COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Turkmenistan is a Central Asian nation roughly the size of California. It shares borders with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. Turkmenistan gained its independence in 1991 during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Primarily a desert country, it has a population of around six million people. Tourist facilities, especially outside of the capital city of Ashgabat, are not highly developed. Many of the goods and services taken for granted in North American and Western European countries are not yet available. Travel within the country can be difficult due to limited infrastructure and government-imposed internal travel restrictions. Read the Department of State’s Background Notes on Turkmenistan for additional information.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit Turkmenistan, please take the time to tell our Embassy about your trip. If you enroll, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. Here’s the link to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.
United States Embassy Ashgabat
9 1984 Street (formerly Pushkin Street)
Telephone: (993-12) 94 00 45
Consular Information Line: (993-12) 94 00 49
Facsimile: (993-12) 94 26 14
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS:
Visas and Letters of Invitation: Before you leave for Turkmenistan, you will need to obtain a letter of invitation approved by the Government of Turkmenistan. This letter of invitation allows you to apply for a visa, either at the Embassy of Turkmenistan or upon arrival at the airport in Ashgabat. The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat cannot assist private citizens with letters of invitation to Turkmenistan. You will also need a valid passport.
Before visiting Turkmenistan: Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months at the time of applying for a letter of invitation.
Have an individual or organization in Turkmenistan submit a letter of invitation application along with a copy of your passport ID page on your behalf to the State Migration Service (SMS). The SMS requires at least 15 working days for approval.
After you receive the approved letter of invitation, apply for a visa at the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Washington, D.C. or at the Ashgabat International Airport upon arrival in Turkmenistan. The price of the visa will depend on your length of stay in Turkmenistan. You may wish to consult the visa checklist on the Embassy of Turkmenistan website prior to submitting your application.
To avoid possible problems with airlines not boarding passengers without visas, as well as visa lines at the Ashgabat International Airport, it is advisable to obtain a visa and not just a letter of invitation before traveling. Without one or the other, you won’t be allowed into the country, and you may be held at the airport or on the border until you have secured transportation out of Turkmenistan. You should not use a transit visa instead of a tourist visa since transit visas are issued for a very short duration and are very difficult to extend. If you plan to travel to areas of the country that have been restricted by the Government of Turkmenistan, which includes almost all border areas, you will not be able to do so until you obtain special permission from the SMS.
Once you arrive at the airport or border entry point, you will be charged approximately $12 for an immigration card issued by Turkmen authorities, which you will have to carry for the duration of your stay in Turkmenistan. When you leave the country, you will turn in this card to the authorities at the airport. If you are departing from the Ashgabat airport and using a non-Turkmen flagged carrier, you will need to pay a departure fee of $25.
If you extend your stay in Turkmenistan, you will need to apply with the SMS in Ashgabat for a visa extension. If you attempt to depart Turkmenistan with an expired visa, you will be denied exit until you extend your visa through the departure date.
Registering with the State Migration Service: if your trip to Turkmenistan is longer than three working days, you will have to:
If you do not register your departure, the immigration authorities might not allow you to leave the country until you fulfill this requirement. If you fail to register properly or have an expired visa, you will have to pay a fine. You may also be arrested and/or deported. If you are deported for these violations, you will not be able to return to Turkmenistan for up to five years.
Dual Nationality: The State Migration Service has started strictly enforcing the country’s prohibition on dual citizenship. Upon departure, SMS requires that citizens of Turkmenistan have a visa for their country of destination in their Turkmen passport, regardless of any other passports that they may hold. Absent a visa in the Turkmen passport, dual citizens have been denied departure. U.S. law prohibits issuance of U.S. visas to citizens of the United States. If you hold both a U.S. and a Turkmen passport, you should consider renouncing your Turkmenistan citizenship prior to travel and entering the country on a visa. Please consult the Embassy's page on dual citizenship issues for the most up-to-date information.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: Those considering travel to Turkmenistan should take the country's proximity to regions of past and current instability into account. The Government of Turkmenistan has designated many areas throughout the country as “restricted zones,” particularly the border areas next to Iran, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan, the entire region of Dashoguz (including Dashoguz city), and areas of the Caspian coast. Travel to these areas by foreigners is forbidden without special permission from the Government of Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan Airlines, the national airline, will not sell a ticket to any traveler who intends to travel to a “restricted zone” without proof of permission from the government. Travelers who wish to visit a “restricted zone” must have a valid passport and visa and must apply to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a special permit. There is a minimum processing time of 10 working days for these permits.
Visible police and military presence in Turkmenistan is common. Both uniformed and plainclothes officials frequently ask to see passports, visas, migration cards, and SMS registrations. Ask to see identification if you are not certain that the person requesting the information is an official. Documentation checks, and residence and vehicle searches, are common. Security personnel maintain checkpoints on major roads.
Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest, such as government buildings, may result in problems with authorities. Visitors should ask whether buildings may be photographed.
