Kazakhstan is a newly independent nation in the midst of profound economic and political change. The capital is Astana. The U.S. Embassy is still located in Almaty, the largest city and former capital. Tourist facilities are not highly developed, and many of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available. Internal travel and travel to other New Independent States (NIS), including both air and land routes, can be subject to disruptions and long delays.
A valid passport and visa are required. Visas are issued by the Kazakhstani Embassy on the basis of an invitation from an individual or organization that is the sponsor in Kazakhstan, or by bilateral agreement, by the Russian Embassy in countries in which there is no Kazakhstani Embassy. The U.S. Embassy in Almaty does not issue letters of invitation to citizens interested in private travel to Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan has suspended the 72-hour transit rule, which allowed travelers with other Commowealth of Independent States' visas to transit Kazakhstan. All travelers, even those simply transiting Kazakhstan for less than 72 hours, must obtain a Kazakhstan visa prior to entering the country. Furthermore, travelers may be asked to provide proof at the border of their onward travel arrangements. For complete information concerning entry requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of Kazakhstan at 1401 16th Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036, telephone (202) 232-5488.
The rate of crime, particularly violent street crime, is serious and widespread. Pickpocketing is frequent. Robberies have occurred on public transport, in parks and shopping areas, around hotels and restaurants catering to foreigners, and in private apartments. It is best not to walk alone at night; carrying a flashlight after dark is recommended. The loss or theft of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to local police and to the U.S. Embassy.
A new scam was uncovered at the Almaty International Airport in January 2000. Men posing as "meet and greet" airport facilitators for international arrivals lure unsuspecting foreigners into cars purportedly to take them to their hotel. However, the driver of the car proceeds to drive to a secluded gas station in the country. He then demands approximately $100 for gas to take the foreigner back to the city. All Americans planning travel to Kazakhstan should make prior arrangements with their contacts in Almaty for concrete identification upon arrival at the airport. Americans should not leave with anyone who does not show the pre-arranged identification, even if the person is holding a sign with the traveler's name.
The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that Americans do not carry large sums of money on the street. There have been cases of men wearing official police uniforms approaching foreigners on the street, asking to see their passports and then robbing them of whatever cash they may have. These crimes seem to be most common in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city. They occur most frequently at the open-air market (known locally as the "green market"), near the central department store, and around the Otrar and Dostyk hotels. All Americans are advised to exercise caution in the vicinity of these hotels and when shopping. Kazakhstani police officials advise that a legitimate police officer should not be randomly checking pedestrians for identification. A genuine police official should always present his own credentials when approaching someone on the street. If he does not, you should ask to see his credentials. If the officer cannot produce authentic identification, he is most likely not a real policeman.
Given these circumstances, if you are not threatened with a weapon or force and find yourself confronted by a policeman, confidently and assertively ask for the officer’s identification. Note any identification number or any license plate number if there is a car. Tell the officer that you will report his behavior to the U.S. Embassy and his supervisors. Never voluntarily hand over your passport or wallet to a policeman. Be sure to inform the Embassy promptly of any such encounters with the police.
Given the crime situation, the U.S. Embassy has made arrangements with the Kazakhstani Government to allow Americans to carry a certified copy of their passport and visa rather than the original. Additional information on the region can be found in the brochure, Tips for Travelers to Russia and the New Independent States, available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs.
Medical care in Kazakhstan is below Western standards, with severe shortages of basic medical supplies, including disposable needles, anesthetics, and antibiotics. Most resident Americans travel to the West for serious medical needs. Such travel can be extremely expensive if undertaken during emergency conditions.
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Kazakhstan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Safety of Public Transportation: Good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor
Roads are in poor repair, even in Almaty, but most are passable. Street lighting, where available, is often turned off at night. Lane markings are scarce, and potholes are common and often dangerously deep. Pedestrians frequently dart out in front of cars. Visitors should use special caution if driving at night. Defensive driving is essential because many local drivers do not follow traffic laws. Americans wishing to drive in Kazakhstan should possess a valid American driver’s license and an international driver’s license.
All travelers staying for more than three business days must register with the Office of Visas and Registration (OVIR). Visitors who do not register may have to pay large fines at the airport upon departure. All visitors must also present to the OVIR office within 10 days of arrival a certificate indicating a negative HIV test conducted no more than one month prior to registration. Evidence of an HIV test performed abroad is acceptable. Testing may also be done at the Center for the Prevention and Control of AIDS (7 Talgarskaya Street, Almaty).
Kazakhstan is largely a cash economy. Traveler's checks and credit cards are rarely accepted, except at large hotels catering to Western visitors. U.S. dollars can easily be exchanged for the local currency (tenge) at local and authorized currency exchanges, but all denominations of U.S. dollar bills must have been issued after 1990 and be in good condition (not worn or torn and without any writing or marks).
In December 1998, the Kazakhstani Government revised its family code to address international adoption. While the law now affirms the right of foreigners to adopt Kazakhstani children, implementation of this law is still being worked out. Until the regulations are finalized, adoption procedures will vary widely from region to region, and Americans should expect lengthy bureaucratic delays during the adoption process. At a minimum, Kazakhstani law requires foreigners to be in country for two weeks, however, Americans have been delayed as long as three months. Further, due to the rapidly increasing numbers of Americans adopting in Kazakhstan, all adopting families must schedule an appointment in advance for completion of their orphan investigation with the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy in Almaty. For more information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone (202) 736-7000.
Americans are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Almaty and obtain updated information on travel and security in Kazakhstan. Registration allows for quicker replacement of a lost or stolen passport, as well as contact in the case of an emergency. The U.S. Embassy in Almaty is located at 99/97A Furmanova Street, tel. 7-3272-63-39-21, after hours 7-3272-50-76-27, fax: 7-3272-50-62-69, and e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org.
As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers at present, nor economic authority to operate such service between the U.S. and Kazakhstan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Kazakhstan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Kazakhstan’s air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the United States at tel. 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet home page at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/iasa.pdf. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at tel. 1-618-229-4801.
Travelers may experience prolonged delays, unexpected re-routing and sudden cancellations of flights. Travelers using Air Kazakhstan, the Kazakhstani national airline company, should bear in mind that delays and cancellations are commonplace.