Pakistan travel guide
From the ancient Mughal city of Lahore to the snow-capped peaks of the Karakoram Mountains, Pakistan is a diverse nation defined not just by its natural beauty and architectural splendours, but by its friendly inhabitants, varied wildlife and rich culinary traditions.
Shame then, that political instability and sectarian violence has made large parts of the country a no-go for tourists, and prevented Pakistan from realising its potential as a top travel destination.
However, those daring enough to take a punt on Pakistan will be richly rewarded for their endeavours – particularly those with a penchant for the great outdoors. The North-West Frontier Province and Gilgit-Baltistan region are home to some of the world’s most famous mountain ranges, including Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush.
That explorers will have these sights more or less to themselves is another boon; gone are the well-marked routes and tea houses of India and Nepal, here lies real adventure.
From jaw-dropping mountain scenery to bustling conurbations, Pakistan’s vibrant cities each have their own distinct flavour. The super-sleek capital, Islamabad, is a modern metropolis bristling with contemporary architecture, world-class cultural attractions and some of the country’s finest restaurants.
Lahore is the very antithesis to Islamabad. Pakistan’s cultural capital, this ancient city abounds with UNESCO listed attractions, stunning shrines and ornate Mughal architecture. Its old town is a maze of bustling bazaars, which harbour mosques, museums and manicured gardens.
Karachi, the former capital and the economic powerhouse of the country, is a mega-city in every sense of the word, cramming 15 million or so into its boundaries. Meanwhile, Peshawar, in the North-West Frontier Province, remains a frontier town, sometimes dangerous and always intriguing.
Those seeking sun and seclusion, should explore Pakistan’s glorious coastline, which is home to some of the most pristine, crowd-free beaches in South Asia. While those looking to evoke the spirit a Kipling-style adventure should follow the ancient trade routes of the Khyber Pass, Grand Trunk Road and Karakoram Highway.
All of this and more lies in Pakistan, and all remains accessible to the more adventurous tourist.
796,095 sq km (307,374 sq miles).
192,826,502 (UN estimate 2016).
250.1 per sq km.
President Mamnoon Hussain since 2013.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi since 2017.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs with two or three round pins are most common.
Last updated: 21 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.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to:
- the Federally Administered Tribal Areas
- the districts of Charsadda, Kohat, Tank, Bannu, Lakki, Dera Ismail Khan, Swat, Buner and Lower Dir in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa
- the city of Peshawar and districts south of the city, including travel on the Peshawar to Chitral road via the Lowari Pass
- northern and western Balochistan
- travel on the Karakoram Highway between Islamabad and Gilgit
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to:
- the Kalesh Valley, the Bamoboret Valley and Arandu District to the south and west of Chitral in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa
- the city of Quetta
- the city of Nawabshah in Sindh Province, and areas of interior Sindh to the north of Nawabshah
Ashura processions will be held on the 9th and 10th day of Muharram (30 September and 1 October, 2017) across the country. There’s an increased risk of violence around this time. You should avoid processions and crowded areas.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Pakistan. There’s a high threat of terrorism, kidnap and sectarian violence throughout the country, including the cities of Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore. You should be particularly vigilant, avoid all crowds, political gatherings and religious processions and take appropriate security precautions.
There have been several terrorist attacks in Lahore this year. At the present time, you should exercise caution travelling to and around Lahore. This includes the busy transport areas, major international hotels, public areas including parks, shopping malls, religious sites and law enforcement facilities. On 24 July 2017, an explosion near the Arfa Karim IT tower on Ferozepur road in the Model Town area of Lahore caused multiple casualties. On 7 August 2017, an explosion near Outfall Road in the north east of Lahore caused multiple injuries.
Foreigners, in particular westerners, may be directly targeted. Densely populated unsecured areas, such as markets, shopping malls, restaurants and places where westerners and the Pakistani elite are known to congregate, are potential focal points for attacks. You should be extra vigilant at all times and minimize your exposure to areas that pose a higher risk.
Security forces in Pakistan remain on high alert following previous attacks. Alert levels in major cities can fluctuate, and travellers should monitor local media. There may be increases in security force presence and restrictions on movement may be put in place at short notice.
Pakistan is in a major earthquake zone and remains at risk from further earthquakes, aftershocks, landslides and flooding. You should familiarise yourself with safety procedures in the event of an earthquake.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
Around 270,000 British nationals visit Pakistan every year. Most visits are trouble-free.
Safety and security
Be aware of the risk of street crime and take sensible measures to protect yourself and your belongings. Take particular care of your passport, bankcards, bags, jewellery, laptop and mobile, especially on public transport, when travelling to and from the airport and in crowded areas including markets. There is an active black market in forged and stolen passports. Credit card fraud is common.
British nationals of Pakistani origin have been targeted by criminals, including kidnappers, as they are often perceived as being wealthier than locals.
Much of Balochistan, rural Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, including the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Agencies, have a high level of lawlessness.
Public demonstrations and civil disorder are common in Pakistan. Protests can occur with little warning and while most remain peaceful, they can turn violent quickly. You should avoid getting caught up in demonstrations, large crowds of people and public events.
