State: Independent since 1991. Capital – Astana. Population – about 15 million (57% Kazakh, 30% Russian, 4% German, 3% Ukrainian: other significant minorities include Uighurs, Uzbeks, Belorussians, Dungans, Koreans, Chechens, and Greeks). President – Mr. Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Language: The official language is Kazakh, a Turkic language closely related to Uzbek, Kyrghyz, Turkmen and Turkish. The Government has undertaken to replace the Russian Cyrillic alphabet with the Turkish version of the Roman alphabet. However, the Cyrillic alphabet is currently still in general use, and most people in the cities speak Russian, whereas in rural areas people tend to speak only Kazakh. The younger generation and people working in tourism often speak English. Uighur and other regional languages and dialects are also spoken.
Time: Kazakhstan is divided into three time zones:
Eastern/Main Zone (Almaty, Astana, Karaganda): GMT + 6
Central Zone (Shymkent): GMT + 5
Western Zone (Atyrau, Aqtau): GMT + 4
Dates: The working week is Monday to Friday. State bodies and most universities don’t work at weekends, although most shops, services, and leisure facilities are open. Major public holidays include 8 March, 22 March, 1 May, 9 May, 6 July, 30 August, 25 October, 16 and 31 December, and 1 January.
Electricity: 220 volts AC, 50Hz. Round 2-pin continental plugs are standard. You can buy batteries in most small shops.
Food & Beverages: Kazakh cuisine can be a rewarding experience. There are a wide variety of traditional Kazakh dishes, including qazy, quyrdak, besbarmak, khymyz, shubat and plov. It is worth noting that Almaty is one of the most westernized cities in Central Asia, and boasts a large number of restaurants serving a wide variety of different cuisines.
Driving: Driving in Kazakhstan is on the right. Most foreign driving licenses are valid if accompanied by a notarized translation. Driving can be a stressful experience – not all drivers and pedestrians follow the rules, and the streets of Almaty and other major cities can get very crowded at peak hours.
Medical Issues: Medical care in Kazakhstan is below Western standards, although some facilities are available in an emergency. It is a good idea to obtain medical insurance prior to your arrival, preferably with a company that serves or has partners in Kazakhstan.
Money: The national currency is the Tenge (KZT). It is currently pegged to the US dollar at 1 USD = KZT 150 +/- 5. Up-to-date exchange rates can be consulted on the website of the National Bank of Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is largely a cash economy. Travelers’ checks are rarely accepted, although credit and debit cards are widely used in Almaty. U.S. dollars can easily be exchanged for Tenge at authorized currency exchanges, but all denominations of U.S. dollar bills must have been issued after 1990 and be in good condition (not worn or torn and without any writing or marks). There are lots of ATMs in the city center.
Telephone: Kazakhstan’s country code is 7. The area code for Almaty is 727. International calls can be made from a regular phone: dial “8″, wait for the tone, then dial “10″, followed by country code, city code, and phone number: 8 + 10 + country code + city code + number. A reduced rate applies from 20.00-08.00 local time. Alternatively, you can use calling cards that offer a cheaper rate. Calls from hotel rooms are expensive. Payphones on the streets require a special type of prepaid phone card that can be bought at a telephone/post office, in small shops at bus stops, and in news kiosks. It is usually possible to make a local call from street shops for 20-50 KZT. Local calls from state bodies and offices are in general free.
Mobile communications operate on the GSM 900/1800 network. If you are arriving from the US, Canada or Japan your mobile phone may not work here. Roaming is expensive, and it is often cheaper to get a local mobile number. There are several operators, including KCell, Beeline, and Neo.
Post: Full postal facilities are available at the main post offices in the cities, which are open seven days a week. The main Post Office in Almaty is located on Kurmangazy Street. Delivery within Kazakhstan takes three to five days. Delivery abroad usually takes between two and three weeks. Mailing addresses should be laid out in the following order: country, postcode, city, street, house number and lastly the person’s name. Post office working hours are 09.00-18.00 Monday to Friday.
Press: There are over 70 newspapers and 50 magazines in English, Kazakh, Russian, German, Uighur and Korean published in the country. The most popular local newspapers are Panorama, Express K, and Caravan in Russian, and Almaty Herald and Business Week in English.
Security: After passing through customs control you should not hand over your passport to anyone who does not show official identification. The loss or theft abroad of your passport should be reported immediately to the local police and your Embassy.
Pickpockets are common in markets and on public transport, and visitors are not advised to show large sums of money in the street. It is also inadvisable to walk alone at night.
The police must be treated respectfully and with caution. Kazakhstani police officials advise that a legitimate police officer should not be randomly checking pedestrians for identification. A genuine police official should always present his own credentials when approaching someone in the street. If he does not, you should ask to see his credentials. If the officer cannot produce authentic identification, he is most likely an impostor. Do not under any circumstances give anyone documents, personal possessions, money etc. Confidently and assertively ask for the officer’s identification. Note any identification number or any license plate number if there is a car. Tell the officer that you will report his behaviour to your Embassy and his supervisors. Never voluntarily hand over your passport or wallet to a policeman. Be sure to inform the Embassy promptly of any such encounters with the police.
While in a foreign country, a foreign citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those abroad and may not afford the protection available to the individual under your country’s law. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs in Kazakhstan are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.
Emergency Phone numbers (free from any phone):