Crime in Turkmenistan: 4 Things to Know Before You Go

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Tightly controlled Turkmenistan is considered the hermit nation of the 'Stans. Is there anything travelers need to worry about? We take a look at how you can stay safe.


Ashgabad city Photo © Getty Images/cartela

Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Turkmenistan – April 2020: all international commercial flights to and from Turkmenistan have been suspended, the seaport at Turkmenbashi is closed to passengers, and all road borders have been closed. In an unusual turn of events, the word "coronavirus" has been banned. Plus, wearing facemasks in public could also get you in trouble with authorities.

Is there any crime in Turkmenistan?

Official statements claim there is no crime in Turkmenistan, yet no country in this world is completely crime-free. Turkmenistan is a safe country to travel in, with very low incidents of violent crime and occurrences of pickpocketing, mugging and property theft are rare. Given the country's tourism is relatively new, scams aren't widespread or lucrative business for the local crims compared to more long-standing tourism in other countries.

If it does happen, opportunistic thieves tend to make their moves on overnight trains or in crowded locations such as markets. Bandits also operate in more remote locations in Turkmenistan.

Some travelers have reported being robbed while using unlicensed taxis. Ask your accommodation or restaurant to book you a yellow licensed taxi to avoid the hassle. Avoid public transport at night.

As you would anywhere, use your common sense. Keep your belongings secure, avoid flashing anything valuable and be aware of your surroundings. As the country is predominately a cash economy, take caution to secure your money while traveling around.

Turkmenistan has a local 11pm curfew which helps to keep street crime down at night.

Vodka terrorism

Currently, Turkmenistan does not suffer the scourge of terrorist groups that neighboring countries are working to combat, 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.'

This may sound funny, but it is a real threat for visitors. Vodka, like in the rest of the region, is the tipple of choice, and low employment rates and poverty have led to a boom in alcoholism, leading to violent brawls and incidents.

‘Vodka terrorism' is a name given to the phenomenon where a local Turkmen either wants to fight o 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.

No go areas

Due to ongoing conflicts and terrorism, the border between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan is considered by several advisories as a do not travel location.

Do not walk alone through the areas to the north-east and east of the capital Ashgabat, especially after sunset. These are the most recognized areas for drugs and violent crime.

Women should not walk alone at night in the capital – or anywhere in Turkmenistan- a local woman would not do so and, regardless of whether it's fair or not, you will be eyed with suspicion.

In the capital Ashgabat, you will, like everyone else, have to observe the curfew which means strictly no strolling about after 11pm.

During the day, it pays to watch your belongings at large bazaars, such as Tolkuchka (good for picking up a reasonably priced Turkmen rug), and, your wallet, passport and camera should be tucked away safely under your clothes on in a zipped bag.

Keeping your money safely hidden is important as the country has a cash economy (the national currency is the Manat) which means you are likely to be carrying far higher amounts than you might at home.

The other places to be on your guard in the capital are in nightclubs – check your change and note that local vodka and beer aside, imported drinks will be very expensive.

Prostitutes frequent the infamous Florida Disco opposite The Grand Turkmen Hotel on Gorogly Street, so steer clear of there. Foreign men seen in the company of alleged prostitutes – have been subject to police harassment, detention, and deportation.

If you are the victim of crime in Turkmenistan, or if you are suffering from police harassment, to add to your woes you'll need to find a translator (ask for assistance from your Embassy, friend or hotelier) as police officers speak only Turkmen, making communication difficult for English or Russian-only speakers. Bribery by the police is common and is a fact of life for many Turkmens.

No travel zones

Several zones in Turkmenistan have been declared ‘no travel zones, or restricted areas' by the Government – these are mainly the border areas next to Iran, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan, the region of Dashoguz (including Dashoguz city), and areas of the Caspian coast.

Special permission from the Government of Turkmenistan may be possible if you're really determined to visit, but also note that Turkmenistan Airlines, the national airline, will not sell a ticket to any traveler who intends to travel to a restricted zone without verification of permission from the government. The wait will be long – the processing time for such permits is 10 working days.

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  • Nathan said

    Thanks for the info it us really helpful


  • Simon Grome said

    Where can i get a Visa permit?


  • Patricia Pagenel - 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!


  • 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...


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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


  • 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.


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