Bargaining

Bargaining is sensible at souvenir stalls and with taxi drivers, common in bazaars and sometimes necessary with shared taxis. You can often get a reduction on hotel rates, especially in the shoulder and off seasons. That said, most local people will offer a fairly sensible starting price so don't expect to half the price.

Dangers & Annoyances

As in many totalitarian states, the main danger is the police and authorities. Petty crime and robbery are quite rare.

  • Keen to encourage tourism, President Mirziyoyev has curbed the once common militsia (police) habit of shaking down travellers for bribes at bus stations and roadside checkpoints.
  • You may still be stopped, particularly when entering Tashkent’s metro, in the sensitive Fergana Valley and in border towns like Termiz.
  • Always carry your passport.
  • The main annoyances are the need to obsessively collect flimsy and utterly pointless registration slips, and the need to carry around huge piles of cash due to the worthlessness of the som.

Embassies & Consulates

Uzbek Embassies in Central Asia

Uzbekistan has embassies in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Uzbek Embassies & Consulates

For details of Uzbek missions abroad see the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.mfa.uz).

Embassies & Consulates in Uzbekistan

Most embassies and consulates are located in Tashkent. For additional embassy listings see www.goldenpages.uz. Hours of operation listed for regional embassies are for visa applications only.

Afghan Embassy

Chinese Embassy

French Embassy

German Embassy

Iranian Embassy

Kazakhstan Embassy

Kyrgyzstan Embassy

Russian Embassy

Tajikistan Embassy

Turkmenistan Embassy

UK Embassy

US Embassy

Emergency & Important Numbers

Ambulance103
Country Code998
Fire Service101
Police102

Entry & Exit Formalities

As long as your papers are in order, entering Uzbekistan is relatively easy, long lines at the airport notwithstanding. It's important that you fill in two identical customs forms and declare every penny of foreign currency on them.

Visas

Uzbek visas are needed by almost all nationalities. They are relatively painless to obtain, and most nationalities no longer require a letter of invitation.

Visas for Uzbekistan

Uzbek visa rules depend on the state of Uzbekistan’s relations with your country’s government. At the time of writing, citizens of the following countries were exempt from letters of invitation (LOI): Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and the USA. Everybody else needs an LOI, as do (sometimes) citizens of the above countries who are applying for visas outside their country of citizenship.

Visa-free travel for 21 Western countries (including Australia but not New Zealand) is scheduled to be introduced in 2021. Travellers will be able to enter the country for 30 days after paying US$50 at the airport. The regulation was supposed to be introduced in 2017 but was delayed, so check whether it has actually been implemented.

If there is no Uzbek embassy in your country, you should be eligible for ‘visa on arrival’ at Tashkent International Airport if you arrange special LOI support for this several weeks in advance through a travel agency or inviting business.

Any Uzbek travel agency can arrange LOI support, but most demand that you also purchase a minimum level of services – usually hotel bookings for at least three nights. A few agencies and hotels still provide LOI support with no strings attached, including Arostr Tourism and Topchan Hostel. They charge US$40 to US$50 for a LOI for a single-entry 30-day tourist visa. Tack on another US$10 per entry for visa-on-arrival support. Allow five to 10 business days for LOI processing, or pay double for four- to five-day ‘rush’ processing.

The standard tourist visa is a 30-day, single-entry or multiple-entry visa. They cost US$60 to US$100 for most nationalities, and US$160 for US citizens. Additional entries cost US$10 per entry. Tourist visas lasting more than 30 days are very difficult to obtain; for a longer trip you are better off arranging a business visa. Three-day transit visas are possible without an LOI, but often cost as much as a tourist visa.

Most embassies can issue same-day visas when you present an LOI. Visa processing without an LOI usually takes three to 10 days, depending on the embassy. Be aware that when you apply for your visa in person at an Uzbek embassy, you must have filled in your application form and uploaded a photograph digitally beforehand – this can not be done at the Uzbek embassy. Application forms are available online at http://evisa.mfa.uz.

You may also need to provide a photocopy of every page in your passport, even the blank ones!

Visa Extensions

Extensions are not given to tourist visa holders so your only option in this case is to travel to neighbouring Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan to buy a new visa. Business visas are easier to extend.

Travel Permits

Border permits are required for remote mountain areas near the Tajik and Kyrgyz borders, including most of Ugam-Chatkal National Park, the Zarafshon and Hissar Mountains, and Zaamin National Park. It's unlikely you'll be headed into these regions unless you are on an expedition-style trek. You'll need the help of a travel agency to get a border permit.

Registration

Registration rules are stricter in Uzbekistan than in most former Soviet countries. The law states clearly that you must register somewhere within three days of arriving in Uzbekistan.

