Mongolia travel guide
Mongolia is far-flung and hardly well trodden, but don’t let that put you off. There is so much to see and do in this sizeable Central Asian country, from the stunning scenery and wildlife of mountains and deserts to the emerging luxury hotels and restaurants of capital Ulaanbaatar.
In the ancient land of Mongolia, history buffs and culture vultures will find plenty to keep them entertained. Outside the main cities many Mongolians continue to hold on to the traditional life of the malchin, or herdsmen. Transporting their goods by camel and residing in portable felt and canvas tents, the nomadic lifestyle of modern-day Mongolia would still be recognisable to Ghengis Khan, the most famous Mongol of them all.
Mongolia’s vast areas of wilderness, from the sprawling Gobi desert to the snow-peaked mountains of the Bayan-Ölgi, offer plenty of scope for adventurous outdoor enthusiasts. Fishing, jeep tours, horse and camel riding, mountain biking and birdwatching are but a few of the activities on offer. The most intrepid visitors will find numerous temples and ruins to explore.
While infrastructure remains underdeveloped in vast swathes of rural Mongolia, elsewhere the country is racing headlong into the 21st century. The capital Ulaanbaatar is transforming at a pace that any returning visitors will find dizzying. In a relatively short space of time, the city has turned into an ultra-modern metropolis with international restaurants, five-star hotels, shopping malls and glass tower blocks – a sure sign of Mongolia’s status as an up-and-coming Asian travel hotspot.
While there’s plenty of nightlife and excitement in Ulaanbaatar, don’t visit Mongolia without exploring the wild, largely unspoilt landscapes and traditional lifestyle of its inhabitants. Leaving the capital doesn’t mean being stranded from civilisation. Internet is now available even in small villages and it’s not uncommon to see nomads toting mobile phones. It’s perhaps this contrast that makes Mongolia such a fascinating destination to visit today. Get planning your trip now before the tourist hordes inevitably catch on.
1,564,116 sq km (603,909 sq miles).
3,006,444 (UN estimate 2016).
1.9 per sq km.
President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj since 2009.
Prime Minister Chimed Saikhanbileg since 2014.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are standard.
Last updated: 10 October 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Mongolia takes border security very seriously and foreign nationals aren’t routinely permitted access to border areas. The authorities can regard zones of up to 100km inside the border as a border area. If you wish to travel in these areas, you must get permission from the State Frontier Guard Authority. Only a few specified land border crossings are open to foreigners.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Mongolia, attacks can’t be ruled out.
Avoid going out on foot alone at night. Foreigners stand out and can be targeted for attack because of their comparative wealth. See Crime.
Around 6,000 British nationals visit Mongolia annually. Most visits are trouble-free.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Although there is no recent history of terrorism in Mongolia, attacks can’t be ruled out. You should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks. These could be in public areas including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Safety and security
Most crime in Mongolia is non-violent, but violent incidents do occur. There have been isolated incidents of rape and murder of foreign nationals. Petty crime is common, particularly in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. Watch out for pickpockets especially in markets or other crowded public places. Be wary of large groups of people, including children and teenagers, who sometimes harass pedestrians for money when entering and leaving vehicles, pubs and restaurants. Keep passports, money and other valuables in a safe place and don’t display signs of wealth – jewellery etc.
The incidence of violent crime in Ulaanbaatar appears to be on the rise. There has been an increase in reports of foreigners being robbed and assaulted, especially when walking at night, and while using public transport and unlicensed taxis.
The number of violent incidents tends to increase during festive months – New Year, Tsagaan Sar (December – February) and Naadam (July). Take extra safety precautions during these months.
Report any theft to the nearest district police station. The police can provide a letter for insurance purposes. In an emergency call the police on 102 or +976 102 from an international mobile phone. There should be someone available on this number who can speak to you in English.
Travelling across the Mongolian countryside can be difficult and potentially dangerous if you are not familiar with the terrain. Mongolia does not have an extensive road network. You may need to follow tracks in the dust, mud or sand and there will not necessarily be other traffic to follow if these give out. Global Positioning Systems do not always function reliably and there are areas of the country without mobile phone coverage. We recommend that you take back-up communications like a satellite phone with you, plenty of water and provisions. Make a contingency plan and make sure someone knows your route and times of arrival and departure.
