The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Kazakhstan at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Consulate General in Almaty does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
Review OSAC’s Kazakhstan-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
There is minimal risk from crime in Almaty. The reported numbers of incidents in all categories of crime (violent and petty) are statistically on par with or lower than an average city in the U.S. Crime does not impede the operations of the U.S. private sector. Petty theft, while not common, continues to be the most likely crime against U.S. travelers. Pickpockets tend to frequent tourist sites, open-air markets, and heavily traveled public transportation – especially buses.
The U.S. Consulate has received reports about vehicle break-ins (smash-and-grabs). These have occurred in well-populated and illuminated areas day and night. The perpetrators smash windows to steal items in plain view. Thieves steal the side-view mirrors off vehicles. Notably, in July 2018, two thieves fatally stabbed Kazakhstani Olympic medalist Denis Ten when attempting to steal side mirrors off his vehicle, parked in an upscale neighborhood in Almaty.
Drunken/disorderly behavior is commonplace, particularly in bars and nightclubs. Incidents involving assaults, petty theft, robberies, driving mishaps, and violent verbal exchanges often trace back to alcohol. The U.S. Consulate is aware of several incidents in which criminals have drugged, robbed, and physically assaulted foreigners, including U.S. citizens, leaving popular bars and nightclubs in Almaty. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.
Credit cards are becoming more widely accepted. Reports of ATM skimmers are more prevalent, but fraud does not appear to be a widespread problem. For more information, review OSAC’s report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.
For more information, review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Driving can be extremely dangerous, particularly for those coming from the U.S. Many drivers have received little/no driver’s education. Drivers tend to be aggressive, routinely disregard traffic laws, do not obey signals, drive in oncoming lanes of traffic, and move at excessive speeds, even during adverse weather conditions. Road rage is common; it is not unusual to see people get out of their cars to confront each other over perceived offenses. People will regularly drive and park on sidewalks, especially during peak traffic hours when drivers’ patience runs thin.
Another concern for drivers is pedestrians, who can be equally unpredictable and reckless. Many pedestrians wear dark clothing at night and cross streets at will, not checking for oncoming traffic. Pedestrians always have the right of way on marked crosswalks, even on busy avenues/highways; therefore, they may not check the road before venturing out into the middle of the street on the crosswalk.
Kazakhstan has a zero-tolerance policy for drinking and driving. Consumption of alcohol, paired with driving could result in criminal charges, fines, and/or imprisonment.
Visitors who intend to drive should obtain adequate local liability insurance and maintain parallel insurance with a U.S. carrier. If you own a private car, ensure you have all required vehicular paperwork by Kazakhstani law. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s report, Driving Overseas: Best Practices.
Public Transportation Conditions
If possible, arrange for private transportation with an experienced local driver.
Avoid riding overly crowded buses and microbuses whenever possible. Pickpocketing is a frequent occurrence on crowded buses.
Many foreigners follow the local custom of hailing private vehicles on the street and negotiating a fee with the driver on the spot. Avoid use of street taxis. Never get into a car if there is already a passenger in the vehicle, and get out if the driver stops to pick up another passenger. There have been instances in which taxi drivers have drugged, robbed, and beaten foreign riders, then left them at out-of-the-way locations.
Ride-hailing applications entered the Kazakhstan market in 2016; some drivers speak passable English. For more information on ride sharing, review OSAC’s report, Safety and Security in the Share Economy.
Trains tend to be slow but relatively safe. An overnight express train runs between Nur-sultan (Astana) and Almaty several times a week. Unless you book an entire compartment, other passengers will be sleeping in the same compartment. There have been several reports of male passengers harassing U.S. females traveling alone on overnight trains. International trains service Russia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Urumqi (China). Most of these trains run on a weekly schedule.
Travelers arriving at the airports should make prior arrangements for a hired car or taxi via a sponsor or hotel if possible. Otherwise, take marked taxis that have already dropped off passengers.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
There is moderate risk from terrorism in Almaty. The Government of Kazakhstan continues to exhibit concern about violent extremism. While the potential exists for violent extremist activity, Kazakhstan’s security elements have demonstrated an ability to interdict such activities. In January 2019, authorities detained six suspected foreign terrorists in a raid in Almaty, finding materials for improvised explosive devices, firearms, and ammunition during the raid. Authorities suspect the group of planning attacks against civilians in public areas of Almaty, and believe the suspects were coordinating with ISIS.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
There is minimal risk from civil unrest in Almaty. Civil unrest and/or protests are rare. There have been occasional clashes between foreign construction workers and their Kazakhstani counterparts in a few cities. In these cases, Kazakhstani construction workers publicly complained that their wages were less than those paid to the foreign workers were.
In order to hold a demonstration, organizers must file a petition with the city and receive a permit. In general, most demonstrations involve fewer than 20 participants. Occasionally, groups organize demonstrations without permits; police generally disperse the participants quickly and peacefully.
Occasional clashes have erupted between ethnic Kazakhs and those of other ethnicities in rural areas outside of Almaty, resulting from tensions over local issues and corruption. Security forces have stepped up their efforts to combat perceived “religious extremism.”
The most significant concern is the threat of earthquakes. Almaty sits on a major fault line. Residents should stock up on non-perishable food items, water, and emergency supplies in the event of an earthquake or other natural disaster (to include disease outbreak). For more information, review OSAC’s report, Central Asia Earthquake Preparedness.
Air quality is a serious concern for those living in and visiting Almaty. During winter (Nov-Mar), air quality worsens severely due to a combination of coal-fired heating plants, vehicle emissions, and weather patterns. Fine particulates in the air can regularly exceed recommended maximums for daily exposure. A joint CDC and local partner initiative monitors sir quality in Almaty; find data at www.facebook.com/almatyurbanair, or via searching for “Almaty Urban Air” in app databases.
