Kyrgyzstan Photo by EJ Wolfson

Kyrgyzstan Driving Guide

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

2021-08-03 · 10 mins

Kyrgyzstan is a paradise full of many unspoiled mountains, alpine lakes, and painting-like sceneries. The country served as a crossroad of cultures and influences from Russia, Asia, and Turkey, and it was part of the ancient Silk Route. Kyrgyzstan has a rich heritage and fascinating culture of the nomadic tribes in Central Asia. You can even witness the World Nomad Games, an international sports competition dedicated to ethnic sports.

Kyrgyzstan is a relatively young age, having achieved independence in 1991 from the Soviet Union. The country opened its tourism industry only a couple of years ago; that’s why it remains a hidden gem in Central Asia. Most of the locals live in villages and move to the mountains in warmer months in the country. Kyrgyzstan has huge water reserves from rivers and lakes, which are still untapped potential for water sports like kayaking.

How Can This Guide Help You?

Knowing relevant information about Kyrgyzstan will help you enrich your journey. This guide will help you make informed travel decisions as this includes the current border updates, road and traffic rules, driving situations, and top destinations. When driving in Kyrgyzstan, map out all the places you want to visit in the nearby areas for a smooth road trip. Do not forget to secure your International Driver’s Permit to have a meaningful adventure.

Even though Kyrgyzstan is full of mountains, the best part of this is most are accessible by car. When driving in Kyrgyzstan, you’ll notice that there is a variety of landscapes. At one point, you’ll have a view of the sea, then a dry red canyon, to mountains and hills, then to serene lakes. You might even joke around and say you'll be touring the world with the ever-changing sceneries.

General Information

Before traveling and driving in Kyrgyzstan, get your tourist visa first. Be sure to know the general information about Kyrgyzstan so that you can get an idea about the history, government, economy, and people. Knowing these things will help you connect and understand more of the country’s people and places.

Geographic Location

Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful landlocked country in Central Asia, bordered by four countries: Kazakhstan in the north, Uzbekistan in the west, Tajikistan in the southwest, and China in the east. It has a total land area of about 199,951 sq km, which is about the same size as Nebraska or the combination of England and Scotland. Kyrgyzstan’s territory is within two mountain systems, Tien Shan in the northeastern part and Pamir Alay in the southwestern region.

The major land features include Lake Issyk-Kul, one of the world’s largest mountain lakes. Since the country’s position is near the middle of the Eurasian landmass, the rugged mountain ranges influence its climate. Those factors create a continental climate in various locations in Kyrgyzstan. The country’s highest point is Jengish Chokusu, which peaks 1t 24,406 ft. Kara Darya has the lowest point at 433 ft. above sea level.

Languages Spoken

The two official languages of Kyrgyzstan are Kyrgyz and Russian. The primary language in government, political affairs, business, and media is the Russian language. The country’s small population speaks other languages such as English, French, and German. One piece of advice is that Russian is the primary language spoken in the capital city Bishkek, while Uzbek is the language spoken in the south of the country.

If you are traveling to Kyrgyzstan, you'll undoubtedly be conversing with the locals during your stay. You’ll hear the distinct difference between the two official languages in the country since Russian is a Slavic language while Kyrgyz is Turkish. The ethnic Kyrgyz has a population of about 5.7 million people, and it is the major ethnic group in the country. Uzbeks and Russians are the biggest minority group in the country.

Land Area

Kyrgyzstan is the second smallest country of the five Central Asian countries with about 199,951 sq. km. (77, 201 square miles). The land area covers 191,801 sq. km. in comparison, the water area covers 8,150 sq. km. The national territory extends about 900 km. from east to west and 410 km. from north to south. About 90% of the country is mountainous, and about 6.3% of the country’s land area is suitable for agriculture.

History

The earliest settlers in the country were nomadic pagan who practiced a monotheistic religion centered on nature. The petroglyphs and other archeological finds can prove that people inhabited the country thousands of years ago. Kyrgyzstan is also historically an important center for trading in Central Asia as it played a vital role as a stop for travelers on the Silk Road crossing Asia. You can still see Tash Rabat dating from the 15th century.

After a series of wars between the Bugu tribe and the Russians, they submitted to the Russians in 1867. It was at their request that the Russians built the fort of Aksu. In the Soviet Union’s establishment in 1917, Kyrgyz found it difficult to assert themselves as a separate national entity. After many years of foreign subjections and statelessness, Kyrgyzstan became an independent nation on August 31, 1991.

Government

Kyrgyzstan's type of government is a parliamentary republic, which means that a group of elected individuals represents the electors’ interests. The president and the prime minister manage the parliamentary system. The people elect the president by a popular vote to serve a single six-year term, and the president appoints the prime minister.

In 1921, Kyrgyz Republic was part of the Turkestan Autonomous Societ Socialist Republic within the Russian Societ Federated Socialist Republic. Due to SixKyrgyz and Uzbek’s inter-ethnic clash, the Kyrgyz Communist Party’s reform wing won the election and created the post. The following year, the country gained its independence, and it was the first of the former Soviet Central Asian republics to acquire democratic institutions.

