This is an annual report produced in
conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek,
The current U.S. Department
of State Travel
the date of this report’s publication assesses Kyrgyzstan
at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions.
Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek 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 Kyrgyzstan-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
There is considerable risk from crime in
Bishkek. Although relatively uncommon, there have been reports of muggings and
assaults on foreigners in downtown Bishkek at night. Many reports center on
bars, clubs, and other drinking establishments where inebriated patrons
(regardless of nationality) make for tempting targets; local criminals perceive
foreigners to have more money than local residents. Other non-violent crimes
occur regularly. In 2017, Bishkek reported 9,901 crimes. At the time of this
report, 2018 crime statistics are pending public release.
Foreigners have reported having their drinks
drugged. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Shaken: The Don’ts of
There is a high incidence of petty theft and
pickpocketing in local open-air markets, bazaars, and other crowded places.
There is particular need to pay close attention to one’s surroundings and
belongings while in crowded public places, walking on crowded streets and underground
crosswalks, and traveling on public transportation.
Criminals have impersonated police officers,
using fraudulent credentials to extort money from foreign tourists and
Organized crime and narco-trafficking are widespread
in the south, particularly in Batken and Osh provinces. While potentially
dangerous, these criminal activities typically do not target or affect
Reports of credit card, internet, and ATM fraud
are rare but do occur. For more information, review OSAC’s report, The Overseas Traveler’s
Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.
In the last few years, there have been
significant incidents of cyberattacks on host government websites, infecting servers
with malware as a result. Local media outlets occasionally report foreign
government hacking attacks. Exercise caution with your electronic devices; try
to keep them in your possession, keep firewalls and antivirus software active
and updated, and use virtual private networks (VPNs) to protect your devices
from unauthorized access.
Other Areas of Concern
Exercise caution near
the southern borders. The U.S. Embassy reviews travel of its employees to
Batken Oblast because ill-defined and porous borders allow for the relatively
free movement of people and illicit goods, rendering the region vulnerable to
transnational threats. Ambiguous borders, particularly around six enclaves in
the Batken Oblast, can give rise to skirmishes over water and grazing rights.
Some of these skirmishes can turn violent. While foreigners are not the target
of this violence, they should exercise caution around these ambiguous borders
so as not to become collateral victims. Rugged terrain and a lack of resources
prevent authorities from controlling the borders adequately. Along the Batken
Oblast border, there were 8 border conflicts and 16 cases of illegal border
crossings in 2018.
Kyrgyz law restricts
movements by foreigners in some border areas considered vital to national
security or otherwise sensitive. For example, foreign investors owning or
operating mineral mines must submit the names of foreign visitors to the State
Committee for National Security (GKNB) in order to visit their mines.
There have been reports of detention and
harassment by local law enforcement and other security forces of U.S. citizens
working as journalists and individuals hunting or trekking in border regions,
even if they are on guided tours, have permission, and possess the proper
Border crossings for foreigners who do not
carry Central Asian passports are often difficult. Factor unexpected border
closures into travel plans. Many land borders crossings do not permit
non-Central Asians to cross.
It is illegal to take pictures of certain
buildings. Ask before taking pictures of anything of possible military or
security interest, including government buildings, people in police or military
uniforms, and food markets. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Picture
This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.
For more information, review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit:
Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Road safety is the
number one safety concern throughout Kyrgyzstan. Road conditions often make
driving difficult and dangerous. Insufficient street lighting, dangerous
driving habits, and free roaming livestock on rural roads make intercity
driving hazardous. The local habit of driving at night without headlights adds
to the already dangerous conditions at night. Guardrails and other safety
barriers are often absent from rural streets.
City roads are hazardous due to potholes,
uncovered manholes, poor lighting, and pedestrians ignoring oncoming traffic.
Exercise great care while walking, as vehicles often fail to yield to
pedestrians. There is no roadside assistance infrastructure.
Kyrgyzstan has invested in many road
improvement projects, including a massive citywide project in Bishkek in 2018.
However, it still lacks adequate snow removal and road treatment equipment to
protect the roads from harsh winter conditions. Despite the improvements,
winter damage results in the formation of numerous potholes along many streets,
but especially side streets. Aggressive drivers routinely make sudden
unexpected lane changes without signaling or checking other lanes, making
The number of cars exceeds Bishkek road
capacity, resulting in an artificial restriction of traffic speed. Drivers tend
to be impatient, and will drive through oncoming traffic to get to the front of
the line during a red light, creating more congestion and encouraging
Kyrgyzstan continues to improve intercity roads
outside of Bishkek, to include the addition of illumination in certain areas.
However, local aggressive driving habits cause drivers simply to drive faster
on these new surfaces. Speeding is rampant and presents its own hazards. On the
open road, vehicles often pass slower automobiles at high rates of speed
regardless of oncoming traffic, resulting in numerous fatal accidents. Despite
the strides Kyrgyzstan is making in road improvements, the facelift operations typically
involve intermittent funding and Chinese companies whose quality of materials is
inconsistent. This may lead to uneven wear, potholes, and when there is no
contract funding, a hazardous and sudden transfer from improved to unimproved
road at a high rate of speed.
There are many right-side drive vehicles (with
steering wheel and pedals on the right side of the car), even though traffic
drives on the right side of the road. This affords drivers limited visibility
on two-lane roads, and causes many accidents. In 2019, Kyrgyzstan passed
legislation to block the import of right-side drive vehicles. However, vehicles
imported into Kyrgyzstan before 2019 remain legal.
Plowing and sanding of city streets is limited.
Severe winter weather (October-April) makes driving in mountain passes
treacherous. Some mountain passes are impassable in winter. Avalanches and
mudslides in the winter and spring make driving in high mountain passes a
challenge. Mountain roads are often narrow and treacherous, and may close
without notice due to snow, ice, or rockslides.
Aggressive driving is very common in
Kyrgyzstan, and especially the over congested streets of Bishkek. Accidents may
lead to violence. There were many hit-and-run accidents in 2017 and 2018,
resulting in multiple pedestrian deaths. In 2017, 907 people died in
car-related accidents, with 6,346 traffic accidents reported throughout the
country, an 8.1% increase from 2016. Minimize most aggressive driving incidents
by not escalating the situation (do not yell, curse, or give rude hand signals)
and by avoiding vehicles that are driving recklessly. The Embassy strongly
recommends that anyone driving purchase and use dashboard cameras. Avoid
excessive speed and, when possible, do not drive at night outside of major
cities. Prepare for sudden stops or lane changes without a signal. For more
information on self-driving, review OSAC’s report, Driving Overseas: Best
Drivers will sometimes target other drivers in
an effort to cause an accident to extort money. There have been reports of
traffic police targeting out-of-town drivers to extort fines. The police and
other anti-corruption departments are trying to tamp down bribery and
corruption, with limited success. Roadside checkpoints are commonplace. Traffic
police often use personal vehicles without police identification or special
signals to set up checkpoints to extract cash bribes in the form of “fines.”
Pay any traffic fines at local banks. Some police vehicles offer terminals for
individuals with bankcards to pay fines immediately.
Due to heavy traffic and local driving habits,
vehicle accidents are common. Fender benders routinely tie up traffic. Local
law requires that vehicles involved in an accident remain in place until police
arrive. Motorists involved in vehicle accidents may not move the vehicles
unless there is a clear safety concern. Authorities may find a driver moving a
vehicle at fault for the collision, regardless of any contributing factors. Prepare
to wait until the police arrive and complete a report.
The legal blood alcohol level for driving in
the Kyrgyz Republic is zero. Driving under the influence may land you
immediately in jail, no matter how little you consumed.
Public Transportation Conditions
After dark, exercise caution when taking public
transportation. The Embassy prohibits its employees from using unmarked taxis;
use radio-dispatched taxis instead, and sit in the back seat. Buckle up,
although not all taxicabs have functional seatbelts. Arrange to use a
reputable, registered taxi service through your hotel. Within Bishkek, companies
such as Namba and Jorgo mirror the Uber business model and feature meters and online
interactive apps to secure a ride. When getting a taxi on the street, agree on
the price with the driver before getting in, or insist they use the meter, or
the price may be significantly higher. It is customary to negotiate a price
with a taxi driver; they often quote double the metered tariff. Avoid getting
into taxis that already have a passenger.
The Embassy prohibits employees from using marshrutka (route) buses, which make a
profit by taking in as many passengers as can fit. Additionally, marshrutka drivers drive aggressively
and rarely abide by traffic rules. Pickpockets are active on public
transportation, and are adept at slicing through purses, backpacks, and
clothing. Incidents of sexual harassment and groping while riding marshrutkas occur routinely.
As there is no direct
commercial air service to the U.S. by carriers registered in Kyrgyzstan, the
U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of
Kyrgyzstan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil
Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
Travelers arriving at Manas International
Airport (FRU) should arrange transportation in advance. Foreign travelers have
been the victims of extortion by airport taxi drivers who appeared to be
colluding with airport personnel to identify victims.
Air travel within Kyrgyzstan can be problematic
in the winter, as dense fog and inclement weather can cause significant delays
and cancellations. Many local airports outside of Manas lack radar sophistication;
as a result, if fog or inclement weather is present, airlines may not land. In
2017, a Turkish-owned CAT Airlines aircraft crashed on approach to the airport,
killing four crew and 35 village residents. The reason for the crash is
unclear, although weather (thick fog) and pilot error may have played a role.
In a 2018 incident, a TezJet flight from Bishkek to Batken had to return to
Bishkek only 13 minutes into the flight, after the left engine exploded. The
pilot landed the plane safely with no injuries. Authorities opened a criminal
case for negligence, which remains open.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism
There is moderate risk from
terrorism in Bishkek. Terrorist attacks in the country remain rare, but the 2016
suicide bombing against the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek and continued reports of
terrorism-related arrests in 2018 underscore the potential threat facing the
country. Reports of returning ISIS fighters continue to permeate the press;
however, the government claims an active role in capturing these individuals
upon their arrival to Kyrgyzstan. Actual numbers of Kyrgyz who have traveled to
Iraq and Syria vary depending on the source and time of reporting. According to
government statistics, approximately 850 Kyrgyz citizens have left the country
to join ISIS or other extremist groups. Most experts believe the true number is
higher. The outflow of Kyrgyz citizens going to fight in foreign conflict zones
has decreased significantly in recent years, according to government officials.
According to available information in 2018, Kyrgyzstan’s Anti-Terrorism Center
reported that law enforcement agencies initiated 158 criminal cases – 60% in connection
with extremism and 40% with transnational terrorism. The Center added that
police arrested 78 Kyrgyz and 23 foreigners for membership in terrorist
organizations and extremism. There were no reported terrorist attacks in
Kyrgyzstan in 2018.
Security forces conducted
several special operations against unspecified international terrorist
organizations in 2018, capturing individuals who were allegedly planning
attacks or recruiting locals to fight for terrorist organizations in Syria and
Afghanistan. Porous, mountainous borders, particularly in the south, make
Kyrgyzstan a potential transit route for terrorists.
In October 2018, authorities reportedly uncovered a sleeper
cell consisting of five foreigners and four Kyrgyz citizens recruiting locals
to fight in Syria and Afghanistan, and reportedly planning to carry out attacks
in the Kyrgyz Republic.
In March 2018, authorities detained a Kyrgyz citizen who
reportedly had trained in a terrorist camp in Syria. Authorities claimed the
detainee returned to the Kyrgyz Republic to carry out a terror attack using an
improvised explosive device.
In August 2017, during the presidential campaign season,
local media reported that government forces stopped an attack planned to occur
on Kyrgyz Independence Day. The interdiction resulted in the capture and death
of purported militants, and seizure of explosives. This reporting is not independently
In August 2016, a vehicle-borne explosive device detonated at
the Chinese Embassy, less than 250 meters from the U.S. Embassy. Media reported
that the attack killed the driver and injured three others. According to
government statements, the attacker was an ethnic Uighur and a member of the
East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
Extremist groups express anti-U.S. sentiments
and may attempt to target U.S. government or private interests in the region,
including in Kyrgyzstan.
Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
There is moderate risk
from civil unrest in Bishkek. Despite a history of civil unrest and ethnic
violence, recent local city council elections, a presidential election, and
voting on a national constitutional referendum (supporting the adoption of
constitutional amendments) have proceeded peacefully. Kyrgyzstan has the
propensity for small, local, violent and nonviolent events to occur
spontaneously. The 2018 failure of Bishkek’s central heating plant resulted in
outrage over the perceived corruption that lead to the plant failure. Several
protests occurred, but all were peaceful. Expression of outrage over social
media is becoming more prevalent; the platform often serves as the tool for
organizing rallies and demonstrations.
