What makes Azerbaijan a unique country to travel to?
Azerbaijan is a constitutional republic with a developing economy. Western-style amenities are found in the capital, Baku, but infrastructure and access to goods and services outside the city, while improving, are less well developed.
Most of the crime in Baku affects local residents, with burglary and assault being the most common crimes. Foreigners are at a greater risk in areas attracting large crowds or in very isolated areas. Although not common, petty theft and assault against foreign citizens do occur in Baku. Pick-pockets tend to frequent tourist sites, public transportation (especially minibuses), and pedestrian streets or large public squares where people congregate. Travelers should be mindful of their wallets, purses, and computer bags, as they make for tempting targets.
Avoid traveling alone at night. Late-night targeted attacks against lone males, while not common, are the most common crimes committed against foreigners; these usually involve victims who have been drinking.
There have been several reports from individuals who have been victims of crimes occurring late at night in bars frequented by Westerners. The crime occurs when a male patron is approached by a young woman who asks the individual to buy her a drink; after buying the drink and talking for a while, the customer is presented with an exorbitant bill. When the customer protests, he is approached by several men, detained, and forced to pay the full amount of the bill under threat of physical violence.
You should be very cautious about allowing unknown people to enter your hotel room or apartment.
Several Western women have reported incidents of unwanted male attention, including groping and other offensive behavior while walking on the streets alone or with only female companions. Travelers should remain alert when visiting tourist areas in Baku, such as Fountain Square and the Maiden’s Tower. We recommend that you avoid traveling alone in these areas after nightfall.
There have been reports of vehicle break-ins at regional tourist sites outside Baku. Whenever possible, vehicles should be parked in guarded or controlled parking lots, and valuables should never be left in plain sight.
There are instances of U.S. citizens being asked by new Internet friends to help pay a “return guarantee fee” to the Azerbaijani Immigration Service before a short trip abroad. There is no such law requiring Azerbaijani citizens to post a deposit for foreign travel, and the Internet friends were later determined to have fraudulent Azerbaijani identification cards. Please see this website for information about avoiding Internet financial scams.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal to bring back into the United States, but purchasing them may also be against local law.
Azeri is similar to modern Turkish and is written in the Latin alphabet, although is has also been written in Arabic and Cyrillic scripts. Many Azeris can speak Russian.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
There is one Western-type medical clinic operating in Baku, run by International SOS, which provides 24-hour care of quality comparable to that in Western countries. It is adequate for urgent care and minor acute medical problems only. Surgeries, unless urgent for life-saving problems, are not advisable here. There is often a shortage of basic medical supplies, including disposable needles and vaccines. Bring adequate amounts of prescription medicines for the duration of your visit, as pharmacies often do not carry all brands or doses.
Safety and Security
In light of ongoing global and regional threats against U.S. and foreign interests, the U.S. embassy has recently released several Emergency Messages to U.S. citizens advising them to remain vigilant, particularly in public places associated with Western and Israeli communities. In January 2012, the Azerbaijani National Security Ministry disrupted a terrorist plot, reportedly backed by Iran, to attack prominent foreigners in Baku.
You should avoid travel to the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding occupied areas, as well as regions along the line of contact between Azerbaijani and Armenian positions. Because of the existing state of hostilities, we cannot offer consular services to U.S. citizens in Nagorno-Karabakh.
U.S. citizens of Armenian ancestry considering travel to Azerbaijan should remain particularly vigilant when visiting the country, as the government of Azerbaijan has claimed it is unable to guarantee your safety. However, the U.S. Embassy is unaware of such U.S. citizen travelers recently experiencing threats to their safety based solely on their Armenian heritage or name.
Traveling to the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding occupied areas via Armenia without the consent of the Government of Azerbaijan could make you ineligible to travel to Azerbaijan in the future.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Azerbaijan, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Fatalities from traffic accidents are high and continue to rise each year. The information below concerning Azerbaijan is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Azerbaijan is rebuilding its roadway system. Although the newer sections of the road system are a marked improvement, the older sections are poorly constructed and poorly lighted. There are unfinished road sections that are extremely dangerous due to lack of proper construction and hazard signage.
Driving hazards, such as open manholes, debris, sinkholes, and potholes, are common in Baku. Many drivers do not pay attention to traffic regulations, signals, lane markings, pedestrians, or other drivers. Drivers often travel at extremely high speeds, and accidents are frequent and often serious. Pedestrians do not use crosswalks to cross the street and often stand in the median between lanes of traffic, even at night. Driving in Baku should be considered extremely hazardous. Outside the city, even where roads are present, conditions are similar. Roads are often in poor repair and unlighted, and they lack lane markings, traffic signs, and warnings. Many rural roads are largely unpaved.
Throughout Azerbaijan, traffic police enforce traffic laws inconsistently, and routine traffic stops are common. If stopped, drivers should have all required documents with them, including passport or local registration documents, driver’s license, vehicle registration documents, and proof of insurance. Talking on the cell phone while driving carries a fine of AZN 50 (about $64 USD). Driving under the influence carries a fine of AZN 80-100 (about $102-$128 USD) and 5 points. If you get 10 points in one year, the fine is AZN 120-150 AZN (about $153-$191 USD) and 2 years’ suspension of license.
Most taxis in Baku are neither metered nor regulated. Older Russian-produced cars used as private taxis are widely regarded as unsafe. Visitors must negotiate the fare before entering a taxi. Recently, a fleet of new, London-style taxis have been deployed in Baku. They are metered and can be found near most places catering to tourists.
Although the city of Baku has invested in new buses and the quality of its underground metro system is very good, public transportation throughout the remainder of the country remains overcrowded and poorly maintained.