Kazakhstan, the largest country in Central Asia, has lots of attractions, especially for nature lovers. Its beautiful culture, friendly locals, the deserts, steppe, and towering mountains are among the things you’d want to experience firsthand.
If planning a trip to Kazakhstan, it is fitting to worry about your safety. Most people fear traveling to this country due to its enormous emptiness, assuming the void makes it unsafe.
However, Kazakhstan is generally peaceful, with only a few safety concerns like in most countries with big cities and towns.
Is Kazakhstan Safe to Visit in 2023?
Kazakhstan is generally a safe country to visit. According to the Global Peace Index 2022, Kazakhstan ranked 66 out of 163 countries in safety and peacefulness.
The locals are famous for their kindness and generosity towards tourists, making them feel welcomed when visiting and touring the country.
But does this mean that Kazakhstan is trouble-free? Not at all. Locals and visitors may encounter petty theft, robbery, police corruption, scams, and transportation issues.
There may also be violence due to terrorism and political demonstrations. So, while exploring the beauty of this country, you need to take some precautions to ensure you do not become a victim of these crimes.
Crime in Kazakhstan
Although widely peaceful and safe, Kazakhstan is not entirely crime-free. The crime level of this country is moderate compared to other countries in Central Asia. It suffers most from corruption and bribery from the government sectors.
Violent attacks and robberies happen in rural areas and cities, but visitors are not always the target. As a visitor, you will likely become a victim of theft, bag-snatching, pickpocketing, drink spiking, and physical assaults.
These crimes mainly occur after sunset, so you could be safe if you avoid exploring the streets at night. It is relatively safe to go anywhere during the day. Crime against travelers in this country is prevalent in public transportation.
Be careful when using any public transportation means, especially trains and buses. Political gatherings and demonstrations in Kazakhstan can turn ugly, and you do not want to be in the mix as a visitor.
Protests tend to be peaceful, but it is not uncommon for violent attacks to erupt. In January 2022, for instance, there were violent protests in the country that led to injuries and deaths.
Here are a few travel tips to avoid crime in Kazakhstan.
- Avoid roaming the streets at night
- Keep all your valuables hidden
- Avoid large crowds and political protests
- Never leave your food or drink unattended
- Don’t accept food or drink from strangers
- If approached by a police officer, ask to see their official ID
- Avoid public transportation if possible
- Monitor the media and local news for new terrorism threats
- Avoid arguing with the locals
- Don’t resist arrest by the police or military if caught in the middle of a protest
Avoiding Bad Neighborhoods
There is always an excitement that comes with visiting a new country. With positive testimonies about how safe Kazakhstan is, you may be tempted to explore every region.
But doing so may cost you a lot since not every place in this country is safe. Below are dangerous Kazakh neighborhoods.
Almaty, Aktau, and Atyrau – Drink Spiking and Robbery
Do not let the night catch you anywhere in Almaty apart from your hotel. This city may be safe during the day but turns into a crime den once dark takes over.
Foreigners have reported drink spiking and robberies in many Almaty nightclubs in the past. Other cities notorious for drink spiking and muggings at night are Aktau and Atyrau.
Taraz, Shymkent, Uralsk – Muggings and Attacks
Visitors will likely get mugged and attacked in Taraz, Shymkent, Uralsk, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Stepnogorsk, Shar, and Temirtau. Always look out for specific warnings by the government on local televisions before you head out. You may also ask your travel guide for advice to be sure.
Busy Public Spaces
Most thieves and pickpockets linger around open markets, stations, parks, public transport, shopping areas, restaurants, and tourist areas. Be watchful whenever you visit such places.
Thieves look for the slightest opportunities to snatch and get away with your valuables. They may even get violent if you resist.
Always keep your belongings close to you and avoid engaging strangers. In your hotel, whether inside or out, ensure your door and windows remain closed to discourage thieves from getting in.
Corruption and Bribery in Kazakhstan
For most people, whenever attacked or in need of assistance, the first people that come to mind are the police. Unfortunately, in Kazakhstan, the police force is one of the most corrupt government institutions you can encounter.
Kazakh police are notorious for extorting cash from unsuspecting visitors, claiming they have broken certain laws. Here are some tactics Kazakh police use to collect bribes from foreigners.
In nightclubs, police may arrest you for being drunk and causing chaos but will let you go after bribing them.
They may also ask you to pay a fine for taking pictures and videos of military or official buildings. If you are driving, know that police may stop you a few times to see if they can get money from you.
But as long as you drive with your lights on and adhere to all the other traffic rules, you should not give them any money. To avoid giving bribes to the police, familiarize yourself with this country’s laws before traveling.
Common Scams in Kazakhstan
Scammers in Kazakhstan employ clever schemes to steal from unsuspecting visitors. The only way to avoid them is by staying ahead. Below are the common scams you might encounter in Kazakhstan.
The Airport Scam
This scam occurs the moment Kazakh visitors step out of the plane. A thief may get the list of passengers of a particular aircraft, especially the non-private ones, then use it to point out their victim.
They will then make a poster with the victim’s name and wait at the arrival gate for you to see it. These scammers are always friendly once you approach them, claiming that the hotel has sent them.
Before you know it, you will be in a remote area with all your valuables gone. You may also get drugged and assaulted in the process. Always confirm with your hotel before getting into any car or taxi in Kazakhstan.
In this scheme, a scammer claims to have collected a wallet and wants to give you part of the money. An accomplice will come claiming that the wallet is theirs and that you should hand it over.
This thief will even demand that you show your bag to prove that you have not removed some of the money from it.
