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 Sadyr Japarov since 2021.
Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers Akylbek Japarov since 2021.
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.
Before you travel
No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide and see support for British nationals abroad for information about specific travel topics.
If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.
This advice reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.
The authorities in Kyrgyzstan set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Kyrgyz Embassy in the UK.
There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering Kyrgyzstan.
Passport validity requirements
If you’re visiting or resident in Kyrgyzstan, your passport must have an ‘expiry date’ at least 6 months after the day you arrive.
Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.
You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen.
You can enter Kyrgyzstan as a visitor for stays of up to 60 days without a visa. You must not stay more than 60 days in any 120-day period.
To stay longer (to work or study, for business travel or for other reasons), you must meet the Kyrgyz government’s entry requirements. Check which type of visa or work permit you need with the Kyrgyz Embassy. The Kyrgyzstan Ministry of Foreign Affairs also has information on visas.
Applying for a visa
Travelling through Kyrgyzstan
If you’re travelling through Kyrgyzstan on your way to another country and will be passing through immigration (sometimes known as a layover), you must follow Kyrgyzstan’s entry requirements.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the vaccinations and certificates you need in TravelHealthPro’s Kyrgyzstan guide.
Registering with the Kyrgyz authorities
If you’re visiting Kyrgyzstan for more than 60 days, you must register online with the State Registration Service (SRS) (in Kyrgyz and Russian). You must register within 5 days of your entry into Kyrgyzstan for the period of your visa’s validity.
Non-Kyrgyz nationals with a permanent residency permit can host visitors to Kyrgyzstan and register them with the State Registration Service. See information on registration in English.
Kyrgyz-British dual nationality
Kyrgyzstan does not recognise dual nationality. If you enter Kyrgyzstan on a Kyrgyz passport and hold British nationality, the British Embassy can only provide very limited consular assistance. If you’re arrested or detained, the Kyrgyz authorities are unlikely to allow you to get help from the British Embassy.
There are strict rules about goods you can take into or out of Kyrgyzstan (in Russian). You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.
There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. You should remain vigilant at all times.
UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.
Terrorism in Kyrgyzstan
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Kyrgyzstan.
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. 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.
Demonstrations happen regularly in Bishkek and elsewhere across the country. Most demonstrations are peaceful but occasionally turn violent, sometimes with little or no warning. You should avoid all crowds and demonstrations and follow updates on local media and any instructions from the police or other authorities.
Protecting your belongings
Muggings (sometimes violent) and theft happen regularly. Take care if you go out after dark.
Do not show large amounts of money and be wary of strangers offering help or being over-friendly.
Be careful when using currency exchange offices and visiting the bazaars in Bishkek, particularly Osh Bazaar, where pickpockets target tourists.
There have been cases of sexual assault and harassment on public transport. See advice for women travelling abroad.
Laws and cultural differences
Kyrgyzstan has a secular constitution. (A secular state claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion.) Most Kyrgyz people are Muslims. You should always respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions. Make sure your actions do not offend other cultures or religious beliefs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas.
You must always carry your passport, or a notarised copy of it. The police can arrest you if you do not carry ID. You can get a copy of your passport notarised in the UK and translated into Kyrgyz or Russian, or use a copy notarised in Kyrgyzstan.
Illegal drugs and prison sentences
It is illegal to possess or use drugs. You can get a lengthy prison sentence if convicted.
Using cameras in secure areas
It is illegal to take photos of anything related to the military or security, including border checkpoints, military barracks and police stations.
Same-sex relationships are legal but not often discussed or recognised publicly. Showing affection in public could result in a violent attack or unwanted attention.
Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.
There are frequent power cuts throughout Kyrgyzstan during the winter, due to high consumption and lack of water for power generation.
