Local Laws in Turkmenistan - How to Avoid Trouble

Turkmenistan has a noticeable police and military presence but don't let that put you off seeing the country. Here are some tips to stay within the local law.

Photo © GettyImages/Michael Runkel robert harding

Visas

All travelers to Turkmenistan will need a Letter of Invitation (LOI) before applying for a visa.
If you plan to travel to Turkmenistan, you will need to book your trip as a tour via an agent in order to get a tourist visa. You can't get a tourist visa on your own. The upside to booking a tour is that you are free to move about in the cities on your own; a tour escort is not required unlike the hermit kingdom in the east, North Korea. Tour prices can vary so get a few quotes before deciding to avoid being ripped off.

Topics to Avoid

Avoid discussing politics, human rights, religion or criticising the President, the country or its people; be wary if strangers spark up these conversations at random with you.

One thing to be aware of as a visitor is that unless married, two individuals of the opposite sex are not allowed to share, or inhabit, a hotel room. If the hotel is suspicious that this is the case, hotel security will actively investigate, and then the police may arrive to solicit bribes.

Drugs

Drugs are strictly illegal in Turkmenistan, whether you are in possession or using them. The consequence of being caught is spending time in a local jail where conditions are less than ideal.

Driving with a blood alcohol limit above zero is also illegal.

LGBTQ Issues

Turkmenistan is still very much a conservative country, especially when it comes to LGBTQ issues. Avoid public displays of affection (and that goes for you straight travelers too).

Male homosexual activity is illegal, punishable by a jail sentence of up to two years. Turkmenistan has not legalised same sex marriage.

Local Police

Turkmenistan has a noticeable police and military presence particularly in the urban centers and the capital Ashgabat.

Always carry identification with you while traveling around Turkmenistan. 

Occasionally, the local police may stop and search someone. If you are searched, remain calm and importantly do not let the police put their hands in your pockets, empty your pockets yourself and present their contents. While most police are professional, some aren't so law abiding and may plant drugs on you if they search your pockets.

If you are asked to pay a fine for any reason – if at all possible do it at a bank, and get a receipt.

Bugging in hotel rooms is common - telephones, fax machines and other equipment can be scanned. On rare occasions, police can search personal belongings in hotel rooms.

Photography

As in many countries across the world, taking photos of government, military and airport buildings is prohibited. Even the presidential palace is off limits. Locals can also be sensitive about having their photo taken so always ask for permission beforehand.

Drones

Currently, Turkmenistan appears to have no drone regulations in place however it's not a case of doing what you like and flying it wherever you like. Stick to the US Federal Aviation Administration's rules for flying a drone and like photography, avoid flying it near government, military and airport buildings.

Smoking

Smoking is banned in all public spaces – however there are designated spots for smokers to light up.

Gifting tobacco or tobacco related products is forbidden.


Your tour company will register you with the State Service for the Registration of Foreign Citizens (OVIR) – make sure they have done this within three working days and to ease the process, bring plenty of passport photographs with you, and photocopies of your passport.

You will need a letter of invitation to get a tourist visa (LOI) from a tour company, there's no way around this. Plan ahead, talk to your travel agent and leave 6 weeks to get the visa.

Your postcards – if you manage to find any – will be scrutinised by government agents, be careful what you write.

Government controls all internet in the country. Internet cafes are petty much non existent.

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