Kyrgyzstan travel guide
Often referred to as the “Switzerland of Central Asia”, Kyrgyzstan certainly lives up to this moniker with its soaring mountain ranges, glistening glaciers and vertiginous pine forests. If it feels like you’re on top of the world, that’s because you’re not far off.
Despite its ubiquitous natural beauty and considerable size, few people can point to this landlocked nation on the map let alone pronounce its name (it’s Kur-gi-stan, by the way). Even fewer actually visit.
This is due largely to Kyrgyzstan’s geographical isolation, but also because it has been out in the cold politically – since gaining independence from the USSR, the country has remained well under the influence of neighbouring Russia.
Visitor numbers are increasing, but a short tourist season, an underdeveloped infrastructure and poor air links remain obstacles for all but the intrepid traveller. However, those who do make it here are guaranteed an experience they won’t have to share with the crowds.
Although mountains dominate, Kyrgyzstan’s landscapes are surprisingly varied: snow-capped peaks eventually give way to open plains and shimmering lakes. It really does look Switzerland in places, but elsewhere the countryside can conjure up images of Scotland, Kashmir and even the Middle East. The mountain vistas alone are reason enough to visit and no trip to Kyrgyzstan would be complete without trekking up at least one of its impressive summits.
For less active visitors there are a handful of beaches to speak of and, in the small window that passes as summer, holidaymakers can be found bathing on the shores of lakes such as Issyk Kul. Located in the Tian Shan mountains, this is a summer resort for the brave – the water here is bracing to say the least.
It’s not all about the landscapes, though. In fact a big draw for tourists is the prospect of staying with the country’s semi-nomadic shepherds, who live in yurts and eke out traditional lives in this harsh, unforgiving and unremittingly beautiful country.
199,951 sq km (77,201 sq miles).
6,033,769 (UN estimate 2016.
28.3 per sq km.
President Sooronbay Jeenbekov since 2017.
Prime Minister Mukhammetkaly Abulgaziyev since 2018.
Last updated: 19 May 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.
Terrorist attacks in Kyrgyzstan can’t be ruled out. You should be vigilant in public places and follow security advice from the local authorities.
Take care if you travel to the Oblasts (Provinces) of Osh, Batken and Jalal-Abad.
The Kyrgyz/Uzbek and Kyrgyz/Tajik borders are subject to closure without notice. There have been a number of security incidents in the Kyrgyz/Uzbek border region in recent months. See Local travel
There are occasional clashes along the disputed Kyrgyz-Tajik border. A Tajik civilian was killed in an exchange of gunfire near the Vorukh enclave in July 2014. There was a separate incident near the villages of Kok-Tash and Chorkuh in August 2015. There’s a risk of further localised violence and border closures at any time.
There is a high risk of earthquakes.
You must carry your passport, or a notarised copy of it, at all times.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Terrorist attacks in Kyrgyzstan can’t be ruled out. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners. There has been some terrorist activity and armed violence, particularly south and west of Osh. Security forces conducted several anti-terrorism operations in Bishkek in 2015. A suicide bomb attack against the Chinese Embassy on the outskirts of Bishkek on 30 August 2016 was reportedly carried out by the Turkestan Islamic Party.
You should maintain a high level of vigilance in public spaces and near to public buildings, and pay attention to any security announcements by the Kyrgyz authorities.
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
Demonstrations on political and socio-economic themes occur both in central Bishkek and in other parts of the country. You should avoid all demonstrations.
Independent Kyrgyzstan’s first two Presidents were deposed: Akaev in the 2005 Tulip Revolution and his successor Bakiev in a bloody coup in April 2010. In June 2010 inter-ethnic violence erupted in southern Kyrgyzstan, leaving more than 400 dead and over 100,000 displaced. Interim President Roza Otunbayeva oversaw a constitutional referendum and parliamentary and presidential elections before handing over power following open elections to President Almazbek Atambaev in December 2011. The most recent handover of presidential power was peaceful. In the October 2017 election Sooronbai Jeenbekov became Kyrgyzstan’s 5th president to replace Almazbek Atambaev.
Muggings (sometimes violent) and theft occur regularly. There have been incidents involving criminals, mostly after dark. Take care if you go out after dark.
Large amounts of money should not be on show and be wary of strangers offering help or being over-friendly. Be particularly aware of your surroundings when using currency exchange offices and visiting the bazaars in Bishkek, particularly Osh Bazaar, where tourists are regularly targeted by pickpockets.
Take care if you travel to the Oblasts (Provinces) of Osh, Batken and Jalal-Abad. While there has been no widespread violence since 2010, underlying tensions continue to exist.
Tensions exist over recognition of the Kyrgyz/Uzbek borders. There have been a number of security incidents in this region and several gunfire exchanges. You should only use officially recognised border crossings in this area; there is a risk that uncontrolled Kyrgyz/Uzbek border areas may be land-mined. Check in advance which border posts are open.
