.
Daylight saving Mongolia does not observe daylight-saving time, which means that the sun can rise at very early hours in summer.
Standard time The standard time in Ulaanbaatar is UTC/GMT plus eight hours. This puts Ulaanbaatar in the same time zone as Bĕijīng, Hong Kong, Singapore and Perth. When it's 1pm in Ulaanbaatar it's 6am in London and 10.20pm (the day before) in Los Angeles.
24-hour clock The 24-hour clock is used for plane and train schedules.
Margash & You
There is another form of ‘Mongolian time’: add an hour to any appointments you make. Mongolians are notorious for being late, although this is more a problem in the countryside than in the city. Often events and meetings are simply put off until the next day. The Mongolian version of mañana (tomorrow) is margash.
Pit toilets In most hotels in Ulaanbaatar and aimag capitals and most ger camps, toilets are the sit-down European variety. In other hotels and some more remote ger camps, you will have to use pit toilets and hold your breath.
Outdoors In the countryside, where there may not be a bush or tree for hundreds of kilometres, modesty is not something to worry about – just do it where you want to, but away from gers. Also, try to avoid such places as ovoos (sacred cairns of stones), rivers and lakes (water sources for nomads) and marmot holes.
Toilet paper The plumbing is decrepit in many of the older hotels, and toilet paper can easily jam up the works. If there is a rubbish basket next to the toilet, this is where the waste paper should go. Toilet paper in the basic hotels resembles industrial-strength cardboard, or may be scraps of newspaper or old books. To avoid paper cuts, stock up on softer brand toilet paper, available in the larger cities.
Travel with Children
Children can be a great icebreaker and are a good avenue for cultural exchange with the local people. In Mongolia, children often like the thrill of camping, for a night or two at least. There are also lots of opportunities to sit on yaks, horses and camels, and plenty of opportunities to meet playmates when visiting gers. On the downside, long jeep rides over nonexistent roads are a sure route to motion sickness (stick to destinations with paved roads), and the endless steppe landscape may leave your children comatose with boredom. Check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children for more general tips on keeping the kids entertained.
- Items such as formula, baby food, nappies (diapers) and wipes are sold in nearly every supermarket in Ulaanbaatar, and many of these items are now available in other cities too. In the countryside, the best place to get milk is directly from a herder, but make sure it has been boiled.
- It’s unlikely that your tour company will have a child seat for the vehicle. This is something to clarify when booking your tour. Chinese–made safety seats are sold in some Ulaanbaatar shops. Another option is to bring your own car seat. Note that Air China and MIAT will weigh the car seat and count it as part of your luggage (some other airlines won’t count it against your luggage allotment).
- When travelling in the countryside, deluxe hotel rooms normally come with an extra connecting room, which can be ideal for children.
- Many restaurants in Ulaanbaatar have a high chair available. This will be rare in the countryside.
- Nappy-changing facilities are rare.
- Breastfeeding in public is common in the countryside but slightly rarer in the city.
- There are several kids' soft play places in Ulaanbaatar – the largest (and priciest) is at the Shangri-La.
Travellers with Disabilities
Mongolia is a difficult place for independent travellers in wheelchairs. While the infrastructure is getting better, pavements are rough, and buildings and buses are generally not wheelchair-accessible. It's best to travel with a private guide who can assist with transport. Travel to Ulaanbaatar and 4WD trips to places such as Khustain National Park shouldn’t cause too many insurmountable problems.
If any specialised travel agency might be interested in arranging trips to Mongolia, the best bet is the US company Accessible Journeys (www.disabilitytravel.com) in Pennsylvania. At the very least, hire your own transport and guide through one of the Ulaanbaatar agencies. If you explain your disability, these agencies may be able to assist you.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Some organisations and companies are anxious to receive help from qualified people, particularly in education, health and IT development. Agencies are more interested in committed people who are willing to stay two years or more, although short-term projects are available. In most instances, you will be paid in local wages (or possibly a little more). Besides the following, a good starting reference is Go Overseas (www.gooverseas.com/volunteer-abroad) and Projects Abroad (www.projects-abroad.org/volunteer-destinations/volunteer-mongolia/). Contact the following to inquire about opportunities:
Khustain National Park (www.hustai.mn)
Australian Volunteers for International Development Program (www.volunteering.scopeglobal.com)
Peace Corps (www.peacecorps.gov)
UN Development Program (www.undp.mn)
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Mongolia follows the metric system.
Work options for foreigners in Mongolia typically include teaching English and working for a development organisation or NGO. The pay for teaching can be decent (compared to typical local salaries). If you have specialised skills the best money is paid by mining companies.
Contacts If you are keen to work in Mongolia and are qualified in teaching or health, contact volunteer organisations, network through the internet or check the English–language newspapers in Ulaanbaatar.
Permits Permission to work is fairly easy to obtain if you have been hired locally. In most cases, your employer will take care of this for you.
Many Mongolians are hungry to learn a second language, particularly English, so there is a demand for teachers. Colleges and volunteer agencies are always on the lookout for qualified teachers who are willing to stay for a few terms (if not a few years), not just for a week or two.
In Ulaanbaatar try the following options: