Is Turkmenistan Safe? 6 Travel Safety Tips to Consider

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Tightly-controlled Turkmenistan is considered the hermit nation of the 'Stans. But, is there anything travelers need to worry about? Here's how to stay safe and avoid trouble.

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Ashgabad city Photo © Getty Images/cartela

COVID-19 travel restrictions in Turkmenistan – updated 8 October, 2020: Commercial flights are suspended until 1 November, and this date may be extended further. Repatriation flights are permitted for nationals of Turkmenistan, accredited diplomats, permanently registered foreigners and some employees of international companies and organizations. Passengers must have a negative medical certificate for a COVID-19 test result issued no more than 72 hours before departure, and will be subject to testing on arrival and self-isolation for 14 days.

Wondering how travel insurance might be affected by COVID-19? Find answers to some of our common questions about COVID-19.

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.

Is there any crime 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.

How to avoid trouble in Turkmenistan

There are a few things travelers can do to avoid trouble. Here are a few travel safety tips to keep in mind:

  • While traveling around the country you should carry identification at all times, as police carry out checks
  • Be careful when taking photographs, as it is illegal to photograph sensitive sites, including military areas, transport hubs and government buildings. If you are traveling with a driver or tour guide, ask their advice before taking pictures
  • 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
  • Avoid any public displays of affection, and be aware that homosexuality is illegal
  • Avoid discussing sensitive topics or revealing sensitive information, and assume the government is monitoring any conversations you may have – this may seem a little over the top, but be careful
  • Topics to avoid include 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
  • Ask your accommodation or restaurant to book you a yellow licensed taxi to avoid any potential hassles from unlicensed drivers
  • While shopping at Tolkuchka, keep your wallet, camera and passport tucked away safely out of sight
  • Be on guard in the capital city's nightclubs. Check your change, and note that local vodka and beer aside, imported drinks are expensive
  • Avoid walking alone at night and avoid using public transport
  • In isolated areas, women traveling alone should be extra cautious as there is a higher risk to safety. Try to book with a local guide or travel in groups in remote areas
  • Foreign men seen in the company of alleged sex-workers have been subject to police harassment, detention, and deportation. Do not engage with prostitution
  • Mistreatment, bribery and extortion by authorities has been reported

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.

Azadi Mosque, Ashgabad, Turkmenistan
Azadi Mosque, Ashgabad, Turkmenistan. Photo credit: Getty Images/Michael Runkel

Restricted areas and no travel zones in Turkmenistan

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:

  • Border regions with Iran, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan
  • Some areas along the Caspian coast
  • The region of Dashoguz (including Dashoguz city).

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.

Vodka terrorism

Turkmenistan does not suffer the same terrorism threat that neighboring countries are fighting, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), al-Qa'ida, and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement. However, it does suffer from vodka terrorism.

Vodka is the drink of choice here, and low employment rates and poverty have led to a boom in alcoholism, leading to violent incidents.

Vodka terrorism is the name given to the phenomenon where a local Turkmen either wants to fight or rob you, after drinking too much vodka. This can happen during the day as well as at night, and is most likely to occur on trains. Steer clear of obviously drunk men.

Vaccinations for Turkmenistan

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.

Food and water safety in Turkmenistan

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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8 Comments

  • Nathan said

    Thanks for the info it us really helpful

    Reply

  • Simon Grome said

    Where can i get a Visa permit?

    Reply

  • Patricia Pagenel - ZeWanderingFrogs.com said

    Traveling to Turkmenistan was a one-of-a-kind experience. From camping by the Gates of Hell at the Darvaza gas crater to exploring the ruins of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Merv, the five days we spent on our transit visa gave us a glimpse into this little known Central Asia country. The border crossing was, however, something else!

    Reply

  • Ellie said

    Wow. The sentence on what women "should not" do. Some men *should* have the courtesy to realise that at best they can suggest, based on their personal, male, experience, and acknowledge that women will exercise their own judgement. We tend to be very experienced at sensing cultural tendencies and balancing risks.

    But that phrase "regardless to whether it's fair or not, you will be eyed with suspicion"! Is your neanderthal jury still out on whether it's fair? OK, World Nomads...

    Reply

  • Brian said

    Ellie, please shut up. It is obviously he has curated this read with the utmost neutrality. This isn't a place for your macho woman attitude. If everyone were "Very experienced at sensing cultural tendencies and balancing risks" he would apparantly be out of job, would he not?

    He's given people *advice* to heed to, it is up to you whether you want to listen or not. I almost feel as if you're purposely trolling so I'm jus going to leave it at that...Great article and read Phil Sylvester.

    Reply

  • Patricia Krause said

    I felt very sure the writer was offering an opinion on subject of women safety traveling or shopping alone. I am a secure spunky woman who has travelled to 17 countries and I would not ignore the warnings of the curators or state department. Thank you for this info.

    Reply

  • Leyla said

    I will tell you that Turkmenistan isn't a country you wanna go to. It's beautiful and all. But there's such a big chance that you wont be able to get out of the country. It is probably the worlds most isolated country. I'm from Turkmenistan, but I live in Sweden now. Last time I was there (I was supposed to be there for 3 weeks) they didn't let me through (in the airport) because they "thought that my passport was fake". They didn't belive that I was 12 years old. They kept me my mother and sister there for an extra week. We were lucky tho. They can keep you there for over 2 years if they want to. This is just one of the things. Eventhough this country has beautiful places, you don't wanna risk anything, trust me. I can say that Turkmenistan is worse than North korea, and that says a lot. Im sorry if something doesn't make sense or if there are any spelling mistakes. Have a wonderful life and stay safe people

    Reply

  • Tomd said

    I have a friend who is living and working there. He is in love with this place. Pictures he has posted are beautiful. I do know he loves it there. Not sure I would because I also have been to countries near by. I enjoyed seeing these countries beautiful places and cultural differences but know the pleasure I derive are not deeply rooted.

    Reply

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