Supporters of extremist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, al-Qaida, and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement remain active in Central Asia. These groups have expressed anti-U.S. sentiments and may attempt to target U.S. Government or private interests in the region, including in Turkmenistan. Terrorists do not distinguish between official and civilian targets. Because of increased security at official U.S. facilities, terrorists are seeking softer civilian targets such as residential areas, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, hotels, schools, outdoor recreation events, resorts, beaches, maritime facilities, and commercial aircraft.
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CRIME: Although the government's official policy is to report that there is no violent crime, there are incidents of assault, rape, and murder sometimes directed at foreigners. Prostitution, heroin use, and economic conditions are all factors contributing to the incidence of violent crimes. Petty theft is common in crowded public places such as the local bazaars. Take appropriate measures to safeguard passports and valuables in such areas. Do not leave valuables in plain view within a parked vehicle.
Foreign visitors, including U.S. citizens, present an attractive target for criminals. Travelers should exercise the same common sense, good judgment, and caution as they would in any major U.S. city. For instance, avoid carrying large sums of money in public. Avoid walking alone after dark, and women specifically should avoid being alone in isolated areas. Most taxis are not regulated by any government licensing agency and drivers are usually private citizens looking to make money. The majority of cars will not have seat belts or other safety devices, and drivers may not have had any formal driver training. For safety reasons, visitors should strongly consider hiring a private car and driver through their travel agency or hotel. There is one government-owned and regulated taxi company, operating in Ashgabat, which charges a flat fee of 8 Denominated Turkmen Manat (about $ 2.80 at the March, 2011 exchange rate) for a one-way trip within Ashgabat city limits. Its telephone number is: (993 12) 32-97-75. If using local unregulated taxis, always negotiate fares with taxi drivers in advance, and use extreme caution when using taxis after dark, especially when there are other passengers in the vehicle.
Prostitution is illegal, and prostitutes have been known to accompany men to their residences or hotel rooms in order to steal from them, sometimes with the help of an accomplice. The authorities will generally consider any woman leaving a discotheque with a foreign man late at night to be a prostitute, and on that basis, the foreigner may be detained. Recently, at least one foreigner was kept in jail for fifteen days on charges of soliciting prostitution. Travelers should be aware that U.S. law provides for criminal prosecution in U.S. federal courts of U.S. citizens who have solicited a prostitute under the age of 18 while traveling abroad.
Police can ask anyone to present identity papers at any time, but authorities are especially aggressive late at night. Even if valid papers are presented, the police may ask for a bribe. For this reason, those going from place to place late at night should consider using a trusted driver.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates ). We can:
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Turkmenistan is 03.
Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Turkmenistan, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States. For instance, you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Turkmenistan, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Several popular travel guides discuss traveling by “ferry” across the Caspian Sea from Baku, Azerbaijan, to the port of Turkmenbashy in western Turkmenistan. These “ferries” are in fact cargo ships that take on passengers in addition to their primary cargo as space permits. Passengers are generally not provided food or water on these ships, and sleeping and sanitary facilities are quite basic. When ships arrive in Turkmenbashy, they often wait up to a week for a vacant dock. Passengers might run out of food and water, or their Turkmen visa may expire while they wait.
If you travel by plane, be aware that most airlines at the international airport in Ashgabat do not accept credit cards or any currency other than U.S. dollars or Turkmen manat. Most vendors in Turkmenistan operate on a cash-only basis. If you are transiting through Turkmenistan on the way to another country and miss your connection, you will not be able to leave the arrival area until you purchase a ticket for an onward flight out of the country.
Travelers may experience significant delays, unexpected re-routing, and sudden cancellations of flights, including those of Turkmenistan Airlines (Turkmenhowayollary), the national airline. Travelers have reported difficulties securing reservations and purchasing tickets from Turkmenistan Airlines on both domestic and international flights, which are routinely overbooked.
Turkmenistan has a cash-only economy. However, several new hotels accept credit cards. Vnesheconombank and the National Bank of Pakistan cash traveler’s checks and personal checks for a fee, although cashing a personal check is a lengthy process that could require up to two months. Vnesheconombank also accepts Visa for cash advances, for a fee.
Although the Denominated Turkmen Manat (DTM) is the official currency, U.S. dollars are widely accepted and are required as payment for certain goods and services. Travelers may wish to bring sufficient U.S. currency to exchange into manat to cover expenses not payable in U.S. dollars. Old U.S. dollar bills (issued before 1990) and/or those in poor condition (with tears, writing or stamps) are not acceptable forms of currency in Turkmenistan. Banks frequently do not have small bills for change.