Checking into a hotel licensed to take foreigners means automatic registration, so if you're staying in hotels for your entire trip there's nothing to worry about. Your hotel or B&B will give you a small slip of paper that you must keep until you have left the country.

If you are camping or staying in a private home, the rules get hazy.

If you spend a night in a private home you are supposed to register with the local Office of Visas & Registration (OVIR), but this can create more problems than it solves for you and your hosts. Asking the next hotel you stay at to supply missing registration slips is a possibility, but they may demand a fee for this service or refuse your request outright.

Officially you don’t need to register if you are staying in a given town for less than three nights. But like everything else in Uzbekistan, this rule is open to interpretation. If the authorities decide you need to be registered for shorter stays, well then you need to be registered. Failure to comply with the ‘law’ can result in anything from a small bribe being demanded, to a fine of up to a couple of thousand US dollars and deportation.

Such harsh fines are unlikely, but if you go several consecutive days without registering you are asking for trouble. Bottom line: the authorities like to see at least some registration slips in your passport. The more you have, the better, and the only way to be completely safe is to ensure that every night of your stay is accounted for by a registration slip or overnight train ticket.

Tashkent hotels in particular can be a real pain in the backside about this – most will not register someone without a registration slip for every night of their stay, so have your paperwork in order!

If you plan to camp your way around Uzbekistan, resign yourself to staying in hotels at least every third night to accumulate some registration slips. If headed to Tashkent try to stay in a hotel the night before arriving so that you have a registration slip.

When you leave the country or take a domestic flight, border officials may thoroughly scrutinise your registration slips or they may not look at them at all. However, the main thing is to be able to produce a convincing bundle when asked. Authorities may also check your registration slips when you are in the country, so carry them with you alongside your passport at all times.

If you are missing only a few registration slips upon departure from the country, you should be in the clear – in theory. In practice, police sometimes hassle departing tourists over just one or two missing registration slips. If this happens, stand your ground and argue forcefully that you were in some towns for less than three nights, and were not required to register for those nights.

Travellers reports suggest that this is less of a problem when departing Uzbekistan overland, especially if you are clearly travelling by bicycle.

Visas for Onward Travel

The website Caravanistan (www.caravanistan.com) has excellent information on visas and letters of invitation (LOI) for onward travel. Most embassies require you to show an onward ticket if you are applying for a transit visa.

Azerbaijan

Most tourists can now get an e-visa online at www.evisa.gov.az. A 30-day tourist visa from the Azerbaijan embassy requires two passport photos, a copy of your passport and a LOI.

China

The Chinese embassy prefers you get your China visa in your home country and is generally reluctant to issue visas to tourists. If things change you’ll need a copy of your passport and Uzbek visa on a single page, plus copies of hotel bookings in China and an air ticket from Tashkent to China. Proof of employment or a LOI is also sometimes required. Bishkek is an easier place to get a China visa.

Iran

First you must apply for an authorisation through an Iranian agent. This costs around US$50 and takes one to two weeks to arrive, after which you can apply for a 30-day tourist visa (valid for entry within three months) at the Iranian embassy you elected for collection. The cost of visa processing in Tashkent varies from US$50 to US$100 and takes a week to process (though a same-day service is available for a fee).

Kazakhstan

Most nationalities no longer need a visa to visit Kazakhstan.

Kyrgyzstan

Visa-free travel to Kyrgyzstan for most nationalities means one less piece of Central Asian bureaucracy to worry about.

Russia

Begin by filling out a visa application form online at http://visa.kdmid.ru. You'll need to bring your original passport and a copy of its photo page, a passport photo, a travel voucher/LOI (original not copy) and proof of insurance to apply for a single- or double-entry 30-day tourist visa at the Russian embassy. Processing takes four days and you pay for the visa at the time of application. Prices vary depending on nationality, but figure on around US$50.

Tajikistan

Tourist visas and permits for the Gorno Badakhshan region are easily available online without an invitation, so there's little reason to schlepp out to the embassy. If you do need to go, the consulate is actually across the road from the embassy proper.

Turkmenistan

The entrance to the visa section is behind the main embassy to the left. Come early (6am if you can face it) and add your name to the waiting list (you can then go for breakfast and return at 10am when the gates open). Whether you actually get a tourist visa is very hit-and-miss these days and authorisation seems quite random. Five-day transit visas cost around US$55, with tourists visas ranging from US$30 to US$115. Processing takes a week for transit visas and up to 10 days for tourist visas.