The end of 2018 saw the rise of anti-Chinese
sentiment fueled by the plight of ethnic Kyrgyz in China. This sentiment is
continuing into 2019. Authorities are following the activities of
ultra-national groups to protect Kyrgyzstan’s economic ties to China. Travelers
of Chinese ethnicity to Kyrgyzstan should maintain a keen awareness to their
Authorities strive to maintain control over
possible civil unrest by granting protest permits to control the time and
location of protests and dedicate additional resources to keep the peace. Authorities
sometimes close large public squares to traffic in order to accommodate
protestors and focus security resources.
There have been no recent large-scale
inter-ethnic clashes. However, the potential for ethnic clashes, especially in
the south, remains. The government has yet to investigate ethnic clashes from
While there is a longstanding dispute
concerning sections of the Kyrgyz border with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan that
sometimes results in skirmishes in Batken Oblast (resulting in a few deaths and
casualties over the last few years), improved relations between Kyrgyzstan and
its neighbors have relieved tensions along the border. In 2018, Uzbekistan and
Kyrgyzstan initiated a land swap that resulted in the closure of a Kyrgyz
exclave located in Uzbekistan near the border of Osh Oblast.
Kyrgyzstan is located in an active seismic zone
and is subject to frequent tremors and occasional strong earthquakes. In 2017,
Kyrgyzstan recorded 66 earthquakes. Buildings and homes generally do not meet
U.S. seismic standards. Store water, food, and medical supplies to last you at
least three days. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Central Asia Earthquake
The Ministry of Emergency Situations notes uranium
mine tailings are scattered throughout Kyrgyzstan. The uranium mine at Kara
Balta (about 50 kilometers west of Bishkek) is active.
Local security services watch foreign visitors
and may place foreigners under surveillance. Authorities may monitor hotel
rooms (including meeting rooms), offices, cars, taxis, telephones, internet use,
and fax machines onsite or remotely, and search personal possessions without
consent or knowledge. Business travelers should be particularly mindful that
trade secrets, negotiating positions, and other business sensitive information might
be vulnerable to sharing with competitors, counterparts, or regulatory and
legal entities. Weigh these risks against your desire to stay connected, and
take precautions to protect personal information.
Ensure local providers for banking, security,
and medical treatment are reputable organizations. Be cautious with the
information that you make available. It is not uncommon for employees of these
organizations to pass sensitive personal medical, financial, and banking
information to criminal or intelligence elements.
Personal Identity Concerns
Discrimination against ethnic groups,
especially ethnic Uzbeks, remains a problem.
The Kyrgyz Republic does not recognize sexual
orientation as a protected category within the context of discrimination. There
are no laws that define hate crimes in the Kyrgyz Republic to include LGBTI
individuals. LGBTI individuals may be subject to discrimination in the
application of current laws; many report regular threats and harassment at the
hands of law enforcement officials.
Public transportation, sidewalks and road
crossings, hotels, and restaurants are rarely wheelchair accessible.
It is illegal to practice a religion in groups
or to proselytize without first registering with the State Commission of Religious
While the use of narcotics and illegal drugs is
relatively low, drug trafficking is a problem. Because of porous borders and
close proximity to Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan is a transit country for illegal
drugs, which are smuggled to Russia, Europe, and occasionally North America. In
2018, there were 24 reported drug related incidents.
Corruption and lack of training and equipment
for law enforcement agencies hamper efforts to control the flow of drugs. In 2016,
while conducting law enforcement reform, authorities disbanded the State Drug
Control Service and passed its duties to three agencies: the Health Ministry,
the Ministry of Interior, and the State Service for Fighting Economic Crimes. A
January 2018 drug raid at a local club called “Garage 312” saw the arrest of
more than 50 people related to drug use at the venue.
Kidnapping of foreigners
is very rare.
The practice of bridal
kidnapping is common in rural areas, although it is sometimes staged based on a
pre-agreement with the bride or her family. There was a report of an attempted
bridal kidnapping/sexual assault of a Polish national in 2017.
Express kidnapping for
ransom does occur, with a reported incident in Bishkek in 2017 involving four
taxi drivers and a local resident. The government cautions foreigners against
traveling close to the border with Tajikistan, as kidnappings for ransom have
taken place there. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.
