Is Kazakhstan safe? This article has all the safety information you need to know about Kazakhstan to enjoy your trip there in 2020.
Kazakhstan is a huge untouched country. Most of it is quite wild, arid and desertic. It’s one of the few places in the world that can still be considered an off-the-beaten-path destination.
Apart from arid plains, the country also has some beautiful mountains, clear lakes and a huge canyon near the city of Almaty. It’s a country where you can find lush valleys, glacial lakes, snowcapped mountains, and modern cities.
Beautiful alpine lakes can be found in the region near Almaty…
Kazakhstan has a beautiful culture and everything to charm foreigners. Unfortunately, because the country is not so well known and it has the suffix -stan, many people assume it’s a dangerous place.
Is Kazakhstan really dangerous? Is it safe to travel to Kazakhstan?
Cynthia and I hitchhiked a ride across Kazakhstan, spent some time visiting the Aral sea and lived for a few months in Almaty. We’ll tell you what we think about the safety in this country, according to our own experiences.
If you are asking yourself if Kazakhstan is safe to visit as a solo (female) traveler, to travel independently with your friends or family or if it is safe for students and expats to live in its capital city or in Almaty, you’re in the right place.
1. Is Kazakhstan safe for tourists?
Tourism in Kazakhstan is booming and the country is becoming increasingly popular. Apart from the gorgeous sights that can be found throughout the country, Kazakhstan is generally a very safe destination.
Like its neighboring country, Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan has been placed in Level 1 countries by the US Department of State, meaning it is among the safest countries in the world to travel to!
The country is considered to be safer than destinations such as France and Germany, which are Level 2 countries.
Elderly ladies in Kazakhstan are delighted to meet foreigners…
There is a growing number of tourists in Kazakhstan and virtually almost all of them report feeling very safe in the country. The people in Kazakhstan are usually very welcoming and generous to foreigners visiting their country.
Some people might argue though that the country is not safe because there was for a long time a dictatorship as president Nazarbayev ran the country unchallenged for 29 years in a row. Although that was true, the country has been very peaceful over the years.
Apart from being super safe, Kazakhstan is a great destination for winter sports…
Now does this mean that bad things never happen in Kazakhstan? Of course not.
Theft and petty crime do happen but it rarely involves foreigners. Road cops on the other hand – although not dangerous – can still be corrupt and might ask you for a bribe, especially if you are a foreigner.
It’s not uncommon for foreigners driving in Kazakhstan to report that they were stopped 4 to 5 times on the same day by greedy police officers asking for money.
It makes it a bit difficult and annoying to travel around in a rented car but I’ll give you a few tips on how to deal with a situation like this (see Is it safe to drive in Kazakhstan).
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Planning to visit Kazakhstan?
2. Is Kazakhstan safe for students and expats?
The old capital of the country, Almaty, attracts tons of foreign students and expats every year. I would say that this city and the rest of the country is generally very safe for people who decide to stay longer in Kazakhstan whether it’s for work or studies.
Expats and students fall in love with the city of Almaty because of the surrounding mountains, the ultra-modern architecture, and of course its level of safety.
Almaty is a super modern city…
Almaty is an extremely safe city. I would say that visiting Almaty is probably safer than visiting many American cities. The crime rates there are much lower than average.
There are many universities around the city and a lot of young Kazakh students attending these schools speak almost perfect English. A lot of them want to practice their English with foreigners and might approach you if they see you sitting in a park or walking around with your backpack.
You’ll find plenty of big shopping malls in Almaty…
That being said expats should still be cautious with their belongings while walking in big markets like the green bazaar in Almaty.
The best solution to avoid being pick-pocketed is to stay aware of your belongings and surroundings at all times. You should leave all your important items at your hotel or hostel and walk around with only what you absolutely need.
I suggest to keep your wallet in your front pocket or carry a money belt. You could also travel with a slash-resistant and lockable anti-theft bag. I would also recommend getting good travel insurance that covers theft.
A lot of people fall in love with Almaty because of the gorgeous mountains that surround the city…
Expats in Kazakhstan is a good Facebook group to become part of when moving to Kazakhstan. There are hundreds of expats in this group that can answer your questions concerning safety around the country and that can help you adapt to life in Central Asia.
If you are planning to stay in Almaty, you could also join the group International Almaty community for great tips and advice concerning the old capital.
If you’re spending time in Atyrau, a city near the Caspian sea, you could also join the group Atyrau Expats.
