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Kazakhstan 2018 Crime & Safety Report: Astana

South Central Asia > Kazakhstan > Astana

 

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. Embassy Astana 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 Astana as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Please review OSAC’s Kazakhstan-specific page for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

While the majority of reported crime is non-violent, the country does experience a full range of criminal activity. The reported number of incidents in all categories of crime is statistically on par or lower than an average, major city in the U.S. The most common crimes foreign tourists encounter are purse snatching, pickpocketing, assaults, and robberies. Pickpocketing occurs most frequently in the vicinity of Western hotels, shopping malls, public transportation sites (particularly bus and train stations) and open air markets. Very few Americans have become victims of violent crimes. Most crime takes place in urban areas. Moreover, crime does not usually impede the operations of American private sector organizations in Astana.

Drunken and disorderly behavior does occur, most often in bars and nightclubs. Incidents involving assaults, thefts, robberies, driving altercations, and violent verbal exchanges can often be linked to alcohol consumption. The U.S. Embassy is aware of several incidents where foreigners, including U.S. citizens, have been robbed or physically assaulted at popular bars and nightclubs in Astana. The U.S. Embassy is also aware of sexual assaults that occurred after U.S. citizens have consumed beverages spiked unknowingly with drugs that cause loss of consciousness. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.”

Passports are valuable documents. Given concerns with criminals targeting foreign visitors to steal their passport, the U.S. Embassy has an agreement with the government to allow U.S. citizens to carry a certified copy of their passport and visa rather than the original (leaving the original passport and visa in a safe place).

Financial fraud (ATM skimming) is increasing. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.”

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Driving in Kazakhstan can be dangerous. Not only are traffic laws significantly different from American laws, but drivers tend to be more aggressive. Drivers sometimes disregard traffic signals, disobey traffic laws, drive after excessive alcohol consumption (despite an official “zero-tolerance” policy), drive into oncoming lanes of traffic, and move at excessive speeds, including during adverse weather. Severe winters may cause roads outside the major urban areas to close due to conditions and/or lack of snow removal equipment.

Furthermore, many drivers “buy” their licenses and, therefore, have little/no driver’s education. Likewise, road rage is common; it is not unusual to see people confront one another over perceived traffic offenses. Travelers who intend to drive should obtain adequate, local liability insurance, maintain parallel insurance with a U.S. carrier, and ensure all legally required vehicular paperwork  is up to date. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

Pedestrians sometimes wear dark clothing at night. Pedestrians have the right-of-way at marked crosswalks, even at busy avenues or highways; therefore, most pedestrians do not check the road before venturing out into the street. Travelers should cross streets only in marked crosswalks and use crosswalks that offer functioning “Walk” signals, when possible. Even if you have the right-of-way, be mindful of poor observance by drivers of traffic safety practices. Additionally, some crosswalk signals are not synchronized with the traffic lights; a green “Walk” signal does not guarantee that it is safe to cross the street.

Public Transportation Conditions

Travelers should avoid riding overly crowded buses, whenever possible, in order to avoid pickpockets.

Ride-sharing 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.”

RSO recommends visitors use a taxi or arrange for private transportation with an experienced local driver. Taxis are inexpensive, safe, and reliable, but make sure your taxi has a meter and that the driver activates it upon departure. Travelers should never enter a taxi if there is already a passenger in the vehicle and should attempt to get out if the driver stops to pick up another passenger.

There is a local custom of hailing private vehicles (“gypsy cabs”) on the street and negotiating a fee with the driver on the spot. U.S. Embassy Astana highly discourages taking unlicensed “gypsy cabs.” This applies especially to travel from the airport to the city, where drivers posing as "meet and greet" airport facilitators have lured foreigners into cars.

Trains tend to be slow but relatively safe. An overnight express train runs between Astana and Almaty several times a week. Unless you book the entire compartment, other passengers will be able to use it. 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.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Astana International Airport has an excellent safety record; the Aviation Safety Network shows no accidents in their database. Some of the smaller, regional/domestic carriers are banned from travel to the EU. U.S. government personnel are not permitted to undertake official travel on any Kazakhstani airline operating regularly scheduled flights, except for Air Astana. Travelers are advised to similarly consider their flight options.

U.S. citizens should not leave with anyone who does not show pre-arranged identification, even if the person is holding a sign with the traveler’s name.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Astana 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 June 2016, a terrorist attack in Aktobe resulted in the death of five civilians and three national guardsmen.

In July 2016, an individual, likely radicalized while in prison, attacked a government security office and police station, killing several police officers and a civilian.

