When it comes to personal safety in the central Asian country of Kazakhstan, you'll find there are some problems. Transportation, scams, thieves, and corrupt police are just some of the issues you might fact. Be prepared for these things, and you may escape them. If they end up happening to you anyway, at least you were warned!
Most urban areas fairly pleasant -- during the day. Travelers have reported being violently robbed at night, and the general advice is to never go out alone once the sun sets.
Even in a group, it's smart to avoid arguments with locals. Leave the area if a fight does break out among individuals. An extremist element does exist in and around Kazakhstan, and terrorists, including suicide bombers, have targeted civilians in restaurants and at night clubs.
Travelers have also reported unfriendly attitudes by locals toward foreigners in parts of western Kazakhstan that led to beatings and street fights.
Areas to stay away from at night include all parts of Almaty below Tashkentskaya Street -- travelers have reported muggings and being drugged in and around bars.
Smaller districts within this city and areas like Shanyrak with dodgy-looking homes are also to be avoided. Foreign travelers and residents have been attacked and mugged in Atyrau and Aktau.
Smaller towns like Uralsk, Taraz, Semey, Shymkent, Taldykorgan and Ust-Kamenogorsk are to be avoided after dark due to the risk of mugging. Shar, Temirtau and Stepnogorsk also turn violent at night.
Thieves will target Western hotels and tourist areas, so you aren't completely secure in the vicinity of your accommodation either; criminals often wait in unlit stairwells to carry out their assaults. Open-air markets are also hot targets for thieves.
As in other urban areas, thieves rove on trains, and some unlicensed taxis may take advantage of solo travelers.
Criminals also operate at airports by finding out passengers' names through the often non-private plane lists and gaining their trust by standing with a sign with the passengers' names when they arrive. They will then offer to take you to your hotel, but instead take you to a remote area and rob you. Provincial airports are more known for this type of activity.
Certain scams are common in Kazakhstan, such as the "lost wallet ploy", where a thief claims to find a wallet and then tries to split the money with you. His partner saunters up and says it's his wallet and forces you to give him money.
The twist on this scam is the person who comes looking for a lost wallet and demands you show your purse or pocket to prove you haven't stolen it. The thief then grabs all your belongings and darts away.
Still other Kazakhs might pretend to be the law by posing as cops and then demanding money for something. You can tell who's a legitimate police officer by his approach -- the real ones will show their badges or produce them upon request.
Troublingly, the very people you would seek to help you after such a crime are often tied up in corrupt behavior as well.
Cops are very easily bribed in Kazakhstan, partly due to low salaries, and will rob visitors by pretending to arrest them for being publicly drunk in places like Atyrau and Tengiz, where such behavior is illegal.
Other public officials might also play games with travelers. In the Almaty airport, for example, visitors have reported customs officials demanding they pay up to $500 for some vague violation.
Others might be forced to pay a fine just for leaving the country. You can reduce the likelihood of having to pay legitimate fines on things like video cameras and mobile telephones by declaring them when you arrive in the country.
Even the uncorrupt officials might do some questionable things to travelers. It's not uncommon for security personnel to put foreign visitors under surveillance in their hotel rooms. This extends from tapping telephones to actually going through your belongings.
Police may also conduct random checks on the street that require you to show your passport; they don't need probable cause to search. You also may be questioned or apprehended if you photograph anything thought to be a matter of national security.
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