Customs Regulations

On arrival in Uzbekistan you will need to fill out two identical customs declarations forms, one to turn in and one to keep (which must be handed in upon departure, so don't lose it). Declare every cent of every type of money you bring in on your customs form, or face possible penalties. When entering overland the forms will likely be in Uzbek so you'll need some help filling them in.

You should also declare all your prescription medicines and preferably bring the prescriptions with you. Customs officials seems particularly interested in sleeping pills and painkillers, particularly anything with codeine or pseudoephedrine (eg Sudafed), so don't bring these unless you have to (and then bring a prescription). For a list of banned medications see www.advantour.com/uzbekistan/travel.htm.

Handicrafts over 50 years old cannot be taken out of Uzbekistan. If in doubt get a clear receipt from the vendor or get pre-clearance from the Culture Ministry Antiques Certification Office in Tashkent.

Arriving and leaving overland, overland customs officials will likely want to see your phone and check the photos for pornography or any other sensitive material.

Etiquette

In general respect is shown to the elderly, especially men who are known as aksakal (white beards).

  • Greetings Shake men's hands with the greeting 'salom' or 'salom aleikum'. For added respect place your left hand over your chest.
  • Amin At the end of a shared meal run your hands over your face in the amin gesture to signify thanks.
  • Tea There is formalised etiquette when pouring out tea. Rinse out your piala (small tea bowl) with a drop of hot tea, then return a piala-ful to the pot three times before the tea is considered ready to drink.

LGBT Travellers

Uzbekistan is a conservative Muslim country. Gay sex between men is technically illegal, and while there is a small gay scene in Tashkent, most gay men are discreet. Lesbians tend to be overlooked by the authorities. Travellers will find little overt hassle but, again, discretion is wise in this tightly monitored country.

Internet Access

Wi-fi is now ubiquitous in tourist hotels and in many restaurants and cafes, so there's little need to resort to internet cafes. Speeds vary from glacial to lightning fast, but in general are quite adequate.

Some websites, notably politically sensitive Uzbek-language sites, are blocked but social media sites like Facebook and Twitter work fine. Communication apps like Skype and WhatsApp often don't work properly.

Money

ATMs in major cities. Currency reforms in 2017 brought major change, making the black market obsolete.

ATMs

ATMs can be found in most of Tashkent's top-end hotels, in a couple of hotels outside the capital and in a few banks, but they are frequently out of order. Try to avoid using ATMs on a Sunday, when they are almost always out of cash.

In the provinces, cash advances are generally possible at Asaka Bank for MasterCard holders and at Kapital Bank or the National Bank of Uzbekistan (NBU) for Visa cardholders. If these are not working, try Orient Finanz Bank for MasterCard, or Ipak Yuli Bank for Visa. Commissions are standard at 3%.

Cash

The currency in Uzbekistan is the som (S), sometimes spelled s'om or soum. It's easy to feel rich in Uzbekistan – the highest Uzbek note (50,000S) was only introduced in 2017 and is currently worth around US$6.

Until recently tourists used to have to pay for accommodation in hard currency, meaning you had to bring wads of cash US dollars with you, but since September 2017 tourists now have to pay in Uzbek som, meaning you now have to travel with large wads of Uzbek som.

Cash US dollars are still the easiest way to change money into som. Make sure they are pristine notes with no marks on them. Euros can also be used and changed, but it's not as easy.

Banks in major cities can give you a US dollar cash advance on a Visa or MasterCard for a 3% commission but these can take time to track down. Most midrange and top-end hotels accept Visa cards.

Changing Money

Official exchange booths at airports, hotels and the National Bank of Uzbekistan and several private banks will change most currencies into Uzbek som, though US dollars and euros are the easiest currencies.

Since currency reforms in 2017 the government exchange rate now reflects the market rate and so there's no need to seek out the black market, which has largely evaporated.

Exchange Rates

Australia

Unit

A$1

Som

6400S

Canada

Unit

C$1

Som

6500S

Euro zone

Unit

€1

Som

9600S

New Zealand

Unit

NZ$1

Som

5800S

UK

Unit

£1

Som

10,880S

USA

Unit

US$1

Som

8070S

Tipping

In general tipping is not all that common in Uzbekistan.

  • Restaurants A service charge of 10% to 15% is added to many restaurant bills; it's good form to add a similar amount if it's not added automatically.
  • Guides Will often expect a tip, especially from larger groups.

The Black Market

Until 2017 Uzbekistan had a thriving currency black market that offered travellers 50% more som for their dollars than the artificially low fixed government rate.

In September 2017 the currency was deregulated and instantly lost half of its value, bringing it on a par with the former black market, which effectively disappeared overnight. A black market might return, since Uzbeks can still can not freely convert som into US dollars, but it is unlikely to have the prevalence or advantages of the old black market.

