This is a complete travel guide with all the information you need to know before you go backpacking in Uzbekistan.
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Uzbekistan is not such a known travel destination (yet). That’s a bit surprising as it’s a beautiful country that you won’t quickly forget after your visit! It’s located on the famous Silk Road, where you can find a wealth of culture and architecture. It’s also very easy to travel independently in Uzbekistan. Here is all the practical information you need to know to travel and go backpacking in Uzbekistan.
1. Do you need a visa for Uzbekistan?
With the exception of the citizens of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, everyone needs a visa to enter the Republic of Uzbekistan. Update: Since February 2018, citizens of Israel, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Turkey can also enter Uzbekistan visa-free!
You need to apply for this visa in advance. You can obtain one for 15 or 30 days. Be aware that the visa is date-specific. This means that you can only enter the country from the date you specified and that you have to leave the country before the end date on your visa.
I requested a 15-day visa, starting on the 6th of December. This meant that I was only allowed to enter Uzbekistan from this specific date on. I could also enter the country a bit later, let’s say on the 8th of December, but I had to make sure that I’d leave Uzbekistan at the latest on the 20th of December.
There are severe penalties and high fines if you exceed the duration of your visa! I wouldn’t get away with it as easily as the time I overstayed my visa for Turkey by 6 months …
How to apply for a visa for Uzbekistan and what do you need?
What you need:
* application form: you can download the official visa application form on evisa.mfa.uz. Fill it in and print it out twice.
* Valid passport
* 2 passport-sized photos
* Letter of Invitation (LOI): you can obtain an LOI through a specialized travel agency or via Caravanistan. Depending on your citizenship, you’ll have to provide several documents (such as a letter of your employer). The prize of an LOI is between 90 USD and 160 USD and it takes about 7 to 10 days before you receive it, depending on where you apply for one.
Update: Since February 2018, citizens of the European Union, East Asia, the Middle East, India, Canada, New Zealand and the United States don’t need an LOI. Look here for a complete overview.
There’s also the promise that from July 2018 on, Uzbekistan will introduce the electronic visa. Until then, you still have to apply in the Uzbeki embassy.
Where to apply:
You can apply for a visa in the Uzbeki embassy or consulate in your country (or the country where you are at the moment). I got my visa in Almaty, Kazakhstan. If you have an LOI, they’ll issue the visa within a couple of hours. If you don’t have an LOI, you’ll have to wait for about one week (depending on the embassy, in some countries you don’t have to wait that long, in other countries it can take up to 10 days). Update: Since February 2018, you’ll receive your visa within 2 working days.
Tip: You can check the status of your application online. Simply enter your details on the website where you got the online form and you can see when your visa is ready to be collected.
In case there isn’t an embassy or consulate in your home country, you can obtain the visa at the airport in Uzbekistan. Make sure that upon arrival you have all the required documents for the visa with you (including the LOI if you need one) and know that you’ll have to pay the visa in US Dollars (cash!).
How much does a visa for Uzbekistan cost?
The visa fees may differ based on your citizenship and where you apply. For most nationalities, a standard 15-day tourist visa costs 60 USD, a 30-day visa single-entry costs 90USD and a 30-day visa double-entry costs 100USD.
Certain embassies may charge you extra service fees. I paid 70USD for a 15-day visa in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
2. Which vaccinations do you need for Uzbekistan?
You don’t need any compulsory vaccinations to travel in Uzbekistan. However, vaccinations for DTP, Hepatitis A and typhoid are recommended; especially if you are planning on eating something ‘more adventurous’ or if you want to travel to remote villages.
3. What do I need to pack for my trip to Uzbekistan?
Let’s start with what you CAN’T bring into the country:
3.1 Prohibited items:
Be careful what you take regarding medicines. Painkillers with codeine, sleeping pills and antidepressants are strictly forbidden. Be sure to check out this list of prohibited substances before you pack your medicine box.
Keep it as simple as possible in terms of medication! I brought some regular painkillers and immodium (definitely bring something along in the probable case of diarrhea). If you need special medication, make sure you bring the prescription, the box and the instruction sheet with you!