In the process, they will quickly pick anything from your bag and run away. To ensure you don’t become a victim of this scam, ignore and walk away to avoid engaging strangers.
A scammer dressed in police attire may approach you, demanding money for an alleged crime. They may claim you have broken some law and threaten to take you into custody if you don’t comply.
Ask to see their official ID before paying any fine. Also, knowing Kazakhstan laws will help you avoid such a scam.
The Risk of Terrorism in Kazakhstan
Although there has not been any terrorist attack in Kazakhstan recently, such a crime is still possible. When planning your trip to this country, you may need to consider terrorism attacks and what to do in case they occur.
The last terrorist attack happened in Almaty in 2016 when a gunman named Ruslan Kulikbayev shot and killed ten people. Among them, eight were police officers and two civilians. Ruslan was sentenced to death for the shooting and killing of people.
Terrorism and related offenses attract the death penalty in Kazakhstan. Terrorists target public places which are usually popular with visitors. The only way to avoid them is by staying informed and alert to possible threats.
Avoid large gatherings, stay calm, and constantly communicate with your embassy if caught in the middle. Monitoring the media will also help you stay updated with any terrorism threats.
Public Transportation Concerns
In Kazakhstan, public transportation includes buses, trains, shared taxis, and marshrutkas. They are all fun to ride in, but are they safe? That’s a significant concern.
Thieves use public transport to conduct their criminal activities. While some loiter around the bus and train stations, looking for easy targets, others will board and ride in them. Even locals can fall victim to such thieves, but they always target travelers.
Travelers must always be careful and watchful of their valuables when traveling in buses and trains. Shared taxis are fairly safe, but drivers may rob or overcharge you if they notice you are a visitor.
Even worse, solo traveling in some taxis can turn dangerous. If possible, you should avoid traveling in unmarked taxis to avoid being robbed or assaulted.
If you are a solo traveler, ensure you only use marked taxis or pre-arrange your transport if possible. Be cautious about people holding signs with your name claiming to be your driver from the hotel.
Things to Consider
Like in most countries, there are many things to see and do in Kazakhstan and those that you shouldn’t do for different reasons. Your Kazakh vacation won’t be complete without the following experiences. See the list below.
- Have an experience of a lifetime by visiting the 105m tall Bayterek Tower in Astana to have a stunning view of the city.
- Take a one-hour drive from the city center to the beautiful Big Almaty Lake. This lake changes its color from light green to turquoise-blue, depending on the time of the year.
- A visit to Astana city can never be complete without going to the famous Hazrat Sultan Mosque, the largest mosque in Central Asia.
- Go shopping at the Mega Silk Way, Kazakhstan’s largest shopping center.
- If you love nature, touring the beautiful landscapes of the Charyn Canyon located inside the Charyn National Park will make your day.
- Take a cable car to the top of the Kok-Tobe Hill, located in Almaty city’s outcasts, for fun.
- Tour the beautiful Kazakhstan City Park situated in the center of Astana to create some lasting memories.
- Love ice skating and skiing? Medeu Skating Rink and Ski resort provide a perfect ground for such activities.
- Try Kazakhstan’s local drinks and organic foods.
- Visit the Zhastar Park in Oskemen to explore old buildings connected to Kazakhstan culture and traditions.
- Consider going to the Dimash Kudaibergen live performances.
- Talk to the locals to experience how friendly and welcoming they are.
- Visit the abandoned Bayzhansay, a once-thriving mining town, if you want to get away from the cities’ crowds. You may get stranded in this ghost town if you visit in winter.
- Go to the Aral Sea, now a desert, to see the remnants of ships and seashells.
- Going to the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan will give you complete coverage of Kazakhstan’s history and culture from ancient times to the present.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are answers to commonly asked questions about visiting Kazakhstan:
Is Kazakhstan safe at night?
Kazakhstan is not safe at night. If you must go out at night, ensure you walk in a group to avoid getting robbed or attacked, though it can still happen.
What is the best time to visit Kazakhstan?
The best time or season to visit Kazakhstan is between spring and summer, from March to September. The weather is usually bright, cool, and dry during this period, perfect for recreational activities such as hiking, trekking the steppe, and camping. If you love winter activities like snowboarding and ice skating, the best period to visit Kazakhstan will be from November to February.
Which place can you visit to learn about Kazakhstan’s history and culture?
Touring south of Kazakhstan will give you all you need to know about Kazakhstan’s history and culture. Some of the cities in this part of the country, like Shymkent and Turkestan, are many years old, and most residents speak only the Kazakh language.
What is Kazakhstan’s official language?
This country’s official language is Kazakh. However, most residents also speak Russian, so ensure you know a little about the two languages before visiting. In the big cities like Astana and Almaty, you’ll find people using English more than the other two languages.
Is it safe to ride in a taxi in Kazakhstan?
Taxis are generally safe in Kazakhstan, but you may get robbed if you ride in an unmarked taxi. Some taxi drivers may overcharge you if they notice you’re a traveler. To avoid getting overcharged, ensure you state your destination and agree on the price before you can board. The best alternative is to use the hotel taxis whenever you want to go out.
Is it safe to drink tap water in Kazakhstan?
Drinking tap water in Kazakhstan is not safe. The safety of tap water depends on how closely jurisdictions adhere to standards. Opt for bottled water instead to avoid getting sick.
So, Is Kazakhstan Safe to Visit?
Generally, Kazakhstan is safe. However, like most countries with big cities, you may encounter crimes such as terrorism, corruption, theft, and scams. Use common sense and be vigilant while exploring the country’s beauty and rich culture.