The Kyrgyz-Tajik border has not been agreed along its entirety. Localised violence erupts occasionally and the border can be closed at short notice, particularly near the Tajik Vorukh enclave. Tajik and Kyrgyz security forces clashed in this area in January 2014 leaving 8 wounded, and a Tajik civilian was killed in an exchange of gunfire in July 2014. There’s a risk of further localised violence and border closures at any time.
There are frequent power cuts throughout the country.
You can drive in Kyrgyzstan using a UK driving licence for up to 30 days or an International Driving Permit. If you require an International Driving Permit, from 28 March 2019 you will need to have a 1968 International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in Kyrgyzstan. From 1 February 2019, you can only get IDPs over the counter from 2,500 UK Post Offices. You will not be able to buy an IDP outside the UK, so get one before you travel.
Petrol stations are limited in rural areas and diesel is often unavailable. Make sure you take all you need for your journey. Take extra care when driving, particularly over long distances. You should avoid giving lifts to hitchhikers given incidents when drivers have been robbed by people they picked up. Many roads are poorly lit and poorly maintained with road works or damaged roads often not clearly signposted. Roads outside the capital are often blocked by snow in winter. There is currently no MOT and no legal requirement for vehicles to be insured. Pedestrians often have a low awareness of road safety
You should avoid flagging down taxis. Use telephone, SMS, or taxi services, which are more reputable and have English-speaking dispatchers. Wherever possible use main roads when travelling in and around Bishkek and avoid large crowds even if in a vehicle.
Avoid using local buses and mini-buses as they are not always properly maintained and are notorious for pick-pockets. There have been cases of sexual harassment and assault.
All Kyrgyz airlines are banned from operating services to the EU because they don’t meet international safety standards.
Where there’s a clear business need to travel internally within Kyrgyzstan, British government staff may use Air Manas flights (formerly known as Pegasus Asia).
You can see a list of recent incidents and accidents on the website of the Aviation Safety Network.
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 the International Civil Aviation Organisation conducted an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Kyrgyzstan.
Trekking in Kyrgyzstan often involves travelling to very remote areas. There is a high risk of avalanches, landslides and rock falls. Adequate insurance, including for any activity at high altitude, is essential. If you’re trekking or mountaineering, be vigilant and be prepared to adapt your plans to reflect local conditions and advice. Use a reputable trekking agency, let someone know your estimated return time and don’t trek alone. In remote areas, mobile phone coverage is extremely limited, and any medical facilities basic.
Local laws and customs
Kyrgyzstan has a secular constitution. Most Kyrgyz people are Muslims. 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, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas. Lack of cultural sensitivity has caused trouble for some unaware foreign nationals.
In 2019, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 5 May and finish on 4 June.
Possession and use of drugs is illegal. If you are found guilty, you could face a lengthy prison sentence in basic conditions.
Homosexuality is legal, but not often discussed or recognised publicly. You should take care over public displays of affection. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
Taking photos of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with the authorities.
You must carry your passport, or a notarised copy of it, at all times. The police can arrest you if you do not carry ID.
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 don’t need a visa to enter and stay for up to 60 days. If you stay in Kyrgyzstan for over 60 days without a valid visa, you’ll be liable for a fine. It’s not possible to get a visa in Kyrgyzstan if you originally entered the country without a visa. If you think you may spend more than 60 days in Kyrgyzstan, you should get a visa from a Kyrgyz Embassy before you travel or on arrival at the airport in Bishkek. The visa can be extended at a Kyrgyz Government office at 66, Razzakova Street in Bishkek.
E-visas are available for tourist and business visits of up to 90 days from the e-Visa website. These visas can’t be extended within Kyrgyzstan. They can only be used at Manas Airport, Bishkek, Osh international airport and at the Ak-Jol border crossing point into Kazakhstan.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Kyrgyzstan and must have at least 1 full blank page if you’re applying for a visa. This rule is not applicable when entering Kyrgyzstan under the 60 day visa-free regime.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Kyrgyzstan. If using one to leave Kyrgyzstan, you must obtain an exit visa from OVIR (the Department for Visa and Registration under the Ministry of Internal Affairs). This takes at least 5 working days.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
On 19 December 2016, the government of Kyrgyzstan approved a decree removing the requirement for British nationals staying in Kyrgyzstan for longer than 5 days to register with the local authorities. You now only need to register your stay with the State Registration Service if you’re visiting for more than 60 days.
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 Kyrgyzstan terminated on 1 January 2016.
Medical facilities in Kyrgyzstan are not as developed 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 and repatriation.
There have been several cases of anthrax in Kyrgyzstan, mainly in the south of the country, due to insufficient measures to vaccinate animals.
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.
There is a high risk of earthquakes. Tremors are frequent.
You should familiarise yourself with safety procedures in the event of an earthquake and follow any advice given by local authorities. In the mountains, avalanches and landslides frequently block roads.
The US Federal Emergency Management Agencyhas information about what to do before, during and after an earthquake.
Avalanches and landslides frequently block roads and are a particular hazard in the spring.
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.