You also need to be aware of what type of books you bring with you. You better leave literature on religion, politics and history at home. A travel guide is okay.
When I crossed the land border from Kyrgyzstan, a customs officer checked my e-reader. I had to show all my books and give some extra explanation about some of the content. I had to explain what “ The 4-hour work week” by Tim Ferris was about. The officer just couldn’t grasp the concept of how someone can earn a full-time income by working only 4 hours a week.
Don’t bring any pornographic films and photos! They are really strict about this and the customs officers might check your phone, camera or laptop. You also better remove all films and photos that have something to do with the military, politics, …
It’s also not allowed to take pictures of official agencies, officers and police officers. And – unfortunately – drones are also prohibited.
Oh, and they don’t like (pictures of) bearded men … Islamic fundamentalism is heavily suppressed in Uzbekistan and bearded men are seen as a threat. You can read more about it here. I’m sorry if you’ve been saving a long time for a nice full beard, but you better shave it before you go to Uzbekistan!
It may all seem a bit overwhelming but don’t let this stop you from traveling to Uzbekistan. As long as you take the above into account, you absolutely won’t have problems.
Let’s now talk about what you have to bring with you:
In Uzbekistan, you pay with the Uzbek Sum (UZS). 1USD is about 8144 UZS (January 2018).
There are very few cash machines in the country and if you already find one, chances are that it doesn’t work. So bring cash money! You can exchange US dollars on the spot. Make sure that the notes are undamaged!
I am currently working on a post about how much backpacking to Uzbekistan costs to give you an idea of how much money you have to take with you. Count roughly on 400 US dollars per person for 15 days.
Much has changed since September 2017 concerning places where you can exchange currency in Uzbekistan. It used to more profitable to exchange your money on the black market, where the exchange rate was higher.
But since September 2017 the Uzbek government has made the black market unattractive by strongly increasing the fixed exchange rate in the banks. It’s now more profitable – and more reliable – to go to a bank to buy Uzbek Sum. Take an extra bag, because you will leave the bank with a huge pile of money!
It used to be very difficult to exchange the Uzbek sum back into US dollars. Nowadays it’s no longer a problem. Before you leave the country, you can exchange your remaining sum at the bank or in one of the exchange offices at the land borders.
When I crossed the land border with Kyrgyzstan, I was able to exchange my remaining Uzbek sum in Kyrgyz Sum in an exchange office at the border.
When you enter the country, you’ll have to fill in a form in which you must state how much cash you have on you. Keep this document carefully with you!
When leaving Uzbekistan, you’ll have to fill in the same form again, indicating how much cash you have left. It’s very important that you leave the country with less money! There’s a chance that both documents will be compared.
If it turns out that you have more money on you than when you entered the country, they will suspect you of illegal practices. And believe me, you really DON’T WANT this to happen!!
3.3 Travel Insurance
It isn’t mandatory to have travel insurance if you are traveling to Uzbekistan. However, I would suggest getting one for the period of your trip. You just never know…
If you don’t have travel insurance yet, I suggest to sign up for the travel insurance provided by World Nomads. Click here for more information and prices.
3.4 Power sockets in Uzbekistan
The power sockets in Uzbekistan are of type C and F. The standard voltage is 220 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.
3.5 What kind of clothes should I wear in Uzbekistan?
Uzbekistan has a continental climate with four seasons. Pack appropriate clothes for the period in which you’re traveling. Winters can be very cold (with average temperatures of -10°C) and there’s often a lot of snow.
Bring warm clothing if you plan on traveling to Uzbekistan between the months of November and March. Summers (June – September) are very hot (with average temperatures of 35°C) so pack light summer clothing in your backpack.
Keep in mind that the Uzbeks are rather conservative people so respect their culture.
As a woman, don’t walk around in miniskirts, short shorts, and revealing tops. T-shirts with short sleeves and knee-length skirts, dresses and shorts are okay, except for when you visit religious buildings and places. There you should cover your arms and wear a long skirt or trousers.
It’s also not really appropriate for a man to wear shorts. And you better leave any singlets at home. Wear long cotton trousers instead.
