Azerbaijan travel guide
The original ‘East-meets-West’ destination, Azerbaijan sashays between space-age cityscapes and Arabian Nights exotica, taking in some of the most extraordinary landscapes in Caucasia en route.
Sitting at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, this former Soviet Republic is marginally bigger than Ireland, yet boasts an astonishing variety of natural wonders – from snow-capped mountains and bubbling mud volcanoes to sandy deserts and subtropical forests.
The northern hinterland is arguably the prettiest region thanks to the Caucasus Mountains, which rise to the misty heights of 4,466m (14,652ft). These lofty peaks are home to bears, wolves and leopards, not to mention nomadic shepherds, who move their flocks up and down these mountains in search of fresh pastures, as they have done for thousands of year.
Meanwhile, along the boulevards of downtown Baku, nouveau riche residents butterfly between expensive boutiques. The capital’s exclusive shops, modern architecture and luxury hotels – spoils of Caspian Sea oil – jar somewhat with the UNESCO old town, not to mention the poorer communities outside Baku. Visitors may feel the black gold bounty is not benefitting everyone.
Though oil has transformed the economy in recent years, Azerbaijan has always been of strategic importance. Nestling on the shores of the Caspian Sea, the camel caravans of the Silk Road once passed through the land, which, over the centuries, has been incorporated into the Persian, Turkish and Russian empires.
Today Azerbaijan is a sovereign state and, although Islamic, the mood is determinedly secular. Alcohol is not only readily available, but proudly produced; grapes have been cultivated here for millennia, and local vineyards are developing some excellent wines. Azeri cuisine is also enjoying a renaissance thanks a profusion of new eateries popping up in downtown Baku.
Sounds like the next big thing, then? Not quite, but the government has ambitious plans to boost tourism to Azerbaijan. Go while it’s relatively quiet.
86,600 sq km (33,400 sq miles).
9,915,179 (UN estimate 2016).
112.9 per sq km.
President Ilham Aliyev since 2003.
Prime Minister Artur Rasizade since 2003.
Last updated: 17 February 2018
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:
- Nagorno-Karabakh and the military occupied area surrounding it
- within 5km of the Line of Contact
- within 5km of the border with Armenia.
Tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh continue. Several ceasefire violations along the Line of Contact separating the opposing forces and elsewhere on the inter-state border between Azerbaijan and Armenia have taken place in 2017, resulting in a number of deaths and casualties.
Anyone who has visited Nagorno-Karabakh without the permission of the Azerbaijani authorities will be refused entry to Azerbaijan.
All British nationals travelling to Azerbaijan must get a visa in advance.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Azerbaijan.
Around 7,000 British nationals visit Azerbaijan every year, mainly on business. 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.
Safety and security
Crime levels in Baku are generally low, but muggings do occur from time to time after dark in the centre of town around the western bars and clubs and near dimly lit entrances of private apartments. Take sensible precautions: be vigilant, avoid carrying large sums of money and don’t walk alone at night. Try to arrange to be picked up or dropped off as close to your hotel or apartment entrance as possible by a private/company driver, or a known taxi firm.
You can report a crime at any local police station or by telephoning the police on 102. English speaking staff are available on the telephone, but when reporting a crime at a police station take someone with you who can interpret. Don’t sign any documents you don’t understand.
Corruption is an everyday aspect of life in Azerbaijan. You should avoid paying bribes.
The FCO advise against all travel to Nagorno-Karabakh and the military occupied area surrounding it, and to within 5km of both the Line of Contact and the border with Armenia. The Nagorno-Karabakh area is the subject of a continuing dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and although a cease-fire has been in place since 1994 there are regular exchanges of gunfire across the Line of Contact. Tensions along the line of contact and the international borders between Azerbaijan and Armenia remain high in 2017. Some areas may be heavily land mined.
