Kazakhstan Travel → Getting Around & Travel Tips

Find out how to get around Kazakhstan, what paperwork you need to fill out, and how to pay for food and souveniers!

Photo © iStock/Dimos_istock

Kazakhstan is interestingly situated in Central Asia. Its border with China means travelers may have to jump through extra hoops to secure travel documentation, especially if entering Kazakhstan multiple times.

Every single traveler entering the country, even if it's just to pass through, needs a visa before arrival. If you're on a round-the-world trip and possibly making multiple entries, you must ensure your visa allows for that sort of activity. As in other countries, visas will typically be granted for three months.

Fill Out the Proper Paperwork

Everyone who enters Kazakhstan will get a white registration card that they must keep with them during their trip. It will get stamped twice -- if it's not, you must get the second stamp from the Migration Police.

All registrations are valid for three months, regardless of where they are issued. Some hotels will register your visa for you.

If staying with locals or friends, you will have to complete this process on your own at the Office of Visas and Registration. It can be a hassle, as the office often has long lines.

One traveler reported having success with her registration by going through a local travel agency. Whatever you decide, register your visa as soon as possible to avoid problems.

Anyone traveling to certain parts of the country that border China or are near military outfits will need additional approval; officials might ask to see documentation in these areas.

In particular, travelers need these extra permissions when going near the towns Kulzhat and Kargos, which border China, the Kulzhabashy railway station in Zhambyl Oblast, the Kazakly, Baykonur and Karmakshy districts in Kyzylorda Oblast, areas around Gvardeyskiy village, Rossavel village, Bokeyorda and Zhangaly districts in Western Kazakhstan Oblast and Priozersk and Gulshad village in Karagunda Oblast.

What to do...?

Once you're legally allowed to roam Kazakhstan, you might find tourist facilities to be quite lacking.

A lot remains underdeveloped, and the standards of goods might be lower than you're used to, if you're from a Westernized country. Traveling within and around the country can be harrowing thanks to snow and problems with infrastructure.

Transportation Trouble

If you decide to tackle driving while in Kazakhstan, expect poor road conditions and erratic driving habits. Poor signage, faint lane markings and large numbers of potholes account for the treachery.

(It's gonna be a bumpy ride!)

Winter weather makes driving incredibly dangerous, especially at night -- this is compounded by the fact that many roads also lack lighting. Particularly hazardous is the road between Almaty and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where driving at night should be avoided at all costs.

It's also common to see animals like camels wander into the road, especially in the western part of the country. Petrol stations are scarce in rural areas and may not have gas available.

Road fatalities are high in Kazakhstan: there were 12,008 road accidents resulting in 2,797 deaths in 2010. To give this scope, Western Europe sees about half this number of deaths when population per capita is taken into account.

Angry drivers are a problem, particularly near Almaty, as are drunk drivers and speeding drivers. It's not wise to argue with a driver from Kazakhstan. If you get into an accident, wait at the scene and keep your mouth shut.

Be wary of traffic police who randomly stop cars and try to steal your money on both highways and local roads.

It's possible to get around Kazakhstan in ways other than driving, but train travel is best for young travelers looking to party. The trip often turns into the "vodka train", and passengers will be loud and boozy. Drunk men may harass solo female travelers.

Buses are often crowded and the drivers don't drive the safest.

Cash Only

Even though it might seem unsafe to you, carry cash around while traveling the country, as credit cards and travelers checks are not as commonly accepted here as in other countries. Also double-check bills at restaurants and retailers, as owners may jack up the check if you're foreign.

2 Comments

  • Nick said

    It seems to me that Phil Sylvester is either the most pessimistic person on the planet or he REALLY hates Khazakstan!
    I have just read three of his articles and this honestly seems like the worst place on earth, meanwhile I have only had positive reports from other people.
    I am moving there at the end of the year and will be sure to post a slightly more objective review of my experience.

  • Malika said

    As a proud Kazakh citizen, I'm a little disappointed with this review. I know there are some issues with transportation and roads, due to a huge distance between main cities. But if you need to get from one city to another you can always use trains or airplanes (most towns have an airport and definitely train stations).
    People generally all are nice and genuine, even if they don't speak English (really common) they'll try to help. I'm from Astana and I have lived abroad for quite little time so I can say that every country has its issues. This review was written in 2015 ever since many things have changed. So Phil Sylvester, if you decide to give Kazakhstan a second chance you definitely won't regret. Welcome anytime))) Thank you!

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