Mongolia is not overly religious, conservative or liberal but the local people take pride in their customs and habits. Be aware, respectful and do your best to go with the flow in order to have the best possible time in this beautiful country.
Of all the major cities in Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar is most likely to provide a familiar experience. On the surface, it may seem similar; large buildings, lots of people, service-based economy, but there are several customs that you should keep in mind while spending time in and out of the capital.
In most cities around Mongolia and particularly in the capital Ulaanbaatar, ATM's and credit cards are becoming more widely accepted however Mongolia is very much a cash based economy. Make sure to stock up on sufficient togrogs before leaving the capital as you are very unlikely to find an ATM out on the Steppe!
Unlike other Asian countries, bargaining for a price is generally not a prominent part of life in Mongolia. However, there is no harm in doing some fair haggling while shopping at a local market. You don't want to be ripped off but you don't want to low ball the stall vendor either.
Expatriates have given this name to the way that people in Mongolia deal with public commerce. Basically, personal space is optional. Queuing generally doesn't happen and people will jostle to buy things, board a bus etc. While this may feel rude, in many cultures it's just part of how things are done. Neither being polite nor getting angry will change it.
Like in many other countries and particuarly in major cities you may encounter beggars, most notably in Ulaanbaatar. Poverty is obviously a problem but if you'd like to help out, contact your tour company who can advise you of which organisations or programs to donate to e.g local non-profit organizations in a particular neighborhood or support improvement projects around the city.
Possessing or using drugs is strictly illegal in Mongolia. If you are caught taking or carrying drugs, you may end up serving time in prison. Mongolian Police are quite strict on this, so make sure you aren't on the wrong side of the law while in the country.
Though it's not illegal, Mongolians are somewhat uncomfortable discussing homosexuality or seeing same-sex relationships. It's best to avoid public displays of affection and save them for the privacy of your hotel or when you get home.
Getting involved is not generally advised; while making a political statement in your country of birth is admirable, be sure to be discreet when traveling in other countries.
It's always polite to ask someone if they mind being photographed. Some travelers have reported locals getting offended when being photographed. Some temples and government buildings may not permit photography so make sure you find out first before adding to your holiday photos.
Most locals in Mongolia still practise Buddhism despite the previous communist government repressing or killing many of those who practised the religion and closing monasteries across the county.
The Kazakh nomads and some Mongols practise Islam.
If you plan to visit any temples, monasteries or places of religious significance, here are some social etiquette tips to avoid offending the locals:
Should you ever get the opportunity to be invited into a local's home, there are a few things you need to know to try and avoid offense with your hosts:
To make things easier and avoid potential offense with your hosts, it's a good idea to take a translator along with you who can help you get the hang of the local customs.
Obviously, Mongolia has different rules than most Western countries, and some of those may see different to what you know. The locals will generally be forgiving if you mess up any of the etiquette rules, as long as you respecfully give it a try and embrace what the country has to offer.
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Mongolia is still a developing country, and the standard of healthcare facilities varies. Here's how you can avoid some of the common health hazards while traveling.