Traveling to Kazakhstan: Visas and Border Permits

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As a former Soviet republic that shares a border with China, Kazakhstan poses a few unique bureaucratic challenges for travelers. Find out what you need to do and what arrangements you need to make before you visit.

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Rocky, snow-covered peaks of the Trans-Ili Alatau mountain range in Kazakhstan. Photo © Getty Images / Oleksandr Matsibura

Getting in – visas and visa-free entry

Pre-COVID-19, visitors from a list of 57 countries (including North America, most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand) could enter Kazakhstan visa-free for touristic visits of up to 30 days (but no more than 90 within 180). However, for most countries, this rule has been suspended until at least May 2021.

In the meantime, you'll mostly likely need to obtain a visa from the embassy or consulate in your home country or current residence, and it'll cost you between $20 and $200 depending on your nationality.

Registering in Kazakhstan

Historically, all visitors staying in Kazakhstan for more than five calendar days were required to register their passports with the Office of Visas and Registration migration authority and carry a paper migration card until departing the country; while that appears to have changed in early 2020, very little on-the-ground info has been forthcoming, as COVID-19 led to the closure of the border shortly afterward. Make sure you do some research before your trip or upon arrival to confirm, once tourism reopens.

Responsibility for registration now falls upon your host in Kazakhstan (for most visitors this will be a hotel) so you won’t need to take any action. However, be prepared to argue your point when leaving the country if you encounter corrupt border officials, a rare but lingering possibility.

Border permits for Kazakhstan

One piece of Soviet-era bureaucracy that lingers on to inconvenience visitors is the border permit system – certain sections of the Chinese and Kyrgyz border areas require a special permit listing travelers' planned route, travel dates, and the name of a Kazakh citizen who will accompany them. Typically, a tour agency can arrange this with at least a few weeks' notice, which will be the simplest way for international visitors to access these areas where such permits are required:

  • Enilchek Glacier and sections of the Trans-Ili Alatau Mountains on the border with Kyrgyzstan
  • Portions of the Altai mountains and the Dzungarian Alatau mountains on the border with China
  • Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test site and nearby town of Kurchatov
  • Baikonur Cosmodrome (which also requires a valid Russian visa)

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