Crime in Turkmenistan: 4 Things to Know Before You Go

Tightly controlled Turkmenistan is considered to be 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

Is There Any Crime?

Official statements claim there is no crime in Turkmenistan, yet no country in this world is completely crime free. However Turkmenistan is a safe country to travel in, with very low incidents of violent crime and occurances 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 neighbouring 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 is, like the rest of the region, the tipple of choice and low employment rates and poverty have led to a boom in alcoholism with this violent brawls and incidents.

‘Vodka terrorism' is a name given to the phenomenon where a local Turkmen either wants a fight, or to rob you, after drinking too much vodka. This can happen in day light hours not just 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 recognised 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 to whether it's fair or not, you will be eyed with suspicion.

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

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

To keep your money safely hidden is of extra importance in Turkmenistan which being a cash economy (the national currency is the Manat, which is convertible) 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 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 traveller 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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3 Comments

  • Nathan said

    Thanks for the info it us really helpful

  • Simon Grome said

    Where can i get a Visa permit?

  • 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!

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