Turkmenistan travel guide
It’s an accomplished geographer who can confidently point to Turkmenistan on a map. Despite being similar in size to Spain, this Central Asian nation remains well under most people’s radar.
There are two reasons for this. One is that Turkmenistan is a country comprised largely of barren desert and untamed terrain – hardly a big draw for tourists. But the main reason for its obscurity can be traced to Turkmenistan’s autocratic government, which has been compared to the regime of North Korea.
At the helm of this ex-Soviet state is President Berdymukhamedov, who promotes a Kim Jong-un style personality cult in which he and his inner circle enjoy absolute power over every aspect of life. Consequently, according to Human Rights Watch, Turkmenistan is one of the most repressed countries in the world, a place where "human rights defenders and other activists face the constant threat of government reprisals.”
If you’re not put off by repressive regimes, Turkmenistan is a destination that offers one thing most others don’t: the chance to travel across the country without seeing other travellers. The isolation is palpable.
The brave few who do make it here usually arrive via the capital, Ashgabat. This modern city was built in 1948 after an earthquake destroyed the previous incarnation. Visitors can learn more about this devastating event at the touching Earthquake Museum, one of the city’s finer attractions.
Many of Ashgabat’s other landmarks take on a Soviet flavour – Independence Square, the Arch of Neutrality, numerous Lenin statues – but there are also mosques, galleries and gardens. The Altyn Asyr bazaar is worth a visit too, especially if you’re in the market for a Turkmen carpet.
Outside the capital, almost all of the country’s attractions lie around the fringes of the desert. Some of the world’s most powerful empires settled here and their crumbling legacies can be seen at the Parthian Fortress of Nisa, Kunya-Urgench and Merv, which are all UNESCO-listed World Heritage Sites. And quiet ones at that.
488,100 sq km (188,456 sq miles).
5,438,670 (UN estimate 2016).
10.7 per sq km.
President Serdar Berdymukhammedov since 2022.
President Serdar Berdymukhammedov since 2022.
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 as well as support for British nationals abroad which includes:
- advice on preparing for travel abroad and reducing risks
- information for women, LGBT+ and disabled travellers
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 Turkmenistan set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Turkmenistan Embassy in the UK.
Many international scheduled commercial flights to and from Turkmenistan have not resumed since the suspension under COVID-19 rules.
Confirm the latest requirements with your Turkmen sponsor, or with the embassy that issued your visa if you have one. Check with your travel company or airline for changes.
You’ll be given a COVID-19 test when you enter Turkmenistan. This costs about 31 US dollars.
If you test positive, you’ll have to quarantine for 7 days in a hospital. You’ll be charged for your stay.
Passport validity requirements
To enter Turkmenistan, your passport must have an ‘expiry date’ more than 6 months after the end-date on your visa.
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 will need a visa to enter and travel through Turkmenistan as a visitor. If you have the wrong visa or if you overstay your visa, you could be prosecuted and possibly imprisoned.
Applying for a visa
Contact the Turkmenistan Embassy in London at least a month ahead of your intended travel date.
You need a letter of invitation to support your application. For tourist visits, authorised travel agents can provide these letters. If you are travelling on business , you need letters from relevant government ministries or companies you want to do business with. If you want to attend an exhibition or event, the organiser normally provides visa support.
You should keep your letter of invitation with you when you are in Turkmenistan .
The Turkmenistan Embassy will refer your visa application to Ashgabat for a decision, which can take up to a month. There is an accelerated 24-hour service costing about 150 US dollars.
Transit visas and travelling through Turkmenistan by car
You can use a transit visa if you will be in Turkmenistan for less than 5 days. You cannot change your transit visa to a tourist visa, and you must notify the authorities if you intend to change your route. Border officials may close Turkmen border crossings without notice.
You cannot buy a transit visa at Baku seaport. If you want to travel to Azerbaijan by sea, you need to have visas for both Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.
You’ll be charged up to 150 US dollars to bring a car into Turkmenistan by land or sea.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the vaccinations and certificates you need in TravelHealthPro’s Turkmenistan guide.
Registering with the authorities
If you’re staying for more than 3 days, you must register with the State Migration Service of Turkmenistan within 3 days of your arrival.
In Ashgabat, register at the office at 57 Azadi Street. If you’re not staying in Ashgabat, you should register at the local department office. Ask your hotel manager or employer as they will need to confirm your departure date in writing. In most cases they will register your stay on your behalf. You must provide 2 passport-size photos.
On arrival, you must pay a migration fee of 14 US dollars. All foreign visitors except diplomats are also charged a ‘tourism tax’ of 2 US dollars for each day of their stay in Turkmenistan. Hotels include the tax as a separate item on your bill.
There are strict rules about goods you can take into or out of Turkmenistan. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.
‘Tobacco products to the amount of 2 packs’ means you can bring one of:
- 2 packets of cigarettes – a total of 40 cigarettes
- 2 cigars
- 2 packs of tobacco each weighing no more than a packet of cigarettes
It is illegal to give tobacco products as a gift. If you are caught, you could be fined.
Taking money into Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan is largely a cash-based society. Carry cash and pay in the national currency, manat. Some larger hotels accept US dollars, but other outlets are only allowed to accept manat. There are harsh penalties for them if they take your payment in other currencies.
You can exchange cash US dollars and euros for manat easily at a bank or money exchange. Bring new, clean notes as exchanges will reject damaged or marked notes. Other currencies are difficult to exchange. Manat cannot be re-converted, so exchange only as much as you need.