3.6 Can I drink the tap water in Uzbekistan?
I wouldn’t advise you to drink the tap water. Buy bottles of water in the local supermarkets or bring a LifeStraw Water Filter Bottle.
This is a reusable bottle that filters water using a microfiltration device. When you drink tap water using this bottle, any dirt, bacteria or parasites will be trapped in the fibers of the filter, while the clean water passes through.
It’s not only good for your belly and wallet, it’s also great for the environment because you don’t have to buy any plastic bottles of water! Order one here.
4. What is the best time to travel to Uzbekistan?
The best time to visit Uzbekistan is in spring or autumn. The temperature during that period will be very pleasant to travel and walk around, in contrast to the hot summer months.
Winter in Uzbekistan can also be very special. It might be cold but the snow transforms everything into a beautiful winter wonderland. That’s why I traveled to Uzbekistan in December. Unfortunately, I arrived a bit too late (or was it too early?).
It had snowed several days before my arrival and I could only enjoy the last bits of it in the capital Tashkent. In the other cities, the snow had already disappeared by the time I arrived there.
The last traces of snow in Tashkent
5. Getting around in Uzbekistan: by public transport, renting a car or hitchhiking?
5.1 Traveling by public transport in Uzbekistan
It’s very easy to travel by public transport in Uzbekistan. It is also very cheap! You can travel by train or with a shared taxi.
You can reach almost all the touristic destinations in Uzbekistan by train.
There are two types of trains: the Afrosiyob – a modern express train, and the Sharq – an old-fashioned slow train. The latter is the cheapest but both trains are very comfortable.
The Sharq is the only train with which you can travel at night (eg from Tashkent to Urgench). You can either book a private sleeper (1st class) or a shared sleeper (2nd class).
You can travel in 1st and 2nd class in the Afrosiyob and there are 3 classes in the Sharq. Both trains sell coffee, tea, and snacks during the trip.
You can buy tickets at the ticket counter in the train station. Most clerks understand English. It’s better to buy your ticket one day in advance, especially if you are traveling during the high season (May – September). Don’t forget to bring your passport.
An economy ticket for the Afrosiyob costs around 70.000 UZS for a 3-hour train journey. You can view the travel schedules on the Uzbek Railways website.
On the day of departure, arrive at least 1 hour in advance at the train station. There might be long queues at the entrance where your luggage and passport get checked.
You can also travel by shared taxi. Those taxis leave at a fixed location – often just outside the city. Your hostel or hotel will know where to find them. You share these taxis with other passengers (which you don’t have to search for yourself). The taxi leaves when it is full.
You won’t have to search long for a taxi. The drivers will probably find you first (they’ll ask where you’re going or they’ll be shouting out their destination)… Be careful because they can be quite pushy!
Try to have an idea of how much you have to pay for a ride (ask about it in your hotel/hostel) because the drivers like to double the rate for ignorant tourists.
Before you get in the taxi, clearly affirm the agreed price and that you want to share the taxi with other passengers. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay the full price!
Pay maximum 8.000 UZS for a ride within the city. A trip of 2 to 3 hours to another city will cost you around 50.000 UZS, depending on how good you are at bargaining. I suck at bargaining. That’s why I preferred to travel by train. It’s much more straightforward and comfortable!
5.2 Traveling by car in Uzbekistan
It used to be impossible for foreigners to rent a car in Uzbekistan. Apparently, this changed recently but it’s still very expensive if you want to drive by yourself. It is much cheaper to rent a car with driver.
In case you’re traveling to Uzbekistan with your own car, you’re allowed to bring it into the country as long as you have all the required documents. More information can be found here.
Know that it’s very difficult to find diesel; propane is the main fuel in Uzbekistan, petrol comes in second.
Check out to the website of Caravanistan for more information on traveling by car in Uzbekistan.
5.3 Hitchhiking in Uzbekistan
It’s allowed and possible to hitchhike in Uzbekistan but know that most drivers will charge you money for the ride. Be very clear from the start that you don’t have money if you don’t want to pay for the ride.
It will play to your advantage if you have a basic knowledge of the language (see below ‘9. Which languages are spoken in Uzbekistan‘) so that you can explain your intentions.