In the event of an earthquake of large magnitude, Almaty could suffer significant damage due to substandard Soviet-era infrastructure; there could also be a large number of fatalities. Emergency response in major metropolitan areas is improving, but remains inadequate to handle a mass casualty incident.
Personal Identity Concerns
There are no specific legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI events in Kazakhstan. Negative social attitudes towards LGBTI persons are widespread, and local LGBTI persons are sometimes subject to physical and verbal abuse, as well as unwanted attention from police.
Many buildings, public walkways, and public transportation remain inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
Visitors to Kazakhstan engaging in missionary work or other religious activities must register with the Local Executive Authority office (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 require registration, but participation in the delivery of the service does. Kazakhstan also imposes restrictions on the importation of religious literature.
Authorities may fine and deport from Kazakhstan any foreigner who addressed a congregation, leads prayers, or performs religious music without proper religious worker registration. Representatives of faith-based non-governmental organizations are subject to the registration requirement, even if their activities are not religious in nature.
Contact the Ministry of Justice office responsible for the area of Kazakhstan where you intend to engage in religious activities and request a written decision. Religious worker registration is only valid for a specifically noted locality.
The overall police presence is significant, and Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) conscripts on compulsory military service augment regular law enforcement personnel. The size and professional caliber of police in smaller regional cities is substantially less than that of their metropolitan counterparts. Many officers outside of Almaty, Nur-sultan (Astana), Aktau, and Atyrau are not experienced in dealing with foreigners, and rarely speak English.
The level of competency and professionalism of law enforcement entities may vary, but does not pose a significant obstacle to the private sector. Police response varies depending upon location and the type of incident. Investigators often must follow procedures that seem to relate little to the committed crime. Police officers have been very diligent in their efforts to solve some of the more severe forms of crimes committed against U.S. victims.
Police continue to implement reforms to create a more professional service and curb corruption. One example in Almaty was the introduction of police traffic stops conducted only by police patrol vehicles (not, as in the past, by static police posts randomly pulling over vehicles). Despite reforms, extortion from traffic police continues to be a problem.
Police have the authority to stop individuals without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. All citizens and visitors must present an official form of identification (e.g. passport) to an officer upon request. Many U.S. travelers, especially those who do not speak Russian, perceive identification checks as harassment. However, failure to produce identification can result in temporary detention or arrest. In some cases, the officer’s intent is to extort money; more often than not, they release U.S. travelers without incident once aware of the individual’s citizenship.
Police officers occasionally conduct “residence checks” to verify occupants have registered properly. Showing a passport with a valid visa or registration card should be enough to satisfy the officer’s concerns.
Crime Victim Assistance
Victims of personal crime (assault) should give statements to police as soon as possible and contact the U.S. Consulate General American Citizen Services (ACS) section. Only a certified Kazakhstani-licensed physician may collect physical evidence from victims for use in judicial proceedings. The victim must be available for police interview during the investigation and provide testimony if the case goes to trial.
Victims of crime should contact the police by calling 102. Call the U.S. Consulate General Almaty’s ACS Unit at 8-727-250-4900. In the event of an emergency, after business hours, on holidays or weekends, call 8-727-250-4892 and ask to speak with the Duty Officer.
Quality Western medical care is generally not available. Serious long-term care is not a viable option in Kazakhstan.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
SOS International Clinic: 11 Luganskogo Street, corner of Satpayev Street, Almaty, Tels: 8-727-258-1911, 8-701-744-1111 (24 hrs.). The SOS clinic is a combination ambulatory facility with two beds for more seriously injured patients; x-ray and laboratory facilities are available, and a Western-trained physician is always on-call. SOS offers immediate care and stabilization before medical evacuation (medevac).
Purchase medical insurance that includes a provision for medevac. Depending on the patient’s condition, private medevac can cost more than $100,000, which patients must pay up front. Medicare does not provide coverage outside the U.S. Anyone planning to visit should purchase both medical and medevac insurance for the duration of their visit. When time and injury allow, those seeking medical treatment should ideally stabilize and then evacuate.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Kazakhstan.
OSAC Country Council Information
The Almaty Country Council meets twice a year. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s South & Central Asia team with any questions.
U.S. Consulate General Location and Contact Information
Consulate Address and Hours of Operation
U.S. Consulate General: Samal -2, 97 Zholdasbekova Street, A-2 entrance, Almaty 050059
Consulate Contact Numbers
After hours (Almaty): 8-777-007-2359
Nearby Post: Embassy Nur-sultan (Astana)
Americans should review Consular Affairs messaging for Kazakhstan and other Central Asian republics issued by the Department of State to obtain the latest threat information. Register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) . The ACS section can send messages via e-mail to registered citizens.
U.S. citizens can stay in Kazakhstan up to 30 days without a visa. When entering Kazakhstan, you must complete a white registration card and present it to the border officers, who will stamp and return it to you with your passport. You must retain this card during your stay and present it upon departure. If the card has two stamps, you have registered with the Migration Police for up to 90 days. If the card contains one stamp, you must register with the Migration Police within five calendar days. Certain hotels are also able to register foreign guests. While authorities may register a traveler for up to three months, this does not mean that the traveler can be physically present in Kazakhstan for three months. The specific visa category dictates the duration of stay. If you stay longer than three months, you must extend your registration period with the nearest Migration Police office in Kazakhstan. Foreigners must inform the Migration Police of changes of address. Penalties for violating registration rules, including failing to produce a white registration card with proof of registration on departure, may include delayed and/or denial of boarding, fines, imprisonment, and deportation.
Additional Resource: Kazakhstan Country Information Sheet