According to Azerbaijani legislation, entering Nagorno Karabakh without the permission of the Azerbaijani authorities constitutes a criminal offence. There have been some recent reports that the government of Azerbaijan has started criminal proceedings against foreign citizens, including British nationals, for visiting and working in Nagorno Karabakh without official permission. It’s possible that these proceedings could include requests for individuals who are outside Azerbaijan to be extradited to Azerbaijan to stand trial.
The land border between Azerbaijan and Russia (Dagestan) is no longer closed. The FCO continues to advises against all travel to Dagestan (for further details, see our travel advice page for Russia). If you hold a valid visa it’s possible to cross the Iranian border at Astara.
You can drive in Azerbaijan using a UK or EU driving licence. Right hand drive cars are not permitted in Azerbaijan.
Many cars are poorly maintained, and the standard of driving is erratic. Accidents are common, mainly due to poor or reckless driving and inconsistent enforcement of traffic rules. One-way only signs are often ignored and road closures and diversions are not marked. Traffic lights are often switched to flashing amber at night, which means both directions can proceed with caution.
There are a variety of taxi options available in Baku including private hire, app-based, and London-style metered cabs. Some visitors have reported being severely over-charged by local taxis, particularly from the airport into Baku city centre. When using taxis you should agree a fare up front, or make sure the taxi meter is switched on. You should also check that the taxi has working seatbelts.
Take care when driving particularly at night. Many roads are of poor quality and badly lit.
Drink driving laws are strict and there is a zero limit on drinking alcohol and driving. Observe the speed limit and make sure you have adequate insurance.
If you’re in a vehicle that’s travelling at an unsafe speed you should instruct the driver to slow down.
In the winter months snowfall often causes problems. Keep a blanket, shovel, torch, snacks and old carpet (to help if you get stuck in snow) if you intend to travel out of Baku in the winter months, or if heavy snowfall is forecast in Baku.
See the RAC guide on driving in Azerbaijan.
The Baku Metro is reasonably maintained and has basic safety equipment and procedures. Signs are in Azerbaijani and English. There are police at each station and security checks of bags and belongings.
If you travel by overland train, secure your valuables, don’t leave the compartment unattended, and lock the door from the inside.
A list of incidents and accidents in Azerbaijan can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
In 2015, an International Civil Aviation Organisation audit of aviation safety oversight found that the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Azerbaijan was below the global average.
The European Commission publishes a list of airlines banned from operating within the EU. The list is based on random inspections on aircraft of airlines that operate flights to and from EU airports. The fact that an airline is not included in the list does not automatically mean that it meets the applicable safety standards.
The FCO is unable to 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.
The political situation in Azerbaijan is generally calm.
Demonstrations and opposition rallies occasionally take place. There were small-scale protests in some regional towns in January 2016. Demonstrations are usually heavily policed and there has been violence on occasions. Keep well away from any large gatherings. British media representatives should make sure they are clearly identifiable.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Azerbaijan. Attacks could be indiscriminate and against civilian targets, including places frequented by foreigners, such as international hotels, restaurants and pubs, as well as energy sector facilities. You should take sensible precautions.
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.
Local laws and customs
Most of the population of Azerbaijan is Muslim. Azerbaijan is a largely secular society, and religion is usually considered a private matter. Respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they don’t offend other cultures or religious beliefs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas.
It is illegal to proselytise.
In Baku local and foreign women usually dress in western-style clothing. It is now more acceptable for men in Baku to wear shorts in the summer months but outside of Baku it can be frowned upon and attract unwelcome attention.
Possession or use of illegal drugs of any kind carries stiff penalties, including fines and long prison terms. The usual penalty for smuggling drugs is a prison term of between 3 to 7 years and/or a heavy fine.
Police sometimes carry out checks of identity documents. You should carry your passport at all times. Keep it secure and leave a photocopy of the details page separately in a safe place.