While the potential exists for a resumption of violent extremist activity, Kazakhstan’s security elements have repeatedly demonstrated the ability to interdict such activities.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Astana as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest

Civil unrest and/or protests are rare in Kazakhstan. In order to hold a demonstration, organizers must file a petition with the local authorities and receive a permit. In general, most demonstrations involve 20 participants or less. Occasionally, groups organize demonstrations without permits, and more often than not, the police disperse participants quickly and peacefully. The Embassy strongly recommends avoiding all demonstrations and public political gatherings. Most demonstrations are relatively peaceful; however, even peaceful demonstrations have the potential to become confrontational and may escalate to violence. Additionally, large, jostling crowds may be an especially attractive target for pickpockets and a potential target for terrorists.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Central Asia is periodically hit by earthquakes, and four of its five capitals are in areas of high seismic risk. According to the 2010 list “Level of Seismicity at Foreign Service Posts and Consular Agencies,” Astana is a Level 1 (Low), while Almaty is a Level 4 (Very High) (on a scale of 1 to 4). Expatriates 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). Likewise, travelers should establish an emergency plan in the event of a seismic event during their visit.

Winters in Astana are long and severe. Winter temperatures can often range from -20F to -40F for weeks with even colder wind chills. Strong winds are pervasive in Astana and can cause significant snow drifts and white-out conditions without notice.

Critical Infrastructure

Central Asia is vulnerable to earthquakes and natural disasters of large magnitude due to substandard Soviet-era infrastructure, as well as the type of infrastructure and construction commonly used today. Moreover, while emergency response in major metropolitan areas is improving, authorities would be challenged to handle a major mass casualty incident.

Economic Concerns

Kazakhstan remains primarily a cash economy. Major credit cards are increasingly accepted.  

Avoid vendors selling imitation designer products and counterfeit DVDs; the U.S. government does not condone violations of Intellectual Property Rights agreements, and U.S. Customs will enforce these laws upon re-entry to the U.S.

Police Response

The overall police presence in 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 Astana 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 private American 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. Conversely, 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. However, extortion from traffic police continues to be a problem.

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. As of January 2017, U.S. citizens can stay in Kazakhstan up to 30 days without a visa.

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) to an officer upon request. Many Americans, especially those who do not speak Russian, perceive identification checks as harassment.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Failure to produce identification can result in temporary detention or arrest. In some cases, the police officer’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.

Crime Victim Assistance

Victims of personal crime are advised to give statements to police as soon as possible and contact either the ACS section of the U.S. Embassy in Astana or the U.S. Consulate General in Almaty. 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 comes to trial.

Victims of crime should contact the police by calling 102. U.S. Embassy Astana’s ACS Unit may be reached at 8-717-270-2100 and 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 or during holidays or weekends, Americans are advised to call either the U.S. Embassy (8-717-270-2200) or the U.S. Consulate General (8-727-250-4892) and ask to speak with the Duty Officer.

Medical Emergencies

Western medical standards generally do not exist in Kazakhstan. Serious long-term care is not a viable option in Astana.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Insurance Guidance

It is recommended that visitors 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 US$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 medical evacuation 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

There are three established OSAC Country Councils in Kazakhstan: one in Astana, Almaty, and Atyrau. The Astana Country Council is active, meeting bi-annually. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s South & Central Asia team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Astana

Rakhymzhan Koshkarbayev Avenue, 3

Astana, Kazakhstan 010010

Hours of Operation: Mon-Fri from 0900 to 1800, with the exception of U.S. and Kazakh national holidays.

Embassy Contact Numbers

24-hour switchboard: 8-7172-70-2200

In the event of an emergency after business hours, on holidays or weekends, Americans are advised to call the Embassy and ask to speak with the Embassy Duty Officer.

Website: https://kz.usembassy.gov/

Nearby Posts

Consulate Almaty:  https://kz.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/almaty/

Embassy Guidance

Certified copies of official documents can be obtained from either the U.S. Embassy’s Consular Section in Astana or the U.S. Consulate General in Almaty during ACS hours.

Americans should regularly review travel advisories for Kazakhstan and other Central Asian Republics issued by the Department of State to obtain the latest threat information. Registering with the American Citizen Services Section (ACS) through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is strongly recommended. The Embassy’s ACS section regularly issues messages to American citizens via e-mail or text to registered citizens. Americans are strongly encouraged to report all suspicious activity to the ACS section for review by the Embassy RSO and other Embassy officials.

Additional Resources

Kazakhstan Country Information Sheet