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Kazakhstan 2011 OSAC Crime and Safety Report: Astana

South Central Asia > Kazakhstan > Astana

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

Crime does not impede the operations of the U.S. private sector in Kazakhstan. The reported number of incidents in all categories of crime (violent/petty) are statistically on par or lower than any average U.S. city.

Petty theft, while not common, is the most likely crime perpetrated against U.S. citizens in Kazakhstan. Pick-pockets tend to frequent tourist sites, and open-air markets. Professional pick-pockets are known to ride heavily traveled public transportation routes, especially mini-buses, in search of potential victims. Travelers should be mindful of their wallets, as they make for tempting targets.

Drunken and disorderly behavior is common in bars and nightclubs. Incidents involving minor assaults, petty theft, attempted robberies, driving mishaps, and violent verbal exchanges can often be traced to alcohol.

Take safety precautions when visiting ATMs and avoid isolated locations. Be aware of nearby personnel who could be out to skim your ATM card data.

Road Safety

U.S. Embassy Almaty has received reports about vehicle break-ins known as “smash and grabs.” These have occurred in well-populated and well-lit areas day and night. The perpetrators smash in windows and steal items in plain view.

Driving in Kazakhstan is extremely dangerous, particularly for those coming from the U.S. where drivers tend to drive defensively and in accordance with driving laws. The opposite is the norm in Kazakhstan. Many Kazakh drivers “buy” their licenses and have received little or no driver’s education. Drivers tend to be aggressive and routinely disregard traffic laws, do not obey signals, drive in oncoming lanes of traffic, and move at excessive speeds, even during adverse weather conditions. Visitors who intend to drive are strongly encouraged to obtain adequate, local liability insurance and maintain parallel insurance with a U.S. carrier. Another concern for drivers is pedestrians, who can be equally unpredictable and reckless. Most Kazakh pedestrians wear dark clothing at night and cross streets at will, not checking for oncoming traffic. It is not uncommon for vehicles to drive and park on sidewalks, especially during peak traffic hours when drivers’ patience runs thin. If possible, arrange for private transportation with an experienced local driver. If you own a private car, ensure you have all required vehicular paperwork by Kazakhstani law (i.e. insurance, technical vehicle passport, registration)

Political Violence

International or Transnational Terrorism

The overall transnational terrorist threat in Kazakhstan remains a concern. Americans should regularly review travel warnings for Kazakhstan and other central Asian republics issued by the Department of State to obtain the latest threat information.

Civil Unrest

Civil unrest and/or protests are rare in Kazakhstan.

Occasional clashes have erupted among ethnic Kazakhs, Chechens, and Uighurs in rural villages outside Almaty, resulting from tensions over local issues and corruption. There also have been a few clashes in years past between foreign construction workers (mainly Turkish) 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.

In order to hold a demonstration, organizers must file a petition with the city and receive a permit. In general, most demonstrations involve only a handful of participants, usually less than 20. Occasionally, groups organize demonstrations without permits; police generally disburse the participants quickly and peacefully. There have been no demonstrations at official American facilities this year.

Post-Specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

The most significant concern in Almaty is the threat of earthquakes. Almaty sits on a major fault line and experienced a sizeable earthquake in the early twentieth century that destroyed most of the city center. In the event of a large magnitude earthquake in Almaty, the city could suffer significant damage due to substandard Soviet-era infrastructure; there could also be a large number of fatalities. Emergency response in Almaty and other major metropolitan areas is improving but is still inadequate to handle a mass casualty incident.

Police Response

The level of competency and professionalism of law enforcement entities may vary throughout the country but does not pose a significant obstacle to American private businesses.

Police response varies depending upon location and the type of incident. Investigators are often forced to follow procedures that seem to have little relation to the crime that was committed. Police officers have been very diligent in their efforts to solve some of the more severe forms of crimes committed against Americans.

The overall police presence in Almaty and Astana is significant, and regular law enforcement personnel are augmented by Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) conscripts on compulsory military service. 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, Astana, Aktau, and Atyrau are not experienced in dealing with foreigners and seldom speak English.

Visitors should be aware that police have the authority to stop individuals without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. All citizens and visitors must present an official form of identification (such as a passport or a certified copy thereof) to an officer upon request. Many Americans, 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 policeman’s intent is to extort money; more often than not, Americans are released without incident.

Police continue to implement reforms to create a more professional service and curb corruption. One example of improvements made in Almaty was the recent introduction of police traffic stops to be conducted only by police patrol vehicles and not by static police posts randomly pulling over vehicles. Despite such reforms, extortion from traffic police continues to be a problem.

Victims of personal crime, such as assault, are advised to give statements to police as soon as possible and contact the Embassy’s American Citizen Services (ACS) section. Only a certified Kazakhstani-licensed physician may collect physical evidence from victims for use in judicial proceedings. Further, the victim must be available for police interview during investigation and provide testimony if the case comes to trial.