The Pakistan authorities currently advise that “all foreigners, including diplomats may not move out of their city of residence without proper security and without prior co-ordination with the law enforcement agency”. This requirement has not been rigorously enforced, but you should consider informing local authorities of any travel plans, and be prepared to be stopped and challenged by officials, who may instruct you to turn around.
If you travel to any of the regions listed below, you or your travel company should contact the local authorities in advance to check the local security situation. They may arrange police protection as necessary and will advise whether you need a No Objection Certificate issued by the Pakistani Ministry of Interior.
Except for official border crossing points, foreigners aren’t allowed to travel within 10 miles of Pakistan’s international borders and the Kashmir Line of Control, or within 30 miles of the Afghan border in Gilgit-Baltistan.
There is a heightened risk from kidnapping and militant activity in much of Balochistan. There are frequent sectarian attacks in and around Quetta. If you intend to visit these areas, make sure you have the necessary permission from the authorities and proper security arrangements in place.
The terrain in Gilgit-Baltistan is mountainous, with remote and isolated locations that are difficult to police effectively. You are strongly advised to obtain and follow local security advice and make appropriate personal security arrangements in advance of any visit. There are also occasional outbursts of sectarian violence in and around Gilgit.
All foreign nationals must register with the local authorities when visiting Gilgit-Baltistan. You may need a permit for mountaineering or trekking, in particular for mountains over 6,000 metres. The process can take up to 2 months and is best organised through a travel company. The validity of your travel insurance policy may be affected if you don’t have the correct permits.
Use reputable trekking agencies, stay on established routes, and always walk in groups. Don’t trek alone. Be aware of the risks of altitude sickness.
There are high levels of violence in Karachi. The city is vulnerable to serious violent ethnic conflict between different communities. Criminal and political violence is also common including armed carjacking, robbery, kidnap and murder. Strikes called by various religious and political parties cripple the city and regularly produce violent civil unrest.
It’s difficult to predict the safety of daily activity. The districts of Clifton and Defence, and the parts of Saddar which include government offices, major hotels and the financial district are generally regarded as more stable, though there remains a risk of violence. All other districts, and the areas of Saddar immediately around and to the north of the US Consulate General, are at greater risk of violence. You should carefully plan any travel within the city taking into account all the threats. If you intend to move outside the more stable areas you should take advice from hosts or trusted contacts and be prepared to cancel or curtail your plans.
In addition to taking comprehensive security measures for all moves around the city, British Deputy High Commission staff are advised to avoid:
- areas where vaccination programmes are taking place, especially in the Orangi Town area where 7 policemen protecting polio workers were shot dead on 20 April 2016.
The Karakoram Highway runs from Hasan Abdal in north Punjab towards Gilgit and the Chinese border. The FCO advise against travel on the Highway between Islamabad and Gilgit. You should avoid travelling on the Highway at night – the road can be narrow with sudden steep drops. All sections of the Highway north of Batagram up to the Chinese border have experienced landslides.
There is regular military or militant activity in the districts of Swat, Buner, Malakand, Nowshera, Swabi and Lower Dir. Localised curfews may be imposed at short notice.
The Kalesh Valley, Bamoboret Valley and Arandu District to the south and west of Chitral in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have seen an increase in militant activity, which has included abductions, violent armed robbery and murder.
Make sure you have the necessary permissions to travel. Specific requirements can change and you should check the latest requirements before travelling. A No Objection Certificate is always required for foreign nationals to travel within 10 miles of the Line of Control or to enter Pakistan-administered Kashmir via Muzaffarabad.
If you travel to southern Punjab take advice about the local security situation in advance. There are frequent reports of criminality and public order incidents.
There is a very high risk from crime and kidnapping in Interior Sindh. There are reports of increased criminality in Hyderabad.
Security was tightened at Pakistan’s airports following a number of terrorist attacks on key airports/aircraft in 2014. Security at all airports was enhanced in 2015. Allow yourself enough time to get through enhanced security checks, but don’t linger unnecessarily at airports. Be vigilant, follow instructions from security and airport personnel, and contact your airline in the event of any disruption.
Avoid using the railway network, which has been subject to frequent attacks and derailments. There have been attacks on railway stations in Punjab, and militants have planted bombs on the rail network in Balochistan and Sindh.
Take particular care on long road journeys and when travelling cross-country. Local driving standards are erratic, especially at night. Road conditions are poor and there is a risk of carjacking.
Avoid using street taxis. Only use taxis from reputable companies which are radio-controlled.
For security reasons, you should avoid using public transport, including the Metro Bus which operates between Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
The threat from piracy within 12 nautical miles of the Pakistani coastline is low, but you should be aware of the significant threat piracy poses in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Pakistan. There’s a high threat of terrorism and sectarian violence throughout the country. The main terrorist threat comes from Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella organisation of groups primarily based in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), who have a mainly anti-state focus but also maintain, and have stated an intent to launch attacks on western interests. TTP conducts attacks throughout Pakistan. Their attacks mostly involve using Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), including suicide attacks.
