Is Azerbaijan Safe? 9 Essential Travel Safety Tips

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Just how safe is Azerbaijan? Find out about crime, local laws, customs, tourist scams, pickpockets and how to keep yourself safe while traveling.


Carpet shop in The Old Town of Baku Photo © Getty Images/Jane Sweeney

Crime in Azerbaijan

Crime exists on a few levels in Azerbaijan. Part of it stems from political instability and violence related to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. In this area, sniper shootings, insurgent attacks and landmines are potential dangers. But if you stay away from this area, travelers won't have any issues similar to these elsewhere in the country.

Baku, the capital, has some criminal activity, but the petty crime has given way to more violent attacks, and some involve travelers. Traveling men are targeted more often than women, and often alcohol is a contributing factor. These attacks are more likely to happen at night in a "jumping" type of an approach involving a group of men, and statistically occur more during the winter months. When visiting tourist areas in Baku, like Fountain Square and the Maiden's Tower, be extra careful and keep an eye out for crafty criminals.

Watch out for the bar scam

Men have also reported being attacked at expat and tourist bars, where a woman approaches them and asks for a drink. Similar to a scam that circulates in some East Asian countries, the woman will leave the man with a very high bar tab. If he doesn't pay, a group of men demand that he pays up by using the threat of physical force. Other scams can involve children or elderly people coming approaching you and asking for money. There are also groups of gypsies that hang out in various areas, who may beg for money or pickpocket you.

How to avoid common rip-offs

Travelers have also reported that street vendors and cab drivers will try to cheat you if you're not careful. Travelers recommend bargaining with store clerks and market merchants, and settling on a taxi rate before the ride begins. ATM fraud can happen here, but it's rarer than elsewhere in the world. Still, check bank statements during your trip just to be safe.

Fake police in Azerbaijan

Thieves might pretend to be police officers and target tourists and foreign residents for money. Fake tickets can also be issued on roadways by people who may or may not be actual police officers. Police are allowed to check your documents, so make sure you have your actual passport and an Ovir registration, normally handled by your hotel, if intending to stay in the country for more than three days.

Those who stay in a rented apartment may hear a few knocks at the door. This could be the police checking up on you – this can occur if you're overheard talking about Armenia, a topic of major contention – but it could be a thief or other criminal. Never open the door for a stranger, and instead just let them knock. Authorities are legally permitted to check your apart

How to travel safely 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 in Azerbaijan

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.

ment, but only in daylight hours, so it is unlikely they will knock on your door at night.

Health care facilities in Azerbaijan

The risk of falling ill in Azerbaijan isn't high, but you will need to be a little more careful than you are back home. Medical facilities aren't up to scratch throughout the country, but in the capital city, Baku, there are some medical centers that are clean and reliable.

Outside Baku, unfortunately, there are many unsafe and poorly-maintained facilities. Sometimes, none exist at all due to the extreme remoteness of the area, where winter weather conditions and poor roadways mean locals have to travel long distances or simply go without health care.

First-time travelers to this country should be aware that there are many rural villages here, and there are issues with limited electricity, infrastructure and other elements that many travelers might not expect. Vaccinations and disposable needles are not always available in all medical facilities. Gas, water and electricity are often hard to come by in more rural medical facilities as well.

There may be staff shortages throughout the healthcare system in Azerbaijan. You're advised to bring your own prescription medicines on your trip, as well as documentation that proves it belongs to you. Chances are specific medications might not be available in local chemists throughout Azerbaijan.

Common travel illnesses in Azerbaijan

There are a few illnesses travelers need to be aware of – including malaria in rural areas. Between the months of May and October, there is a high risk of contracting the mosquito-borne disease. Tick-borne encephalitis can occur in summer months as well. Other sicknesses include tuberculosis and the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, or bird flu.

You can lessen your chances of contracting the flu by avoiding farms and only eating fully-cooked chicken and eggs.

It's possible to come across contaminated local alcohol in bars, restaurants and even in stores. Drink bottled water (or use purification tablets or boil water before use), only eat from busy street food stalls and make sure all fruit, vegetables and meat is thoroughly cleaned and cooked before eating.

There are also a few environmental concerns to be aware of in Azerbaijan. During the Soviet period, DDT (originally developed as an insecticide, but had a horrific impact on the environment) was used on soil in the area, and air and water pollution is high thanks to fuel and petrochemical companies.

Before you buy a travel insurance policy, check your government travel warnings and health advice – there may be no travel insurance cover for locations with a government travel ban or health advice against travel.

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1 Comment

  • Ann Hamrick said

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    Thanks for your help,


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