Victims of crime should contact the police by dialing 02 from landlines and 112 from cell phones in Kazakhstan. The Consular Section’s ACS Unit at may be reached at 8-727-250-4900. In the event of an emergency, after business hours, on holidays or weekends, Americans are advised to call the Embassy emergency number (8-7172-70-2200) and ask to speak with the Embassy Duty Officer. The Embassy maintains Consular offices at the following locations:

Astana:

Street 23-22, Building 3

Ak Bulak 4

Astana, Kazakhstan 010010

Almaty:

Samal -2

97 Ulitsa Zholdasbekova

Almaty, Kazakhstan 050059

A-2 entrance

Additional information may be found at: http://kazakhstan.usembassy.gov  

Medical Emergencies

Quality western medical care is generally not available in Kazakhstan. When time and injury allow, those seeking medical treatment should be stabilized and then medically evacuated. Almaty has a small clinic run by International SOS that offers immediate care and stabilization before evacuation. Serious long-term care is not a viable option in either Astana or Almaty. The following clinic in Almaty provides western-type medical services:

SOS International Clinic

11 Luganskogo Street, corner of Satpayev Street

8-7272-58-19-11 (24 hrs)

8-300-722-8000 (24 hrs)

8-7272-258-1755

Website: www.internationalsos.com  

The SOS clinic is a combination ambulatory facility with two beds for more seriously injured patients; there are x-ray and laboratory facilities available and a western-trained physician is on-call 24 hours daily.

Visitors should purchase medical insurance that includes a provision for medical evacuation. Air evacuations are prohibitively expensive. Depending on the patient’s condition, private medical evacuations can cost more than one US$100,000, which must be paid up front. Travelers are encouraged to review the terms of their medical insurance to ensure that they have adequate coverage for medical emergencies, including possible evacuation. Also, Medicare does not provide coverage outside the U.S. Anyone planning to visit Kazakhstan should purchase both medical and medevac insurance for the duration of their visit.

Astana SOS International Clinic

8 Beibitshilik, in Grand Park Esil hotel building

8-7172-58-09-37 (24 hrs)

8-701-745-9876 (24 hrs)

Astana SOS clinic is a small facility with two beds for more seriously injured patients. SOS clinic has agreements with local medical facilities for diagnostics and hospitalizations. There are locally trained physicians who are on-call 24 hours daily.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Avoid carrying the typical American “fat wallet;” items such as credit cards and cash should be kept to a minimum. A single form of identification (preferably a certified copy of your passport), small amounts of cash dispersed throughout your pockets (separating large from small bills), and perhaps a credit/debit card should be sufficient to get you through the day.

Visitors are advised to avoid any confrontation and leave night clubs, bars, and restaurants should one sense trouble or witness a fight break out.

Kazakhstan has a “zero tolerance” policy on drinking and driving. Any consumption of alcohol paired with driving could result in criminal charges being filed, fines and/or imprisonment.

Americans in Kazakhstan are cautioned to not lock their car doors if they leave items of value in plain view. Also, visitors should keep windows rolled up and doors locked when in traffic.

Travelers should avoid riding overly crowded buses, microbuses, and trolleys whenever possible. Many foreigners follow the local custom of hailing private vehicles (so called 'gypsy cabs') on the street and negotiating a fee with the driver on the spot. Use of such cabs is strongly discouraged. Visitors who do use such transportation should never get into a cab if there is already a passenger in the vehicle and should attempt to get out if the driver stop to pick up another passenger. Unfortunately, foreigners literally have been taken for a ride, drugged, robbed, beaten, and left at an out-of-the-way location. Tourists arriving at the airports are encouraged to 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. Always negotiate fares before getting into a cab and never board a cab that already has a passenger or allow the cab driver to take on additional passengers during a commute.

Register with the American Citizen Services (ACS) Section at https://travelregistration.state.gov. Americans are advised to vary their routines, work schedules, commuting times, routes, and social activities to reduce the risk of becoming a victim. Americans are strongly encouraged to report all suspicious activity to the ACS section for review by the Regional Security Officer and other post officials.

Americans who plan to take up residence in Kazakhstan are urged to stock up on non-perishable food items, water, and emergency supplies in the event of an earthquake or other natural disaster (to include pandemic flu or other outbreak).   

Credit cards are becoming more widely accepted in Almaty and Astana. While there have not been many reports of fraud, it is still recommended to use credit cards only in major hotels, supermarkets, and restaurants. One suspected case of ATM fraud was reported, but such fraud does not appear to be a widespread problem in Kazakhstan. Nevertheless, visitors are encouraged to use machines that are physically located at banking institutions. Citibank maintains a number of ATMs in Almaty and Astana that have proven to be reliable in the past.

Contact Information

Please feel free to contact the following sections at the U.S. Embassy Astana or the U.S. Consulate Almaty (Formerly Embassy Branch Office: 

American Citizen Services: 8-727-250-4900

After hours: 8-7172-70-2200

Regional Security Officer (Astana) : 8-7172-70-2396

Regional Security Officer (Almaty): 8-727-250-7612

Medical Unit Emergency (Astana): 8-777-110-2363

Foreign Commercial Service: 8-727-250-4850

OSAC Country Council Contact Information

U.S. Consulate Almaty is in the process of setting up a Country Council. If you would like to participate or are seeking further information on the Council, please contact RSO Almaty.