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Mongolia 2017 Crime & Safety Report

East Asia & Pacific > Mongolia; East Asia & Pacific > Mongolia > Ulaanbaatar

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Ulaanbaatar does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or establishment and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

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.

Please review OSAC’s Mongolia-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

Crime in Ulaanbaatar and throughout Mongolia, as reported by the National Police Agency (and reflected in graphs attached), appears to have decreased from 2015. Crimes categorized as “serious,” “grave,” and “aggravated” occurred in lower numbers in 2016 than those reported in 2015. Despite these reduced numbers overall, 2016 saw one of the most high-profile murder cases in Mongolia’s recent history: Steve Nash, a British citizen, was paragliding in a remote western province when he disappeared; his body was discovered by a search party. Although the case is still open, it appears that he was robbed of the contents of his wallet (approximately US$400) and killed. A suspect was apprehended and is in custody awaiting trial. 

Reports of crime in Ulaanbaatar’s central Sukhbaatar district, which contains many of Mongolia’s government institutions and foreign diplomatic missions, decreased by 4% compared to 2015. The area is also the site of many of Ulaanbaatar’s tourist attractions (Sukhbaatar Square) and expatriate-oriented restaurants and hotels.

Street crime remains common in Mongolia, 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.

There are no criminal code provisions covering sexual harassment, although Mongolian law includes a definition of sexual harassment and charges employers with taking steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. A law on combating domestic violence was adopted in December 2016. Female visitors are urged to be cautious when traveling alone, in isolated areas, and in situations in which alcohol consumption is prevalent. 

Most local businesses accept international credit cards, although occasionally they may be rejected, especially when they lack embedded computer chips. Credit cards issued by Mongolian banks are widely accepted, especially in Ulaanbaatar. Credit card use outside the capital is far less common. Despite the rapid increase in credit card use, crimes involving credit card fraud do not appear to be prevalent.

ATMs are rapidly becoming common at Ulaanbaatar hotels, major banks, some restaurants, and supermarkets. Hotels and banks provide official currency exchange, and exchanging relatively small amounts of U.S. dollars and other major foreign currencies in Ulaanbaatar is generally easy. Mongolian tugrik (MNT) are not easily exchangeable outside Mongolia. 

Police report that known organized crime groups are specifically involved with trafficking people (prostitution, labor) and drugs. Most of this activity emanates from China and Russia.

Other Areas of Concern

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

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Driving in Ulaanbaatar is hectic and dangerous. The annual increase in the number of motor vehicles far exceeds the pace at which new, improved roads are brought into service, contributing to frequent traffic jams. Mongolia has a high proportion of right-side drive vehicles navigating uniformly right-side drive roadways, leading to a high incidence of head-on collisions on two-lane roadways outside of Ulaanbaatar. 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 nearly fully entering the passing lane.

Many local drivers and passengers do not wear seatbelts, increasing vehicular accident injuries and fatalities. Mongolian drivers often disregard traffic laws and drive wherever there is an opening in traffic, even if that means jeopardizing the safety of other drivers. This haphazard style of urban driving leads to very frequent, typically minor, accidents. Drivers in the countryside should exercise caution, as the decrease in traffic can still allow for high-speed accidents.

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.

Mongolian law specifies that drivers not move their vehicles after an accident until police have arrived on the scene and investigated. 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.

Travelers are strongly advised to avoid renting a vehicle without a reputable local driver and seat belts. Cellular phone coverage outside of the major cities is spotty at best; travelers may consider utilizing a satellite phone if planning to stay in remote regions. It is advised that foreign visitors wishing to travel outside of Ulaanbaatar (or other sizeable cities) make all travel and transportation arrangements through recognized and reputable travel agencies/operators.

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.

Public Transportation Conditions

Marked taxi cabs are generally considered to be safe and reliable.

Mongolians very commonly hitchhike, with the expectation that private drivers will be compensated with 1,000-2,000 tugrik, the generally accepted rate for short trips within the city. Individuals who have used unmarked/unlicensed taxis (private vehicles), however, have reported being robbed and physically assaulted; 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 are at higher risk of involvement in traffic accidents. Unsafe driving habits and poorly enforced driving-under-the-influence laws put passengers in danger. Confrontations with drivers can quickly escalate to violence. Visitors are strongly advised against using unmarked/unlicensed taxis. 

Overcrowding to dangerous levels on public buses, which are often in poor physical condition (which puts them at increased risk of involvement in traffic accidents), remains a concern. Foreigners using public buses are at serious risk for pickpocketing and other crimes of opportunity. Women have reported instances of inappropriate physical contact when using buses.