Outdoor activities and adventure tourism
Trekking and mountaineering
Trekking in Kyrgyzstan often involves travelling to very remote areas. There is a high risk of avalanches, landslides and rockfalls. Weather can change very quickly, and heavy snowfall can block roads and trekking routes, particularly in the autumn and winter.
At higher altitudes there is a possibility of snow in the summer months. Sunstroke and serious sunburn can also cause problems, particularly in mountainous areas.
- get adequate insurance, including for any activity at high altitude
- use a reputable trekking agency
- let someone know when you plan to return
- not trek alone
- adapt your plans to reflect local conditions and advice
In remote areas, mobile phone coverage is extremely limited, and medical facilities are basic. Some Kyrgyz mobile phones have difficulties connecting to satellite phones. The difficult terrain can make access impossible in some cases.
There is a limited mountain rescue service staffed by volunteers. The rescue equipment they have is limited. Mountain rescue 24-hour emergency number: +996 312 651 404
If you’re planning to drive a hire car or a UK vehicle, see information on driving abroad.
You can use a UK photocard driving licence to drive in Kyrgyzstan for up to 30 days. If you still have a paper driving licence, you may need to update it to a photocard licence or get the correct version of the international driving permit (IDP) as well.
You’re legally required to have mandatory third-party motor vehicle insurance. This is in addition to any other motor vehicle insurance. For more information, contact insurance companies in Kyrgyzstan.
Hire car companies often have stricter requirements for their customers, such as a year of driving experience, a higher minimum age and holding an IDP.
Petrol stations are limited in rural areas and diesel is often unavailable. Make sure you take all you need for your journey.
If the police stop you and issue a fine, they should give you a paper copy with instructions on how to pay. You can pay fines through a payment terminal or in a bank. Do not pay cash directly to the police officers, although some may have a payment terminal you can use. Some fines may be reduced if you pay quickly. Payment terminals are available on streets and other places such as malls, grocery stores, kiosks and restaurants.
Many roads are poorly lit and maintained with road works or damaged roads often not clearly signposted. There is currently no MOT and no legal requirement for vehicles to be insured. Pedestrians often have a low awareness of road safety. Roads outside of Bishkek are often blocked by snow in winter.
Take extra care when driving, particularly over long distances and avoid giving lifts to hitchhikers. Drivers have been robbed by people they picked up.
Wherever possible use main roads when travelling in and around Bishkek.
Drink-driving is a serious offence in Kyrgyzstan. If you are tested and found to have any alcohol in your system, you may get a 17,500 Kyrgyz som fine and have your licence revoked for 1 year.
Taxis and buses
You should avoid flagging down taxis. Use telephone, text messaging, or taxi services, which are more reputable and have English-speaking dispatchers.
Avoid using local buses and minibuses if possible. They are not always maintained properly and pickpockets operate on them.
In May 2022, the UK sanctioned Aeroflot, Rossiya Airlines and Ural Airlines. It is now illegal under UK law for any British national or British company to do business with these airlines. This includes buying flight tickets.
The UK Air Safety List (ASL) lists all known airlines in Kyrgyzstan that do not meet international safety standards and are banned from operating commercial air services to, from, and within the UK. Check the UK Air Safety List when considering which airlines to fly with. The list is maintained by the Department for Transport, based on advice from the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
Check whether your tour operator has concerns about airlines in Kyrgyzstan.
Extreme weather and natural disasters
There is a high risk of earthquakes and tremors are frequent. Familiarise yourself with safety procedures and follow advice from local authorities. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency has information about what to do before, during and after an earthquake.
Avalanches and landslides
In the mountains, avalanches and landslides often block roads, particularly in the spring.
This section has safety advice for regions of Kyrgyzstan. It only covers regions where FCDO has specific advice.
Osh and Jalal-Abad provinces
Stay aware of your surroundings if you travel to the provinces (‘oblasts’) of Osh and Jalal-Abad. While there has been no widespread violence since 2010, there are still underlying tensions.
Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border, including Batken Province
There is a risk of conflict over recognition of Kyrgyzstan’s border with Tajikistan. There are regular security incidents along the border with exchanges of gunfire.
In September 2022, armed conflict between the Kyrgyz and Tajik militaries resulted in over 100 deaths, including civilians. There was significant destruction of civilian property and infrastructure. Around 140,000 civilians were displaced. There is a risk of further violence and border closures at any time.
There are occasional violent incidents on Kyrgyzstan’s border with Uzbekistan. There is a risk of landmines in uncontrolled Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan border areas.
Check local media reports before you travel to see which border posts are open. Only use officially recognised border crossings. Borders can close at short notice, particularly the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border near the Vorukh enclave.
Before you travel check that:
- your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
- you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation
This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.
Emergency medical number
Call 103 and ask for an ambulance.
Contact your insurance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Vaccinations and health risks
At least 8 weeks before your trip check:
- the latest information on vaccinations and health risks in TravelHealthPro’s Kyrgyzstan guide
- where to get vaccines and whether you have to pay on the NHS travel vaccinations page
Altitude sickness is a risk in parts of Kyrgyzstan. Read more about altitude sickness on TravelHealthPro.
There have been several cases of anthrax, mainly in the south due to insufficient vaccination of animals.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.
The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.
Basic medicines (such as aspirin) are available without a prescription. Most UK prescriptions are accepted in Kyrgyzstan, but you should phone a Kyrgyz pharmacy in advance to check. You may need to get your UK prescription translated into Russian or Kyrgyz. You can get a translation in Kyrgyzstan – find an interpreter or translator.
Some prescription medications are not widely available. Check on availability with a Kyrgyz doctor or pharmacy. Medications often come under different brand names, so ask for the drug’s generic name. If your medication is not available, you may be able to get it couriered from Russia or Turkey, though this could take time.
You may need to pay cash for medication.
Healthcare facilities in Kyrgyzstan
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.
FCDO has a list of English-speaking doctors in Kyrgyzstan.
COVID-19 healthcare in Kyrgyzstan
If you suspect you have COVID-19 symptoms, call Kyrgyzstan’s medical hotline (118, 112 or 103), or private medical services.
Private laboratories offer COVID-19 PCR and antibody tests for people who are not showing symptoms.
Travel and mental health
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.
Emergency services in Kyrgyzstan
Rescue and emergency: 112
Tourist police in Issyk-Kul Province
There is a tourist police call centre in Issyk-Kul Province (‘Oblast’). Call or message on WhatsApp: +996 705 00 91 02 (staff speak English and Russian).
Contact your travel provider and insurer
Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.
Refunds and changes to travel
For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.
Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:
- where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
- how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim
Support from FCDO
FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:
- finding English-speaking lawyers, funeral directors and translators and interpreters in Kyrgyzstan
- dealing with a death in Kyrgyzstan
- being arrested or imprisoned in Kyrgyzstan
- getting help if you’re a victim of crime
- what to do if you’re in hospital
- if you’re affected by a crisis, such as a terrorist attack
You can also contact FCDO online.
Help abroad in an emergency
If you’re in Kyrgyzstan and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy in Bishkek.
FCDO in London
You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.
Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)
Doing business in Kyrgyzstan
If you’re considering investing or doing business in Kyrgyzstan, it is important to research carefully.
Although there are British companies operating successfully in Kyrgyzstan, there have been instances of British people getting into difficulties. This includes having assets stolen or being physically attacked. See Kyrgyzstan’s ranking in the Transparency International Global Corruption Index.
The Kyrgyz legal system can be slow and getting judgements implemented can be very difficult. The British Embassy is not able to get involved (including offering advice) in private disputes over property, employment, commercial or other matters.
Business associations in Kyrgyzstan may be able to offer you advice. If you get into difficulties due to the actions of state bodies, you can also contact the Kyrgyzstan ombudsman (in Russian and Kyrgyz).