COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Kazakhstan is a constitutional republic with a strong presidency and a market economy. Kazakhstan's tourist facilities are not highly developed; the availability of goods and services is better than in many neighboring countries, but generally not up to the standards found in North America and Western Europe. Internal travel and travel to neighboring countries, by air and land, can be subject to delays due to infrastructure shortcomings and winter weather. Read the Department of State's Fact Sheet on Kazakhstan for additional information.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: The Department of State encourages all U.S. citizens traveling or residing abroad to enroll in the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). U.S. citizens without internet access can enroll directly at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. By enrolling, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. Enrolling will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency.
The Department's Smart Traveler app, available through iTunes and the Androidmarket, provides easy access to updated official country information, travel alerts, travel warnings, maps, and U.S. embassy locations. Travelers can also set up e-tineraries to keep track of arrival and departure dates and make notes about upcoming trips.
Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State's list of embassies and consulates.
U.S. Embassy Astana
Rakhymzhan Koshkarbayev Avenue, No. 3.
Astana, Kazakhstan, 010010
Emergency after-hours telephone: 8-7172-70-22-00
U.S. Consulate General Almaty
97 Zholdasbekov Street
Almaty, Kazakhstan 050059
Emergency after-hours telephone: 7-727-250-76-12/17
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: A valid passport and visa are required. The Embassy of Kazakhstan in Washington, D.C., and the Consulate of Kazakhstan in New York issue visas. The Embassy of Kazakhstan is located at 1401 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036, telephone (202) 232-5488 or 550-9617, fax (202) 232-5845, and the Consulate at 535 Fifth Avenue, 19thFloor, New York, NY 10017, telephone (212) 230-1900 or 230-1192, fax (646) 370-6334. An invitation is not required for single-entry business and tourist visas, but multiple-entry visas require an invitation from an individual or organizational sponsor in Kazakhstan. The U.S. Embassy in Astana and the U.S. Consulate General in Almaty do not issue letters of invitation to citizens interested in private travel to Kazakhstan. All travelers, even those simply transiting Kazakhstan, must obtain a Kazakhstani visa before entering the country. Travelers should be aware that overstaying the validity period of a visa will result in fines and delays upon exit. Travelers may be asked to provide proof at the border of their subsequent travel arrangements. Travelers transiting through Kazakhstan are reminded to check that their visas allow for a sufficient number of entries to cover each transit trip and to check the length of validity of the visa.
Most visa categories cannot be extended in Kazakhstan. Exceptions to this rule are student visas, visas for medical treatment, visas for permanent residents of Kazakhstan, and work visas, which can be extended in Kazakhstan up to the expiration date of the holder's work permit, a separate document issued only in Kazakhstan. Business visas can be extended domestically if the traveler is in Kazakhstan at the invitation of the Government of Kazakhstan, a diplomatic mission, or an international organization in Kazakhstan. Please note that the application process for work permits—including extensions—requires a U.S. police clearance. It is highly recommended that you obtain the clearance before your travel to Kazakhstan, as it may be difficult to have fingerprints taken in Kazakhstan. For more information about U.S. background checks, please see www.fbi.gov.
Travel to certain areas bordering China and cities in close proximity to military installations require prior permission from the Kazakhstani government. In 2008, the government declared the following areas closed to foreigners: the town of Baikonur and surrounding areas in Kyzylorda Oblast, and the town of Gvardeysk near Almaty. U.S. citizens traveling within Kazakhstan have on occasion reported local officials demanding documentation authorizing travel within their area of jurisdiction, even though they received permission from the Department of Migration Police. U.S. citizens should report any trouble with local authorities to the U.S. Embassy in Astana or the U.S. Consulate General in Almaty.