Mongolia experiences extremes of weather, from +35C in summer to -40C in winter. Even in summer, evenings can be cold because of the altitude and weather conditions can change without warning. There are very long distances between settlements. Take appropriate provisions, including warm clothing, blankets, food and water if you are travelling outside urban areas.
Driving standards have not kept pace with the dramatic growth in the number of vehicles and are highly variable. Vehicle maintenance can be poor, even for rental vehicles.
Wear seat belts where possible and avoid driving at night. If possible, use an experienced, professional driver familiar with the driving conditions. Driving in Ulaanbaatar is hazardous as roads are heavily congested. There is minimal signposting and a high number of accidents.
Most UK phone networks work in cities but the network isn’t widely available in remote areas. Wifi is available in many restaurants and bars and you can buy local SIM cards and mobile phones at a reasonable price.
Evidence suggests that domestic services (including helicopter services) in Mongolia do not always comply with international safety standards. The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
In 2010 the International Civil Aviation Organisation carried out an audit, evaluating Mongolia’s safety oversight capabilities.
A list of incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety Network.
Flights can be subject to disruption due to weather conditions and maintenance issues. Bear this in mind when making your travel plans.
Trans-Mongolian express trains (Beijing-Moscow via Ulaanbaatar) are known to be used for smuggling. Search your compartment and secure the cabin door before departure.
In recent years there have been occasional instances of civil and political unrest resulting in demonstrations and in some cases violence. You should avoid large gatherings and demonstrations.
Local laws and customs
Possession and use of drugs is illegal. If found guilty you could face a very long prison sentence in an institution with very basic facilities.
Never photograph the police, police escorts, or military. This is considered a criminal offence.
Though many Mongolians are familiar with foreign visitors, be aware of local customs, especially if visiting remote areas or calling on a Mongolian family. Stepping on a door threshold or wearing short sleeves can cause offence.
Although not illegal, homosexuality is not generally accepted socially. Some Mongolian men don’t like seeing Mongolian women in relationships with foreign men. Be discreet to avoid causing offence.
Show appropriate respect in Buddhist monasteries. Ask permission before taking photographs, and don’t touch any sacred images or objects.
If you don’t have a Mongolian registration card you must carry your passport at all times – a photocopy isn’t sufficient. Failure to carry your passport may lead to a fine. Keep a copy of the bio data page and the page with your Mongolian border immigration stamp separately in a safe place.
It’s illegal to buy, sell, kill or capture any protected wild animal or trade its parts without a license. Mongolia is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). If you’re caught purchasing or trafficking illegal goods you’ll be prosecuted and could receive a prison sentence and fine.
If you become involved in a commercial dispute or a criminal investigation, you may be prevented from leaving Mongolia until the issue is resolved. This is called a travel ban. If you’re subject to a travel ban, you should inform the British Embassy.
If you bring a car into Mongolia you may have to pay a small fee. If you don’t leave with your car you may also have to pay an import tax either on departure or at a later date when you’ve returned to the UK.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
You’ll need a visa to visit Mongolia. A Mongolian visit visa is usually valid for a stay of up to 30 days within six months from the date of issue. You can extend your visa up to 30 days once within six months. Full details can be found at Immigration of Mongolia.
If you arrive in Mongolia with the wrong visa, the Mongolian Immigration Agency may ask you to pay for the correct visa or deny you entry. Contact the nearest Mongolian Embassy to confirm visa requirements for your visit.
The Mongolian Border Agency will collect biometric data (scanned fingerprints) on your arrival.
It can be difficult to get visas for China and Russia in Mongolia. If you’re planning to travel to China or Russia from Mongolia, seek advice from the Chinese and Russian Embassies in London for the latest visa requirements before you travel to Mongolia.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Mongolia.
Travelling with children
Adults accompanying children other than their own should have a notarised letter from the legal guardians of the child confirming the arrangement. For further information contact the Embassy of Mongolia in London.
If you intend to remain in Mongolia for more than 30 days or if you do not have an entry/exit visa, you must register your stay with the Mongolian Immigration Agency in Ulaanbaatar within a week of arriving. Once registered you will be issued with a residence permit. The permit will include your date of birth, passport number, address, photograph and fingerprints. You should carry it with you at all times when you are in Mongolia.