Foreign missions have been warned that international and foreign schools and schools with English language curricula may be the target of terrorist attacks.
Further attacks could be indiscriminate including in places visited by foreigners. Previous methods of attack have included grenades, shootings, bombings and suicide bombs. Militants can launch complex and deadly attacks. Be vigilant, keep a low profile and vary your routes and timings if you make any regular journeys. Avoid crowds. Public places and public gatherings are often targeted, including courts and government buildings, hotels, airports, markets, shopping malls, restaurants, educational institutions, religious shrines and processions. Take care if you’re planning to attend sporting events or live music venues. Attacks have previously targeted places that could be considered by militants to be un-Islamic. You should avoid ‘western’ fast-food outlets. CD/DVD shops and barber shops have previously been targeted.
Pakistani government personnel and institutions, and the security forces, including police, are prime targets for attacks, especially given the ongoing Pakistan military action in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) which may lead to retaliatory attacks. You should avoid key government installations and gatherings of uniformed personnel. Places of worship, including churches, religious sites, minority religious sects and shrines are often targeted. You should avoid religious events or gatherings and limit movements on Friday afternoons. You should also be vigilant in areas around diplomatic premises throughout Pakistan. The US closed its consulate in Lahore following a specific threat in August 2013 and remains closed to the public.
Areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, especially Peshawar, suffer particularly frequent terrorist attacks with a high rate of casualties. There are threats of attacks in Karachi and almost daily violence.
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.
You should be alert to the threat of kidnapping throughout Pakistan. The number of kidnappings for ransom of westerners has increased over recent years. The most recent cases have been in the Punjab and Balochistan. Kidnappings can be for financial or political gain. British nationals of Pakistani origin are at particular risk of kidnap for ransom. British and other foreign national kidnap victims have faced extended periods of detention. While some were ultimately released by their captors, others have been killed.
The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners increases the risk of further hostage taking.
Local laws and customs
Local laws reflect the fact that Pakistan is a Muslim country. You should respect local customs and sensitivities at all times, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas.
You should dress modestly at all times. Men and women should cover their shoulders and legs when in public. Women should cover their heads when entering mosques or other holy places, and when travelling in rural areas.
Importing alcohol and pork products is illegal. Homosexuality and co-habitation by an unmarried couple is illegal.
If you or your parents were born in Pakistan, you might be considered a Pakistani national by the local authorities even if you don’t hold a Pakistani passport, and the British government may be prevented from providing the full range of consular assistance.
You should carry some form of photo ID at all times.
Possession of even small quantities of illegal drugs can lead to imprisonment. A number of British nationals have been arrested on drug trafficking charges and face long periods in detention on remand as their cases make their way through the Pakistan legal system. Drug trafficking can attract the death penalty.
The death penalty can and has been imposed for crimes including blasphemy, murder, drug offences, rape and unlawful assembly.
Don’t take photographs at military establishments, airports or any infrastructure, including bridges and dams including from aircraft. In the past British nationals have been arrested on suspicion of ‘spying’. Seek permission from any official, especially in border areas.
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.
If you are travelling to Pakistan on a British passport, you will need to get a visa before you travel. Visa violations can be treated as a criminal offence and could result in a fine or detention.
Journalists’ visas often have additional travel restrictions, which you should observe. For further information consult the High Commission for Pakistan in London.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months at the time of your visa application.
National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP)
You can enter Pakistan visa free and remain there for an unlimited period of stay if you hold a valid National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP) or Smart National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (SNICOP). For more information visit the website of the Pakistan High Commission in London.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are valid for entry into Pakistan. Holders of an ETD entering Pakistan will need to have either a valid visa or an identity card issued by the Pakistan government (either an NIC – National Identity Card – or an NICOP – National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis).
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
Travelling with children
A single parent or other adult who is not the child’s parent may need to provide documentary evidence of parental responsibility, particularly if the child is of Pakistani origin, before the immigration authorities will allow the child to leave the country.
All passengers leaving Pakistan must have a valid visa, a Pakistani national identity card or a valid Pakistani passport. If you are travelling on a British passport and your visa has expired you may not be allowed to board your flight. In these circumstances you should contact the Ministry of Interior to get an exit visa. A fine may also be payable.
If you’re visiting Pakistan for more than 4 weeks, you may need to provide proof of polio vaccination when you leave Pakistan. For more information, see the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre.
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.
You should take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 15 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Take care when purchasing bottled water. A recent government report found a number of bottled water brands to be contaminated.
The monsoon season in Pakistan is from late June to early October. Heavy rains can cause severe flooding, particularly in Sindh and Punjab Provinces.
Check local forecasts and news reports and be aware of the risk of landslides and road blockages, particularly in hilly and mountainous regions. Take extreme care crossing swollen rivers.
Earth tremors are common and mountainous areas regularly experience floods and landslides. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency has advice about what to do before, during and after an earthquake.
On 26 October 2015, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake affected Pakistan. According to local authorities, over 220 people died and at least 1,600 people were injured as a result. The districts of Chitral, Lower and Upper Dir, Shangla and Buner were particularly affected.
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.