Registration of U.S. passports is conducted at the same time as the issuance of the visa in one of Kazakhstan's embassies and consulates abroad or at the time of a border crossing. Foreigners traveling to Kazakhstan are required to provide a white immigration registration card to border officials upon arrival to Kazakhstan. These cards can be obtained either onboard aircraft flying to Kazakhstan or at border crossings. Travelers must retain this card throughout their stay in Kazakhstan. Two stamps on the card indicate that the traveler is registered. If the card contains only one stamp, the traveler must register with the Migration Police within five calendar days. As of January 2013, certain hotels in Almaty are also able to register foreign guests. All registrations are valid for three months, regardless of where they are issued. To extend your registration beyond three months, or if you are not sure if you have been properly registered at the time of visa issuance or border crossing, please contact your local office of the Department of Migration Police. Foreigners must inform the Migration Police of changes of address. Foreigners who violate registration rules may be tried before an immigration judge. Penalties for violating registration rules, that include failing to produce a white registration card with proof of registration on departure, include delayed and/or denial of boarding, fines, imprisonment for up to 15 days, and deportation.
Visa rules that went into effect on March 1, 2010, created a visa category for missionaries. Visitors to Kazakhstan engaging in missionary work or other religious activities must register with the Department of Justice office in the region (Akimat) where the activities will take place. This applies even if the religious activities are not the primary purpose of the visit. Attendance at a religious service does not itself require registration, but participation in the delivery of the service may. U.S. citizens have been fined and deported from Kazakhstan for addressing a congregation, leading prayers, and performing religious music without proper religious worker registration. In addition, representatives of faith-based non-governmental organizations are often considered subject to the registration requirement even if their activities are not religious in nature. If in doubt whether registration is required, visitors should contact the Ministry of Justice office responsible for the area of Kazakhstan where they intend to engage in religious activities and request a written decision. Religious worker registration is only valid for the locality where it is granted and visitors must register in each jurisdiction where they wish to engage in religious activities.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for a child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian if not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure. All children adopted in Kazakhstan after May 2003 must obtain exit stamps from both the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before departing the country.
Visit the Embassy of Kazakhstan's website for the most current visa information.
Some HIV/AIDS restrictions exist for visitors to and foreign residents of Kazakhstan. Visitors applying for a work or residency permit, required for U.S. citizens who wish to spend more than 6 months in Kazakhstan, must submit negative HIV test results with their application to the Migration Police in the city where they intend to work or reside. The results must be less than three months old. The city HIV clinic in the place of registration can conduct the test or may certify test results performed abroad. If the original test results are in a language other than Russian or Kazakh, they must be accompanied by an official translation. If a foreigner tests positive for HIV in Kazakhstan, he or she must depart the country. Please verify this information with the Embassy of Kazakhstan before you travel.
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.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: Supporters of extremist groups such as the Islamic Jihad Union, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, al-Qaida, and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement have expressed anti-U.S. sentiments and may attempt to target U.S. Government or private interests in the region, including in Kazakhstan. Extremist tactics, including the use of suicide bombers, which were employed by extremists against U.S. targets in neighboring Uzbekistan in 2004, were used for the first time in Kazakhstan in 2011.Because of increased security at official U.S. facilities, terrorists may also target "soft" civilian targets such as commercial or residential areas, clubs and restaurants, places of worship, hotels, schools, outdoor recreation events, resorts, beaches, maritime facilities, and aircraft.
Following several attacks against local authorities in Western Kazakhstan in 2012, the U.S. Mission in Kazakhstan encourages U.S. citizens resident in, or traveling to, Western Kazakhstan to remain vigilant. Although previous violent activity has primarily been directed towards Kazakhstani governmental entities, it is possible that this focus could shift to other targets. In addition, law enforcement agencies have conducted anti-terrorist operations against suspected terrorists in populated areas throughout the country.
Kazakhstani 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 may result in problems with authorities.
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CRIME: Travelers in Kazakhstan should exercise the same precautions concerning personal safety and protection of valuables as they would in any major U.S. city. Using good judgment and avoiding high-risk areas can reduce the crime threat. The most common crimes foreign tourists encounter are purse snatching, pick pocketing, assaults, and robberies. Pick pocketing or robberies occur most frequently in the vicinity of Western hotels, transportation sites, and at open-air markets, including the central open-air market in Almaty (known locally as the "Green Market"). U.S. citizens are advised to exercise caution in the vicinity of hotels, bus or train stations, and when shopping. U.S. Mission Kazakhstan strongly recommends that U.S. citizens do not carry large sums of money on the street.