2017's Currency Reforms

In September 2017, the Uzbekistan government introduced major currency reforms, bringing the previously artificially low Uzbek som in line with free market rates and thus effectively doing away with the black market.

It also reversed the law requiring foreigners to pay for their accommodation in foreign currency, meaning that foreigners are now required to pay in Uzbek som. The rate you pay will be similar to the amount previously listed in US dollars, but will have to be paid in Uzbek som converted at the current bank rate.

In general, prices in som for hotels, food and transportation have remained the same since the reforms and the currency remains relatively stable, but be prepared for price variances, especially for entry fees, which will likely rise in many places, as these were previously calculated using the government's artificially low som rate.

One anomaly is domestic flights with Uzbekistan Airlines, which at the time of writing were still being priced in Uzbek som using the artificially low pre-reform government rate. It's unlikely that this system can be maintained, but as long as it is, travellers can enjoy bargain-priced domestic flights.

Opening Hours

Many tourist-oriented hotels, restaurants and craft shops shut between November and March.

Banks 9.30am to 2pm and 3pm to 4.30pm Monday to Friday

Museums Generally closed on Monday in Tashkent and Wednesday in Bukhara.

Offices 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm Monday to Friday

Restaurants & chaikhanas 10am to 11pm

Post

The Uzbekistan Post Office (O'zbekistan Pochtasi; www.pochta.uz/en) is fairly reliable, though for important items it's better to use a courier service such as DHL, which has an office in Tashkent.

Public Holidays

January 1 New Year’s Day

January 14 Day of Defenders of the Motherland

March 8 International Women’s Day

March 21 Navrus

May 9 Day of Memory and Honour (formerly Victory Day)

September 1 Independence Day

October 1 Teachers’ Day

December 8 Constitution Day

Smoking

  • Smoking Technically illegal in public, though laws are rarely enforced.

Taxes & Refunds

There is technically a city hotel tax of US$1 or US$2 per person per night but almost all hotels include this in their tariff. Sales tax is included in prices.

Telephone

Uzbekistan’s antiquated fixed-line system is creaky and most people prefer to use mobile phones. Local calls cost peanuts and domestic long-distance calls are cheap.

  • To place a call to a mobile phone, dial 83 (from a land line) or +998 (from another mobile phone), followed by the two-digit code and the seven-digit number.
  • To place a call to a land line, dial 83 (from either a land line or a mobile phone) followed by the two-digit city code and the seven-digit number. If the city code is three digits, drop the 3 and just dial 8.
  • If dialling from any Tashkent number (mobile or fixed) to any other Tashkent number, regardless of carrier, just dial the seven-digit number (no code).
  • To place an international call from a land line, dial 8, wait for a tone, then dial 10.

International phone calls with Uztelecom (www.uztelecom.uz) cost 1265/1140S per minute to the USA/Europe, or 500S to the neighbouring Central Asian republics.

Mobile Phones

There are four main Uzbek mobile phone providers: Ucell, Uzmobile, UCell and Beeline. Getting a SIM card isn't all that difficult, but is easiest done at the provider's main Tashkent office. Bring your passport.

Call charges are minuscule and 3G internet coverage is generally fast and cheap. It's fast and easy to add to your balance at any of the hundreds of Paynet booths in every town.

Time

Uzbekistan is GMT/UTC plus five hours, which is the same as the other Central Asian republics, apart from central and eastern Kazakhstan. There is no daylight savings time.

Toilets

  • Public toilets generally cost around 1000S, but they are mostly nasty and best avoided.
  • Where toilet paper is provided it is normally of sandpaper-like consistency, so carry a stash of tissues with you at all times.
  • In general used toilet paper should be placed in the small bin beside the toilet.

Tourist Information

There are helpful privately run tourist information centres in Samarkand and Khiva. Beyond this the private travel agencies and B&Bs are your best source of information.

The government-run Uzbektourism is not interested in independent travellers.

Travel with Children

Uzbekistan is not an obvious choice for children, who seem surprisingly immune to the charms of early medieval Islamic architecture. Tashkent has a couple of amusement parks, a water park, bowling alleys and malls if your kids need a dose of the familiar. Yurt camps and camel rides help break up the normal sightseeing routine.

Baby-change facilities and high chairs are mostly non-existent, though nappies (diapers) are available in the cities. Prams can tackle the modern streets of Tashkent and Samarkand, but the old towns of Bukhara and Khiva will prove a problem.

Accessible Travel

The traditional architecture of places like Bukhara and Khiva make getting around a real challenge for disabled travellers. Few sights or hotels have access for people with disabilities.

Weights & Measures

  • Weights & Measures Uzbekistan uses the metric system.