While homosexuality is not illegal, LGBT people in Azerbaijan tend to keep a low profile as it is not acceptable to a large part of society. This is particularly true outside Baku and among the older generation. Public displays of affection are frowned upon, especially outside of Baku. Physical contact between men (holding hands, embracing etc) is usually a sign of friendship. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
You need an export certificate to take antiques or art like carpets, samovars, copperware or paintings out of Azerbaijan. These are available from the Carpet Museum or through the seller. Catalogue and declare to Customs any carpets or anything antique looking – even if clearly from a different part of the world - that you bring to Azerbaijan with you. Your relocation company should be able to offer you advice on this.
Military bases, equipment and installations in whatever condition are considered sensitive areas, and visitors have been detained and questioned while attempting to visit or photograph them. Be aware of cultural sensitivities when photographing mosques, churches and other religious sites. If in doubt, seek permission.
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.
British nationals travelling to Azerbaijan are usually required to get a visa in advance. Specific conditions apply, see the Azerbaijan Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for further details.
A simplified online visa system was introduced in January 2017. You can make an application on the Asan Visa website. Electronic visas are valid for 30 days and are single entry. You won’t be able to extend an electronic visa once you’ve arrived in Azerbaijan. The website also has an “urgent” option which provides a quicker service for an extra fee.
You can still apply for a visa through the Azerbaijan Embassy-affiliated Visa Service Centre in the UK. You should apply for a visa at least 1 month ahead of your intended travel date. See the Visa Centre website for more information.
Make sure you check the duration of your visa immediately to avoid overstaying unintentionally. Your visa should be valid when departing Azerbaijan. In exceptional circumstances you may be able to apply to the State Migration Service for an extension to your visa. Their address is 202 Binagadi Highway, 3123 Block, Binagadi district, Baku city, AZ1114, Azerbaijan Republic; telephone +994 (0)12 562 56 23 or +994 (0)12 562 57 73; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively, try the Migration Information Centre: telephone: 919 (in country calls only)
You can extend a visa by up to 60 days through the State Migration Service of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
If you overstay you can obtain an ‘Exit Permit’ letter (an official letter giving permission to leave Azerbaijan within 48 hours) from the State Migration Service before you depart. You will be liable to a fine of between AZN300 to AZN400 (you should get a receipt).
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months when you enter Azerbaijan.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Azerbaijan.
If you’re staying in Azerbaijan for longer than 10 days you must register with the State Migration Service within 10 days of arrival by either visiting the State Migration Service in person or online. Hotels may provide this service for their guests, but visitors staying in apartments or private residences will have to register by themselves. Each traveller is responsible for ensuring that the registration has been completed.
Those staying longer than 30 can either apply to extend their visa on compassionate grounds or will need to obtain a temporary residence card. For more information refer to the State Migration service.
Azerbaijan doesn’t allow adults (18 years or older) to hold dual nationality. You may be refused entry, denied departure or even face criminal liability if you’re 18 years or older and are found to be holding both an Azerbaijani passport and a passport of a different nationality. If you’re a British passport holder with links to Azerbaijan (through birth or otherwise) and wish to check your nationality status contact the State Migration service before you travel. Children under 18 years old holding a second nationality shouldn’t face any difficulties.
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.
The reciprocal healthcare agreement between the UK and Azerbaijan terminated on 1 January 2016.
Medical facilities outside Baku are very limited. You should carry a comprehensive first aid kit for any trips out of Baku. Even in Baku serious illness or injury may require evacuation to Turkey or Western Europe. Make sure your insurance covers this.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 103 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
The Caucasus is an area of regular seismic activity, although there have been no recent serious earthquakes in Azerbaijan. To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, see this advice from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.
All goods and services are paid in local currency (Manats). Sterling, US dollars and Euros are easily exchanged. Major hotels, supermarkets and restaurants in Baku usually accept credit cards. There are ATMs in most major towns and cities. Before you leave the UK, let your bank know you are travelling to Azerbaijan.
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.