Currency - The tenge is the currency of Kazakhstan. It is divided into 100 tiyn (also transliterated as tiyin or tijin). The origin of the word is the Turkic tenge - which means being equal, balance. The name of this currency is thus similar to the lira, pound and peso. On 15 November 1993, the National Bank of Kazakhstan issued notes in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 tiyn, 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, and 50 tenge; 100 tenge notes followed shortly thereafter. These were followed in 1994 by 200, 500, and 1,000 tenge notes. 2,000 tenge notes were introduced in 1996, with 5,000 tenge in 1999 and 10,000 tenge on 28 July 2003.
Metro - Almaty’s new metro was due to open at the end of 2010. The first stretch of line runs from Rayymbek station, near Almaty-II train station, about 3km south beneath Furmanov as far as Abay, then 4km west beneath Abay to Alatau station. There are five intermediate stations on this line. Metro construction originally started in 1988 but work proceeded in fits and starts until major funds were allocated in 2005.
Money - ATMs abound at banks, shopping centres, supermarkets, hotels, some train stations and elsewhere. Look for ‘Bankomat’ signs. Most accept at least Maestro, Cirrus, Visa and MasterCard. You can make purchases with credit cards (Visa and MasterCard preferred) at a fair number of shops, restaurants, hotels and travel agencies. There is often a surcharge for doing so. Bring a little cash (euros or US dollars) to start out and as a fallback if you run out of tenge. Exchange offices (marked ‘Obmen Valyuty’) are common on city streets. You can change US-dollar or euro travellers cheques at many banks but it’s time-consuming and there’s usually a 2% fee. Amex is the most widely accepted brand.
Entertainment - If you can make some sense of Russian (or have an online translation tool), Time Out Almaty (www.timeout.kz) is a great source of listings, reviews and contact details.
Shopping - Stalls inside the Central State Museum and the Kazakhstan Museum of Arts are good places to look for Central Asian crafts and carpets.
Customs - Customs declaration forms don’t need to be filled in on entering the country unless you are carrying goods above normal duty-free limits. Up to US$3000 cash in any currencies can be taken into or out of the country without a written declaration.
Internet - Public internet facilities are abundant, and generally charge 300T to 400T per hour. Nearly all midrange and top-end hotels, and some budget accommodation and cafes and restaurants, have wi-fi (sometimes free, sometimes not).
Post - Airmail letters under 20g to anywhere outside the CIS cost around 300T. If you have anything of importance to post it’s generally safer and quicker to use an international courier firm. DHL (www.dhl.kz) has a particularly wide network of drop-off centres around the country.
Driving - Self-drive rates for one or two days start around 8500T per day. Companies offering self-drive rentals include the following: Dixie Travel (www.dixie.kz; Zheltoksan 59) This firm allows cars to be driven anywhere in Kazakhstan. Hertz (www.hertz.kz; Office 15/3B, Timiryazev 42). Rent A Car Ivan (www.rentacar.ar.kz; Furmanov 230-86).
Taxi - There are some official taxis – marked with chequerboard logos or other obvious signs – but many private cars also act as taxis. Just stand at the roadside with your arm out and you’ll rarely have to wait more than six or eight cars before one stops. Say where you’re going and how much you’re offering. If you can’t agree on a price, let the car go and wait for another.
Practicalities - Local broadcasting and press are in Russian and Kazakh, but TVs in better hotels often receive international channels such as CNN and BBC World. A few top-end hotel bookshops and newsstands in Almaty and Astana erratically sell a few Western news magazines and newspapers, plus the worthwhile, Bishkek-published Times of Central Asia.
City & Street Names - Kazakh names replaced the Soviet-era Russian names of most Kazakhstan cities in the 1990s. In a few cases, mostly in the heavily ethnic-Russian north, the old names are still more commonly used: more people still talk of Uralsk rather than Oral, and of Ust-Kamenogorsk than Oskemen. Most city streets also have Kazakh names. In some cities you may see Kazakh and Russian street names side by side, and in the north you may see Russian only. The Kazakh for street (Russian: ‘ulitsa’) is ‘koshesi’; for avenue (‘prospekt’) ‘dangyly’, and for square (‘ploshchad’) ‘alangy’. Meanwhile, many local people continue to use some still-familiar Soviet street names. In this chapter we use the names that are most commonly used.
