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All travelers to Turkmenistan need to apply for a visa in advance. When you're ready to go, make sure you have all required documents with you to avoid any issues on arrival.
But before you leave, here are a few things you should know to stay safe while traveling in Turkmenistan.
Official statements claim there is no crime in Turkmenistan, yet no country is completely crime-free. Turkmenistan is a safe place to travel so long as you follow the law. Stepping out of line here could land you in trouble.
According to the 2020 Global Peace Index, Turkmenistan is ranked 116 out of 163 countries when it comes to safety and peace in the country. However, it is common knowledge that Turkmenistan is an extremely repressive country led by a dictatorship that has been widely criticized for its human rights record.
Given tourism in Turkmenistan is relatively new, travel scams aren't a common business for locals, compared to popular tourist destinations where con artists thrive on unsuspecting visitors. There are low incidents of violent crime, and pickpocketing, mugging and theft is rare. But, you should always be suspicious of any overly friendly strangers.
Where opportunistic crime does occur, this is often on overnight trains or in crowded locations such as markets or bazaars during the day. Theft could happen anywhere, including remote locations in Turkmenistan. Exercise common sense travel safety here: keep your belongings on you at all times, and don't be flashy with valuables to avoid being a target of theft.
Turkmenistan is a mostly cash economy, and the national currency is the Manat. Take caution to keep money safely hidden on you while traveling around, as you are likely to be carrying far higher amounts of cash. Keep your money card safe, and be discreet while withdrawing from ATMs.
There are a few things travelers can do to avoid trouble. Here are a few travel safety tips to keep in mind:
If you are the victim of crime or experience police harassment, you may need a translator as many police officers speak only Turkmen, making communication difficult for English or Russian-only speakers. Ask for assistance from your Embassy or accommodation provider.
Several zones in Turkmenistan have been declared 'no travel zones', or 'restricted areas' by the government, and these areas are closed to travelers who do not have permission from the State Migration Service (SMS).
Restricted areas include:
Check your government's travel advice before planning your trip, and double-check the areas you are visiting aren't advised as 'Do not travel'. Tour operators will also be able to help identify which areas are unsafe for foreign visitors.
Turkmenistan Airlines, the national airline, will not sell a ticket to any traveler who intends to travel to a restricted zone without verification or permission from the government. The wait will be long – the processing time for such permits is 10 working days.
Health services aren't of a high standard, so do your best to avoid any injuries that may land you in hospital. All travelers should see a doctor at least 8 weeks prior to departure to make sure vaccinations are up to date.
The CDC recommends measles-mumps-and-rubella (MMR), Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (Tdap), chickenpox, polio, and a yearly flu shot.
Tuberculosis is endemic, and HIV is present in Turkmenistan. Hepatitis A and B, rabies, and typhoid vaccines may also be recommended, and your doctor will be able to provide advice for your personal circumstances.
Some common medications, such as codeine, are illegal in Turkmenistan. While it's always a good idea to take any medications with you overseas, ask your doctor to write a letter confirming why you need them – otherwise you may be refused entry on arrival. Always declare your medications.
If you get unexpectedly sick or injured overseas, your medical bills could be expensive. Make sure you pack travel insurance, with 24/7 emergency assistance.
Try to eat only cooked food in Turkmenistan, and peel all fruits and vegetables. Typhoid is common, and can be present in salads and cold meat.
Do not drink tap water anywhere in Turkmenistan, as it may contain traces of metal. Only drink boiled, purified, filtered or bottled water and avoid ice cubes in drinks.
Summer temperatures in Turkmenistan are extreme, so stay hydrated, and cover up to prevent sunburn and heat exhaustion.
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James Montague shares how travelers can act responsibly when visiting countries ruled by authoritarian regimes.
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