Unsafe, icy roads in winter and heavy traffic congestion in Ulaanbaatar year-round 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 in compliance with local law.

A north-south railroad line connects Ulaanbaatar to Russia (Ulan Ude and Irkutsk) and China (Erlian and Beijing). Rail travel is considered safe; no major accidents were reported in 2016.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Mongolia is a land-locked country with limited transportation connections. International flights from Chinggis Khaan International Airport (ULN), located just outside of Ulaanbaatar, provide year-round service to Berlin, Moscow, Istanbul, Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Beijing. Air travel is considered safe; no major accidents were reported in 2016.

Other Travel Conditions

Pedestrians should exercise extreme caution when crossing streets. Vehicles routinely do not yield to pedestrians, even at crosswalks, and are known to ignore red lights. Pedestrians have been killed or seriously injured falling through open manholes. Pedestrians must also be extremely cautious around Ulaanbaatar’s numerous construction sites. There have been reports of pedestrians being seriously injured or killed by debris falling from construction sites.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED ULAANBAATAR AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There have been no reports of terrorist attacks or indigenous terrorist groups operating in Mongolia. Authorities are cognizant that their porous borders might allow transnational terrorists entry. Visitors from countries that have been the homes of transnational terrorists are closely monitored.

Due to the continued threat of terrorist attacks against U.S. government institutions, U.S. citizens overseas are encouraged to remain vigilant regarding their surroundings and to exercise caution. Americans should avoid large crowds, keep a low profile, and vary routes/times of all routine travel.

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.

Civil Unrest

Peaceful protests do occasionally occur in the center of Ulaanbaatar, but the 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

Seismic activity does exist in Ulaanbaatar.

In October 2015, three earthquakes registering in the 4.0 range were recorded in Ulaanbaatar within days of one another.

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.  

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. Numerous deaths have been attributed to the harsh cold. A vehicle breakdown in an isolated location can quickly become a life-threatening event. In the winter, the air quality in Ulaanbaatar is among the worst in the world. Air pollution often reaches hazardous levels as a result of emissions from coal-burning stoves, power plants, boilers, and vehicles. Although the government is taking measures to reduce pollution, there has not been significant, overall improvement, as growing urbanization and an influx of residents overwhelms 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. In June 2015, the U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar launched an air quality monitoring program, providing real-time air quality index (AQI) readings via a website and twitter.

Critical Infrastructure

There is no shortage of fuel due to the close proximity of coal mines to Ulaanbaatar. Approximately 70% of the city’s electricity and 50% of the city’s heat is supplied by one power plant that needs renovation. The continued economic growth and resulting demand for power has placed severe strains on the city’s power grid. Plans to add to generation capacity are yet to be finalized. A failure in this power plant would have catastrophic consequences for Ulaanbaatar residents during the winter.

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 rooms may be accessed by hotel staff without the occupants’ consent or knowledge. Visitors should take precautions to safeguard sensitive, personal, and/or proprietary information.

Personal Identity Concerns

Although relatively infrequent, physical assaults against foreigners in Ulaanbaatar occur and, when not random, are most often motivated by anti-foreigner sentiment or the expectation of financial gain. Many of these assaults have occurred during the evening hours and may have been committed by intoxicated or emotionally disturbed persons.

There is a small nationalist, criminal element that targets foreign nationals. This group feeds on the fear that foreign businesses will exploit Mongolians and the country’s natural resources. Foreigners have reported being subjected to unprovoked and serious physical assaults that have occurred without warning, even at some of Ulaanbaatar’s more upscale night clubs. Foreign national males are most at risk from such attacks or threats during the late evening hours at nightclubs and bars, 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, who are also known targets of such groups. In general, Mongolians are not well-disposed to ethnic Chinese.

Mongolia has an ethnically homogenous population: 97% of the population is Khalkh Mongol. The largest minority, numbering an estimated 130,000 people, is Kazakh (Muslim) and is concentrated in the far west. In the most recent census (2010), Mongolians identified their religious affiliations as: 53% Buddhist, 38.6% none, 3% Muslim, 2.9% Shamanist, and 2.1% Christian.

Drug-related Crimes

Drug addiction and trafficking are a minor but growing problem. The Mongolian National Police views drug trafficking as a serious threat, and 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.    