Identification checks by the police are common practice. U.S. visitors must produce either a passport or an Embassy-certified copy thereof upon request. Police are not required to demonstrate probable cause or reasonable suspicion to initiate ID checks. U.S. citizens may obtain a certified copy of their passport and visa from the U.S. Embassy in Astana or U.S. Consulate General in Almaty during American Citizens Services hours. Please check the U.S. Mission Kazakhstan website for the American Citizens Services hours in Almaty and Astana.
Be wary of persons representing themselves as police or other local officials. It is not uncommon for U.S. citizens to become victims of harassment and extortion by imposters, genuine law enforcement, and other officials. A genuine police official should always present his own credentials when approaching someone on the street. If the officer cannot produce identification, he is most likely an imposter. Never voluntarily hand over your wallet to a police officer. If pressured, tell the officer that you will report his behavior to the U.S. Embassy in Astana or Consulate General in Almaty and the officer’s supervisors. Authorities are concerned about these incidents and have cooperated in investigating such cases. Try to obtain the officer's name, badge number, and license plate number, and note where the incident happened because this information assists local officials in identifying the perpetrators. Report crimes committed against you by persons presenting themselves as police or other governmental authorities to a police station and the U.S. Embassy in Astana or Consulate General in Almaty.
The "lost wallet" scam continues to be common in Kazakhstan. One version of this scam involves the discovery of a lost wallet in your presence. A first person will discover the wallet and offer to divide its contents with you. Then, a second person will appear, claim to be the owner of the wallet, and demand compensation for the missing money. A second version involves a person looking for a lost wallet, asking you if have seen it. The person asks you to reveal the contents of your pockets or bag to prove that you do not have the missing wallet. The wallet seeker will then surreptitiously steal your exposed valuables. When initially approached by the "finder" or "seeker" of the lost wallet, simply walk away.
U.S. Mission Kazakhstan highly discourages taking unlicensed cabs in lieu of licensed taxicabs while in Kazakhstan. This applies especially to travel from the airport and train station to the city upon arrival, where men posing as "meet and greet" airport facilitators have lured foreigners into cars purportedly to take them to their hotels. However, the driver then takes the passengers to a secluded destination and demands approximately $100 for gas to take the foreigner back to the city. At the airport, U.S. citizens should not leave with anyone who does not show pre-arranged identification, even if the person is holding a sign with the traveler's name.
U.S. Mission Kazakhstan has received reports from U.S. citizen residents and visitors of being victims of violent, late-night muggings. U.S. citizens are advised to travel in groups or pairs. Lone individuals often make easy targets for muggers. At night, try to remain in well-lit, populated areas. Visitors are encouraged to leave restaurants or bars if fights break out.
Corruption by public officials, including law enforcement, has been reported frequently, especially at the airport in Almaty. Some foreigners have been told by customs or border guard officials that they must pay a $50-$500 fine for violating an undisclosed local regulation, despite the fact that the foreign citizen has fully complied with local laws. Some U.S. citizens have reportedly been asked to pay a large fine upon exiting Kazakhstan. When encountering such irregularities, U.S. citizens are advised to seek clarification from supervisory airport officials or contact the U.S. Embassy in Astana or Consulate General in Almaty before paying.
Don't buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, 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. We can:
The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in Kazakhstan is 103.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in another country, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from 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, and 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 your host country, 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. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Kazakhstan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
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 government 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: Kazakhstan remains largely a cash economy. Travelers’ checks and credit cards are not widely accepted, except at large hotels and restaurants catering to international 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. currency except $1 bills must be new series (large portraits) and all must have been issued after 2000 and be in good condition (not worn or torn and without any writing or marks).
Kazakhstan, especially in the mountainous southeast region, is an earthquake-prone country. The U.S. Department of State has ranked the earthquake threat level within Almaty as a Level 4 (the highest level assigned). Building practices within Kazakhstan do not generally meet U.S. seismic standards. In addition, local authorities do not have sufficient resources to respond to a large-scale disaster. U.S. citizens traveling to Kazakhstan are encouraged to register with either the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Astana or the U.S. Consulate General in Almaty to facilitate contact in the event of an emergency. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Kazakhstani customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning export from Kazakhstan of items such as antiques. Foreigners must complete a customs declaration upon entering Kazakhstan and may face fines upon departure if unable to produce certificates verifying legal conversion of foreign currency.
