Mongolia is a beautiful country with vast unspoiled tracks of nature. It’s one of the few places in the world where nomadic cultures still thrive, and travelers who come to this country frequently leave the cities behind to experience the countryside’s unique culture and natural wonder.
But like most countries, Mongolia has specific dangers to watch out for in and out of the cities.
While Mongolia has one of the lowest crime rates in Asia, you should still stay aware of your surroundings and use common sense while traveling to avoid scams and stay safe. Don’t worry — we’ll show you how in our complete guide below.
Is Mongolia Safe to Visit?
Mongolia, on the whole, is safe to visit, with low crime rates and welcoming locals. However, you should still practice good safety in and around inexpensive bars and crowded areas.
Mongolia has a Level 1 Travel Advisory from the US and one of the lowest crime rates in Asia, which means the country is generally safe for travelers of all kinds. However, you should take specific scams, crimes, and safety precautions when traveling to ensure a good experience.
You should practice safety the most in Ulaanbaatar, the capital. It has the highest crime rate in the country, and most crimes towards tourists consist of petty theft and scams. Use common sense, and avoid wearing expensive jewelry or flashing money around town.
You should also avoid any protests or political demonstrations, as even peaceful ones have the potential to turn violent. There are also members of the ultra-right party who may harass you, particularly interracial and LGBTQ couples.
Most harassment takes place in or near inexpensive local bars. You should also avoid ger (yurt) areas, where the poverty-stricken citizens of Ulaanbataar live.
It’s unlikely you’ll encounter crime in these areas, but it’s insulting to visit and take pictures, so there’s no reason for tourists to visit.
Outside of Ulaanbataar, you should only book tours through trusted, popular tour companies, as some smaller companies are scams that will steal your equipment and horses while out on the steppes.
You should also carry good travel insurance with air rescue as medical facilities are sparse in the wilderness. Also, be aware of natural disasters in areas you’re traveling to, and be prepared to change or cancel travel plans.
Crime in Mongolia
Crime in Mongolia is mainly limited to Ulaanbataar and other urban areas. It primarily consists of petty theft and other minor crime, though physical and sexual assault does happen, and you should take caution when traveling.
However, its gun violence rate is only 0.22 per 100K, which is very low, and very few people in Mongolia have guns. Similarly, the intentional homicide rate is only 5.98 per 100K, and the stabbing rate is only 2.53 per 100K, making the violent crime rate very low in Mongolia.
Take caution in crowded areas like Chinggis Khan National Airport, the State Department Store, Naran Tuul Covered Market, the Central Post Office, the Gandan Monastery, and public transportation.
These areas are rife with pickpocketers and other thieves, but most neighborhoods are safe and welcoming. Just remain aware of your surroundings and practice good traveler safety as you would in any big city.
Petty Theft and Scams
Wear money belts and lock backpacks and other zippers to prevent thieves from accessing them. Protecting these items is crucial, as you must carry your passport on the street, and you don’t want to lose any essential documents.
Other scams to look out for are travel insurance scams when you’re entering the country from China or Russia, officer lookalike scams where pretend police officers stop you on the street and demand fines, and taxi scams, where they either charge outrageous prices or are just pretending to be a taxi so they can rob you.
Always carry good travel insurance, ask for identification from officers or offer to accompany them to the police station, and only hail taxis from a trusted source. Most of these only apply in Ulaanbaatar and similar urban areas.
You should also be careful riding public transportation, including trains, into and out of the country, as it’s not uncommon for someone to abscond with your bags while asleep.
Always ensure your valuables are adequately stowed away before resting on trains, and keep from flashing too much cash while traveling. However, if you practice good safety, remain aware of your surroundings, and use common sense, you’ll likely have an uneventful stay.
And even if you fall prey to one of these scams or thieves, you’ll only lose things, and chances are you’ll come out of any encounters completely unharmed.
Racism and Corruption
While you’ll unlikely encounter either of these on your trip to Mongolia, they’re still good to be aware of. Racism from ultra-right conservative parties who are prejudiced against other nationalities and corruption from government officials can happen.
However, this is easily avoidable, as you won’t be spending much time in cities. You won’t come into contact with these two groups if you’re careful. Stay away from inexpensive local bars unless you’re with a local who knows the establishment well.
Confrontations with conservatives are more common when alcohol is involved. They target interracial couples, LGBTQ couples, and perceived foreign nationalities.
Stick to touristy areas inside the cities, don’t walk through unfamiliar places at night alone, and if you come across these people, create distance and try to get away.
Again, it’s unlikely you’ll come across anyone in the first place, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. As for government corruption, some officials charge more than others, and it’s more of a problem that affects locals.
Keep your visas and passports up-to-date and safe, comply with all Mongolian laws and regulations, and practice good safety to avoid crime. That way, you won’t have to interact with government officials on your visit.
Mongolia has been rumored to have some of the worst government corruption in Asia, but it’s not something a tourist should involve themselves with while visiting. Avoid any protests and keep on the right side of the law to avoid any trouble.
Rather than crime in cities, you should be most worried about the possibility of disaster striking while you’re out in the wilderness. Medical care isn’t readily available on the steppes, and several natural disasters can strike.
Travel with an experienced guide and carry good travel insurance that includes air rescue in case something does happen. You should be prepared to change or cancel plans in a natural disaster.
