What makes Mongolia a unique country to travel to?
Mongolia is a vast country of mountains, lakes, deserts, and grasslands. It is approximately the size of Alaska. Since 1990, Mongolia has been successfully transitioning into a parliamentary democracy. Economic reforms continue, although the country’s development will depend on considerable infrastructure investment, particularly in the mining, energy, transportation, and communication sectors. You should be aware that shortcomings in these areas could affect your travel plans.
Street crime is common in Mongolia, particularly in Ulaanbaatar, the capital. Most of the street crime is non-violent, but violent incidents do occur regularly. The most common crimes against foreigners are pickpocketing and bag snatching. There are reports of organized groups operating in open areas, usually after dark, surrounding, grabbing, and choking an individual in order to search his or her pockets. Thieves have also cut victims’ bag straps and clothing in attempts to reach wallets, cell phones, and other valuables. If you detect pickpocket attempts, you should not confront the thieves, since they may become violent. It is best not to walk alone through Ulaanbaatar after dark.
Inter-racial couples are targeted for assault. The perpetrators usually target foreign men with local women. These assaults range from organized attacks by nationalist groups to spontaneous incidents in bars.
Since the spring of 2010, the U.S. Embassy has received an increased number of reports of apparently xenophobic attacks against foreign nationals.These attacks occurred without provocation, and robbery was not the motive. Attackers targeted the victim(s) based solely on their ethnicity or perceived foreign nationality. Some of these attacks were directed against U.S. citizens.
Additionally, nationalist groups frequently mistake Asian-Americans for ethnic Chinese or Koreans and may attack without warning or provocation. Asian-Americans should exercise caution at all times when walking the streets of Ulaanbaatar.
In general, you should be extremely cautious at these locations:
Chinggis Khan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar: Organized groups frequently target tourists for robbery and pickpocketing at this airport.
The State Department Store and the area around the Circus: Organized pickpocket gangs target tourists at the entries/exits/elevators of the store and in surrounding areas, along Peace Avenue, and down to the Circus.
Naran Tuul Covered Market: Organized criminal groups target foreigners for robbery and pickpocketing.
You should also be careful in crowded public areas, such as open-air markets, the Central Post Office, and the Gandan Monastery.
In addition, you should be alert for potential criminal activity when you use public transportation or taxis. There have been several reports of foreigners being robbed and/or assaulted while riding in taxis. You may wish to ask your hotel, a restaurant, or store to make taxi arrangements for you. Also, you may wish to request that a native speaker write your destination address in Mongolian, since most cab drivers do not speak English. Private unmarked cars often act as taxis in Mongolia; their availability is high, but their consistency of performance, fare, and safety is low. You should not use unmarked taxis. If you find a cab driver whom you like (English speaker, trustworthy, clean car, etc.), request his mobile phone number for future use.
Crime rises sharply before, during, and after the Naadam Summer Festival in July, throughout the summer tourist season, and during and after Tsagaan Sar, the Winter Festival, in January or February.
Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegged items illegal in the United States, but you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in Mongolia, 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. 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 Mongolia, 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.
If you are arrested in Mongolia, Mongolian authorities are required to notify the U.S. Embassy of your arrest. If you are concerned the Department of State may not be aware of your situation, you should ask the police or prison officials to notify the U.S. embassy of your arrest. You may need to make repeated requests to authorities to speak to a consular officer. Authorities may be unaware of your rights to consular access.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical facilities in Mongolia are very limited and do not meet most Western standards, especially for emergency health care. Many brand-name Western medicines are unavailable. The majority of medical facilities are located in Ulaanbaatar and are extremely limited or non-existent outside of Ulaanbaatar. Specialized emergency care for infants and the elderly is not available. Doctors and hospitals usually expect immediate payment in cash for health services.
Sanitation in some restaurants, particularly outside of Ulaanbaatar, is inadequate. Stomach illnesses are frequent. You should drink bottled water and use other routine safety measures to protect your health. Severe air pollution is a serious problem during the winter months, and travelers with breathing or other health problems should plan accordingly. Infectious diseases, such as plague and meningococcal meningitis, are present at various times of the year. Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Mongolia. For further information, please consult the CDC's information on TB . Local hospitals generally do not contact the Embassy about ill or injured U.S. citizens in their care. If you need assistance from the Embassy, you should ask the doctor or hospital to contact the U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar. See our website for a list of medical facilities in Ulaanbaatar.
Safety and Security
There have been no significant acts of terrorism or extremism in Mongolia, and there are no regions of instability in the country. However, you are advised to avoid all protests, including political protests and street demonstrations that occur occasionally in Ulaanbaatar, since demonstrations may become violent at any time.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Mongolia, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Mongolia is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving in Ulaanbaatar can be extremely difficult due to poorly maintained streets, broken traffic lights, poor street lighting, a shortage of traffic signs, and undisciplined pedestrians. The knowledge and skills of the driving population have not kept pace with the dramatic growth in the number of automobiles on the streets in recent years. There are few paved roads outside of the capital and no street lights, and driving outside of Ulaanbaatar after dark is unsafe. For specific information concerning Mongolian drivers permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Embassy of Mongolia at 2833 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20007, telephone (202) 333-7117.
There are many metered taxis in Ulaanbaatar. There are a few car rental companies, but safety and maintenance standards are uncertain, so rental vehicles should be used with caution. Local tourist companies can provide cars with drivers. Public transportation within the capital is widespread, cheap, and generally reliable, but it is also extremely crowded, so pickpocketing can occur.