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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan - Consular Information Sheet
October 17, 2000

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Kazakhstan is a newly independent nation in the midst of profound economic and political change. The capital is Astana. The U.S. Embassy is still located in Almaty, the largest city and former capital. Tourist facilities are not highly developed, and many of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available. Internal travel and travel to other New Independent States (NIS), including both air and land routes, can be subject to disruptions and lengthy delays.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport and visa are required. Visas are issued by the Kazakhstani Embassy (on the basis of an invitation from an individual or organization -- the sponsor in Kazakhstan) or, by bilateral agreement, by the Russian Embassy in countries in which there is no Kazakhstani Embassy. Visitors should be aware, however, that there have been cases reported in which Russian embassies have refused to issue visas to Kazakhstan or applicants have experienced lengthy delays. The U.S. Embassy in Almaty does not issue letters of invitation to citizens interested in private travel to Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan has suspended the 72-hour transit rule, which allowed travelers with other Commowealth of Independent States' visas to transit Kazakhstan. All travelers, even those simply transiting Kazakhstan for less than 72 hours, must obtain a Kazakhstani visa prior to entering the country. Furthermore, travelers may be asked to provide proof at the border of their onward travel arrangements. Travelers transiting through Kazakhstan are reminded to check that their visas allow sufficient number of entries to cover each transit trip and check the length of validity of the visa. For complete information concerning entry requirements, U.S. citizens should contact the Embassy of Kazakhstan at 1401 16th Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036, telephone (202) 232-5488.

LOCAL REGISTRATION REQUIREMENTS: All travelers staying for more than three business days must register with the Office of Visas and Registration (OVIR). Visitors who do not register may have to pay large fines at the airport upon departure. All visitors must also present to the OVIR office within 10 days of arrival a certificate indicating a negative HIV test conducted no more than one month prior to registration. Evidence of an HIV test performed abroad is acceptable. Testing may also be done at the Center for the Prevention and Control of AIDS (7 Talgarskaya Street, Almaty).

INTERNAL TRAVEL: Several border areas with China and cities in close proximity to military installations require prior permission from the government to enter. Also, Americans traveling within Kazakhstan have on occasion reported trouble with local officials who demand documentation authorizing travel within their province, despite appropriate registration in Almaty or Astana. Americans should report any trouble with provincial authorities to the U.S. Embassy in Almaty.

CRIME INFORMATION: The rate of crime, particularly violent street crime, is serious and widespread. Pickpocketing is frequent. Robberies have occurred on public transport, in parks and shopping areas, around hotels and restaurants catering to foreigners, and in private apartments. It is best not to walk alone at night; carrying a flashlight after dark is recommended. The loss or theft of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to local police and to the U.S. Embassy.

A new scam was uncovered at the Almaty International Airport in January 2000. Men posing as
"meet and greet" airport facilitators for international arrivals lure unsuspecting foreigners into cars purportedly to take them to their hotel. However, the driver of the car proceeds to drive to a secluded gas station in the country. He then demands approximately $100 for gas to take the foreigner back to the city. All Americans planning travel to Kazakhstan should make prior arrangements with their contacts in Almaty for concrete identification upon arrival at the airport. Americans should not leave with anyone who does not show the pre-arranged identification, even if the person is holding a sign with the traveler's name.

The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that Americans do not carry large sums of money on the street. There have also been cases of men wearing official police uniforms approaching foreigners on the street, asking to see their passports and then robbing them of whatever cash they may have. These crimes seem to be most common in Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city. They occur most frequently at the open-air market (known locally as the "green market"), near the central department store, and around the Otrar and Dostyk hotels. All Americans are advised to exercise caution in the vicinity of these hotels and when shopping. 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 on the street. If he does not, you should ask to see his credentials. If the officer cannot produce authentic identification, he is most likely not a real policeman.

Given these circumstances, if you are not threatened with a weapon or force and find yourself confronted by a policeman, confidently and assertively ask the 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 behavior to the U.S. 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.

