According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Kazakhstan has been assessed as Level 1: Exercise normal precautions.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Consulate General 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.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Almaty as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Please 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.
The reported numbers of incidents in all categories of crime (violent, petty) are statistically on par or lower than an average city in the U.S. Crime does not impede the operations of American private businesses. Petty theft, while not common, continues to be the most likely crime against American citizens. 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.
Drunken/disorderly behavior is commonplace, particularly in bars and nightclubs. Incidents involving assaults, petty theft, robberies, driving mishaps, and violent verbal exchanges can often be traced to alcohol. The U.S. Embassy and Consulate are aware of several incidents in which foreigners, including U.S. citizens, have been drugged, robbed, and physically assaulted at popular bars and nightclubs in Almaty and Astana. For more information, please 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, please review OSAC’s Report, “The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.”
For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Driving is 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. Most 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 with regards to drinking and driving. Consumption of alcohol, paired with driving could result in criminal charges being filed, fines, and/or imprisonment.
Visitors who intend to drive are strongly encouraged to 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, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”
Public Transportation Conditions
If possible, arrange for private transportation with an experienced local driver.
Travelers should 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 (gypsy cabs) on the street and negotiating a fee with the driver on the spot. Use of these cabs is strongly discouraged. Visitors should never get into a cab if there is already a passenger in the vehicle and should get out if the driver stops to pick up another passenger. There have been instances in which foreigners have been drugged, robbed, beaten, and left at out-of-the-way locations.
Ride-hailing applications were introduced in 2016, and some drivers speak passable English. For more information on ride-sharing, please review OSAC’s Annual Briefing Report “Safety and Security in the Share Economy.”
Trains tend to be slow but relatively safe. An overnight express train runs between 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 American females traveling alone who were harassed by male passengers on overnight trains. International trains service Russia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Urumqi (China). Most of these trains are on a weekly schedule.
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.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Almaty as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
The government of Kazakhstan continues to exhibit concern about violent extremism.
In July 2016, an individual radicalized in prison attacked a government security office and police station, killing several officers and a civilian.
In June 2016, a terrorist attack in Aktobe resulted in the death of five civilians and three national guardsmen.
Several small explosions and gun battles between security forces and suspected violent extremists occurred between 2011 and 2013.
While the potential exists for a resumption of violent extremist activity, Kazakhstan’s security elements have demonstrated an ability to interdict such activities.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
The U.S Department of State has assessed Almaty as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Civil unrest and/or protests are rare. There have been a few 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.
In order to hold a demonstration, organizers must file a petition with the city and receive a permit. In general, most demonstrations involve less than 20 participants. Occasionally, groups organize demonstrations without permits; police generally disperse the participants quickly and peacefully.
Occasional clashes have erupted among ethnic Kazakhs, Chechens, and Uighurs in rural villages 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. Resident Americans 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 disease outbreak).
Air quality is a serious concern for those living in and visiting Almaty. During winter (Nov-Mar), air quality is severely diminished by 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. Air quality is monitored in Almaty via a joint CDC and local partner initiative that can be found at www.facebook.com/almatyurbanair or via searching “Almaty Urban Air” in Apple and Android 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 is inadequate to handle a mass casualty incident.
The overall police presence 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 rarely speak English.
The level of competency and professionalism of law enforcement entities may vary 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.
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 to be conducted only by police patrol vehicles (not 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 (passport, a certified copy) 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 once the police become aware of the individual’s citizenship.
Police officers occasionally conduct “residence checks” to verify that occupants are properly registered with the authorities. 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) are advised to give statements to police as soon as possible and to contact either the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate General American Citizen Services (ACS) sections. 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. The U.S. Embassy Astana’s ACS Unit may be reached at 8-717-270-2100 and the U.S. Consulate General Almaty’s ACS Unit 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 either the U.S. Embassy (8-717-270-2200) or the U.S. Consulate General Almaty (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 Astana or Almaty.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
SOS International Clinic
11 Luganskogo Street, corner of Satpayev Street, Almaty
8-727-258-1911 (24 hrs)
8-701-744-1111 (24 hrs)
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. It offers immediate care and stabilization before being medically evacuated.
It is recommended that visitors purchase medical insurance that includes a provision for medical evacuation. Depending on the patient’s condition, private medical evacuations can cost more than $100,000, which must be paid 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, it is recommended that those seeking medical treatment be stabilized and then medically evacuated.
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 and Central Asia team with any questions.
U.S. Consulate General Location and Contact Information
Consulate Address and Hours of Operation
U.S. Consulate General Almaty
97 Zholdasbekova Street
Almaty, Kazakhstan 050059
Consulate Contact Numbers
After hours (Almaty): 8-777-007-2359
Embassy Astana: http://kazakhstan.usembassy.gov
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. Registering with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is strongly recommended. The Consulate’s ACS section can send messages via e-mail to registered citizens.
As of January 2017, U.S. citizens can stay in Kazakhstan up to 30 days without a visa. When entering Kazakhstan, you will be asked to 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 are 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 duration of stay is dictated by the specific visa category. 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.
Kazakhstan Country Information Sheet