What makes Kazakhstan a unique country to travel to?
Kazakhstan is a constitutional republic with a strong presidency and a market economy. Kazakhstan's tourist facilities are not highly developed; the availability of goods and services is better than in many neighboring countries, but generally not up to the standards found in North America and Western Europe. Internal travel and travel to neighboring countries, by air and land, can be subject to delays due to infrastructure shortcomings and winter weather.
Travelers in Kazakhstan should exercise the same precautions concerning personal safety and protection of valuables as they would in any major U.S. city. Using good judgment and avoiding high-risk areas can reduce the crime threat. The most common crimes foreign tourists encounter are purse snatching, pick pocketing, assaults, and robberies. Pick pocketing or robberies occur most frequently in the vicinity of Western hotels, transportation sites, and at open-air markets, including the central open-air market in Almaty (known locally as the "Green Market"). U.S. citizens are advised to exercise caution in the vicinity of hotels, bus or train stations, and when shopping. U.S. Mission Kazakhstan strongly recommends that U.S. citizens do not carry large sums of money on the street.
Identification checks by the police are common practice. U.S. visitors must produce either a passport or an Embassy-certified copy thereof upon request. Police are not required to demonstrate probable cause or reasonable suspicion to initiate ID checks. U.S. citizens may obtain a certified copy of their passport and visa from the U.S. Embassy in Astana or U.S. Consulate General in Almaty during American Citizens Services hours. Please check the U.S. Mission Kazakhstan website for the American Citizens Services hours in Almaty and Astana.
Be wary of persons representing themselves as police or other local officials. It is not uncommon for U.S. citizens to become victims of harassment and extortion by imposters, genuine law enforcement, and other officials. A genuine police official should always present his own credentials when approaching someone on the street. If the officer cannot produce identification, he is most likely an imposter. Never voluntarily hand over your wallet to a police officer. If pressured, tell the officer that you will report his behavior to the U.S. Embassy in Astana or Consulate General in Almaty and the officer’s supervisors. Authorities are concerned about these incidents and have cooperated in investigating such cases. Try to obtain the officer's name, badge number, and license plate number, and note where the incident happened because this information assists local officials in identifying the perpetrators. Report crimes committed against you by persons presenting themselves as police or other governmental authorities to a police station and the U.S. Embassy in Astana or Consulate General in Almaty.
The "lost wallet" scam continues to be common in Kazakhstan. One version of this scam involves the discovery of a lost wallet in your presence. A first person will discover the wallet and offer to divide its contents with you. Then, a second person will appear, claim to be the owner of the wallet, and demand compensation for the missing money. A second version involves a person looking for a lost wallet, asking you if have seen it. The person asks you to reveal the contents of your pockets or bag to prove that you do not have the missing wallet. The wallet seeker will then surreptitiously steal your exposed valuables. When initially approached by the "finder" or "seeker" of the lost wallet, simply walk away.
U.S. Mission Kazakhstan highly discourages taking unlicensed cabs in lieu of licensed taxicabs while in Kazakhstan. This applies especially to travel from the airport and train station to the city upon arrival, where men posing as "meet and greet" airport facilitators have lured foreigners into cars purportedly to take them to their hotels. However, the driver then takes the passengers to a secluded destination and demands approximately $100 for gas to take the foreigner back to the city. At the airport, U.S. citizens should not leave with anyone who does not show pre-arranged identification, even if the person is holding a sign with the traveler's name.
U.S. Mission Kazakhstan has received reports from U.S. citizen residents and visitors of being victims of violent, late-night muggings. U.S. citizens are advised to travel in groups or pairs. Lone individuals often make easy targets for muggers. At night, try to remain in well-lit, populated areas. Visitors are encouraged to leave restaurants or bars if fights break out.
Corruption by public officials, including law enforcement, has been reported frequently, especially at the airport in Almaty. Some foreigners have been told by customs or border guard officials that they must pay a $50-$500 fine for violating an undisclosed local regulation, despite the fact that the foreign citizen has fully complied with local laws. Some U.S. citizens have reportedly been asked to pay a large fine upon exiting Kazakhstan. When encountering such irregularities, U.S. citizens are advised to seek clarification from supervisory airport officials or contact the U.S. Embassy in Astana or Consulate General in Almaty before paying.
Don't buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in another country, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don't have your passport with you. In some places it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in your host country, your U.S. passport won't help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It's very important to know what's legal and what's not where you are going. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Kazakhstan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States government is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
Kazakhstan is in the process of changing the alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical care in Kazakhstan is limited and well below North American and West European standards. The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of English-speaking physicians. Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most resident U.S. citizens travel to Western Europe for serious medical treatment. Such travel can be extremely expensive if undertaken under emergency conditions. Travelers requiring prescription medications or specific brand-name medicines should bring sufficient supplies of medications and not rely on local availability.
Safety and Security
Supporters of extremist groups such as the Islamic Jihad Union, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, al-Qaida, and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement have expressed anti-U.S. sentiments and may attempt to target U.S. Government or private interests in the region, including in Kazakhstan. Extremist tactics, including the use of suicide bombers, which were employed by extremists against U.S. targets in neighboring Uzbekistan in 2004, were used for the first time in Kazakhstan in 2011.Because of increased security at official U.S. facilities, terrorists may also target "soft" civilian targets such as commercial or residential areas, clubs and restaurants, places of worship, hotels, schools, outdoor recreation events, resorts, beaches, maritime facilities, and aircraft.
Following several attacks against local authorities in Western Kazakhstan in 2012, the U.S. Mission in Kazakhstan encourages U.S. citizens resident in, or traveling to, Western Kazakhstan to remain vigilant. Although previous violent activity has primarily been directed towards Kazakhstani governmental entities, it is possible that this focus could shift to other targets. In addition, law enforcement agencies have conducted anti-terrorist operations against suspected terrorists in populated areas throughout the country.
Kazakhstani security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in a foreign country, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Kazakhstan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Roads in Kazakhstan are in poor repair, especially in rural areas. Poor signage is common. Street lighting, especially on side streets, may be turned off at night. Drivers often ignore lane markings. Potholes are common, and are often dangerously deep. Pedestrians frequently dart out in front of cars. Visitors should drive defensively at all times as many local drivers do not follow traffic laws. Special caution should be taken if driving at night. Road rage can be a problem, especially in and around Almaty, and a non-confrontational response to such behavior is strongly recommended. Accidents involving severe injury and/or death are common. Traffic police have reportedly stopped cars to extort bribes on main city streets and at periodic checkpoints on major highways.
The road between Almaty and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, is especially treacherous at night or during poor weather. U.S. citizens and other travelers have been killed in traffic accidents on that road, and travel at night or during poor weather should be avoided.
Travelers should be particularly careful when using public transportation and taxis. Buses tend to be very crowded and can be unsafe and unreliable. Due to the danger of theft or assault, travelers should be selective regarding which taxi they contract and always avoid entering a cab that already contains persons other than the driver.
Kazakhstan has a zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence of alcohol. A driver may be detained by police and convicted of drunk driving for driving a vehicle after consuming one drink of alcohol, regardless of whether the driver is actually intoxicated.
U.S. citizens wishing to drive in Kazakhstan should possess a valid international driver's license. For specific information, travelers may contact the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan at 1401 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036, telephone (202) 232-5488.