Transport, Local Laws and Customs in Azerbaijan

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Get the inside scoop on crazy drivers, local laws, customs and why you need to keep your passport and visa on you at all times.

Besh Barmag Mountain, Azerbaijan Photo © Photo by Orkhan Farmanli on Unsplash

Getting Around Azerbaijan

Travelers tell tales of chaos and mayhem while getting around Azerbaijan. Try to stay calm and you might get by just fine. Be aware of poor road conditions and crazy drivers, and be particularly careful when crossing the streets – pedestrians are ignored. Some travelers say walking around Baku, the capital, isn't too difficult.

Azerbaijan's road have large open manholes, lots of trash, potholes and even sinkholes (you'd have to be pretty lucky to fall into a sinkhole). Baku is most notorious for these issues, and they can be a danger to drivers and pedestrians.

Travelers report crumbling sidewalks, pole stubs and missing covers for manholes. It's dangerous during the day, so be extra careful at night. There's a trend in Baku with basement entrances along the sidewalk. If you don't watch where you're going, you could easily fall in.

Driving is another story altogether, with drivers ignoring traffic rules and signals, lane divisions and other motorists and pedestrians. Azerbaijan natives like to speed, and many serious accidents occur as a result. Urban roadways are bad, so rural streets are even more dangerous.

Drivers take even more leeway to speed and ignore basic traffic rules, and the roads themselves are in poor state, with no lights, lane divisions or traffic signs. Many roads are unpaved. The one good bit of driving news is that Azerbaijan maintains a zero-tolerance stance on drunk driving. That doesn't mean drivers don't do it, but at least the amount of repeat offenders may be decreased due to the strict law.

Passports and Visas

However you choose to travel around Azerbaijan, make sure to keep your passport and visa on you, as you will be subject to random checks by police. These can occur in popular tourist locales. You can be fined or apprehended for not having these documents on you.

Local Laws and Customs

When it comes to additional local laws and customs, there are a few standard regulations as well as a few more particular laws that may surprise some visitors. Drugs are not tolerated and penalties are serious.

Taking photographs of certain buildings, particularly those belonging to the military, may be viewed as suspicious by authorities and lead to questioning. If you want to buy stuff like cultural artefacts, artwork, caviar, religious items and carpets, on your trip, you require a receipt and certificate to take them out of the country.

While the majority of Azerbaijan is Muslim, the religion does not dominate secular society. It is recommended, however, that you show general respect to traditions. For instance, it is not acceptable for men to wear shorts. Women, however, generally dress in a Western manner.

The holy month of Ramadan is a particular time when visitors should practice religious awareness. Other behaviours unappreciated in the country are homosexual gestures or acts or any general displays of affection by people of any orientation. Smiling and trying to engage people are not well-received, as Azerbaijanis are generally more reserved.

Talking about politics can also get you in trouble throughout the country. If you make disparaging remarks about the current President Ilham Aliyev or his father, the late President Haydar Aliyev, you can be jailed or deported. This is evidenced by two men who were put in prison for four years in late 2009 for showing President Ilham Aliyev as a donkey in a video. Other off-limit topics include Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. If you are of Armenian descent, you may have trouble entering the country.

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