Mongolia is a vast north Asian country. It peacefully abandoned its communist system in 1990 and has successfully made the transition to a parliamentary democracy. Economic reforms continue. The countryís development has been hampered by inadequate infrastructure, particularly in the energy, transportation, and communication sectors. Travelers to Mongolia should be aware of the shortcomings in these areas as they may have an impact on travel plans.
A valid passport and entry/exit visa are required. While it is recommended that visitors obtain the appropriate entry/exit visa prior to travel, visas may be obtained at the international airport in Ulaanbaatar and at train stations on the Russian and Chinese borders. Two photographs and a US$50 processing fee are required. Visitors planning to stay in Mongolia for more than 30 days are required to register with the police at the Citizensí Information and Registration Center. Visitors who stay longer than the time permitted by their visa may be stopped at departure, denied exit, and fined. A departure tax must be paid at the airport on departure. For current information on visa issuance, fees, and registration requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of Mongolia at 2833 M Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007, telephone: (202) 333-7117 or http://www.MongoliaNet.com.
Travelers arriving or departing Mongolia through China should also be aware of Chinese visa regulations. American citizens are not permitted to transit through China without a visa. For more information, see the Consular Information Sheet for China or contact the Embassy of the Peopleís Republic of China, 2300 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, Tel: (202) 328-2500 or http://www.china-embassy.org or the Chinese consulates general in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, and Houston.
Over the past few years there has been a significant rise in crime in Mongolia, particularly in Ulaanbaatar, the capital. Violent crime is increasing, and it is no longer advisable to walk alone through the city after dark. The most common crimes against foreigners are pickpocketing and bag-snatching. Travelers should be especially cautious when taking public transportation, and in crowded public areas such as markets, the State Department Store, the Central Post Office, Gandan Monastery, and the so-called Black Market. U.S. citizens who detect pickpocketing attempts should not confront the thieves as they and their accomplices may then become violent. Foreigners have also been robbed by thieves dressed as or claiming to be police officers, especially in the area of Sukhbaatar Square. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid occasional protests and street demonstrations that can turn unruly.
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the U.S. Embassy. Useful information on guarding valuables and protecting personal security while traveling abroad is provided in the Department of State pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad. It is available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402 or via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs.
Medical facilities in Mongolia are very limited, and some medicines are unavailable. Infectious diseases, such as plague and meningococcal meningitis, are present at various times of the year. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars or more. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate payment for health services. For more information, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar or the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionís international travelers hotline (see next paragraph).
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 Mongolia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor
Driving in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar can be extremely difficult due to poorly maintained streets, malfunctioning traffic lights, inadequate street lighting, and a shortage of traffic signs. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of vehicles on the road in recent years, but the knowledge and skills of the driving population has not kept pace with the influx of automobiles. There are now some taxis in town, but most people simply wave down a vehicle and negotiate a price with the driver. There are no car rental companies currently operating in Mongolia, but it is sometimes possible to hire a car and driver. Public transportation within the capital is extensive, cheap, and generally reliable, but is also extremely crowded (see information on crime above). There are few paved roads outside of the capital, and driving can be hazardous, particularly after dark. For specific information concerning Mongolian driverís permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Embassy of Mongolia at 2833 M Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007, telephone: (202) 333-7117.
CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Importation of any firearm or ammunition requires prior approval from the Government of Mongolia. For additional information contact the Embassy of Mongolia at 2833 M Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20402, tel: (202) 333-7117.
CRIMINAL AND DRUG PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens are subject to that countryís laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and do not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Mongolian law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. In Mongolia, penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.
CURRENCY REGULATIONS: Travelerís checks denominated in dollars are accepted at some hotels and may be converted to dollars or Tugriks at several banks. Credit cards can be used at a variety of hotels, restaurants, and shops, almost exclusively in Ulaanbaatar. Cash advances against credit cards are available at one commercial bank and international bank wire transfers are also possible.
WINTER POWER SHORTAGES: Severe fuel shortages and problems with central heating and electrical systems may cause seriously reduced heating levels and power outages in Ulaanbaatar and the cities of Darhan and Erdenet during the winter months of November through April. Smaller towns in the countryside may have no heat or electricity at all during these months. The U.S. Embassy advises all American residents in Mongolia to be prepared to depart if there is a complete energy failure.
ACCOMMODATIONS: The number of hotels in Ulaanbaatar and of tourist-oriented facilities in the countryside has increased sharply in recent years. Accommodations are readily available, although many hotels may be fully booked during the peak tourist month of July.
U.S. citizens residing in or visiting Mongolia are encouraged to register with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy, located in Micro Region 11, Big Ring Road, Ulaanbaatar, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Mongolia. The telephone number is (976)-1-329-095, and the Embassy web site is http://www.us-mongolia.com.
As there is no direct commercial air service at present, or economic authority to operate such service, between the U.S. and Mongolia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Mongoliaís Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Mongoliaís air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet web site 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 DOD at 1-618-229-4801.
Mongolia has upgraded its aviation facilities and communications and air traffic control capabilities. However, the U.S. Embassy has reported some general safety and reliability concerns regarding domestic flights operated by the national airline MIAT. The U.S. Embassy does not prohibit its employees from utilizing MIAT, but does encourage them to exercise prudence and good judgment when boarding domestic flights. If Embassy employees observe potential hazards, such as missing safety belts or passenger overcrowding, they are advised to deplane and await another flight.