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 at emergency dispatch call centers. Ulaanbaatar does not have a dedicated tourist police unit; neither does it have a centralized incident reporting system.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

If detained or arrested, Americans 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 national to request multiple times to speak to a consular official.

Foreign citizens have been subjected to exit bans for a variety of reasons, including pending civil disputes, pending criminal investigations, or immigration violations. Once an exit ban is issued, it may not be lifted until the dispute is resolved administratively, a court has rendered a decision, or the entity that requested the ban asks that it be lifted. Foreigners subjected to a criminal investigation or complaint may be detained or be unable to leave the country while legal proceedings are pending, even for petty crimes. Retaining legal counsel for even minor offenses is strongly encouraged, as the Mongolian legal system is complicated and difficult for non-citizens to navigate. Foreigners may be required 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.

Crime Victim Assistance

The local emergency lines are:

Police: 102

Medical: 103

Fire: 105

Visitors should report crimes to the police district responsible for the area in which the crime occurred. American victims of a crime should contact the local police and the U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar. The American Citizen Services (ACS) section at the U.S. Embassy can:

Replace a stolen passport;

help find appropriate medical care for victims of violent crimes;

put individuals in contact with the appropriate authorities,

if asked, contact family members/ friends;

help understand the local criminal justice process;

provide a list of local attorneys.

Local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes.  

Police/Security Agencies

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

Mongolia maintains and supports a military-oriented border police force and takes any attempted illegal border-crossing seriously. Travelers attempting to enter/depart Mongolia illegally can expect to be detained and interrogated.   

Medical Emergencies

Few Mongolian hospitals meet Western standards. Ambulances are unreliable, and medical facilities in the countryside are sub-standard. While many over-the-counter drugs are available, visitors should consider bringing their own medications in their original containers and with evidence of prescriptions as appropriate. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.” Additionally, brand-name drugs and medical supplies can be hard to find and are frequently out of stock at public hospitals. Travelers with chronic medical conditions should weigh the risks of traveling to Mongolia carefully because specialty medicines are unlikely to be found.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

United Family Intermed Hospital

Chingisiin Street 41, Khan-Uul District 15, Factory 17040

Tel: 7000-0203 (working hours), 7000-0103 (after hours)

Website: www.intermed.mn

United Family Intermed Hospital is the only private hospital in Ulaanbaatar with a 24/7 emergency room. Ambulance services are available and can be requested by calling the hospital directly. The hospital opened in May 2014 and gained a solid reputation for providing sound, quality care. Nearly 85% of the medical providers speak some English. Diagnostic equipment is high quality, although the ability of medical personnel to make accurate diagnoses is at times questionable. The hospital director is an American, board-certified emergency room doctor. Payment is expected at the time of service. Additionally, out-patient services are available for OB/GYN, dermatology, dentistry, general practice, and physical therapy. 

SOS International – a private, for-profit health care provider – opened its Ulaanbaatar clinic in 2004. The clinic is expensive and requires payment upon receipt of services. SOS International accepts MasterCard, Visa, or cash as payment for services rendered. It is important that health insurance be up to date. Filing an insurance claim for reimbursement is the responsibility of the patient.

Telephone (English): (976-11) 464-325 (main office); (976) 9911-0335 (cell phone)

Telephone (Mongolian): (976) 9191-3122 (cell phone)

Available Air Ambulance Services

SOS International provides air ambulance services for Mongolia. However, the Ulaanbaatar SOS facility does not have a dedicated air ambulance assigned to Ulaanbaatar International Airport. Contact SOS International in the U.S. at 1-800-523-6586 for advice. SOS International medical evacuation insurance can be purchased online. A patient suffering a severe medical emergency would be stabilized and monitored at the Ulaanbaatar SOS facility or other local hospital until an air ambulance can be flown into Ulaanbaatar.

Insurance Guidance

It is highly recommended that visitors purchase emergency medical evacuation insurance for the duration of their visits. Medical evacuation can cost up to $100,000. More information on travel health and insurance providers can be found here.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The poor winter air quality may trigger health problems (asthma, allergies, and other upper respiratory illnesses).

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Mongolia.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

Denver Street #3

11th Microdistrict

Ulaanbaatar 14190, Mongolia

Hours: Mon-Fri, 0830-1700 (excluding U.S. and Mongolian holidays)

Embassy Contact Numbers

Telephone (business hours): (+976) 7007-6001

After-hours emergencies: (+976) 7007-6066

Website: http://ulaanbaatar.usembassy.gov

Additional Information

Mongolia Country Information Sheet