Tourism

The number of tourists going to Kyrgyz Republic has increased dramatically in recent years. Tourist arrivals in the country reached approximately 1.3 million in 1028 and rose o 1.7 million in 2019. Due to the global pandemic, tourist arrivals only got about 1.2 million in 2020. According to the Trading Economics global macro models and analysts’ expectations, they projected that about 1.2 million tourists would travel in 2021 and about 1.3 million in 2022.

Some of the most popular tourist sites in the country are Tash Rabat, an ancient route trade on Silk Road, the Lenin Peak, Burana Tower, Sary-Chelek, and Kel-Suu Lake, and the world’s largest walnut forest, which is Arslanbob Forest. Do not miss out on traveling here to see the untouched nature hidden in the heart of Central Asia. Get to know the locals and their authentic nomadic lifestyles full of the spirit of freedom and happiness.

IDP FAQs

There are many must-sees destinations the country has to offer. You can best explore all landscapes and sceneries if you’re driving in Kyrgyzstan. Just be sure that you already have your International Driver’s Permit (IDP). An IDP is a legal document that validates your driving license internationally. An IDP is a translation of your local driver’s license, and over 150 countries recognized this official document.

An IDP is a useful form of identification. It contains the essential details about the driver and includes a translation of driving terms to help drivers communicate to the local authorities and the car rental companies. It is a valuable and legal document that identifies that you are a legally licensed driver. In short, having IDP means that the Kyrgyzstan government agrees to accept your local driving license.

What countries recognize IDP?

There are three types of IDP: 1926, 1949, and 1968. Most of the countries are signatories to the 1969 Road Traffic at Vienna. Here’s the list of countries that require an IDP to drive or rent a car.

13 countries in Asia recognize an IDP:


  • Afghanistan
  • China
  • Indonesia
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Mongolia
  • Pakistan
  • Philippines
  • Republic of Korea
  • Tajikistan
  • Thailand
  • Turkmenistan
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Uzbekistan

IDP is valid in 41 countries in Europe:


  • Albania
  • Armenia
  • Austria
  • Belarus
  • Belgium
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Georgia
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxemburg
  • Macedonia
  • Moldova
  • Monaco
  • Montenegro
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Russian Federation
  • San Marino
  • Serbia, Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Ukraine
  • United Kingdom
  • Vatican City

In the United States of America, nine countries recognize an IDP:


  • Bahamas
  • Brazil
  • Costa Rica
  • Cuba
  • Ecuador
  • Guyana
  • Mexico
  • Peru
  • Venezuela

About 20 countries in the Middle East and Africa require an IDP in driving and renting a car in the country:


  • Azerbaijan
  • Bahrain
  • Central African Republic
  • Chile
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Ghana
  • Iran
  • Israel
  • Kenya
  • Kuwait
  • Liberia
  • Morocco
  • Niger
  • Republic of South Africa
  • Senegal, Seychelles
  • Tunisia
  • Uruguay
  • Zimbabwe

How long does IDP take to process?

If you apply to the International Driver’s Association, you can get your IDP after a few hours. The instruction is straightforward. Just refer to our application page, choose your IDP package, send your photos, pay the application fee, and wait for the confirmation. When you received the approval, IDA will send the digital copy of your IDP to your email. You’ll receive the physical copy in about 15 days if you’re within the US or about a month outside the US.

There is no limitation when you can apply for an IDP. The process now is hassle-free because you can apply online to get an IDP, unlike going to the designated offices. Just make sure you review your application thoroughly, and you do not miss any crucial details. Once you have your IDP, you can now drive to the country. When driving in Kyrgyzstan, know the zip code of the location to arrive faster.

How long is IDP valid?

In the 1949 Convention, the IDP was only valid for one year from the date of issuance. But in the amended 1968 Convention on Road Traffic, IDP should be useful for only three years or less. The validity of IDP can be valid for one to three years, depending on the IDP package you choose. You can choose depending on your purpose and the length of your stay in the country. You can always re-apply for an IDP once it expires.

If you’re traveling in the next three years, then the package that is fit for you is the one that is valid for three years from the date of issuance. However, if you just go to Kyrgyzstan in less than a month, it is a practical choice to pick the IDP that is valid for one year only. Just remember that the validity of IDP cannot exceed the validity of your local driver’s license. Once your local driver’s license expires, your IDP is not valid anymore.

So what are you waiting for now? Get your IDP here in the International Driver’s Association. Driving in Kyrgyzstan now is only legal if you have an IDP. The primary function of an IDP is to allow law enforcement authorities to validate your local driver’s license and to read your license in their language. You need it to avoid problems with local authorities in the country.

Road Rules in Kyrgyzstan

If you’re interested to see amazing lakes, mountain ranges, and even the ruins of the silk road, it’s great to rent a car for convenience. Renting a car is an excellent way to explore the country, especially those accessible through group tours or those inaccessible by public transport. The public transport in the country is very limited to buses, taxis, and few intercity trains. Just bring your valid local driving license and your International Driving License in Kyrgyzstan to rent a car.

Car Rental Companies

Kyrgyzstan is a country full of mountains, and many car rental companies provide sports utility vehicles that are excellent for driving in mountainous areas. Just a piece of advice, there are many good car rental agencies located in Bishkek, the capital city, commercial districts, and populist tourist areas. But of course, you need to have an IDP in Kyrgyzstan first before you can rent a car. Make sure that before driving in Kyrgyzstan, you have your tourist visa.

Here is the list of car rental company in the country:

If you’re planning on a road trip and driving in Kyrgyzstan, you can get quotes from car rental companies. Once you have chosen a car and selected your travel dates, you can book a car online. Just fill out the booking form and pay the deposit. You can pay the balance on arrival. There are many car rental companies in airports. If you arrive from Bishkek Manas Airport, you can go driving in Kyrgyzstan airport to anywhere you want to go.

Documents Required

To avoid unnecessary delays, you should bring your essential documents with you. Once you have completed the form and application, you are legally capable of entering into a contract with a car rental company. You need to accept the responsibility for driving in Kyrgyzstan. To rent a car, you need to provide the following documents, so that car rental companies can validate your identity and check if you are a legal driver in your home country:

  • Passport
  • Local Driver’s License
  • International Driver’s Permit
  • Credit card

Vehicle Types

Before you drive in Kyrgyzstan, think of the car that suits your needs and the road conditions. Not every vehicle can go long distances and is excellent in driving in mountain ranges and gorges. Many rental companies meet any of your car needs and offer a wide variety of cars, including economy, mid-size, full-size, and van. Here are the car types you can choose depending on how many you are for the trip and your purpose.

  • Economy car - If you have a tight budget and you are traveling in a group of fewer than four people, you can choose this type of car. Driving in the city or the easy roads around Issyk-Kul Region or Osh is the best option.
  • SUV - This car is perfect for long drives and is built to take on any terrain in Kyrgyzstan. It’s simple to detour in this larger vehicle with a capacity of seven to eight passengers. You can pick a Russian 4x4 to try a whole new experience or a crossover SUV which is easy and efficient to drive even on gravel roads. These are also excellent for winter ski trips.
  • Van - A van is the right one for you if you travel by group of about 12 to 15 passengers. You can travel without feeling also packed for the day as there is still enough luggage space too.

Car Rental Cost

The price of the car also depends on if it is peak or low season in the country. The peak season is from June to September, while the low season is from October to May. If you are driving in Kyrgystan, here are the quotes and the approximate car’s costs per day of rent:

The cost of renting a car depends on the type of car, model, brand, seating capacity, number of days you’ll be renting the vehicle, and the terms of payment. You can choose many options depending on your budget and purpose, but the most prevalent type is the car/sedan. You must pay the fee in cash along with the initial deposit. Also, remember that car rental fees go higher when you rent during peak seasons and weekends.

Age Requirements

In most car rental companies, the minimum age requirement to rent a car in Kyrgyzstan is 23 years old and must have at least two years of driving experience. In case you do not meet this age requirement, you can always rent a car with a professional driver with excellent driving skills and is knowledgeable in Kyrgyz traffic laws and regulations.

You can rent a car in some car categories if you are 21 - 22 years old, given that you pay for the young driver supplement, which is $5 per day. In some car rental companies, if you drive sedans and SUVs, those who are 23 to 65 years old and with at least three years of driving experience are given the authority to rent a car. But if you are over 65 years old, you need to have extended insurance which costs around $5 per day.

Car Insurance Cost

Since February 2016, car insurance is obligatory in Kyrgyzstan. Car insurance’s cost depends on the type of insurance you want and its coverage, so it’s best to call the insurance company to provide you with a detailed consultation and the cost of your insurance policy. All rental cars come with insurance automatically to cover in case of an accident, and you can pick your insurance depending on your needs and budget.

If you are driving a tourist car, the car company is the one who organizes the insurance that will help you secure your life and your travel budget in case any unfortunate events happen in your journey. Once you have car insurance, you can ensure yourself in financial risks when involved in an accident. Always prioritize your safety and security when driving in Kyrgyzstan.

Car Insurance Policy

There are different car insurance policies per company. It’s best to keep your options open and choose depending on your need and your budget. Here are some of the car insurance policies:

  • Voluntary motor third-party liability insurance (VMTPLI) - you can ensure your liability on the road against third persons
  • Cа́sco insurance - you can be insured from damage, theft, or thievery

Some car rental companies give you a car insurance policy that gives you a coverage of $10,000 in third party liability and a $300 deductible (your maximum liability). In Kyrgyzstan, note that insurance does not cover damage to the car caused by your negligence, such as the damage in car windows or headlights during driving through Kyrgyzstan or the tire damage due to driving over a sharp object.

Southern Bishkek Photo by Mike Dudin

Road Rules in Kyrgyzstan

Driving will be more comfortable and safer if you know information about the road rules, driving law, and driving etiquette in Kyrgyzstan. The road rules here in Kyrgyzstan may be different from the road rules in your home country, so it’s best to know these essential rules to avoid violations, fines, and most importantly, save lives.

Important Regulations

The government implements road rules in the country, so be sure that you know and follow these rules when driving in Portugal. The most important rules are listed below:

  • Drunk driving is prohibited, and the legal blood-alcohol content level should be zero
  • The speed limit in residential areas is 20 km/h, while in the built-up areas, it is 60 km/h
  • Drivers must give way to pedestrians at uncontrolled intersections
  • Drivers must have a first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, emergency triangles, and two-wheel blocks in the car
  • Drivers and passengers must wear seat belts, but children under 12 years old are permitted not to wear seatbelts
  • Drivers must always have their driver's documents such as a valid driver’s license, International Driver’s Permit, passport, and car registration document
  • The driving side in Kyrgyzstan is on the right side
  • Driving at night should be avoided due to low lighting and poor road visibility
  • Overtaking is prohibited as most of the country’s roads are two-lane roads
  • The international car plate must be visible
  • Drivers should not stand a vehicle in tunnels, railways crossings, tramway tracks, pedestrian crossings, bridges, and even at intersections
  • Police officers can stop any car to check the driver’s documents

Drunk-driving

In Kyrgyzstan, there is zero-tolerance for drunk driving. You should entirely refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages because drivers must have a 0% legal blood alcohol limit when driving in Kyrgyzstan. Drivers who will violate this law will face a fine of KGS 17,500 or equivalent to $200. Driving under the influence may land you immediately in jail, no matter how little you consumed, as the country has a stringent law for drunk driving.

General Standards of Driving

You need to know what type of cars do locals commonly use when driving in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz uses either a manual or automatic car, depending on their preference. It’s up to you what type of car would you use depending on your budget, preferences, and model available. You can level up your driving skills if you enroll in a driving school. Just keep in mind all the road rules implemented in the country.

Speed Limits

The speed limits vary depending on the type of road you’re driving on. When driving in residential areas, the maximum speed limit is 20 km/h, but if you are in built-up areas, the maximum speed limit is 60 km/h. If you're outside the built-up areas, cars and trucks not more than 3.5 ft can drive up to 110 km/h on motorways and 90 km/h on other roads. If you go with less than two years of driving experience, you can only drive up to 70 km/h.

Pay extra attention when you are driving in front of the schools as you will face a penalty if you go above 40 km/h. Local authorities strictly monitor the speed of vehicles. There are police officers at the start of villages and there are cameras near the villages’ signages. Pay attention to your speed limit when entering a new town. It is essential to stick with the set speed limit to have a quicker response in a dangerous situation and have time to stop. Always follow the speed limits to ensure the safety of your fellow road users.

Traffic Road Signs

Traffic signs guide you in navigating the road. These represent rules to give you relevant information about the road to keep you safe. Whether it is a stop sign, a pedestrian crossing sign, or a no-overtaking sign, you should always follow these rules to keep everyone safe while driving through Kyrgyzstan. Here are the five road sign categories in the country.

Warning signs alert road users to road conditions that might call for slow and safe driving. These signs are distinguishable with a red border, which include the following:

  • Railway crossing without barrier
  • Curve to left
  • Road narrows
  • Pedestrian crossing
  • Slippery road
  • Double curve
  • Intersection
  • Tramway

Priority signs are the ones given importance in the road. Priority signs include:

  • Yield
  • Stop
  • Priority over oncoming traffic
  • End of priority road
  • Roundabout sign
  • Speed Limit sign
  • Mass Limit sign

Prohibitory signs indicate actions that drivers are not allowed to do. These signs prohibit activities that will likely pose dangers to road users’ safety. Some examples are:

  • No entry
  • No right turn
  • No U-turn
  • No overtaking
  • No parking
  • No pedestrians
  • Length restriction
  • Danger

Mandatory signs command road users on things they must comply with while driving. Mandatory signs include:

  • Straight ahead only
  • Right only
  • Left only
  • Pedestrians only
  • Roundabout
  • End of minimum speed limit
  • Direction for vehicles carrying dangerous goods

Lastly, as the name suggests, informational signs provide relevant information to the driver to better understand the area and the place. Most of the informational signs are in green color. Note these signs such as:

  • Highway
  • Traffic direction in the lane
  • Residential area
  • Police station
  • Vehicle control sign
  • One way road
  • Buses lane
  • Dead end

Right of Way

Road safety depends on both the driver and the pedestrians who understand the driving laws and the right-of-way rules. Road users must avoid conflicts at all costs. Pedestrian crosswalks exist at intersections where two roads meet, and pedestrians always have the right-of-way on crosswalks. Drivers must come to a full stop before the crosswalk or before the limit line. Drivers also need to give way to pedestrians at intersections.

In certain situations where the driver has the right of way and crashes into a pedestrian lane, people blame the driver. You can’t blame the pedestrians because they are the most vulnerable of all the road users. Drivers always have the responsibility and duty of care to keep everyone safe on the road. Drivers could and should anticipate any possibility on the road and be prepared to do the immediate action needed at a particular time.

The minimum driving age is the legal age at which the person can lawfully drive on public roads, and the person may already obtain a driver’s license. In Kyrgyzstan, the minimum driving age is 18 years old. You can already drive in the country if you’re at the legal driving age, and you already secured your local driving license and your International Driving License in Kyrgyzstan. Make sure you have all these documents before you drive to different destinations to avoid penalties and fines.

Laws on Overtaking

Overtaking is strictly prohibited in the country, especially on regulated intersections with access to oncoming lanes and on non-regulated intersections when driving on a minor road. You should not overtake when people cross the pedestrian lane and if you are less than 100 meters away from a railway crossing.

Driving Side

You may wonder whether driving in Kyrgyzstan is on the right or the left side of the road. In the country, you need to go on the right side of the road, just like other Central Asian countries. The driving side in Kyrgyzstan is different for most of the British colonies that drive on the left side. So, do not be confused, mostly if you are going on the left side of your home country’s road.

Always be a responsible driver who keeps every road user safe. It is vital to follow the country’s law on road and traffic to keep you safe and away from accidents. Neglecting these rules can lead to accidents, property damage, bodily injury, and theft. Another important thing you need to keep in mind is always to bring your local driving license, an International Driver’s permit, and your passport so that authorities can verify your identity.

Driving Etiquette in Kyrgyzstan

Many possibilities may happen to you when you are driving in Kyrgyzstan. You may encounter different situations that may put you in danger, create a sense of fear and panic in you. When these situations happen, always have a presence of mind. Take note of the driving etiquettes, and be mindful of the things you should do.

Car Breakdown

Car breakdowns are disappointing because they will delay your travel and give you unnecessary problems during your trip. But remember, cars are still machines that are prone to malfunction and breakdowns. When this situation arises, be alert with your environment and locate a safe place to stop blocking the driveway. Turn on your emergency lights and other indicators. Call the emergency services' hotline for help.

Do not leave your car, especially if you are in built-up areas, to avoid accidents. Getting out of your vehicle can distract other drivers. Turn on your hazards to increase your visibility and let other road users know that there's a problem with your car. Contact your car rental company immediately to seek assistance. Help may take a little longer to arrive, but as long as you are safe, that’s all that matters.

Police Stops

It’s essential to properly handle the situation if a police officer stops you while driving in Kyrgyzstan. Do not be scared if you have not violated any traffic rules. Stop your car to a safe location and turn on your hazard to signal the police that you intend to comply. Make yourself visible so that the police officer knows you’re not hiding something. Also, avoid being rude to them and avoid initiating aggressive behavior. Just present your legal documents once the police told you so.

On the other hand, if the police stop you because you violate a driving rule, stay calm. Politely ask the officer about the specific law you violated. Upon request, show your driving license and your International Driving License in Kyrgyzstan. Failure to present these documents is another violation. Usually, you need to pay the fines on the spot to the police officer issuing the citation. Remember the officer’s badge and the patrol car numbers.

Asking Directions

The roads in Kyrgyzstan are not well marked yet on maps. So it’s not fair to rely on the directions pointed by GPS. The best thing to do when you are lost is to ask the locals about the driving directions. What can be challenging here because most locals speak and understand Russian, Kyrgyz, and Uzbek. The hospitality of the locals rises to situations because if you try talking to a person on the side of the road that doesn’t speak the language you know, he’ll call a friend or relative to help you.

There are small populations who can understand the English language. You can try to communicate in English first, but if the locals can’t speak English, you can learn the basic phrases to ask to get to your destinations. The locals are super friendly and warm, and they can give information and the right driving directions. Here are some of the Russian words and phrases to ask for driving directions in Kyrgyzstan:

  • Hello – Zdravstvuyte
  • Excuse me - Izvinite
  • Do you speak English? – vi govorite po angliyski?
  • Help me, please – Pomogite, požalujsta
  • Where is...? – Gde...?
  • Can you tell me where... is, please? - Skažite, požalujsta, gde...?
  • How do I get to...? - Kak doehatʹ do...?
  • How do I get to the airport? - Kak doehatʹ do aèroporta?
  • Is it far? – Èto daleko?
  • Turn right – Povernite na pravo
  • Turn left – Povernite na levo
  • Go straight – Idite prjamo
  • Go Back - Iditye nazad
  • Go down along… - Iditye po...

Checkpoints

There is always strict inspection and surveillance in state borders and checkpoints to ensure people’s safety and security. There are checking to prevent undocumented travelers from going in and out of the country. If you are at a checkpoint, follow the protocols and present your legal documents to the local authorities to give you clearance for your entry or exit. The owner of the vehicle should have all the car registration documents ready as well as his driver's license.

Kyrgyzstan is a land-locked country bordered by four countries in Central Asia. There are different state borders and checkpoints before moving from Kyrgyzstan to another neighboring country, such as the Kyrgyz-Chinese state border, Torugart, and Irkeshtam checkpoints. If you are going to Kazakhstan, there is a checkpoint in Ak-Tilekavdorozhny and Chon-Kapka-Avtodorozhny. You’ll need to go to Dostukavtodorozhny and Dustlik-Avtodorozhny if you want to go to Uzbekistan.

Other Tips

Before driving in Kyrgyzstan, review all its driving laws and traffic laws to keep you safe and secured. But there are times you will experience unfortunate events. In case of dangers and unfamiliar situations, you need to know what to do in accidents. Read below to learn more.

What if I Get Involved in an Accident?

You do not know what will happen to you along the road. Even though you are a responsible driver and follow traffic rules, you can still be involved in an accident if other drivers are reckless. In the case of a vehicular accident, the first thing you need to do is check yourself and your passengers if they are injured. Call for medical assistance right away if someone is hurt. Once you have already established everyone's condition, take pictures of the accident.

You also need to move your car off to the side of the road not to block the traffic. If you can’t drive your vehicle, stay in the area until the police officers arrive. Let the officer take command of the situation and give the accurate details of the accident. Talk with the other party involved and exchange information. Call your insurance company and file an accident report with the police department to speed up your insurance claim.

The following are Kyrgyzstan's emergency numbers:

  • Ambulance (private) - 151
  • Ambulance (public) - 151103
  • Directory - 151109
  • Fire - 15110
  • Police - 151102

Driving Conditions in Kyrgyzstan

The number one safety concern in Kyrgyzstan is road safety. Most of the country’s road infrastructure consists of two-lane roads. Some are in good condition, but some not well-paved. Some roads are inaccessible during the winter, from October to April, so it’s better to find alternative routes. Be extra careful when driving on the narrow and mountain roads since the government does not have roadside assistance infrastructure.

Accident Statistics

In Kyrgyzstan, the level of motorization is about one vehicle per every ten people. However, road traffic accidents and deaths are disproportionately severe. According to World Health Organization’s 2018 data, the country’s road traffic accident deaths reached 1,043. On average, there are 1,220 road fatalities every year. The overall trend in deaths continues to rise, and the road safety situation requires critical attention.

Kyrgyzstan already implemented drink-driving legislation and other laws. However, local drivers still disobey traffic rules by driving while intoxicated, driving over the set speed limits, not stopping at red lights, and not stopping in crosswalks and intersections. The significant problems are drunk driving and hit-and-run accidents. But there are a lot of initiatives to reduce accidents and improve road safety in the country.

Common Vehicles

In Kyrgyzstan, the standard vehicles are sedans and SUVs. If you are checking car rental companies, most car types can drive to mountainous passages. You’ll find trucks, freights, and passenger transports outside main cities and usually on checkpoints and state borders. In 2015, there were 1,330 motor vehicle units registered in the country. It is a record increase from the previous year with 1,250 units reported.

Toll Roads

Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous country where there is a 424 kilometer-internal railway network. The loyal length of Kyrgyzstan’s road is 34,000 kilometers. One of the toll roads in the country is the Bishkek to Osh road. You need to pay KGS 350 or $4.1 to drive on the toll road. Another toll road in Kuvak to Kochkor is an alternative route for the North to South highway.

The Ministry of Transport of Kyrgyzstan determined the toll roads fee. You’ll need to pay KGS 0.57 per kilometer if you have a toll for a passenger car with no more than eight seats. 11 Driving in Kyrgyzstan for buses and mini buses with a mass of not more than 5 tons, you need to pay a toll fee of KGS 1.14 per kilometer. The toll for trucks and tractors with more than 3.5 tons is KGS 2 per kilometer. You will pay a toll depending on the type of car.

Road Situation

About 90% of Kyrgyzstan is mountainous, so most routes involve mountain passes and steep grades. The main roads in Bishkek to Osh, a distance of 672 kilometers, are open all year round, except during heavy weather conditions such as snowfall and avalanches. Driving in winter is risky since snow blocked the way. You also need to remember that there are no highways in the country, and the tunnels lack ventilation and light.

The state of the roads in Batken to Osh and Bishkek is in good condition. From Kochkor to Naryn, the streets are on perfect Chinese tarmac, while the roads in Sary Tash to Osh are in brilliant condition. The rest of the road network in Kyrgyzstan ranges from fair to low. Two main roads in Kyrgyzstan are inaccessible in winter: Song Kol and Naryn to Jalalabad road. If you are driving in Kyrgyzstan, be ready to navigate underdeveloped roads. Road standards in Kyrgyzstan is generally up to par.

Driving Culture

When driving in Kyrgyzstan, local reviews say it is safe. But it is worthy of mentioning that you’ll encounter drivers who don’t follow driving rules. Local drivers ignore traffic lights and do not observe speed limits in areas. Local drivers only follow speed limits when they know that there are some cops around. When driving in Kyrgyzstan, other dangerous factors are uneven pavement, uncovered maintenance holes, potholes, and open drains.

Things To Do in Kyrgyzstan

Besides traveling to this historically rich country in Central Asia, many opportunities are waiting for you here. You can travel, work, live here for good, and enjoy the beauty of Kyrgyzstan.

Drive as a Tourist

It’s a great chance to see the country from all of its sides if you drive as a tourist. Driving in Kyrgyzstan now is renting a car is only possible as long as you have your passport, local driving license, and an International Driving Permit. If the local authority does a spot check, you can present these legal documents. It is a great joy to drive in the country as you’ll discover mountains, pure and fresh scenic views, and you can even travel on the silk road.

Work as a Driver

Entering Kyrgyzstan for work is different from being just a tourist. You need to get a work visa as well as your work permit. Both you and your employer need to work together to avoid delays in the application process. If you are not familiar with the laws and regulations, you could face fines. The government can refuse work permits if the information you put in the application is not correct and if you committed any illegal activities in the country.

Kyrgyzstan’s State migration Service is the one in charge of issuing work permits to foreigners who want to work in the country. You can file your application for an employment permit in electronic format or hard copy. The documents required to obtain an employment permit are the following:

  • Completed application form
  • Copy of the passport of a foreign citizen with a valid visa (notarized translation)
  • Copy of the Diploma of Education (notarized translation)
  • Medical Certificate of HIV-Infection Blood Test
  • Colored matte photos

An employee permit’s application fee costs KGS 2,000 or about $24. Work permits in Kyrgyzstan are usually valid for one year with a possibility of extension. Most of the individuals eligible for more extended permits include skilled foreign employees and foreign executives.

Work as a Travel Guide

A useful travel guide can enhance tourists’ experience and help your vacation be more memorable and fun. Travel guides are the ones who will show you the rich history of Kyrgyzstan and its culture and heritage. You can work as a freelance travel guide in the country as long as you secure contracts with authorized travel agencies and secure your working permit.

Of course, before you’ll be a travel guide, you need to have a good command of the Kyrgyz or Russian language. As a foreigner, you also need to be politically, culturally, historically, and linguistically competent to discuss Kyrgyzstan’s history and culture. Travel guides share knowledge engagingly and entertainingly and know different locations by heart.

Apply for Residency

In Kyrgyzstan, you can apply for a temporary or permanent residence. The Ministry of Interior is the state body that issues residence permits. Here is the list of documents you need to complete if you are applying for a temporary or permanent residence in the country:

  • Completed application form
  • National passport (notarized translation)
  • Document confirming the home of a citizen in the Kyrgyz Republic for at least five years
  • Birth certificate (notarized translation)
  • Autobiography
  • Letter of employment verification
  • Residence certificate
  • Marriage certificate
  • Copy of spouse’s passport
  • Spouse’s notarized consent to obtain a residence permit
  • Permission of the owner of the house for residence registration
  • Copy of the passport of the owner of the house
  • Contract of sale and purchase of the house
  • Technical passport to the house
  • AIDS, RCMH (Republican Center for Mental Health), RND (Republican Narcological Dispensary)
  • Certificate of a clean criminal record of a foreign citizen
  • Two copies of documents for a permanent residence permit
  • A single copy of documents for a temporary residence permit

Your residence permit can be denied or revoked if you have given false information in an application for a visa or residence permit. You are involved in illegal activities, or you cannot support yourself or your dependents in the country.

The Top Destinations in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is a pristine mountainous country that will surely attract nature lovers and hikers all over the world. Before driving in Kyrgyzstan, map out all the places you want to go to, so you’ll know which locations are near each other.

Bishkek Photo by Irene Strong

Bishkek

The capital city of Kyrgyzstan and the greenest city in Central Asia is Bishkek. Driving in Kyrgyzstan's capital city is a dynamic and modern city trip. As a former republic of the USSR, Kyrgyzstan is full of much Soviet-era architecture, but it still retained its Kyrgyz culture. Manas Airport in Bishkek is the country’s main airport, and this will probably be the one you will enter and depart.

Driving Directions:

  1. From Manas International Airport in Bishkek, head west on Airport Parking Road toward Exit Road
  2. Turn right onto Manas Airport Road.
  3. Continue onto Fuchik Street.
  4. Turn left onto Den Xiaoping Avenue.
  5. Continue straight onto Chuy Avenue.

Things to Do

  1. Go to the National State Museum of History.

This museum is in the main square of Bishkek. There is a collection of bizarre murals with socialist scenes and political messages and how Kyrgyzstan became an independent state. This museum used to be called Lenin Museum during the Soviet era.

2. Taste local cuisine.

Meat is a big part of Kyrgyz cuisine. Most of the local food consists of beef and mutton served in dumplings, noodles, or rice. You can also take a cooking class and learn how to make a proper local dish.

3. Relax at a Banya.

A banya is a Russian sauna, and the primary health benefit is sweating out toxins in your body. The massages are also useful for body circulation. A popular sauna in Bishkek is the Zhirgal Banya Bathhouse, which is at its peak during winter.

4. Visit Bishkek’s Bazaars

The capital city has the most exciting bazaars where you can find old items from the Soviet era. Go to the Osh Bazaar at the corner of Kuliev and Chu streets. You can also go to Dordoi Bazaar, a massive market for imports with over 30,000 containers selling items globally.

5. Go to Kyrgyz National Opera and Ballet Theater of Abdylas Maldybayev.

The theatre showcases local students’ performances and different Kyrgyz and Russian artists where there are permanent ballet groups and opera in the theater. It also hosts artistic events and occasional classical concerts.

Ala Archa Photo by Yaroslav Maltsev

Ala Archa National Park

Just 30 minutes away from Bishkek, you’ll find Ala Archa National Park. The name Ala Archa translates as “striped juniper” that characterizes the juniper forests and beautiful landscape. It is one of the few national parks easily accessible in Kyrgyzstan, about 40 kilometers south of the capital city. There are several glaciers and river gorges, which is a perfect place to relax and unwind.

Driving Directions:

  1. If you are driving in Kyrgyzstan from Manas Airport, head west on Airport Parking Road toward Exit Road
  2. Turn right onto Manas Airport Road.
  3. Continue onto Fuchik Street.
  4. Continue onto Moskovskaya Street.
  5. Turn right onto Asanaliev Street/Ulitsa Asanaliyeva.
  6. Go left onto Dooronbek Kadyrbayev Street.
  7. Turn left onto Gagarin Street.
  8. Make a right onto Dooronbek Kadyrbayev Street.
  9. Turn left to reach Ala Archa National Park.