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Read more articles about Kazakhstan here
3. Is Kazakhstan safe for solo female travelers?
A lot of female travelers visiting Kazakhstan ask themselves if Kazakhstan is safe for women. Here is our take on it.
In Kazakh culture, men don’t tend to approach foreign women very easily. While traveling around the country and spending time in Almaty, Cynthia never experienced cat-calling. She’s a stunning blonde girl but this didn’t seem to provoke the same reactions we had in other countries like Morocco for example.
Solo female travelers are rarely harassed in Kazakhstan…
We also never heard about foreign girls being harassed in the streets. This seems to be something that is not really common in the Kazakh culture.
Kazakh men (or women) do like to start conversations by asking if you are married or not. This is a very common question in the Central Asian culture and doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to seduce you. For them, this is exactly the same as asking you about your studies or your work.
On a side note, Kazakh men are getting more and more exposed to western media. This sometimes gives them the wrong idea that it’s easy to have a romantic night with a random foreign girl. We heard about solo female travelers being asked out for casual sex by Kazakh men they had just met.
Unfortunately, this happens in a lot of countries and is not typical for Kazakhstan. If you get approached in a similar fashion, be firm and simply show that you’re not interested.
4. Is Kazakhstan safe for traveling families?
Although Kazakhstan is very safe, I would say that the country, for most part at least, is probably not the best holiday destination for family trips.
A big part of the country is covered by arid deserts and requires long road trips (as you can see in this video) or train rides, which is not ideal if you’re traveling with small children. The region that I think would be a great family destination in Kazakhstan is the city of Almaty and its surrounding areas.
If you decide to come to Kazakhstan with your kids, you don’t have to worry about the safety of your children. They play a very important role in Central Asian cultures and are often called by the locals ”the flowers of life”.
While visiting Almaty you will see a lot of families spending quality time together in the lovely parks of the city.
Here are a few recommendations I would have for families traveling to Kazakhstan:
- Avoid tap water in Kazakhstan unless you’re in Almaty
While tap water in Almaty is generally considered safe, the other cities around the country do not have the same standards of quality when it comes to potable water.
I wouldn’t advise letting young kids or adults drink tap water in other Kazakh cities.
To avoid buying plastic water bottles, I would recommend bringing a LifeStraw Water Filter Bottle.
This is a bottle that filters water using a filtration device. If you drink water using this bottle, any dirt, bacteria or parasites gets trapped in the filter, while the clean water passes through.
Almaty is a city where the tap water is very safe to drink…
- Avoid the contact with stray animals in Kazakhstan
There are a lot of stray cats and dogs in Kazakhstan. They may look cute and inoffensive but they could have rabies. Even a small scratch or bite from such an animal could have dire consequences for your child.
- Be up-to-date with your kid’s basic vaccinations
Your children should be up to date with their basic vaccinations before traveling to this country. As an adult, you don’t need any compulsory vaccinations to travel in Kazakhstan.
However, vaccinations for Hepatitis A and Typhoid are recommended, especially if you are visiting smaller cities or rural areas, or if you are an adventurous eater.
The government of Kazakhstan requires proof of yellow fever vaccination only if you’re arriving from a country with risk of yellow fever.
- Travel with a first-aid kit to Kazakhstan
Scratches, cuts and small bruises can happen quickly and unexpectedly. I would suggest bringing a first-aid kit that contains antiseptic wipes, compresses, and band-aids, as well as painkillers and anti-diarrhea medicine. This is the first-aid kit I recommend.
- Exercise precaution if hiking with kids in Kazakhstan
I would advise reading Hiking in Almaty, Kazakhstan – The 5 best and most beautiful hikes in the Almaty mountains before you hike with there with kids.
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Planning to go on a ski trip with your family?
5. Is it safe to hike in Kazakhstan?
Hiking in the Tian-Shen mountains comes with inherent risks. These mountains are very high and can present a variety of risks like altitude sickness, rock falls, and slippery trails.
It’s important to be well prepared and follow some basic safety rules. One of the most important things to consider is to start your mountain adventure with the right equipment.
If you hike around Almaty in winter, wear some extra-warm clothes…
Since cell phone connection is not the best in the mountains around Almaty, it’s very important to let a friend know you will be leaving and for how long you will be gone.
I would recommend reading these articles to prepare for your hikes in Kazakhstan:
- Hiking in Almaty, Kazakhstan – The 5 best and most beautiful hikes in the Almaty mountains
- Mountain safety and general tips for hiking in Central Asia
- The Ultimate Guide to Trekking in the North Tian Shan Mountains, Kazakhstan
6. Is it safe to drive in Kazakhstan?
We drove across a big part of the country with two English friends, and it was quite an adventure!