Given the crime situation, the U.S. Embassy has made arrangements with the Kazakhstani Government to allow Americans to carry a certified copy of their passport and visa rather than the original. Additional information on the region can be found in the brochure, Tips for Travelers to Russia, available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402 via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. U.S. citizens can refer to the Department of State's pamphlet,
A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to assure a more trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical care in Kazakhstan is below Western standards, with severe shortages of basic medical supplies, including disposable needles, anesthetics, and antibiotics. Most resident Americans travel to the West for serious medical needs. Such travel can be extremely expensive if undertaken under emergency conditions. Travelers requiring prescription medications or brand-name medicines should bring sufficient supplies of medications and not rely on local availability.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas may face extreme difficulties.

Please check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas, including provision for medical evacuation, and for adequacy of coverage. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Please ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses that you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or by autofax: (202) 647-3000.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at
1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax: 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Kazakhstan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

Roads are in poor repair, even in Almaty, but most are passable. Street lighting, where available, is often turned off at night. Lane markings are scarce and potholes common and often dangerously deep. Pedestrians frequently dart out in front of cars. Visitors should use special caution if driving at night. Defensive driving is a must because many local drivers do not follow traffic laws. Americans wishing to drive in Kazakhstan should possess a valid American driver's license and an international driver's license.

For additional information about road safety, please see the Department of State, Bureau of
Consular Affairs home page road safety overseas feature
at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers at present, nor economic authority to operate such service between the U.S. and Kazakhstan, the
U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Kazakhstan's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards.

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at
1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet home page at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/. The
U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at tel. 1-618-229-4801.

Travelers may experience prolonged delays, unexpected re-routing and sudden cancellations of flights, including Air Kazakhstan, which is the Kazakhstani national airline company.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Kazakhstani laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Kazakhstan are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Kazakhstan is largely a cash economy. Traveler's checks and credit cards are rarely accepted, except at large hotels that cater to Western visitors. U.S. dollars can easily be exchanged for the local currency (tenge) at local and 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).

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Kazakhstan is an earthquake-prone country. The U.S. Department of State has ranked the earthquake threat level within Almaty as a Level 4 (the highest level assigned). Building practices within Kazakhstan do not generally meet U.S. seismic standards. In addition, local authorities do not have sufficient resources to respond fully to a large-scale disaster. American citizens traveling to Kazakhstan are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy Consular Section to assist in contacting them in the event of an emergency. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: In December 1998, the Kazakhstani Government revised its family code to address international adoption. While the law now affirms the right of foreigners to adopt Kazakhstani children, implementation of this law is still being worked out. Until the regulations are finalized, adoption procedures will vary widely from region to region, and Americans should expect lengthy bureaucratic delays during the adoption process. At a minimum, Kazakhstani law requires foreigners to be in country for two weeks. However, Americans have been delayed as long as three months. Further, due to the rapidly increasing numbers of Americans adopting in Kazakhstan, all adopting families must schedule an appointment in advance for completion of their orphan investigation with the Consular Section in Almaty. Prospective parents are encouraged to obtain information on U.S. requirements for in-country processing of U.S. orphan investigations (I-604) and not to rely wholly on local facilitators to arrange for necessary documentation.

The adoption process in Kazakhstan is unpredictable and subject to suspension at any time. For current information on adoptions in Kazakstan, general information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Almaty or refer to the
State Department Office of Children's Issues Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone (202) 736-7000.

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living in or visiting Kazakhstan are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Almaty and obtain updated information on travel and security in Kazakhstan. Registration allows for quicker replacement of a lost or stolen passport, as well as contact in the case of an emergency. The U.S. Embassy in Almaty is located at 99/97A Furmanova Street, tel. 7-3272-63-39-21, after hours 7-3272-50-76-27, fax: 7-3272-50-62-69, and e-mail:consularalmaty@state.gov.

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