6. Accommodation in Uzbekistan
According to the law, it’s not allowed to stay with a host family and tourists have to register every night in a hotel or hostel. This happens automatically when you check in. You have to keep these registration slips with you as they can be checked when you leave the country.
However, when I left Uzbekistan, no one checked my registration papers. But you never know, chances are that they will ask for it at the border control.
Don’t feel discouraged if you were planning on camping or staying with a host family. As long as you register at least 1 out of 3 nights in a hotel or hostel, you won’t run into problems.
Only if you’re planning on spending a few days in the Fergana valley, you have to get registered there every evening. Don’t ignore these rules, because not only you but also your host family could get into trouble.
If you take the overnight train, this ticket is also seen as a registration (so keep your tickets with you!).
7. Drinks and food in Uzbekistan
The Uzbek cuisine is characterized by dishes that consist mainly of rice, noodles, vegetables and lots of mutton. As a vegetarian, it can be challenging – but not impossible – to find meat-free meals, but if you’re a vegan, it’ll be very hard to eat a typical Uzbek meal.
Plov is the most popular dish in Uzbekistan. It consists of rice, mutton, onions, carrots and raisins baked in sheep fat. In the summer you’ll also find lots of fruit, especially the melons are delicious!! You can buy fresh vegetables, fruit, various spices and sweet Uzbek candy one of the many local markets.
If you want a break from the Uzbek cuisine, you can eat in one of the many international restaurants in the larger cities – such as Tashkent and Samarkand.
The food is mainly served with water or soft drinks. Tea is available everywhere but as a coffee lover, you’ll have to be satisfied with instant coffee. There are some coffee houses in the larger cities where they serve (relatively) high-quality coffee.
You can buy alcoholic drinks – such as beer and Uzbek wine (really delicious!) – in the local supermarkets. Vodka is available in all shapes and sizes.
8. Religion in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is a post-Soviet state. During the Soviet regime, religious practices were severely suppressed. Only after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, did the religious freedom in Uzbekistan increase.
About 90% of the population is Muslim and 10% is Russian Orthodox. Islamic fundamentalist groups that want to return to conservative Islam are officially banned in Uzbekistan. Because of this, you won’t see many people practice their religion in public.
You’ll notice that many women wear a headscarf (which is more connected to the culture) and the Uzbeks are quite conservative. Keep this in mind concerning your appearance (see 3.5 What kind of clothes should I wear).
9. Which languages are spoken in Uzbekistan?
The official language is Uzbek. It belongs to the family of Turkic languages so if you speak some Turkish, you might understand Uzbek a little bit. Especially the numbers are similar. My knowledge of the Turkish language helped a lot when I had to bargain with vendors and taxi drivers!
Many Uzbek people speak Russian as a second language. That’s because Uzbekistan was once part of the Soviet Union. Knowing some Russian language will certainly play to your advantage if you want to get to know the Uzbeks better! You get to know a country in a different way when you can talk to its citizens!
People who work in the hospitality sector will know some English and you might meet some young Uzbeks who can speak it as well, but most people won’t understand the language.
A phrasebook will definitely be useful. I recommend the Lonely Planet Russian Phrasebook & Dictionary.
I learn a new language using the audio classes of Pimsleur. This is a great learning method to study a new language. It helped me a lot to quickly reach a basic level in Russian. Click here for more information:
Learn a New Language with Pimsleur!
10. Safety in Uzbekistan
Many people wonder if it’s safe to travel in Uzbekistan. It’s still a relatively unknown country in Central Asia and its neighboring country Afghanistan doesn’t have the best reputation. A country ending with -stan gets quickly associated with danger. However, you absolutely have nothing to worry about! Uzbekistan is totally safe!
You’ll see police officers on every street corner and at every public place and the people don’t have any bad intentions. Tourism is a rich source of income and the Uzbeks want you to have a fantastic experience in their country. They are also very hospitable and you’ll be received as a very welcome guest!
I traveled on my own to Uzbekistan and I’ve never felt unsafe! Read about my solo journey here
Do you still have questions about your upcoming journey to Uzbekistan? Let me know in the comments below or send me an email!
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