The road infrastructure in Kazakhstan has improved a lot in recent years. New highways connect the main cities throughout the country which makes driving in Kazakhstan a lot more comfortable and safer than it used to be.
If you want to drive along the older roads across the steppes, keep in mind that those are old gravel roads filled with pot-holes and huge rocks that could puncture your tires if you’re not careful.
We went on a little off-road adventure…
One important factor to consider while driving in Kazakhstan is the huge distance between gas stations.
On some roads, petrol stations are so far from each other that your tank could go empty before you reach the next one. You should bring jerrycans and fill them up whenever you come across petrol stations.
Corrupt cops is another thing you’ll have to deal with while driving around the country. If they see that you have a foreign license plate or that you are driving a rented car (it’s usually very typical models that are rented), they will very likely stop you a few times.
As long as you haven’t broken any traffic laws, you can’t be fined. One traffic law that you need to keep in mind is that you always have to drive with your lights on when you’re outside a city.
What is the best way to deal with bribes and corruption?
First of all, don’t get angry or be impatient. Stay calm and friendly, keep smiling and act like you have all the time in the world.
Most officials only speak Russian so even if you understand the language a bit, pretend that you don’t. If the official happens to speak English, you suddenly can’t speak English anymore.
Talk to them in a foreign language, pretend that you have no idea what’s going on, give them the wrong papers,… Just mess around with them for a while.
They soon will realize they aren’t going to get any money from you and that you’re wasting their time. They will eventually give up and let you go. That’s how Cynthia and I ended up never paying bribes in Kazakhstan.
Driving in Kazakhstan during winter can also be dangerous. The area around Almaty receives huge quantities of snow and some roads become very icy and others are completely blocked.
Be careful if you have to drive from Almaty to Bishkek in winter.
7. Is public transportation in Kazakhstan safe?
There are a few different types of public transportation in Kazakhstan: trains, buses, minibusses (also called marshrutka) and shared taxis.
Buses and marshrutkas are relatively safe. The drivers in shared taxis dare to be speed devils so I would recommend taking a shared taxi only as your last option.
Most of them are old Mercedez and some lack seat belts. The drivers are usually young and reckless. They drive extremely fast and like to overtake people on roads that are covered in potholes.
To find out how to take marshrutkas, buses and shared taxis in Kazakhstan, read Getting around in Kazakhstan.
You can always try to get there by camel, there are plenty of those around!
8. Is the food in Kazakhstan safe?
One thing worth noting though is that most dishes contain meat. Whether it’s mutton, beef or chicken, meat is always present in Kazakhstan. It’s usually stuffed in dumplings, served on top of noodles or rice or alongside potatoes. They even sell canned camel and horse meat!
Vegetarians might find it challenging to travel around the country but bigger cities like Astana and Almaty have plenty of international restaurants where finding a dish without meat is not a problem.
Find out more about food and drinks in Kazakhstan here.
9. Can you drink the water in Kazakhstan?
I would recommend avoiding tap water in Kazakhstan as much as possible unless you’re in Almaty. This city has incredibly clean water. It comes directly from the snow-capped mountains that surround the city and it goes through a thorough sanitation process.
I wouldn’t recommend drinking water directly from the smaller springs and rivers you may encounter while hiking around Almaty as small groups of horses roam near these water sources. I highly recommend using a water filter bottle in these mountains.
10. How is healthcare in Kazakhstan?
Modern health care isn’t everywhere available in Kazakhstan. The health care system is based on the Soviet-style of health care which can seem very different in comparison to Western countries.
Generally, the medical personnel is knowledgeable but the system lacks the modern health care technology available in the rest of the world. There are very limited numbers of medical staff that speak English.
If you need medical attention at any point in Almaty, we recommend SOS international clinic.
They have a clinic located in Almaty staffed with expatriate and English speaking doctors and they provide medical assistance on a 24-hour basis, 365 days a year. Their address is:
INTERNATIONAL SOS CLINIC ALMATY
11 Luganskogo Street
Tel: +7 727 2581 911
Fax: + 7 (727) 2581 585
Email: [email protected]
This is where their clinic is located in Almaty:
They are a bit more expensive than other clinics in Almaty but the assistance of well-formed English speaking doctors makes it totally worth the price.
