What makes Uzbekistan a unique country to travel to?
Since becoming an independent republic in 1991, Uzbekistan has been undergoing significant economic and social change. Much of the country, particularly areas outside of Tashkent and the major tourist destinations of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, is remote and difficult to access. Tourist facilities in these areas are typically below international standards, and many goods and services remain difficult to find on a regular basis.
Uzbekistan’s rate of violent crime, including against foreigners, has increased in recent years. In urban areas, travelers are urged to take the same precautions against crime that they would take in a large U.S. city. If you are traveling at night, try to stay in well-lighted areas, please travel in groups, maintain a low profile, and do not display large amounts of cash. Beware of pickpockets in public places, such as tourist destinations and local markets.
Although using private cars as taxicabs is a common practice in Uzbekistan, U.S. citizens, especially women, should not consider this a safe practice. U.S. citizens are encouraged to use clearly marked taxicabs, such as those at hotels and should avoid riding in taxis alone.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are they illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in Uzbekistan, you are subject to its laws. 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 disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Uzbekistan, 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. Persons violating Uzbekistan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Uzbekistan 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 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 in Uzbekistan.
Taking photographs of military or security installations or other locations of strategic significance (ministries, border and other checkpoints, bridges, tunnels, reservoirs, mountain passes, subway system, etc.) is prohibited in Uzbekistan. Uzbek authorities enforce these regulations quite strictly. Obey all signs restricting photography and be mindful that the absence of such a sign may not mean that you can take a picture.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical care in Uzbekistan is below Western standards, with severe shortages of basic medical supplies, including disposable needles, anesthetics, and antibiotics. A large percentage of medication sold in local pharmacies is known to be counterfeit. Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems may be at particular risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most resident U.S. citizens travel to North America or Western Europe for their medical needs. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy maintains a Medical Contacts List on the Embassy website. Travelers are advised to drink only boiled water, peel all fruits and vegetables, and avoid undercooked meat. Due to inadequate sanitation conditions, travelers should avoid eating unpasteurized dairy products and most food sold in the streets.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Uzbekistan.
Safety and Security
The Department of State advises U.S. citizens that the potential for a terrorist attack or localized civil disturbance still exists in Uzbekistan. Supporters of terrorist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, al-Qaida, the Islamic Jihad Union, and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement are active in the Central Asian region. Members of these groups have expressed anti-U.S. sentiments and have attacked U.S. government interests in the past. They may attempt to target U.S. government or private U.S. citizen interests in Uzbekistan. In the past, these groups have conducted kidnappings, assassinations, and suicide bombings.
Uzbek authorities maintain a high level of alert and aggressive security measures to thwart terrorist attacks. High security at official facilities may lead terrorists and their sympathizers to seek softer targets. These may include facilities where U.S. citizens and other foreigners congregate or visit, such as residential areas, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, hotels, outdoor recreation events, and resorts. The U.S. Embassy in Tashkent continues to employ heightened security precautions. U.S. citizens should report any unusual activity to local authorities and then inform the Embassy.
Depending upon security conditions, travelers may experience restricted personal movement, including the closing of roads to traffic in addition to frequent document, vehicle, and personal identification checks. The Uzbek government has intermittently restricted travel to certain parts of the country in response to security concerns.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Uzbekistan has a developed but inconsistently maintained traffic infrastructure. Although main roads in central Tashkent are relatively well maintained, many secondary roads inside and outside Tashkent, and particularly those in the Tien Shan Mountains, are in poor condition and may be passable only by four-wheel-drive vehicles. Driving at night can be quite dangerous because only the main roads in Tashkent and a few other major cities have streetlights; rural roads and highways generally are not lit. Visitors are strongly urged to avoid driving at night outside Tashkent. The gasoline supply can be sporadic; therefore, travelers should expect occasional difficulty finding gasoline, particularly outside Tashkent.
Livestock, as well as farm equipment and carts drawn by animals that lack lights or reflectors, are found on both urban and rural roads at any hour. Local drivers are not familiar with safe driving techniques. Pedestrians in cities and rural areas cross streets unexpectedly and often without looking for oncoming traffic. Uzbekistan has a large road police force, which frequently stops drivers for minor infractions or simple document checks. There have been reports of harassment of foreign drivers by the road police, with reported minor police corruption in the form of solicitation of bribes.
Uzbekistan has a “zero tolerance” policy for driving under the influence of alcohol.