Police and security forces lack proper salaries
and equipment. Officials have solicited bribes to supplement their insufficient
incomes. The quality of police service may vary significantly. Police officers
rarely speak English; one must usually speak Russian or Kyrgyz to converse with
local authorities. Vehicle and pedestrian stops of local nationals and
foreigners are frequent.
Despite these hurdles, senior leadership within
the police are developing and implementing programs aimed at curbing corruption.
One such initiative was the procurement of handheld speed cameras with video
recording capabilities. If police stop a driver, the operator of the vehicle
has the right to review the footage of the violation prior to paying a fine.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) has
recruited more than 60 officers to form a new Tourist Police unit in Bishkek.
The unit consists of officers with knowledge of numerous foreign languages,
including English, receiving training to specifically deal with issues faced by
visiting foreigners, such as assistance when lost, recovering lost or stolen
items, and filling out police reports. The program focuses on Bishkek, and rolls
out in other tourist destinations later. Tourist police will patrol around the
airport, in hotel and shopping districts, and at local tourist sites.
Many transactions and situations require passports
(e.g. hotel check-in, police inquiries). Carry the proper identity documents or
a certified copy of your passport and visa with you, and cooperate with authorities
if they stop you for questioning. The U.S. Embassy may assist you with making a
certified copy (the fee for this service is US$50). Carry at least two photocopies
of your passport’s photo page: one on your person and another in a safe
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or
If police detain or harass you, contact the
American Citizen Services unit (ACS) at the U.S. Embassy. Do not act upon police
requests, whether in civilian dress or in uniform, if they have no official
identification. Do not get into cars with anyone you do not know, even if the
person claims to be a police officer.
Crime Victim Assistance
The local emergency number is 102. However, operators are likely to
speak only Russian or Kyrgyz.
The MVD is the central law enforcement body.
The Traffic Police (GAI) is the MVD entity responsible for the regulation of
traffic and investigating traffic accidents. The MVD is essentially a national
police agency in charge of investigation of all types of crimes, to include
drug control function and combating violent extremism.
The State Committee for National Security
(GKNB) is Kyrgyzstan’s main federal security agency with broad functions akin
to those of an intelligence gathering and a law enforcement agency,
specializing in counterintelligence and counterterrorism activities. The GKNB
combines functions and powers similar to those exercised by the U.S. Federal
Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security, and National Security
Medical care is often inadequate. There is a
shortage of basic medical supplies. Health care resources are limited and often
below U.S. standards. Doctors and medical industry staff rarely speak English,
and prices for treatment are not fixed. Use a translator or Russian/Kyrgyz
speaking friend or family member to assist with medical treatment. U.S.
citizens often travel outside of Kyrgyzstan for medical treatment, including
most routine procedures.
for the Bishkek City Ambulance or 151
for commercial ambulance service. Operators have limited to no English language
ability, and will only understand Russian or Kyrgyz.
Contact Information for Available Medical
Access a list of ambulance services, clinics,
hospitals, dentists and pharmacies on the Embassy website.
Doctors and hospitals
cash payment for health
services prior to dispensing medication or providing treatment. Check what your health insurance plan covers when you
are outside of the U.S. Purchase medical evacuation (medevac) insurance
before traveling to Kyrgyzstan.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health
The level of air pollution in
Bishkek is very high, occasionally exceeding maximum allowable concentrations
several times over, especially in the city center.
Food sanitation can be a problem. Travelers in
the countryside should drink bottled water and avoid tap water. For more
information, refer to OSAC’s report, I’m Drinking What in My Water?
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines
and health guidance for Kyrgyzstan.
Country Council Information
Bishkek Country Council meets quarterly. Interested private-sector security
managers should contact OSAC’s South & Central
with any questions.
Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
U.S. Embassy Bishkek: 171 Prospect Mira, Bishkek
Hours of Operation: 0830-1700
Embassy Contact Numbers
Register your trip online with the Smart Traveler
Enrollment Program (STEP). If traveling in
Kyrgyzstan, consider obtaining visas for Russia, as commercial air travel out
of Kyrgyzstan is limited.
Kyrgyzstan requires all visitors staying longer
than 60 days to register with the State Registration Service. Additional
information on the registration process is available on the website for the Kyrgyz State Registration
Additional Resource: Kyrgyzstan Country Information