For a complete list of good doctors, clinics and hospitals in Almaty, check out this page.
If you need healthcare at any point in Astana (recently the city was renamed Nursultan), we recommend the Presidential Hospital at 37/1 Moskovskaya St., where interpreters can be arranged by calling 8(7172)751658.
This is where you’ll find the Presidential Hospital in Nursultan:
If you are the victim of an accident and need immediate assistance, the medical emergency number for Kazakhstan is 103.
11. Are there areas of Kazakhstan you should avoid?
Things are changing very quickly in Kazakhstan and areas that were considered dangerous 10 years ago are now completely safe for foreigners.
In the past, foreign travelers and residents have been attacked and mugged in Atyrau and Aktau but since then the safety has been greatly increased in these cities.
Smaller towns like Uralsk, Taraz, and Shymkent needed to be avoided after dark due to the risk of mugging but now the situation is very different.
There is no particular area of the country you should avoid but I would still recommend not driving on
small countryside roads in Kazakhstan during winter.
12. Is there terrorism in Kazakhstan?
Although acts of terrorism have not been reported in Kazakhstan, it’s not something that can be ruled out (like in any other country in the world…). At this point in time, there is no known terrorist activity in Kazakhstan.
There are however from time to time public protests and manifestations in the city of Almaty and these can potentially be dangerous.
These are only permitted when authorized in advance. Because the small-scale public protests that take place occasionally are not authorized participants at risk of arrest.
You should avoid any public demonstrations or political gatherings. If you become aware of any nearby violence you should leave the area immediately.
13. Is Almaty a safe city?
I have traveled around the world for the last twelve years and I can say without a doubt that Almaty is one of the safest cities I have visited. Cynthia often walked around the city late at night by herself and she was never harassed or approached by anyone.
In general, Almaty is far safer than big European cities like Paris or Berlin. The crime rate there is very low in comparison with a lot of cities of a similar size worldwide.
14. Helpful Russian phrases for Kazakhstan
Traveling in Kazakhstan is becoming easier and easier since more guides now speak English.
Remember though that a big part of the population still speaks only Kazakh and Russian. Learning a few words or expressions in those languages before visiting the country will definitely be handy.
If learning languages is not your thing, I would recommend getting your hands on the Lonely Planet Russian phrasebook and dictionary. It’s packed with thousands of sentences that will help you in different situations and scenarios such as ordering food or finding a place to stay.
Here are a few Russian sentences that will help you get by all over Kazakhstan:
Hi: Привет -This is pronounced as Priviyett
How are you?: Как дела? – This is pronounced as Kak dee la?
I’m fine and you?: Нормально. А вы? – This is pronounced normalna, a voo-ee?
Thank-you: Спасибо – Spasseebaa
Yes: Да – Da
No: Нет – Niet
How much is this?: Сколько это стоит? – Skolka eta sto-ayt?
Where is the bus station?: Где автобусная остановка? – Geedee-yay avtobusnaya astanovka?
Do you speak English?: Вы говорите по-английски? – Voo-ee gavareetee -ay panngleskee?
Kazakhstan is a country that we both love so much. While it can sometimes be hard to communicate with people there and get the comfort that you are used to back home, it is a great destination for all kinds of travelers.
Whether you are a family traveling to Kazakhstan, a solo female traveler or a young backpacker, we’re sure you’ll have a safe and unforgettable experience there!
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KNOW BEFORE YOU GO – KAZAKHSTAN TRAVEL TIPS:
- Everything you need to know about traveling independently in Kyrgyzstan (visa, how to get to and around Kazakhstan, where to stay,…):
- Plan your trip to Kazakhstan, beautiful trips and hikes around Kazakhstan:
- Discovering Turkestan, the spiritual and historical center of Kazakhstan
- The most beautiful lakes of Kazakhstan: Kolsai Lakes and Lake Kaindy
- Visiting the ship graveyard of Aral, the lost sea of Central Asia
- The 26 most beautiful places to visit in Kazakhstan
- Blown away by the beauty of Charyn Canyon – The Complete Travel Guide
- Hiking in Almaty, Kazakhstan – The 5 best and most beautiful hikes
- A Beginner’s Guide to Skiing in Shymbulak Ski Resort in Almaty
KAZAKHSTAN TRAVEL RESOURCES:
- Accommodation & Lodging in Kazakhstan: Booking.com
- Travel Insurance for Kazakhstan: SafetyWing
- Books and guides about Kazakhstan: