Nur-Sultan Kazakhstan Photo by J B

Kazakhstan Driving Guide

Kazakhstan is a unique beautiful country. Explore all of it by driving when you get your International Driving Permit

2021-07-28 · 9mins.

Kazakhstan is a former Soviet Republic and the ninth largest country in the world in terms of land area, as it is twice larger than the four other "stan" countries combined. It is now part of Central Asia with long stretches of nature with its own array of plants and animals. It has its steppes and part of the "celestial mountains" that are called Tien Shan as its tourism highlights. These make driving through Kazakhstan a long and worthy challenge.

The people of Kazakhstan are called Kazakhs, and they are a Turkic people who are ethnically tied to people of Western China called the Uighur, which is also akin to the Mongolians. Kazakhstan was a Soviet republic since 1936 and was the place of exile in Joseph Stalin's regime. The land is full of natural treasures but was often neglected by the Soviet republic being the place of exile of many Russians. But after breaking free from the Iron Curtain, the nomadic Kazakh natives started to rebuild their land.

How This Guide Can Help You

Kazakhstan has a huge land area, and for the adventurer behind the wheel, that means driving in Kazakhstan in long distances would be in the cards. If you like cross-country road trips through different types of terrain, then Kazakhstan would be a treat. There are a lot of things to do with the natural diversity of Kazakhstan, but there is also a diverse convergence of cultures from the country's geographical and political influences.

This guide gives you an introduction to Kazakhstan, which includes geography, climate, and population. As a driving guide, you will also be informed about the country's driving rules, driving conditions and road traffic signs and whether driving in Kazakhstan as a whole is safe.

General Information

A former Soviet republic, Kazakhstan is a large country in Central Asia composed mostly of steppes. It has mountainous regions and lakes, and has two different capitals that offer much activity. Kazakhstan has a wide land area and a low population, so there are lots of open stretches. Driving in Kazakhstan

Geographical Location

Kazakhstan is in Central Asia, east of the Middle Eastern region. It is bordered by the Caspian Sea in the West and extends up to the Altai Mountains that border both Russia and China. South of Kazakhstan lie three other former Russian republics: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. They have natural borders of two mountain ranges that have mountains as high as 7,000 meters (almost 23,000) feet.

Its former capital is Almaty, which remains the biggest metropolis in the country that has served as a trading hub in the region for a long time. In 1996, they declared that Astana is the capital due to the observation that the former capital was too close to the Chinese border. Astana was eventually renamed Nursultan in 2019 after their former leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who resigned his post in 2019.

Languages Spoken

Since there are diverse cultures and people of different origins in present-day Kazakhstan, language has become a contentious issue. Even if they are in one landmass, the distance between cities has become a factor. There is an official state language of Kazakh, a Turkic language, but it is only spoken by about 40% of the population. Russian is the de facto official language as it is spoken by the majority of the populace

Russian was the only language spoken during the time of Soviet occupation, and most people have not pursued learning the official language since the Russian language allows communication with Russians and citizens of the other fourteen former Russian republics, and other foreigners who speak Russian. English is spoken by a very small minority, so it is advisable to learn basic Russian phrases when you're driving across Kazakhstan.

Land Area

The land area of Kazakhstan is approximately 1 million square miles or 2,717,300 square kilometers) and it was part of the historical Silk Road, which served as the gateway between Europe and China. All that land area is occupied by just 18 million people, as there are long stretches of land which have challenging climates.

History

The native Kazakhs were composed of Nomadic tribes, and they were placed under the rule of the Mongol empire in the 13th century, until it was eventually conquered by the Russian Empire. It was included in the Kirgiz Autonomous Republic under the Soviet Union in 1920s, eventually renamed the Kazakh Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Kazakh ASSR). The Soviets forced the Kazakhs to live on state farms while Russians and Slavs moved into Kazakh land.

Eventually, Kazakhstan’s massive territory was used by the Soviets to test its nuclear weapons, and it led to serious environmental problems. The region was still used for agricultural development for Russia, but they eventually gained their independence in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union, and they also joined the Commonwealth of Independent States later that year.

Government

In 1993, the country overwhelmingly approved the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. President Nursultan Nazarbayev restructured and consolidated many operations of the government in 1997, eliminating a third of the government's ministries and agencies. In 1997, the national capital was changed from Almaty, the largest city, to Astana (formerly Aqmola).

The government of Kazakhstan is now a presidential republic, wherein the executive branch is separate and independent from a legislature, so the two branches are not accountable to each other. As a republic, it is a representative democracy, but elected representatives will vote on the legislation, not the general population of voters.

Tourism

The main tourism selling points of Kazakhstan are its two capitals. The former capital of Almaty still retains its status as the main trading hub. It was only replaced as the capital for political and strategic reasons. Almaty has almost everything that most capitals have. They have bars, lounges, hotels and cafes. Its strategic location near trading routes make it a natural stopover even when it was no longer the official capital.

Nursultan is being built as a futuristic modern city, a vision of Nazarbayev himself. This adds wonder to what is considered a "planned" city capital. Driving in Kazakhstan's capital city, it's hard to believe it was a small town called Aqmola before, which was best known to be a former gulag prison camp that kept wives and children of political prisoners of the Russian government during the cold war.

International Driver's Permit FAQs

With a land area of a million square miles, Kazakhstan presents a lot of opportunities for a long, fast drive on open roads. You can challenge yourself with a drive up to a mountain trail or cruise along the lakeside. You can explore more when you're driving in Kazakhstan, taking video in a rented car, as you can travel at your own pace and spend more time on scenery that matters to you.

There are a lot of open stretches in Kazakhstan, so you can plan your itinerary carefully. As the majority of Kazakhs speak Russian as the primary language, foreign drivers need a translation of their driver's licenses for them to identify you. This is where driving across Kazakhstan with an international driver's permit (IDP) really helps since it has translations of your driver's license in the major languages.

Is Your Local Driver's License Valid in Kazakhstan?

In Kazakhstan, you may drive a rental car with your driver's license, but you need to have an international driver's permit. The primary language in the country is Russian, as it is a former Soviet republic. The Kazakhs have their own official language, but almost all the populace will likely speak and understand Russian.

If you have an international driver's permit, you can have your license translated into Russian and other major languages. Police officers who are mandated to stop a vehicle from checking licenses will clearly read the details and let you on your way.

Is a Russian Driver's License Valid in Kazakhstan?

Kazakhstan will let you drive as long as you have a valid driver's license that is at least a year old in your possession. A Russian driver's license can be understood by the authorities, but they would require an international driver's permit. They want to make sure that you are capable of safely driving a vehicle. This is a precautionary measure to reduce the probability of accidents in open spaces.

The traffic officials in Kazakhstan are very cautious since their country has a lot of mountainous regions where the terrain can be challenging for incapable drivers. If you have an international driver's permit, the officers can see that driving in Kazakhstan, whether in the city or in the mountains, is within your qualifications. It is not just the validity but also the qualification and limitations that they want to double-check.

Does an IDP Replace a Local Driver's License?

The International Driver's Association issues their IDP, which is a translation of your native driver's license in twelve major languages. This IDP is recognized in more than 150 countries around the world, but it cannot be considered a full replacement for your native driver's license.

You would still need to bring your valid driver's license from your home country, as that will be the basis for your legal identification.

You still need to ensure that your driving license will not expire while you are driving in Kazakhstan. Now, if your license is valid, the international driving license in Kazakhstan is also honored for six months in Kazakhstan. If you will stay longer than six months, that is the time when you have to exchange your license for a Kazakh driver's license. Your IDP has its own validity, whether one, two, or three years. When you are driving from Kazakhstan to Mongolia, for example, the IDP will be recognized there.

Renting A Car in Kazakhstan

Driving in Kazakhstan with its long distances is a driver's paradise. You would rather have the freedom to explore the open areas in a rented car, going at your own pace, with your own itinerary. With so many options and so much distance to cover, Kazakhstan tourism understands the potential for a road trip.

Planning ahead is always beneficial, and in Kazakhstan, studying the map and understanding the terrain could carry weight in crucial decisions during your travel. Which route should you take? What type of vehicle to rent? The next part of this guide will help you answer those questions. So, here are guides and tips if you want to rent a car and drive around the million miles of Kazakhstan.

Car Rental Companies

The best scenario is when you have your international driver's permit ready along with your driver's license. That way, you can arrange to have the rental car at the airport. There are three airports in Kazakhstan: Almaty, Astana, and Albasar. You may arrange to have your car waiting at any of these airports. These car hire companies can provide airport pickups: Hertz, Avis, Europcar, Keddy’s, Autorent, and Sunnycars.

There are always options if you fail to book a car in advance; there are car rental shops in Kazakhstan that would rarely run out of vehicles. They are often equipped for the climate extremes. However, you may not be able to book your ideal vehicle if you rent when you arrive. The airport in Almaty, the former capital which is still the busiest industrial hub in the country, has the most number of car rental outlets.

Documents Needed

The standard documents to rent a car in Kazakhstan comprise identification (passport or driver's license), payment method, usually an international credit card, and the driver's license along with your international driver's permit. As this is not an English-speaking country and the language of Russian has different characters from the Roman alphabet, an international driver's permit is often a necessity for renting a car.

Vehicle Types

Kazakhstan is often known as a skiing destination because of the mountains and the cold weather. However, there are also lakes, canyons, and the steppes are also worth a visit. There is a wide selection of vehicles, as varied as the terrain of Kazakhstan's million-mile area. You can rent a sport utility vehicle (SUV) to explore the mountain trails or rent trailers for long, cross-country road trips.

Even with varied, challenging terrain, the most popular cars to rent are compacts. If you will just stay in the city and the paved roads, it is better to get the cheaper alternative. You may need to spend a lot on fuel because of the long distances, but with the number of opportunities for picturesque views and the number of discoveries in the country, it would be worth it. Always confirm with the car rental companies if you need a vehicle with automatic transmission, as most rental cars are in manual transmission.

Age Requirements

The minimum age for renting a car in Kazakhstan is 23 years old, even though they let 18-year old driver's license holders drive. They also have the maximum age to rent a car at 75 years old. If you do not fall into these categories, the car rental companies will likely impose a surcharge or require stricter insurance packages.

Car Rental Cost

Kazakhstan car rental rates are not as expensive as European countries, but it is quite an amount. The average rate is around $67, but you can avail of weekly rates. It's likely you'll spend more than a week driving around the vast expanse of land, which can drive down the price to US$ 60 per day. These rates already include most of the standard features and charges

Car rentals impose that you must return the rental unit with the same amount of gas when you took it out. The primary fuel used is diesel. There are also gas options, but since many of the older vehicles are bigger, they prefer the diesel option. Driving in Kazakhstan, there is much distance to cover because of the land area, and the population is widely spread out. You tend to consume a lot of fuel, so it is best to choose the cheaper option.

Car Insurance Cost

Most of the international credit cards in the United States have accident insurance or collision damage waivers as part of their contract. Many travelers advise that you can wave off the third party insurance that car rental companies can sometimes offer.

Some rental companies also offer standard third-party liability insurance and collision coverage, and this would eventually add to the cost or already part of the rental rate. Always check on the contract and read the fine print to ensure that you only need to pay what is necessary.

Car Insurance Policy

Travelers around the world often advise that many international credit cards have Collision Damage Waivers, and Liability Insurance even when you are in another country. However, each country has their own laws and for Kazakhstan, they do require Compulsory Civil Liability Insurance. This insurance protects you in case you are responsible for a collision that brings harm to third parties and damage of other people’s property.

The Civil Liability Insurance in Kazakhstan usually has a one-year insurance period. Rental car companies may also seek additional compensation for “loss of use” which refers to the lost income to the car rental company since the vehicle is being repaired. You may need to check if this is included in the liability insurance since this is not a third party expense.

Astana Road Photo by Almira

Road Rules in Kazakhstan

The essence of road rules in Kazakhstan is safety, not because of congestion, but ensuring that you do not get stuck in the middle of nowhere. It would be best if you were driving in Kazakhstan with a map since you might be diverted to a vast expanse that you were not prepared for. Kazakhstan still has cities and central business hubs, and traffic rules are enforced there.

Note that the top car rental companies in Kazakhstan have distance limits on their cars, specifically when taking them up to the mountains. This is especially applicable for cars that are designed for city use. They track the cars with GPS, and they can void the insurance or impose penalty charges when you violate this rule. On the other hand, the GPS can come in handy in case your car breaks down in the middle of the steppes. This way, your car rental company can send help your way

Important Regulations

Caution is the keyword for Kazakhstan regulations. They do not have too many congested streets, but they have large stretches of unmanned roads and challenging weather conditions. The key for the authorities is that both car and driver are in peak driving condition and would be aware of what to do if they have a road mishap, especially if you're planning for a lengthy drive.

Drink Driving Laws

Kazakhstan is an Islamic state, and as such, they have no tolerance for alcohol. Therefore, drunk driving is prohibited. There is no legal limit, and if you are caught driving with even a whiff of alcohol, they are also very strict, and you can even end up in jail. Skip the drinks and save them for another country. Drunk driving in Kazakhstan is simply not allowed.

In some cases, medicine with alcohol content is enough to get you reprimanded. There are instances of expats and foreigners getting deported as drunk driving in Kazakhstan, in the city, or in the boondocks is a really serious offense.

General Standards

You need to comply with the rules while driving in Kazakhstan. Now that they are slowly letting foreigners cross the border, they require foreign vehicles to have a registration plate with a specific, distinctive mark of the country of origin. They also require an international driver's permit since most of them speak Russian or Kazakh's local language only. Officers also do not tolerate special lights and using horns unless necessary.

Aside from alcohol use, they also prohibit any use of mobile phones while driving unless you are connected to a hands-free device. You also cannot throw garbage on the carriageway since it could cause danger to car and pedestrian traffic.. Locals mostly use manual transmission since they are cheaper, but GPS is a requirement for safety reasons. Specify automatic transmission to rental companies, it’s likely they give you a manual, otherwise.

Speed Limits

In Kazakhstan, the standard speed limit is 60 kph in urban areas, but they require you to slow down to 20 kph in residential areas. For open roads, you can speed up to 90 kph, and there are a lot of them in Kazakhstan. You might be tempted to cut loose and drive over the speed limit, especially when you don't see a lot of speed cameras, but the police could set speed traps in strategic areas.

Kazakhstan has freeways that allow slightly higher speed limits of up to 110 kph. Kazakhstan is usually a cold country, and the roads are usually slippery due to moisture. Safety is still the motivation for these limits, so it is best to always comply. Signage of speed limits is in kph and is clearly visible. Always comply with speed limits and safety rules when driving in Kazakhstan, and make notes on the map for pit stops and gas stations.

Seat Belt Laws

The law in Kazakhstan states that all passengers of a moving car above the age of 12 must wear safety belts or any proper restraint. This rule applies to both front and rear passengers. It is not easier for those below 12 years old, as they need to be placed in a specified child seat. The rule is relaxed for vehicles that have a maximum of eight seats, as the children can be placed in any back seat as long as it has a seat belt or restraint for children over 135 cm in height.

Driving Directions

Traffic in Kazakhstan is on the right side of the road. The right of way is still based on designated priority roads. There aren’t many traffic lights on roads outside of the cities, and right of way is determined by where the vehicle is coming from. Vehicles on priority roads and coming out of roundabouts will be given priority.

There are stop signs and traffic lights on roundabouts even though you are turning right. This indicates how vehicles outside of roundabouts should give way to those coming out in order to ensure smooth traffic. Vehicles exiting the main roads are also given priority over vehicles from the side roads.

Traffic Road Signs

Kazakhstan road signs are similar to the Russian road signs since they were used before the country declared its independence. The signs are compliant with the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals.

Warning signs will warn the drivers of upcoming changes in the road structure, pedestrians, and possible hazards that could lie on the road ahead. This will give you time to anticipate them and take appropriate action.

Warning Signs

  • Dangerous Bend to the left/right
  • Slippery Road
  • Falling Rocks
  • Double bend\
  • Steep hill ahead
  • Road narrows on the left/right/both sides.
  • Moving bridge
  • Hump bridge
  • Tunnel ahead
  • Quay

Regulatory signs inform drivers of what actions or directions they can or cannot take on the road they are traversing.

  • To the left
  • To the right
  • School Zone
  • Humped Crossing
  • Falling Rocks
  • Wild Animals Crossing
  • Intersection with a road the users of which must give way
  • Intersection with a road the users of which must give way
  • Yield
  • Stop
  • Priority for coming vehicles
  • Priority over oncoming traffic

Informative signs provide information on the road situation on the horizon. It also informs you of where important structures are located, such as hospitals.

  • Dead End Road
  • Highway
  • End of Highway
  • One Way
  • Airport
  • Pedestrian Crossing
  • Uneven Road

Prohibitive signs instruct drivers on what they can and cannot do on the road and also what non-motorists (pedestrians, cyclists, and animal-riders) can do on the road/area as well. There are situations here that are adjusted specifically to when you're driving in Kazakhstan.

  • No Entry
  • Road Closed in both directions.
  • No Vehicles aside from two-wheeled vehicles
  • Pedestrian Crossing
  • No Pedestrians Allowed
  • No Entry to Pedal Cycles
  • Parking is prohibited on the odd days
  • Parking is prohibited on even days
  • End of all restrictions
  • No vehicles carrying dangerous goods
  • No vehicles vehicle carrying explosives
  • No Entry to Motorcycles
  • No Entry to Auto Cycles
  • No Animal-Driven Vehicles
  • Overtaking Prohibition
  • End of Overtaking Prohibition

Right of Way

The right of way in Kazakhstan is awarded to pedestrians. They expect you to give way to pedestrians, and this includes cattle or any other animals that they bring with them. This is the primary reason they impose a low-speed limit (20 kph) in residential areas. The right of way is very important, and they will apprehend any violators. There are plenty of open spaces to speed up, but always slow down in the residential areas.

The Kazakhs follow the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic. Thus, pedestrians and vehicles who are coming out from a roundabout have the right of way. Driving in Kazakhstan, you are expected to give way to the vehicles turning right on intersections and roundabouts. Even if traffic lights are green, you would still be obliged to stop on the intersection if the destination road is full, so you would avoid obstructing or preventing the passage of cross traffic.

Kazakhstan allows its citizens to apply for a driving test in Kazakhstan at 17.5 years old, but they cannot apply for a driver's license until they are 18 years old. Also, if you have had a license in other countries like the UK and US, they still would not let you drive in Kazakhstan unless you are 18 years of age.

Laws on Overtaking

Since you are driving on the right side of the road, you may overtake on the left side of the road. They will not allow you to overtake on bridges and two-lane roads. There are also markings of straight white lines, which means no overtaking is allowed.

Under the Immediately before or on an intersection other than a roundabout, except: (i) In the case provided for in paragraph 1 (b) of this Article; (ii) Where the road on which overtaking takes place has priority at the intersection; (iii) Where traffic is directed at the intersection by an authorized official or by traffic light signals;

Driving Side

In Kazakhstan, you will drive on the right-hand side of the road, similar to the United States and most countries which were not heavily influenced by the British. The Kazakhs adopted the principle of driving “on your right” to heart, and they have adopted international standards even with their requirement of an international driver’s permit.

The 1986 Vienna Convention on Traffic is the basis for many driving rules in Kazakhstan. Driving

The first thing you need to remember if you plan on driving across Kazakhstan is that you need to have an international driving permit that is compliant with the 1968 Vienna convention. International driving permits in the past used to be valid for Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan Thus,

Driving Etiquette in Kazakhstan

It is not really that difficult to be a foreigner driving in Kazakhstan, even though you would likely have a language barrier. If you familiarize yourself with the driving etiquette, then you can calmly explore the wide steppes, the cold mountains, and the coastline of the Caspian Sea. They have rules and regulations geared towards safety and survival on the vast open road, so just comply with them, and the locals would likely be helpful as much as they can.

In any country, keeping your vehicle in good condition and staying calm are also the fundamental foundations of driving etiquette, just like in any country. There are challenges in the changing terrain, and while there is less likelihood for conflicts between drivers, rules are always in place.

Car Breakdowns

This is one of the scenarios that the Kazakhstan government wants to avoid. Because of their vast expanse of steppes and open roads, it would not be easy to get help if your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. This is one of the reasons why most rental cars are equipped with GPS. While it is optional in other countries, it has become an industry standard. For the car rental companies, they want to make sure you're not driving from Kazakhstan to China or going too deep into the mountains.

For the drivers, GPS makes it easier to locate you in case you need help with your car. It is difficult when you're in the middle of the steppes and outside urban areas, and there's hardly any landmark. If your car breaks down in heavy traffic, simply turn on all your lights, including the hazard lights. Move the car to the side of the road if you can, or bring out the early warning device triangle if you cannot. Call 112 for emergency assistance or your car rental company if you need repairs or towing.

Police Stops

Kazakhstan has definite directives for this situation. When you're driving across Kazakhstan, and an officer of the road patrol police (RPP) calls you out (naming specific characteristics referring to you) or pointed to you with his hands or rod, then you must stop and follow his directions. After that, the officer is obliged to name his position, specific rank, surname, and division of service before he states clearly the reason why you are being stopped. If he has no grounds to detain your car, it is a violation of Article 52 p.2 of the RK Law.

Officers on road patrol are given a special badge for that duty, and it is your right to ask for that badge. Once the identity of the police officer is verified, you are obliged to present your driver's license, international driver's permit, registration of the vehicle, and waybill of cargo. Patrol officers can conduct spontaneous raids on vehicle cargo. You are entitled to be familiarized with the case, respond with explanations, provide evidence, and submit petitions. You may also speak your native language and request the service of a translator.

Asking Directions

English is not an official language of Kazakhstan, and most of the Kazakhs speak Russian. Many Kazakhs welcome tourists, but they may not be able to understand you verbally. There are other ways to ask for directions, like gestures and maps. This is also one of the reasons why GPS has become mandatory.

Tourists who were driving in Kazakhstan with a map have noticed that there are more Kazakhs who are starting to learn English, even the basic words, specifically to help people who are asking for directions. The answer to this question may quickly change as more people are starting to discover Kazakhstan as a legitimate tourist destination.

Checkpoints

As mentioned before, traffic police officers are mandated to check on vehicles on the road in Kazakhstan. They are obligated to properly introduce and identify themselves, and once they have been verified, it is best that you cooperate.

For the most part, they are looking out for roadside safety, but they could also be checking for drunk drivers and other illegal activities like smuggling. At the checkpoint, present your documents and address each question directly but politely. As mentioned, you have a right to explain yourself and request for a translator if you will converse in your native language. Avoid making brisk movements since they might think you are reaching for a concealed weapon.

Other Tips

In Kazakhstan, there may be unforeseen challenges on the roads. Many instances of road breakdowns are not attributed to driver’s error but due to the challenging circumstances. Here are useful tips on what to do when you get involved in a road mishap while driving in Kazakhstan, whether in the city or the mountains.

Getting Involved in an Accident

Even if you follow all the driving rules in Kazakhstan, you might still end up in an accident. The first thing you should check is the physical and medical safety of everyone involved in the accident. This means you, your passengers, passengers of the other car, or the pedestrians. Once you are all safe and secure, you must call the police. You can call 112, which is directed straight to the police.

One important thing to remember is that you must not move your vehicle when involved in a collision in order for the police to see the accident in its actual, unaltered state. If you move your vehicle, you risk being charged with the full liability amount. You should also wait for the insurance representatives or the car rental agents, as they need to chronicle the incident before they allow you to go.

Driving Conditions in Kazakhstan

The driving conditions in Kazakhstan can be challenging outside the city. Many of the roads on the mountains are unpaved and the road conditions on the stretch of the steppes may not be well-maintained. Considering the possibility of extreme weather conditions that could cause accidents and breakdowns, Kazakhstan imposes rules on GPS (for easy location), emergency preparedness, and speed limits to avoid accidents.

Accidents Statistics

The statistics recorded in 2017 estimated about 3,000 fatalities on the roads in Kazakhstan, with a much higher number of injuries (over 20.000). The rate is higher than in countries like Norway, although there has been a lot of improvement in that regard. There have been numerous projects like the East-West Roads project following the South West Roads project that was sponsored by the World Bank.

One key statistic to consider is that two-thirds of the casualties or injured party is male, aged 18-44 years old. In many accidents, it's either the driver took too much of a risk, or the accident was a result of negligence or going too far off. Driving through Kazakhstan in adverse weather can be very challenging, and not all roads are paved and smooth.

Common Vehicles

The top-selling vehicle in Kazakhstan is the Russian car Lada Granta, a subcompact car with good steering and a sturdy suspension. This is the ideal car for the Kazakhs since they prioritize fuel efficiency and costing, but it has to be strong enough to endure the varied terrain of Central Asia.

The state of the roads in Kazakhstan is generally good. There are still plenty of roads in the rural areas that are not yet paved, and many of them have been reported to have potholes that could be deep enough to cause accidents in challenging weather conditions. There are also scarce road signs, and the street lighting could use improvement. Driving in Kazakhstan, distance matters in adverse weather and during the dark should be done with caution or avoided altogether.

Toll Roads

The multi-lane highways or motorways that serve as the main arteries of Kazakhstan are the following:

A1 – stretches from the capital of Nur-Sultan to Shchuchinsk. It proceeds further as the A1 two-lane highway that reaches Kokshetau. Total Motorway length: 250 km

A2 – stretches from Almaty to a point past Uzynagash. It proceeds as the A2 two-lane highway to Shymkent. Total Motorway length: 58 km

A2 – There is another four-lane portion that runs from Shymkent to Zhibek Zholy, right on the border with Uzbekistan. Length: 100 km

A3 – stretches from Almaty to Kapshagay. It further proceeds as the A3 two-lane highway to Oskemen. Motorway length: 82 km

Road Condition

For a country with such a huge land area, the road network in Kazakhstan is just about 95,000 square kilometers, and about 90% of those are paved. As mentioned, there are numerous development projects, specifically in road infrastructures, sponsored by the World Bank. The majority of the land area in the country consists of steppes, and this is why they have a low population in proportion to their land area.

There are still plenty of roads in the rural areas that are not yet paved, and many of them have been reported to have potholes that could be deep enough to cause accidents in challenging weather conditions. There are also scarce road signs, and the street lighting could use improvement. Driving in Kazakhstan, distance matters in adverse weather and during the dark should be done with caution or avoided altogether.

Toll Roads

The multi-lane highways or motorways that serve as the main arteries of Kazakhstan are the following:

A1 – stretches from the capital of Nur-Sultan to Shchuchinsk. It proceeds further as the A1 two-lane highway that reaches Kokshetau. Total Motorway length: 250 km

A2 – stretches from Almaty to a point past Uzynagash. It proceeds as the A2 two-lane highway to Shymkent. Total Motorway length: 58 km

A2 – There is another four-lane portion that runs from Shymkent to Zhibek Zholy, right on the border with Uzbekistan. Length: 100 km

A3 – stretches from Almaty to Kapshagay. It further proceeds as the A3 two-lane highway to Oskemen. Motorway length: 82 km

Driving Culture

The Kazakhs are used to driving fast when they are on the open road. It takes some time before they make the adjustment of slowing down in residential and even rural areas. There is an added challenge of pedestrians and livestock, and even some wild animals. Police have used dashcams and speed traps to curb the locals' need for speed. Driving in Kazakhstan in the dark is also not advisable, and the cities are at their liveliest during the day.

There are reports of errant behavior after dark, and with the challenging lighting conditions, this is primarily why the number of accidents has increased. The highway when you are driving from Kazakhstan to Mongolia is also known to be treacherous.

Other Tips

Since Kazakhstan is a country with huge open stretches of road with varying terrains and stages of development, the utmost concern is your vehicle conditioning. This could not be stated enough, as there are huge stretches of land where the roads are not paved, and there are no telephone lines or gas stations. This situation means that when your car breaks down, it will take much time for help to arrive,

The best way to ensure your safety is if you can somehow contact help through other means, like a mobile phone. Make sure that your phones have ample charge. This is why the GPS became a standard for rented cars. Some travelers would even inform the hotels or rental companies on their routes or destinations for the day, so there whereabouts would be located, just in case.

Is It Safe to Drive at Night?

You may encounter areas without ample lighting since the terrain of Kazakhstan is quite tricky with the vast expanse of open roads and steppes. Check the weather report, and if the skies are clear, you may be able to cruise along a moonlit night. However, driving in Kazakhstan at night when it is rainy or snowy may be too risky.

Things To Do in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is a large country, and that is why you feel that there can still be so much to do. Can staying in Kazakhstan be a real option for you? Can you carve a career driving from Kazakhstan to China with your international driver's license? Is the process of getting a working visa difficult? Foreigners looking for a job in Kazakhstan may find that quite challenging.

However, if you do find an opportunity to work in Kazakhstan, it is imperative to know how to obtain a driver's license in Kazakhstan if you are staying for over six months. The international driver's license is easy to renew as you only need to access the application page from our website.

Drive as a Tourist

In Kazakhstan, they will allow you to drive as a tourist as long as you have a valid driver’s license and an international driver’s permit. As most of the authorities speak Russian or their local language, they would need translations of your driver’s license so they can easily identify and assist you. They expect tourists to comply with their driving rules since they are mostly implemented as safety precautions.

Work as a Driver

The situation in Kazakhstan at the moment does not really open much opportunity to work as a driver. Many Kazakhs are unemployed, and for jobs that can be performed by Kazakh nationals (who usually do not speak English or foreign languages), you need to justify why they need to hire a foreigner.

As you are a foreigner with an International Driving Permit, you may be able to drive as a tourist, and your ability to communicate in English can justify why you should be hired. Perhaps there would be a need for this type of worker.

Work as a Tour Guide

The Kazakhstan economy will expand like in banking, teaching, and tourism when they become an oil producing country. They expect an influx of foreign nationals, and there is high demand for teaching professionals, specifically in English, in order to equip the locals. If your native language is English and if you have a teaching degree or credentials, then this is an opportunity for you.

Your English language skills can also serve you when you work as a tour guide, but you would need to learn the Russian language and also the Kazakh language. As always, your employer will be the one to arrange your work permit, and there is a limit to the number of permits that the country gives out every year.

Apply for Residency

Foreigners can apply for permanent residency in Kazakhstan if they obtain a permission for permanent residence by the territorial police. Applicants must also be cleared from the list of diseases and conditions (including drug dependence, mental disorders, tuberculosis). Aside from identification and clearances, there should also be proof of solvency.

A document confirming the foreigner's right to permanent residence in Kazakhstan is a residence permit. To obtain a residence permit you must obtain a permission for the permanent residence. The permit is issued in the territorial police departments service. The main requirement that is presented to those arriving in Kazakhstan and wishing to obtain a residence permit is the proof of their solvency.

Other Things to Do

Aside from driving jobs and tourism jobs, there are also job opportunities for professionals, specifically in the oil industry and other office jobs that may arise because of the country’s expected growth. In any case, it is best to convert your driver’s license so you can keep driving on your long-term stay.

How to Convert to a Kazakhstan Driver's License

You may ask about how to get a driving licence in Kazakhstan. You need to be 16 years old to apply for a driving license from Kazakhstan. Since you already have a driver's license from your local country, you are beyond this age. There are many documentary requirements before you can schedule a test with the transport department.

  • ID document (passport is the best bet)
  • Health certificate as you are also required to take a medical exam and its copy;
  • Certificate on undergoing of training courses and its copy obtained via an automated information system (except cases of self-training)
  • Document certifying payment of state duty.
  • Document certifying employment length (statement of employment) for assignment of the following categories

The categories refer to which vehicle you will be driving in Kazakhstan. That depends on the job that you applied for. You need to pass a theoretical exam before they let you proceed with a practical exam for the appropriate certificates that you are applying for. There are permanent licenses for ordinary vehicles, and there are different licenses for commercial vehicles and heavy-duty vehicles like cranes.

Top Road Destinations in Kazakhstan

There are numerous tourist attractions in Kazakhstan, specifically in the major cities of Almaty and Nur-Sultan. The vast expanse of steppes also has a lot of undiscovered highlights, so driving across Kazakhstan should be fruitful and fun. There are destinations with a flurry of activity with the two capitals, and there are also some pockets in between.

Kok Tobe Hill

Kok Tobe Hill is part of the greater mountain ranges off the city of Almaty. It offers a picturesque, complete view of the city and also has the cable car rides and amusement park that provides a flurry of activity.

Driving Directions:

  1. At Mailin St, pass by Dch Konsalt Konsalting (on the left)
  2. Turn left at A.G.Style onto Ulitsa Bukhtarminskaya. Slight left at Proizvodstvennaya Baza
  3. Turn right onto A351.
  4. Continue straight to stay on Vostochnaya Ob" Yezdnaya Avtodoroga. Continue onto Al-Farabi Avenue.
  5. Continue onto Sain St. At the roundabout, take the 4th exit onto the Sain St ramp. Turn right toward Dulati Street.

Things to Do

  1. Ride the Cable Car
    for a spectacular bird's eye view of Kazakhstan's busiest hub and former capital. Kok Tobe Hill has a cable car ride at the foot of the hill where you can start off taking breathtaking pictures. The cable car was the first in the Central Asian region and was designed by Georgian engineers. It is a six-minute ride stretching for 1620 meters and elevates approximately 250 meters. It costs about 4 US$.
  2. Enjoy the Amusement Part and Almaty Tower
    Kok Tobe also has an amusement park, and notable landmarks include the Almaty Tower, which used to be the third tallest tower in the world. It is currently undergoing renovations with the purpose of making it ready for tourists. It is currently the 14th tallest tower and the tallest tubular steel structure in the world that can withstand an 8.0 magnitude earthquake.
  3. Take a Photo with the Fab Four
    The Beatles Monument was built in 2007 and became popular with Kok Tobe visitors. It has the entire Fab Four in bronze, with John Lennon sitting on a park bench with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison standing around him.

Medeu Gorge and Resort

Just a short drive through Gornaya street lies the valley of Medeo. It is a pics-worthy venue that is 15km above Almaty. You can take a nature trip in Medeo since there are many nature sports worth sharing.

Things to Do

Medeu Gorge and Resort has fun activities waiting for you. Here are some of them:

  1. Skate on the World’s largest and highest Skating Rink
    It’s not every day that you can tell your friends you were on the world’s largest skating rink, A short detour to Medeu can give you that privilege. It is truly spectacular, and you can also play ice hockey at this venue.
    But one of its highlights is the world's largest speed skating rink, which is also the world's highest skating rink located 5,500 feet above sea level. You also need to climb 842 steps to reach the place.
  2. Skiing at the Shymbulak Resort
    A high-end ski resort right at the gorge gives you chills and thrills, along with a spectacular view of the skating rink picturesque gorge of the Trans-Ili Alatau at an altitude of 7,400 feet (2,260 meters) above sea level, a 15-minute drive from the center of Almaty.
  3. Go Hiking and Mountain Biking on Medeo Gorge
    Aside from the ski resort and skating rink, the actual gorge has a breathtaking view of the Almaty cityscape. During low snow days, you can go mountain biking on a trail, or simply just hike around the mountains and take pictures for your social media accounts. The entire gorge area is a spectacular natural landscape

Almaty City Proper

The former capital still has everything a country’s main city should have. It continues to be the primary tourism destination with its proximity to natural landmarks. From Almaty Airport, it takes 30 minutes to reach the city proper via Gornaya Street.

Things to Do

There’s no other way than exploring the locality to fully enjoy your stay in Almaty. Here are some of the things you can do while in the city:

  1. Shop at Zelenny Bazar
    Going back to Almaty City proper, it is very close to driving from Kazakhstan to Mongolia as Almaty is very close to both Mongolia and China. This place is also called the Green Bazaar, and this is where you can have the best shopping for food and ingredients. If you are planning to cook, you can have all the nuts, meats, fruits, and spices.
  2. Party at Chukotka Nightlife
    Just two minutes from the bazaar, the perfect nightcap is a night out on Chukotka. This is the site for Almaty nightlife with bars and music lounges as well as fancy restaurants. There are rock bands and DJs visiting the place, and you can enjoy the lifestyle with young and liberated people like artists, creatives, LGBT, and locals who simply want to unwind and have a good time. It's a memorable send-off before driving in Kazakhstan crossing several zip codes.
  3. Stroll Around First President’s Park
    The First President’s Park was in tribute to Nursultan Nazarbayev, and it is located in the middle of the former capital. You can enjoy the mountain view while taking a leisurely stroll, or revel in the music of concerts and entertainment programs. Truly a picturesque destination that has the famous Mountains as a backdrop.
Nur-Sultan Photo by Travel With

Nur-Sultan Metropolitan Area

From the industrial hub of Almaty, you can now proceed to the nation's new capital, the futuristic city of Astana, now known as Nur-Sultan.

This is the start of a long drive, as you'll be driving in Kazakhstan, changing zip codes from the south to the North. If you're driving in Kazakhstan, bring a map to find stopovers and hotels, or even Air BnB for an overnight stay.

Driving Directions:

  1. From Almaty Airport, take the P-19 to the M-36.
  2. Take the M-36 to Nur-Sultan, 1,135 km for about 18 hours.

Things to Do:

The metropolitan area also offers a variety of activities that you should definitely do. Below are some of them

  1. Visit the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan
    Nur-Sultan is a visual spectacle, built to justify its declaration as the new capital. You can start your tour with the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The building is both large and beautiful, justifying the long name. Just like most structures in Nur-Sultan, this is a newly built (2014) building complex that spans 74,000 square meters, composed of 7 blocks with some buildings as high as nine stories.
    It has almost 14,000 sq meters (3.5 acres) of exhibit space, which houses a large array of amazing objects from ancient to the medieval history of Kazakhstan while also housing modern and contemporary art.
  2. Marvel at the Palace of Peace and Recreation
    When you are driving in Kazakhstan, there is no way you would not notice the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. This is probably the best structure in Central Asia, as it looks like a futuristic pyramid. The Palace of Peace and Recreation has definitely placed Astana and Kazakhstan itself on the map. It was designed by Norman Foster, who also designed the Gherkin skyscraper in London and the Hearst Tower in New York City.
    The palace was built in 2006, specifically for the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, which convenes every three years. It is also an iconic cultural venue, with a library and an opera house with a capacity for 1,300 people.
  3. See a bird’s eye view of NursultanBayterek Tower
    The Bayterek Tower is a famous sightseeing spot and also one of Nur-sultan's more recognizable landmarks. Driving across Kazakhstan, you may spot this 105-meter tower from miles away. It is a memorable monument and also a functional sightseeing spot since you can get a 360-degree view of Astana and its neighboring regions. It is a representation of a popular legend in Kazakhstan regarding the tree of life and an egg laid by the magic bird of happiness.
  4. Watch a football game at Astana Arena
    Astana Arena has a seating capacity of 30,000 and it is an impressive stadium that is still just 10 years old. It is the home of two teams, first tier FC Astana and second tier FC Bayterek. The experience of watching football in a new stadium is definitely a must for your Kazakhstan visit.
  5. Enjoy World-class performances at the Astana Opera
    As part of the program to make Astana/Nursultan the new capital, they are also building various entertainment hubs. Astana Opera was opened in 2013 with an upscale main hall seating up to 1,250 people. It is the home of the State Opera and Ballet Theatre. There is also the smaller 250-seat Chamber Hall for classical music performances.

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