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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Mongolia 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Mongolia. For more in depth information, review OSAC’s Mongolia webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State at the date of this report’s publication advises reconsidering travel to Mongolia due to travel and transport restrictions related to Mongolia’s response to an outbreak in the neighboring People’s Republic of China of COVID-19. However, the Travel Advisory in effect prior to the outbreak assessed Mongolia at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Ulaanbaatar as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. However, crime rates fluctuate significantly year to year nationwide. The National Police Agency (NPA) reported the number of “serious” crimes decreased by 22%, and “less serious” crimes decreased by more than 10% year on year across the country.

Overall crime in Ulaanbaatar’s central Sukhbaatar district, which contains many of Mongolia’s government institutions, foreign diplomatic missions, and tourist attractions (e.g. Sukhbaatar Square, expatriate-oriented restaurants and hotels) decreased by 22% in 2019.

Street crime remains common in Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar in particularly, with victims seemingly targeted at random. Locations that attract thieves include the Narantuul covered market (commonly known as the “Black Market”); the State Department Store (a name derived from Mongolia’s socialist past); the Mercury food market shopping center; the Seoul Street restaurant/bar district; the section of Baga Toiruu (Little Ring Road) between the Urgoo Cinema and Ulaanbaatar Hotel; and crowded sporting events. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.

Physical assaults against foreigners in Ulaanbaatar occur and, when not random, include anti-foreigner motivations or the expectation of financial gain. Most assaults occur during the evening hours and involve intoxicated or emotionally disturbed persons.

There is a small nationalist portion of Mongolia’s criminal element, which targets foreign nationals. This group feeds on the fear that foreign businesses exploit Mongolians and the country’s natural resources. Foreigners have reported unprovoked and serious physical assaults that have occurred without warning. Foreign males are most at risk from such attacks or threats during the late evening hours at nightclubs and bars (even at some of Ulaanbaatar’s more upscale establishments), especially if they are in the company of Mongolian women. Additionally, nationalist groups sometimes mistake Asian-Americans for nationals of China, Japan, Korea, or Vietnam, other known targets of such groups. In general, Mongolians are not well disposed to ethnic Chinese.

While Mongolian law includes a definition of sexual harassment for civil/labor issues, there are no criminal code provision covering the activity and Mongolia adopted a law on combating domestic violence in 2016. Be cautious when traveling alone, in isolated areas, and in situations in which alcohol consumption is prevalent. 

Most local businesses accept international credit cards, though they may occasionally reject them, especially when they lack embedded computer chips. Credit cards issued by Mongolian banks are in wide acceptance, especially in Ulaanbaatar. Credit card use outside the capital is far less common. Credit card fraud and other internet-based crimes are an increasing trend. Keep your credit card issuing bank’s contact information readily available, and closely monitor accounts during and after travel to Mongolia for fraudulent activity. Review OSAC’s report, Taking Credit.

ATMs are rapidly becoming common at Ulaanbaatar hotels, major banks, restaurants, and supermarkets. There have been reports of ATM card fraud involving scanning devices attached to the front of ATMs, and of employees at restaurants and bars using skimmers to duplicate magnetic strip information. Review OSAC’s report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Hotels and banks provide official currency exchange; exchanging relatively small amounts of U.S. dollars and other major foreign currencies in Ulaanbaatar is generally easy. The Mongolian tugrik (MNT) is not easily exchangeable outside Mongolia.

Police report that known organized crime groups are specifically involved with human trafficking, (sex and labor) prostitution and labor) and drug trafficking. While much of the activity originates from China and Russia, there is an increasing market for such vice in and around a number of Mongolian industries.

Other Areas of Concern

Due to extreme weather and the absence of paved roads in much of rural Mongolia, use GPS and avoid travel outside of Ulaanbaatar or other city centers after dark.

Mongolia’s General Authority for Border Protection takes any attempted illegal border crossing seriously. Even with an onward visa, overland travel into and out of Mongolia is not always possible. The most widely used overland ports of entry and exit—the Zamiin Uud border crossing in the south and the Sukhbaatar/Altanbulag border crossing in the north—are always open to foreign travelers. Travelers attempting to enter/depart Mongolia illegally can expect detention and interrogation.   

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Driving in Ulaanbaatar is hectic and dangerous. The number of motor vehicles far exceeds current transportation infrastructure, contributing to chronic traffic jams. Most vehicles in Mongolia are right-side drive despite the prevailing direction of travel being the right side of the road. This dilemma leads to frequent head-on collisions on two-lane roadways. A recurring trend involves the driver of a right-side drive vehicle attempting to pass a slower-moving vehicle; due to limited visibility, the driver is unable to see the oncoming vehicle until having entered the passing lane nearly fully.

Many local drivers and passengers do not wear seatbelts, increasing injuries and fatalities from vehicular accidents. There is limited proactive enforcement of traffic laws, and drivers often disregard many safe driving practices. This haphazard style of urban driving leads to very frequent, but typically minor, vehicle accidents within Ulaanbaatar. Drivers in the countryside should exercise caution, as the decrease in traffic may lead to accidents at a higher speed.

Despite a zero-tolerance law, drunk drivers are a serious threat, with alcohol-related accidents sharply increasing during holiday periods, especially during end-of-year celebrations.

Driving at night is extremely dangerous outside of Ulaanbaatar due to poor road conditions, reduced visibility, drunk drivers, harsh winter weather, and limited emergency response services.

Mongolian law specifies that drivers not move their vehicles after an accident until police have arrived on the scene and investigated, creating dangerous if not obstructive conditions. Foreign drivers may be subject to a less than fair investigation. Frequently, foreign drivers have complained of biased accident investigations in which the foreign driver is assigned fault, even when the evidence suggests a local driver was likely responsible.

Avoid renting a vehicle without a reputable local driver and seat belts.

Cellular phone coverage outside of the major cities is spotty at best; consider using a satellite phone if planning to stay in remote regions. Those wishing to travel outside of Ulaanbaatar (or other sizeable cities) should make all travel and transportation arrangements through recognized and reputable travel agencies/operators. Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Marked taxicabs are generally safe and reliable.

Hitchhiking is fairly common among Mongolians, with the expectation that hitchhikers will compensate private drivers with 1,000-2,000 tugrik, the generally accepted rate for short trips within the city. Avoid unmarked/unlicensed taxis; many who have used unmarked/unlicensed taxis (private vehicles) have reported robberies and physical assaults; such vehicles are virtually untraceable by the police should a passenger become the victim of a crime. Unmarked/unlicensed taxis are also frequently in poor physical condition and may face a higher risk of involvement in traffic accidents. Unsafe driving habits and poorly enforced drunk driving laws put passengers in danger. Confrontations with drivers can quickly escalate to violence.

Overcrowding, often at dangerous levels, is common on public buses. Additionally, buses are often in poor physical condition, putting them at further risk of involvement in traffic accidents. Foreigners using public buses are at serious risk for pickpocketing and other crimes of opportunity. Women have reported instances of inappropriate physical contact on buses.

Unsafe, icy roads in winter and heavy traffic congestion in Ulaanbaatar throughout the year further increase the danger of using public transportation. There is also no guarantee that drivers of public buses or unmarked/unlicensed taxis have valid licenses or are compliant with local law.

A north-south railroad line connects Ulaanbaatar to Russia (Ulan Ude and Irkutsk) and China (Erlian and Beijing). Rail travel is safe; a partial derailment in 2018 led to nine injured passengers.

Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Mongolia is a landlocked country with limited transportation connections. Air travel is safe; no major accidents occurred in 2019.

Other Travel Conditions

Pedestrians should exercise extreme caution when crossing streets. Vehicles routinely do not yield to pedestrians, even at crosswalks; many ignore red lights. Pedestrians have died or been seriously injured falling through open manholes. Pedestrians must also be extremely cautious around Ulaanbaatar’s numerous construction sites. There have been reports of pedestrians dying or receiving serious injury from falling debris.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Ulaanbaatar as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. There have been no reports of terrorist attacks or indigenous terrorist groups operating in Mongolia. Authorities are cognizant that porous national borders might allow transnational terrorists entry. Authorities closely monitor visitors from countries that are host to transnational terrorists.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Ulaanbaatar as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Peaceful protests occasionally occur in the city center, but turnout is usually relatively small. Large-scale demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience have been uncommon since the country rejected Soviet-style socialism in 1990.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Mongolia experiences seismic activity, including minor earthquakes. The country regularly experiences earthquakes in the range of 4.0-4.4 magnitude on the Richter scale. Most tremors are centered in the country’s mountainous west. According to the Mongolian National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), seismic activity has increased in Mongolia in the past few years. There are concerns that even a relatively minor quake would be devastating to Ulaanbaatar due to the number of apartment buildings built to low standards. Review OSAC’s report, Central Asia Earthquake Preparedness.

Mongolia becomes bitterly cold in the winter. From late-September to mid-May, temperatures fall well below zero degrees Fahrenheit and settle in the -10s for extended periods. The harsh cold regularly results in numerous deaths. A vehicle breakdown in an isolated location can quickly become a life-threatening event.

Despite recent regulatory changes and a pivot to more efficient fuel sources, air quality in Ulaanbaatar during the winter is among the worst in the world. Air pollution often reaches hazardous levels because of emissions from coal-burning stoves, power plants, boilers, and vehicles. Although the government is taking measures to reduce pollution, growing urbanization and an influx of residents challenges efforts to reduce emissions at the individual household level. Winter visitors should use custom-fitted N95- or N99-compliant particle masks if spending extended periods outdoors in Ulaanbaatar. The U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar maintains an air-quality monitoring program, providing real-time air quality index (AQI) readings via a website and Twitter.

Critical Infrastructure

While there is no shortage of fuel due to the close proximity of coalmines to Ulaanbaatar, approximately 70% of the city’s electricity and 50% of the city’s heat comes from one power plant that is in need of renovation. The continued economic growth and resulting demand for power has placed severe strains on the city’s power grid. Plans to add to generating capacity are still under consideration. A failure at the primary power plant during the winter months would have catastrophic consequences for the residents of Ulaanbaatar.

Privacy Concerns

Although there is no systemic government infringement on personal privacy, visitors should have no expectation of U.S.-style privacy in public or private locations. Hotel staff may access hotel rooms without the occupants’ consent/knowledge. Take precautions to safeguard sensitive, personal, and/or proprietary information.

Personal Identity Concerns

Domestic violence and sexual assault are serious problems in Mongolia. Reports of rape and gender-based violence are significantly underreported. Female visitors may be subject to sexual harassment both in the workplace and on the street. It is important to document all incidents of sexual assault thoroughly and in a timely manner. Street harassment is especially prevalent at night and in areas outside the capital. Women travelers should not hike, trek, or camp on their own in Mongolia. In 2018, a U.S. woman was raped in western Mongolia while on a trekking tour.

Female travelers should consider joining large tour groups when visiting monasteries and when patronizing ger camps. In 2016 and 2017, there were several reports of sexual assault against foreign women visiting popular monasteries. In each case, a monk isolated the foreign tourist during her tour. There were also several reports of thieves entering the gers of female travelers late at night to steal valuables; one of these incidents also involved sexual assault. If a sexual assault occurs, Mongolian police may require the victim to stay in Mongolia for a protracted period while the investigation proceeds. Alternatively, the victim may designate a legal representative for this purpose. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers,

Mongolia’s criminal code prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, language, race, age, gender, social status, professional position, religion, education, or medical status. There are no laws or legal provisions that criminalize being LGBTI or that specifically target the LGBTI community. However, NGOs continue to report that LGBTI individuals faced violence and discrimination both in public and at home based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. There were also reports that LGBTI persons faced greater discrimination and fear in rural areas than in Ulaanbaatar. The Government of Mongolia does not recognize same-sex spouses for visa and residency purposes. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Major streets in Ulaanbaatar feature textured sidewalks to aid visually impaired pedestrians, but numerous obstacles prevent persons with disabilities from moving freely. Government buildings and public transportation remain largely inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Mongolian elevators are often too small to accommodate a standard-sized wheelchair. Service animals are rare and, often may not enter public buildings. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

Drug addiction and trafficking are an increasing concern, and a growing problem. The Mongolian National Police views drug trafficking as a serious and increasing threat. Foreign travelers in the possession of drugs can expect an uncertain and opaque judicial process if charges are filed. Conviction of possession of even so-called "soft" illicit drugs can lead to harsh penalties, including lengthy imprisonment. Crime involving drug dealing was up more than 30% in 2019, but from a baseline of only 195 cases nationwide in 2018.

Police Response

The Mongolian National Police continues to improve its emergency response system in Ulaanbaatar and has the ability in most instances to pinpoint the location of emergency calls, including those from a cell phone. However, the police do not have English speakers on duty. Ulaanbaatar does not have a dedicated tourist police unit or a centralized incident reporting system.

Detained or arrested U.S. citizens should contact the U.S. Embassy as soon as possible. Most police officers are unaware of a foreign national’s right to request consular assistance after an arrest, which may require the detainee to request multiple times to speak to a consular official.

Mongolia has subjected foreign citizens to exit bans for a variety of reasons, including pending civil disputes, pending criminal investigations, or immigration violations. Once an exit ban comes into force, it stays valid until the dispute resolves administratively, a court renders a decision, or the entity that requested the ban asks for it to end. Foreigners subjected to a criminal investigation or complaint may face detention or be unable to leave the country while legal proceedings are pending, even for petty crimes. Strongly consider retaining legal counsel for even minor offenses, as the Mongolian legal system is complicated and difficult for non-citizens to navigate. Foreigners may have to retain and pay for the services of registered translators when they are victims of reported crimes or accused of crimes. The Embassy maintains lists of interpreters and English-speaking lawyers.

The emergency line in MONGOLIA is 102. Report crimes to the police district responsible for the area in which the crime occurred. If local reporting is not possible, report the crime in Ulaanbaatar or the closest city. Before reporting a crime, you may wish to consult an attorney, as travelers have reported police occasionally question victims in an aggressive manner. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Police/Security Agencies

The primary organization charged with maintaining peace and security is the National Police Agency.

Police Emergency Line: 102

Fire Emergency Line: 105

Medical Emergencies

Medical Emergency Line: 103

Most Mongolian hospitals do not meet Western standards. Although most doctors and emergency responders are dedicated and professional, their training and equipment are substandard. Modern medical facilities are heavily concentrated in Ulaanbaatar. Although some public and private hospitals in larger provincial cities offer medical services on par with those in the capital, there are very few if any medical resources available in the rural countryside.

Travelers with chronic medical conditions should carefully weigh the risks of traveling to Mongolia, because specialty medicines are likely unavailable. Most pharmaceuticals come from China or Russia, and lack English labels. Brand-name drugs and medical supplies can be hard to find, and public hospitals are frequently out of stock. While many over-the-counter drugs are available, travelers should consider bringing your own medications in their original containers and with evidence of prescriptions as appropriate. Refer to OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.

Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy in Mongolia’s Medical Assistance webpage.

Medical evacuation can cost up to $100,000. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The poor winter air quality may trigger health problems (e.g. asthma, allergies, and other upper respiratory illnesses). CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Mongolia.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad

OSAC Country Council Information

The Regional Security Office is currently re-establishing an OSAC Country Council in Ulaanbaatar. Any interested members of the U.S. private sector should contact the RSO or OSAC’s Asia-Pacific team for more information.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

Denver Street #3, 11th Microdistrict, Ulaanbaatar 14190

Hours: Monday-Friday, 0830-1700 (excluding U.S. and Mongolian holidays)

Website: http://mn.usembassy.gov

Embassy Operator: (+976) 7007-6001

Emergency calls after normal business hours: (+976) 7007-6001

State Department Emergency Line: +1-202-501-4444

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

 

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