Kazakhstan travel guide
Unexplored by many, Kazakhstan is a curious yet little-known land of vast plains, mountainous horizons and beautiful culture. Bordering Russia in Central Asia, it's truly massive in size – this is, after all, ranked as the world's ninth biggest country. It's also the most economically successful of those countries surrounding it, known fondly as the 'stans'. This is largely thanks to oil reserves, as well as other natural resources. The upshot? You can expect more modern, higher-quality hotels, restaurants and travel options compared to some of the country's poorer neighbours.
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. Still the country's biggest city, it is a hub of modern architecture, cool fountains, parks and spectacular mountain views. You can also expect irreverent nightspots, trendy cafes, and palatial malls there. The present capital of Astana is following in its predecessor's footsteps as a modern metropolis, with its space-age buildings clinging to the northern steppe.
The truth is, though, that travellers are more likely to be attracted to Kazakhstan's natural wonders. It's a beautiful country in its own haunting way, where intrepid travellers will enjoy hiking through the lofty mountains and down in the valleys of the Tian Shan. Its sparseness can seem mind-boggling, but you'll find plenty of wildlife if you look for it, especially in the lake-strewn steppe. It's also worth seeking out the underground mosques and villages that are scattered about the land. All in all, Kazakhstan is a special, unique country well worth discovering despite it being low on the radar of most tourists.
2,724,900 sq km (1,052,089 sq miles).
17,855,384 (UN estimate 2016).
6.7 per sq km.
President Nursultan Abishuly Nazarbayev since 1991.
Prime Minister Karim Masimov since 2014.
Last updated: 14 February 2019
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 border between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan is currently closed to traffic. You’re advised not to try to cross the road border but to seek alternative routes, such as via Uzbekistan, until further notice.
You can travel to most places in Kazakhstan, but travel to any closed area requires advance permission from the Kazakh government. Some military/restricted areas are not clearly marked. Take care when travelling away from normal routes.
You can travel to Kazakhstan without a visa, provided your stay does not exceed 30 days (the day you arrive counts as day 1, regardless of arrival time). If you wish to stay longer than 30 days, you’ll need a visa.
Most visits to Kazakhstan are trouble-free, but crime against foreigners does sometimes occur.
You must carry your original passport at all times.
Terrorist attacks in Kazakhstan can’t be ruled out.
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.
Safety and security
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
You should be aware that borders, particularly with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, may be subject to closure without notice.
If you wish to drive in Kazakhstan you should apply for an International Driving Permit
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.
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.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation has carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Kazakhstan.
A list of incidents and accidents in Kazakhstan can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
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.
Terrorist attacks in Kazakhstan can’t be ruled out. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners. Be alert to any security-related announcements by the Kazakh authorities. If in any doubt, keep in touch with the British Embassy in Astana.
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
Kazakhstan has a secular constitution. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend other cultures or religious beliefs.
Possession and use of drugs is illegal; if found guilty, you could face a lengthy prison sentence in basic conditions.
Although homosexuality is not illegal, it is often not tolerated, especially outside the major cities. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
You must carry your passport at all times (not a photocopy).
There are restrictions on photography near military establishments, border areas and some official buildings. Notices about these restrictions are not always indicated. Photographing airport facilities is prohibited. Many of the larger shops and supermarkets also prohibit photography.
You can import a drone into Kazakhstan at airports or land border crossings without a licence. However, unlicensed use of drones in Kazakhstan will attract a fine, detention and confiscation of equipment. You can get a licence to use a drone from the Aviation Committee in Astana. Applications for licences should include technical characteristics of the drone and details of planned use (when, where, how long). You can find more information about licensing requirements on the Zakon.kz website (information portal of the Republic of Kazakhstan) (only in Russian).
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 can travel to Kazakhstan without a visa, provided your stay does not exceed 30 days (the day you arrive counts as day 1, regardless of arrival time). If you wish to stay longer than 30 days, you’ll need a visa. You should contact your nearest Embassy of Kazakhstan for further information.
Make sure you have the right visa for the purpose of your travel, especially for business visas or work permits. Check the validity dates of your visa and any associated restrictions carefully before you travel.
If you violate the conditions of your visa, you could face a short term of imprisonment and/or a ban on entry to Kazakhstan for up to 5 years. Overstaying the date written on your white immigration card may result in similar penalties, regardless of the validity of your visa.
Don’t cross the border into or out of Kazakhstan illegally.
For most visits, British passport holders don’t need to register with the local authorities providing you arrive at one of the 12 international airports. Check with local oblast authorities as some oblasts still insist on the registration requirement for visitors even for short stays.
If you don’t need to register with the local OVIR office (the Department for Visas and Registration under the Ministry of Internal Affairs), you must keep your white immigration card stamped by Kazakh Immigration throughout your journey and present it on departure. If you intend to enter through a land or sea border point check with the Kazakhstan Embassy to see whether registration is required.
For visits of more than 90 days you will need to register with the local authorities OVIR. Your travel company or employer may do this for you.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of your request for a visa. Your passport should also have at least 1 blank page for your visa.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry (with a valid Kazakh visa), airside transit and exit from Kazakhstan. If using an ETD to leave Kazakhstan, you must get an exit visa from OVIR (the Department for Visas and Registration under the Ministry of Internal Affairs). This process can take 5 working days or longer.
Dual nationality isn’t recognised in Kazakhstan. If you enter Kazakhstan on a Kazakh passport and also hold British nationality the British Embassy can only provide very limited consular assistance. In cases of arrest or detention, consular access is unlikely to be granted.
The government of Kazakhstan imposes limits on how much foreign currency can be imported or exported, and certain goods are subject to custom regulations. For further information please visit the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
The reciprocal healthcare agreement between the UK and Kazakhstan terminated on 1 January 2016.
The medical facilities in Kazakhstan are not as advanced as those in the UK. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad, evacuation by air ambulance and repatriation.
There are regular outbreaks of haemorrhagic fever (a tick-borne disease) in southern Kazakhstan in spring and summer, which have caused deaths.
There are ongoing reports of lead pollution in the southern city of Shymkent and immediately surrounding areas.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 103 and ask for an ambulance, although the emergency services operators only speak Kazakh or Russian and waiting times for ambulances can be lengthy. If possible it is often quicker to take a taxi to the hospital. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Almaty is in an active seismic zone, but the last major earthquake involving loss of life was in 1927. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency has advice about what to do before, during and after an earthquake.
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.