Visitors who have been in Mongolia for more than 90 days must obtain an exit visa to leave the country. The exit visa is obtained from the Mongolian Immigration Agency office and usually takes 10 days to process. Visitors to Mongolia for less than 90 days do not need an exit permit. However, requests to exit Mongolia can be denied for reasons such as civil disputes, pending criminal investigations or immigration violations.
There are only 6 border points open to British passport holders. They are at Chinggis Khaan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar, the road/train crossing to China at Zamin Uud, the road crossing to Russia at Tsagaannuur in the far west, the train crossing to Russia at Sukhbaatar and the road crossings to Russia at Altanbulag and Ereen-Tsav in the north east. You may not cross into China or Russia at any of the other border points as they are either seasonal or are open only to Mongolians, Chinese or Russians.
If you’re planning to bring a vehicle into Mongolia at any of the border crossings you should inform the tax authorities and border troops in advance.
If you’re travelling by train across the China/Mongolia border expect a delay of a few hours as the railways use different gauges.
You may encounter problems when entering Mongolia by train from Russia, particularly with Russian border or customs officials who scrutinise documentation (in particular customs declarations) very carefully. If you are crossing overland to or from Russia pay scrupulous attention when completing all the necessary paperwork.
Entering Mongolia by car
If you’re entering Mongolia by car you should familiarise yourself with Mongolian Customs law.
If you’re entering Mongolia in a private vehicle you should complete the customs declaration form and make sure you have all valid vehicle documents, including driving licence, ownership records and insurance. You can complete the customs declaration forms on entry at the border, as well as at the Ulaanbaatar City Customs Office situated next to the train station in Ulaanbaatar.
If you enter Mongolia in a private vehicle you must leave in the same vehicle, or otherwise pay customs tax. The amount of tax depends on the size of the engine and the value of your vehicle. You can find more details on Mongolian Customs’ webpage.
If your vehicle breaks down in Mongolia, you won’t be able to leave it there without paying customs tax. If your vehicle breaks down and can’t be fixed you must either pay for it to be transported out of Mongolia, or sell it on to a local mechanic, but you’ll still need to pay customs tax. You mustn’t under any circumstance leave your vehicle unattended or abandon it.
If you’re leaving your vehicle in Mongolia you must leave it in a secure place, either with a mechanic or at an official Customs warehouse, for which you will need to submit a completed customs declaration form and pay a monthly fee for storage. If you leave your vehicle with a mechanic in Mongolia because it can’t be fixed, you must provide proof (photos and a letter from a mechanic and a police report) of this to the Customs Office. If you choose to sell your vehicle, you’ll need to show proof of sale.
Customs tax is payable in local currency (MNT) only and must be paid directly to the Customs Office. If you wish to leave your vehicle and then return to collect it at a later date you should still pay the tax up front, which can then be reimbursed to you when you return to take your vehicle out of Mongolia. If you aren’t able to return in person, ask a third party to make the initial tax payment, and then collect the refund on your behalf.
You’re only allowed to bring medicines for personal use into Mongolia. These include medicines for urgent aid for up to 7 days or for the treatment of diabetes, cancer, mental illness or HIV/AIDS for which you have a Doctor’s prescription. If you are arriving by plane, you should carry all medicines in your checked baggage.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 103 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company as soon as possible to inform them of what has happened.
The standard of healthcare is variable, especially outside Ulaanbaatar. Even in Ulaanbaatar only basic health care is available. Doctors and hospitals may ask for cash payment in advance of treatment. The quality of local medical supplies is low and some medicines are counterfeit. Take basic supplies of over-the-counter medicines and any regular prescription drugs you may need with you.
Medical bills, especially when medical evacuation is required, can be very substantial. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
The high levels of air pollution in Ulaanbaatar, especially in winter, may aggravate bronchial, sinus or asthma conditions.
Mongolia is very much a cash-based society. The Mongolian currency is the Tögrög, abbreviated to MNT. You can use credit cards in some hotels, shops and restaurants in Ulaanbaatar and ATMs are widely available.
ATMs are also becoming more common in other towns, and some international debit cards can be used to withdraw Mongolian Tögrögs. Travellers’ checks are no longer accepted. You can transfer money to Mongolia using commercial means like Western Union or Money Gram.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.