President Nursultan Abishuly Nazarbayev since 1991.
Head of government:
Prime Minister Karim Masimov since 2014.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are standard.
Unexplored by many, Kazakhstan is an intriguing and little-known land of vast plains, mountainous horizons and beautiful culture.
South Kazakhstan is a focus of Central Asian history, featuring many famous monuments. It is a scenically diverse region where the snow-capped peaks, lakes and glaciers of the Tian Shan range give way to steppe and desert. The desert is home to the Singing Barkhan - a sand dune 3.2km (2 miles) long, which, as it crumbles, produces a peculiar singing sound.
Almaty was until very recently the former capital of Kazakhstan and it enjoys a beautiful setting between mountains and plains; it is a city of modern architecture, cool fountains, parks and spectacular mountain views.
Last updated: 27 August 2015
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.
Most visits are trouble-free. However, mugging and theft occur in cities and rural areas. Foreigners can be targeted.
There have been a number of violent attacks and muggings on the expatriate community in Atyrau and Aktau in western Kazakhstan, and in Astana and Almaty. Attacks have largely taken place at night, in and around local nightclubs and bars or when arriving at home late at night, as the majority of apartment buildings have dark stairwells and no lifts. Avoid walking alone and where possible pre-arrange transport. Keep valuables in a safe place and out of public view. Avoid travelling in unofficial taxis, particularly at night and alone, or if there is another passenger already in the car.
Robberies have occurred on trains, so always lock railway compartments on overnight trains.
Passenger lists on aircraft are not always kept confidential. There have been instances of people being met from an aircraft by someone using their name and then being robbed.
The following areas of Kazakhstan are closed to visitors unless prior permission has been received from the Foreign Ministry and the Interior Ministry, with the agreement of the Kazakh National Security Committee:
the Gvardeyskiy urban-type village in Almaty region (south eastern Kazakhstan)
the town of Baykonur
the districts of Karmakchi and Kazalinsk in southern Kyzylorda region
Recent changes to legislation mean that some popular sightseeing areas like Big Almaty Lake, Shymbulak, Kolsai lakes, Medeo, Charyn canyon, Alakol lake, Monakhov Gorge, and other places now fall in so called ‘closed’ areas. If you intend to visit any of these places, you’ll need to apply in advance for permission from the Immigration Police Office in Almaty (Address: 109A Karasay Batyr St.) for each of your trips. It can take up to 20 working days for each permission request to be considered.
Travellers should note that along the Uzbek-Kazakh border, Uzbek Border Stations are subject to unadvertised closure at any time. Please check our Travel Advice for Uzbekistan before planning any visits to that country.
Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus are a single Customs Union so if you’re planning to travel overland in your own vehicle make sure your customs declaration and temporary import licence are valid for the entire period of stay in all 3 countries. Your import licence can be extended for up to a year if necessary by contacting the customs authorities in any of the 3 countries.
Service stations are limited outside the main cities. Make sure you take all you need for your journey including water. Make sure your vehicle is properly maintained and in good condition for lengthy journeys.
Many roads are poorly maintained and road works or damaged roads are often not clearly signposted. Driving standards can be erratic. In some remote areas there are often stray animals on the roads. These are especially difficult to see in the dark. In winter, roads can become hazardous due to snow and ice.
Local traffic police only have the right to stop vehicles if an offence has been committed, but you should obey any request from the police to stop. The police officer should complete official papers relating to any alleged offence.
Many cars are not safely maintained and do not have rear seatbelts.
Don’t use local buses or mini-buses as they are poorly maintained.
Take care when crossing roads as pedestrian crossings are rarely respected.
With the exception of Air Astana, all Kazakh airlines have been refused permission to operate services to the EU because they do not comply with internationally accepted safety requirements. Only certain specified aircraft in the Air Astana fleet are permitted to fly into the EU. You should avoid flying with the airlines subject to the EU operating ban.
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 2009 an audit of Kazakhstan’s Civil Aviation Authority by the International Civil Aviation Organisation found that the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Kazakhstan was below the global average.
Local airlines don’t always run to flight schedule. Check your actual departure or arrival time in advance. Keep hold of your baggage tags, as you will need to show them when you leave the airport.
Public demonstrations are only permitted when authorised, so rarely take place. You should avoid any demonstrations or political gatherings. If you become aware of any nearby violence you should leave the area immediately.