Travelers are strongly encouraged to declare all valuables, including computers, video cameras, and mobile telephones, upon entry in order to avoid paying duty on those items upon departure. Tenge can be exported by residents of Kazakhstan (including foreigners) in amounts up to $3,000 without declaration and without written certification of the origin of funds. Residents exporting between $3,000 and $10,000 must complete a customs declaration and prove the origin of the funds (e.g. proof of locally paid salary). Travelers visiting Kazakhstan for short periods of time may not leave the country with more currency than they declared when entering Kazakhstan. For legal requirements on the export of Tenge, travelers should consult with local Customs officials. In practice, however, travelers should be wary of such officials at the airport, as visitors have been erroneously charged duty on Tenge exports or asked to surrender Tenge in the past. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan in Washington, DC, for specific information at 1401 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036, telephone (202) 232-5488.
Please see our Customs Information.
Foreigners are required to carry a valid passport while in Kazakhstan. U.S. citizens are strongly urged to have a certified copy of their U.S. passport made at either of the U.S. Embassy's Consular Sections at the Embassy in Astana or the Consulate General in Almaty. Having a certified copy in possession satisfies the local requirement to carry a passport and reduces the chances of a passport being lost or stolen.
Accessibility: While in Kazakhstan, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find in the United States. Although Kazakhstani law mandates access to buildings and transportation for persons with disabilities, implementation and enforcement of this law has not yet resulted in widespread accommodations for persons with disabilities. As such many buildings, public walkways and public transportation remain inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Kazakhstan is limited and well below North American and West European standards. The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of English-speaking physicians. Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most resident U.S. citizens travel to Western Europe for serious medical treatment. Such travel can be extremely expensive if undertaken under emergency conditions. Travelers requiring prescription medications or specific brand-name medicines should bring sufficient supplies of medications and not rely on local availability.
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.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Kazakhstan. For further information, please consult the CDC's information on TB.
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.
Medical evacuation insurance is rarely included with regular health insurance. Any serious medical or traumatic event is likely to require evacuation out of Kazakhstan. There are many providers of medical evacuation insurance. As the cost of a medical evacuation is likely to be over $120,000, it is essential that this be purchased prior to travel to Kazakhstan. When investigating a policy, realize that some policies will fly you to any destination you choose and some will take you to the closest qualified location. There are other variables of the various insurers to consider and many online tools can help with this decision. The U.S. Mission in Kazakhstan is limited in what assistance it can provide with medical treatment or repatriation.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, you 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.
Roads in Kazakhstan are in poor repair, especially in rural areas. Poor signage is common. Street lighting, especially on side streets, may be turned off at night. Drivers often ignore lane markings. Potholes are common, and are often dangerously deep. Pedestrians frequently dart out in front of cars. Visitors should drive defensively at all times as many local drivers do not follow traffic laws. Special caution should be taken if driving at night. Road rage can be a problem, especially in and around Almaty, and a non-confrontational response to such behavior is strongly recommended. Accidents involving severe injury and/or death are common. Traffic police have reportedly stopped cars to extort bribes on main city streets and at periodic checkpoints on major highways.
The road between Almaty and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, is especially treacherous at night or during poor weather. U.S. citizens and other travelers have been killed in traffic accidents on that road, and travel at night or during poor weather should be avoided.
Travelers should be particularly careful when using public transportation and taxis. Buses tend to be very crowded and can be unsafe and unreliable. Due to the danger of theft or assault, travelers should be selective regarding which taxi they contract and always avoid entering a cab that already contains persons other than the driver.
Kazakhstan has a zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence of alcohol. A driver may be detained by police and convicted of drunk driving for driving a vehicle after consuming one drink of alcohol, regardless of whether the driver is actually intoxicated.
U.S. citizens wishing to drive in Kazakhstan should possess a valid international driver's license. For specific information, travelers may contact the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan at 1401 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036, telephone (202) 232-5488.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Kazakhstan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Kazakhstan'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.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Kazakhstan dated April 26, 2012, to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements for U.S. Citizens, Threats to Safety and Security, and Medical Insurance.