Mongolia is in a seismically active zone, so earthquakes are possible. While it’s not so problematic out on the plains if you happen to be in an urban area, follow proper earthquake safety, getting under tables and desks indoors, or getting to open space.
If you’re traveling near rivers, be aware of the weather forecast and watch out for heavy showers. Floods do happen, but they should be easy to avoid if you have a guide who knows the area well.
If you are caught in a flood, head to higher ground and await rescue.
If you’re traveling near the Gobi Desert, you may be caught in a dust storm. Like sand storms, dust storms reduce visibility, push dust into your eyes, ears, and lungs, and irritate your skin.
While it’s not life-threatening, it’s best to travel with an experienced guide who can spot dust storms and know how to avoid them.
Mongolia’s winter lasts from October to March, and temperatures can plunge below zero. There’s a high chance of heavy snow in the winter, which can be problematic for locals and tourists.
While Mongolia is less busy in the winter, it’s best to travel during the spring and summer when travel to different regions is more accessible.
If you still want to travel during the winter, plan to spend more time in urban areas, and have backup plans in case the weather does disrupt your travels.
Avoiding Bad Areas
Every country and city has areas you’re better off avoiding. Mongolia is no exception. While most sites are perfectly friendly to tourists, including rural areas with nomadic tribes, you should take care in these areas not to offend the locals or end up pickpocketed.
In Mongolia, these areas are still relatively safe, and you don’t need to worry about violent crime. However, you should still be cautious and respectful to locals while visiting them.
Most of the crime in the country happens in Ulaanbataar. This city has a lot of areas with pickpocketers and thieves, dangers you should look out for in any city. However, as far as cities go, you’re reasonably safe as long as you have a good head on your shoulders.
Follow the advice above to avoid trouble in the city, and you’ll be fine. Ulaanbaatar is well worth a day or two of exploration on your trip, with lovely restaurants, museums, bars, and parks.
Most tourists tend to pass over this area, as the main attraction of Mongolia is the wild far-flung regions. But getting a taste of Ulaanbaatar’s culture can take your trip to a new level.
Gers, better known as yurts in Western culture, aren’t fancy ways to camp here. They’re homes for much of Mongolia’s poverty-stricken population. In Ger areas and neighborhoods, live laborers and other people who either partake in the nomadic lifestyle or simply can’t afford to live in a building.
Suppose someone was visiting your hometown but only wanted to see the economically depressed part. In that case, you probably wouldn’t be pleased with them if they took pictures of only the bad parts and people without even asking.
There’s so much to see and do in Mongolia that focusing on their poverty is pretty offensive. That’s why you shouldn’t visit the Ger areas. It’s also rude to take pictures of people without asking or pointing.
Avoid these areas out of respect, or if you must go, then ask before taking pictures of someone or their home. Nobody wants to be the poster child of poverty, least of all the people of the country you’re visiting.
Things to Consider
Here are some things to keep in mind when visiting Mongolia:
- Pack for the weather. Temperatures can get up to the nineties in the summer and below zero in the winter.
- The local currency is the tugrik (MNT). Some places in Ulaanbaatar accept American dollars, but it’s best to change money, especially if you’re leaving the city.
- Learn about Mongolian customs before you arrive. For example, in Mongolia, fire is considered sacred, so you shouldn’t burn trash.
- Much of Mongolia is public land, which means you can camp anywhere. If you love camping, come prepared and take a good guide.
- Don’t use drugs. This includes weed. For one, Mongolia has hardly any drugs, to begin with, and two, there’s a zero-tolerance policy. You could end up jailed for weeks or even months if you get caught with anything.
Frequently Asked Questions
Mongolia is a beautiful country with jaw-dropping landscapes, unique cultures, and long history. Take some time to learn about the culture, language, and history of any country you visit, and you won’t be disappointed.
Is Mongolia friendly to tourists?
Yes, Mongolia is very friendly towards visitors. The nomadic tribes are very welcoming, and Mongolians have a lot of pride in their country, so they’re happy to show travelers around.
Don’t be afraid to engage with locals, as most will happily talk about their country and culture. Trust your instincts if you think someone is off, but for the most part, people are friendly.
Is Mongolia safe for solo female travelers?
As long as you practice good safety, then absolutely. Mongolia has a very egalitarian culture, and women are respected. While you shouldn’t walk around unfamiliar neighborhoods at night or leave your drink unattended, it’s just as safe as anywhere else.
What should I avoid in Mongolia?
You should avoid ger neighborhoods in urban areas, and in rural regions, you should travel with guides to prevent any possible natural disasters.
Do they speak English in Mongolia?
English isn’t commonly spoken in Mongolia, so get guides who can translate, and ask your hosts if they could help with translations in case of emergencies. Learn some useful phrases, and hire a day translator if you need extensive help.
Is Mongolia worth visiting?
Absolutely. Mongolia is so vast and beautiful that it almost feels like a crime not to experience it. There’s so much to see and do that you’ll have the adventure of a lifetime.
So, Is Mongolia Safe to Visit?
Yes, Mongolia is safe overall, with only the possibility of petty crime and scams in urban areas. You should have a fantastic time visiting if you practice good safety, avoid bad neighborhoods, and keep on top of travel insurance and paperwork.
Mongolia is safer than many other Asian countries and has fewer visitors overall, making it a hidden gem you should take the time to experience. So what are you waiting for — book your trip today!