Turkmenistan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Turkmenistan of items such as carpets, jewelry, musical instruments, pieces of art, archaeological artifacts, antiques, protected animals, etc. Contact the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements. Travelers who wish to take carpets out of Turkmenistan must obtain a certificate from the Carpet Museum in central Ashgabat indicating that the carpet is not of historical value. Some private shops may have carpets for sale for which they have already obtained certificates; buyers should be sure to ask about customs certificates before purchasing any carpet. In addition, buyers may have to pay a tax calculated according to the size of the carpet. Travelers who have purchased other items that could be perceived to be of historical value, such as jewelry, have also reported difficulties in taking these items out of Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan's indigenous dog, the Alabay, is considered a national treasure and is banned for export without prior permission. U.S. citizens should also check to ensure that any item they intend to bring into the United States is permitted by U.S. customs regulations.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports and visas with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship are readily available. Travelers to Turkmenistan should be aware that there are several types of poisonous snakes and insects indigenous to the country. Even in cities, it is common to encounter cobras and scorpions, especially in areas covered with tall grass. Travelers are advised to be alert to these dangers to avoid being bitten or stung.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
Anti-sodomy laws remain on the books in Turkmenistan and carry criminal penalties. Social norms in Turkmenistan are extremely conservative, and although the Embassy is not aware of any recent arrests or prosecutions for such activities, harassment or detention are possible. We would strongly caution against displays of affection by homosexual or heterosexual couples. For further information on LGBT travel, please read our Information for LGBT Travelers page.
Accessibility: While in Turkmenistan, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find in the United States. Although the law requires that new construction projects include facilities that allow access by persons with disabilities, compliance is inconsistent and older buildings remain inaccessible. Public transportation is likewise inaccessible.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Turkmenistan is limited and well below North American and Western European standards. If you travel to Turkmenistan, you should make sure that you have medical evacuation insurance. Such travel can be expensive if undertaken under emergency conditions, and absent this insurance, medical evacuation travel may be logistically impossible. If you have a medical condition, you should consult with your regular physician to determine whether travel to Turkmenistan is advisable in light of the level of available health care. Resident U.S. citizens travel to Western Europe or North America for treatment of any serious medical condition, and for many routine procedures. The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of public hospitals and English-speaking physicians in the country, however the standard of care at these hospitals cannot be considered comparable to Western standards. Basic medical supplies, including disposable needles, anesthetics, and antibiotics are often in short supply. Two private clinics have foreign medical practitioners (generally Turkish) who may be available for consultations and treatment; these clinics, however, have refused in some cases to admit patients with serious conditions, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay for treatment. Even at these hospitals, the standard of care is low compared to Western standards. If you need prescription medications, you should bring sufficient supplies with you and appropriate documentation to ensure no problems with customs officials upon arrival.
You can find good information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors’ and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: Road conditions in Turkmenistan make driving difficult and sometimes dangerous. Most roads outside of major cities are narrow, riddled with potholes, unlit at night, and without proper road signs. Frequent construction projects, dilapidated roads, unlighted highways, and camel crossings all present particularly unique challenges to drivers used to U.S. or European roadways. Driving at night on these roads should be avoided. City roads are better in comparison to rural routes but may be hazardous due to potholes, uncovered manholes, poor lighting, and heavy pedestrian traffic. Pedestrians frequently cross against traffic and create dangerous conditions. Traffic accidents involving serious injury to drivers, passengers, and pedestrians are common.
If you drive in Turkmenistan, you will need to drive defensively and use an abundance of caution. Drivers pay little attention to lanes and other road markings, with weaving and sudden lane changes a common occurrence (usually without use of a turn signal). Drivers will often encounter cars going the wrong way on one-way streets or divided highways. Cars also frequently make left-turns from the right lane and vice-versa. Pedestrians regularly walk or stand in the middle of busy streets during the day and night, often without paying attention to oncoming traffic.
Roadside assistance does not exist in Turkmenistan, where vast stretches of highway are often unmarked. Police checkpoints (where cars are required to stop and register) are a common feature on major routes between cities. The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat has received reports that police stationed at checkpoints may arbitrarily fine motorists. Local law requires that traffic fines be paid within 12 hours. If a fine is not paid within that period, the amount may double every 12 hours up to 72 hours, after which time the vehicle in question may be seized. Driving while intoxicated is illegal in Turkmenistan and will result in the driver having their license revoked, a fine, and possible jail time. Driving while operating a cell phone is illegal and perpetrators will be fined.
If you plan to drive in Turkmenistan, you must have a valid international driving permit. Foreigners who plan to reside in Turkmenistan must apply for a local driver's license with the Road Police Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Turkmenistan. For more specific information about driving in Turkmenistan, contact the Embassy of Turkmenistan at 2207 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington DC 20008, telephone (202) 588-1500.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. For specific information concerning Turkmenistan driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, contact the Turkmenistan National Tourist Organization offices at its Permanent Mission in New York. The address is: 136 East 67th Street, NY, NY 10021. The phone number is 1-212-472-5921.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Turkmenistan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Turkmenistan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Turkmenistan dated March 1, 2012, without substantive changes.