There are a limited number of international ATMs in Ashgabat, but they can run out of manat notes. There’s a 3% withdrawal charge for each transaction.
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 Turkmenistan
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Turkmenistan, attacks cannot be ruled out.
You should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be in public places, including those visited by foreigners.
Turkmen land border crossings can be subject to occasional and unannounced closures. The borders with Afghanistan and Iran are particularly sensitive.
The Caspian port of Turkmenbashi, and the ancient Silk Road city of Merv (Mary) are not in restricted areas. Check with your local tour guide before travelling outside the capital.
Laws and cultural differences
Police sometimes carry out checks of identity documents. Carry a copy of the photo page of your passport at all times and keep your passport separately in a safe place.
Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims. Ramadan in Turkmenistan in 2024 will likely begin in mid-March and will last for 30 days. Get more advice from your tour guide, hotel or business contacts. During this time, do not:
- eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public in the daytime, including in a car or taxi
- play loud music or dance
- wear revealing clothes
- swear in public
You should also:
- check opening hours of shops and restaurants
- be aware that if hotels and restaurants are providing food or drink in fasting hours, they may separate you from Islamic guests, for example with screens
- be aware that driving may be erratic, particularly when people are trying to get home at dusk
- be patient and show tolerance
Alcohol laws and bans
It is illegal to drink alcohol in:
- parks or public squares
- forests or beaches
- train stations, airports or sea ports
- government offices
Smoking and e-cigarette bans
It is illegal to smoke outside or in any communal spaces unless they contain a designated smoking area.
Illegal drugs and prison sentences
If you’re found guilty of possession or use of illegal drugs, you could face a lengthy prison sentence in very basic conditions.
Using cameras in secure areas
Check before taking photographs of or near airports, military barracks, police stations, government buildings or embassies. The guards at the presidential palace may tell you not to take pictures of it. The Turkmen can be sensitive about having their picture taken without their consent.
Internet and mobile network
Internet connections outside the larger hotels can be unreliable. Many social media apps and websites, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp are blocked. Access to Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail is often difficult. VPNs are illegal in Turkmenistan and are usually blocked as soon as the authorities identify them.
There is a single state-owned mobile telephone provider, Altyn Asyr, which uses the TM CELL brand. Altyn Asyr does not provide a roaming service and the quality of the network is low.
Relationships with Turkmens
The Turkmen authorities sometimes prosecute Turkmen women if they start a sexual relationship with a foreign man. They could give the foreign man a fine and deport him.
Male same-sex activity is illegal, punishable by a prison sentence. Same-sex relationships generally meet with disapproval in Turkmen society. Avoid showing affection in public.
Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.
If you are planning to drive a hire car or a UK vehicle, see information on driving abroad. The guide lists driving regulations and other legal requirements you need to be aware of.
You’ll need to have both the correct version of the international driving permit (IDP) and your UK driving licence with you in the car. You cannot buy an IDP outside the UK, so get one before you travel. You can buy an IDP in person from some UK post offices – find your nearest post office branch that offers this service.
Driving standards are poor. Road travel at night outside cities is particularly dangerous because of the condition of the roads. There is a 60km/h speed limit in much of Ashgabat, enforced by both static speed cameras and police with mobile speed cameras. There are no signs warning of speed cameras.
Licensed taxis are clearly identified and are white or yellow. Avoid unlicensed taxis.
Although taxis have meters, drivers will usually ask foreign nationals for a fee of around 20 manat. They might also ask for payment in US dollars, but this is illegal. Most taxi drivers do not speak much English.
Extreme weather and natural disasters
There is a risk of earthquakes – usually tremors, but stronger earthquakes happen regularly. Ashgabat was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1948, when up to 100,000 people were killed.
The US Federal Emergency Management Agency has advice about what to do before, during and after an earthquake.
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 03 from a landline or 003 from a mobile and ask for an ambulance.
Contact your insurance or medical assistance 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 health risks and recommended vaccinations in TravelHealthPro’s Turkmenistan guide
- where to get vaccines and whether you have to pay on NHS travel vaccinations page
Air quality in cities in Turkmenistan can deteriorate from time to time. Minimise your exposure by staying indoors in an air-conditioned environment. Wash all fruit, vegetables and other foods that might have been exposed, and regularly damp-dust indoor surfaces.
Typhoid and hepatitis A are endemic. You should drink or use only boiled and filtered or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks.
In the summer temperatures regularly reach 45°C in the shade, so drink plenty of water in the summer and avoid sunburn.
If you intend to enter Turkmenistan with medicines, whether prescription or non-prescription, you should check in advance the prohibited medicines and the legal quantities of medicines that are allowed into the country.
You could be prosecuted for possession of some drugs such as tramadol or morphine or even strong painkillers if you do not have a prescription, or if you’re carrying more than you need for your visit and do not declare them on arrival.
TravelHealthPro explains best practice when travelling with medicines.
The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.
Healthcare facilities in Turkmenistan
There is no reciprocal healthcare agreement between the UK and Turkmenistan.
The quality of medical care is poor, and it is a lot more expensive than in the UK. Anything other than basic or emergency treatment, particularly outside Ashgabat, is usually best avoided. 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 Turkmenistan.
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 Turkmenistan
- 03 from landline
- 003 from mobile
- 01 from landline
- 001 from mobile
- 02 from landline
- 002 from mobile
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
- dealing with a death in Turkmenistan
- being arrested or imprisoned in Turkmenistan
- 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 Turkmenistan and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy in Ashgabat.
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)
Risk information for British companies
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.