Things to Do

  1. Go on a hike or trek.

The national park is a great place to accustom yourself to high altitudes. It’s worth going on a day hike in the mountains and camping there at night. You’ll get the experience of being surrounded by the rugged landscapes of the Tien Shan mountain range.

2. Have a picnic with your family.

Spend time with your family under the trees in the park. Bring some snacks and drinks since there are no shops around the area. Enjoy the moment and see the beautiful view.

3. Climb Peak Komsomolets.

It is an annual tradition in May to climb Peak Komsomolets known as the Alpinada Festival. Anybody can join this event as long as you can climb more than 2,000 meters. It’s best also to join the Trekkers Union of Kyrgyzstan.

4. Go to the Ak Sai Glacier.

You can hike from the Ak Sai waterfall trail to the glacier. Hike the glacier, which is as steep as 2,800 meters to 3,300 meters. It takes about three to four hours to complete the hike, and you don’t need a tour guide since the blue trail marks are apparent. After that, you can camp in Ratzel hut.

5. Go to Ala Archa River Trail.

The Ala Archa River Trail is the most comfortable hike to follow since it only takes about one hour one way of the walk. It is up to you to continue another eight kilometers to reach an abandoned Soviet Ski Resort and some glaciers.

Lake Issyk-Kuk Photo by Mike Dudin

Lake Issyk-Kul

Do you know that the seventh deepest lake in the world and the tenth-largest by volume is Lake Issyk-Kul? Yes, that’s right! It is also the second-largest saline lake after the Caspian Sea. It lies in the mountain range of Tien Shan in the northern part of the country. You can get around the country by driving in Kyrgyzstan, riding a bus, or waiting for public transport. The most convenient and flexible of these three options is by driving in Kyrgyzstan.

Driving Directions:

  1. From Konorchek Canyon, head southwest on A365.
  2. At the roundabout, take the 1st exit and stay on A365.
  3. Sharp left toward A365.
  4. Continue onto A365.
  5. Continue on Ozernaya to your destination.

Things to Do

  1. Swim in the lake.

Even though Issyk-Kul means “warm lake,” the water’s average temperature reaches 6ºC – 15º. It’s worth a try how long you can stay in the water. The Lake is the perfect place to enjoy the lake’s refreshing and cool water and also a place to enjoy some sun.

2. Rent a boat.

The length of the lake is about 180 kilometers. The water is extremely clear, but it’s a bit salty. If you don’t want to swim, you can rent a boat for a day. It’s just beautiful to see the relaxing view when riding on a boat.

3. Stay with nomadic families.

There are yurt camps near the lake, and you may learn more about the Central Asian nomadic culture by staying with them for a few nights. Participate in their daily activities and know various skills you need to live as a nomad in the country.

4. Learn how to build a yurt camp.

Yurts are important symbols of the Kyrgyz culture, which existed thousands of years ago. The circular crown pattern on top of the yurt is a national symbol in the country’s flag. It’s worth trying to learn the yurt building technique and set it up for one to two hours.

5. Go to an ethnocultural festival.

The southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul offers different celebrations and cultural events throughout the year. You’ll know more about Kyrgyz food, music, dance, clothes, sports, and their history.

Osh Kyrgyzstan Photo by Oziel Gómez

Osh

Osh lies at an elevation of 3,300 feet on the Akbura River. It used to be a crossroads of essential routes in the Silk Road. But it retained its lively place with the largest outdoor market in Central Asia. Osh is the home of Mount Sulaiman, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This sacred mountain has mosques and places of worship connected by footpaths. Driving in Kyrgyzstan from city to city is convenient if you are renting a car.

Driving Directions:

  1. From Kara Kuldja, continue to A370.
  2. Turn right toward A370.
  3. Continue on A370. Take E010/M41 to A Shakirova Street in Osh.
  4. Continue straight onto A370/E010/M41.
  5. Turn right onto M41.
  6. Continue onto Monueva Street.
  7. Follow A Shakirova Street to reach Osh.

Things to Do

  1. Go to the Sulaiman-Too Mountain.

Sulaiman is a sacred mountain that is an important place of pilgrimage. Its slopes and five peaks have interconnected paths. It is where sick people come to pray and ask for healing.

2. Shope at Jayma Bazzar

Jayma Bazaar is on the Akbura River’s edge, and it is one of the oldest bazaars in Central Asia. You can spend your day checking different stalls that sell local-produced items and some souvenirs.

3. Stay at home with the Kyrgyz family.

One of the best ways to know more about the Kyrgyz way of life is to stay in their home for a few nights. You will also have a chance to taste local dishes to sleep on mattresses or shyrdaks (thick blankets).

4. Relax at Navoi Park

Navoi park is a great place to hang out with your family or meet locals. You’ll find Soviet-era amusement parks and many coffee shops. Just tour around the area and learn about the Kyrgyz culture.

5. Visit the Second Largest Lenin Statue in Central Asia.

A Lenin Statue, which is about 30 meters high, sits on the edge of Petrovsky Square. Learn more about Osh’s history and check out other monuments on the Great Patriotic War and the Chernobyl’s Disaster.

When you are driving in Kyrgyzstan, know the zip code of these top destinations and the places you want to visit, not to be lost. Just make sure you have your International Driver’s Permit to explore Kyrgyzstan freely and conveniently.

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