Time zone - 5 hrs ahead of GMT
Registration - For nationalities on the ‘economically developed and politically stable’ list, registration may be carried out when visas are issued at a Kazakhstan embassy or consulate. If it doesn’t happen there, it happens automatically on arrival at the country’s international airports. Two entry stamps (one is not enough) on your migration card are the indication that registration has taken place and is valid for 90 days. Travellers entering by land or sea, or who for any reason don’t get registered on airport arrival, have to register with the migration police (Migratsionnaya Politsia, Koshi-Kon Politsiyasi, OVIR) no later than day five of their stay in the country if they are staying in Kazakhstan beyond that day (counting the arrival date as day one). Many hotels and travel agencies can handle your registration or you can spend time going to the migration police in Almaty, Astana or one of Kazakhstan’s 14 regional capitals, where registration can cost from nothing to 3000T. Migration police offices are generally open for limited hours, on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday only, and also close on public holidays and often on Mondays following public holidays that fall on a weekend. Take your passport, your migration card and the address of your hotel (don’t give a private address). Addresses of regional migration police offices are given at http://e.gov.kz under Citizenry/Migration/ List of Migration Police’s Regional Units: click a region and the local headquarters will be at the top of the next page. Note that if you have a double-entry visa, you must obtain registration again on your second entry (unless you are leaving Kazakhstan again within five days). The registration rules change from time to time and may be interpreted differently in different places: check the situation when you get your visa and again when you reach Kazakhstan. If your visa was obtained with a letter of invitation (LOI) and you are registering at a migration police office, you should have the LOI issuer help you out. If they can’t (for example if they are in Almaty and you are on the other side of the country), provincial migration police will often only register you for five days and you will need to show them your LOI. You can get registration for the duration of your visa once you hook up with your LOI issuer.
Travel Permits - A special permit (sometimes called a propusk) is needed for travel to sensitive areas close to the Chinese border, notably the Altay Mountains and Mt Khan Tengri. Tour firms taking you to these areas can arrange such permits, but processing can take up to 45 days. A permit is also officially required for areas near the Kyrgyz border in the mountains south of Almaty. Local guides know the score. Baykonur Cosmodrome can only be visited on tours organised through agencies and you need to start the paperwork process about two months ahead.
Safety - Kazakhstan is a safe country to travel in, provided that you maintain normal safety precautions. Try to avoid the police, who are often only interested in foreigners as possible sources of bribes for minor ‘infringements’. Though police harassment is less common these days, it can still happen. It’s best not to carry much cash around, and you wouldn’t want to let your wallet into police hands. If you are stopped on the street, show only a photocopy of your passport and visa. Writing down a name and badge number helps to keep police honest (and may unmask impostors).
Tips on Safety - You can cut down on the potential for crime by following these tips: Be especially alert in crowded situations such as bazaars and bus station ticket scrums, where pockets and purses may be easily picked. Avoid parks at night, even if it means going out of your way. Take officially licensed taxis in preference to private ones. At night don't get into any taxi with more than one person in it. Travellers who rent a flat are warned to be sure the doors and windows are secure, and never to open the door - day or night - to anyone they do not clearly know. If you're the victim of a crime, contact the militsia (police), though you may get no help from them at all. Get a report from them if you hope to claim on insurance for anything that was stolen, and contact your closest embassy for a report in English. If your passport is stolen, the police should also provide a letter to OVIR, which is essential for replacing your visa.
Business hours - In general most government offices and banks are open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, with an hour (or two) off for lunch between noon and 1pm, and possibly 9am to noon on Saturday.
Respect - In Kazakhstan, and in Central Asia in general, elderly people are greatly respected. Always treat the elderly with great respect and be deferent to them in all situations. Also be polite with females. Traditionally it is not welcomed to flirt openly with woman, but cities like Almaty has gone far from conservatism. If you are a male and there is an option to address a male with the question instead of female, choose it.
Luggage - A shoulder bag with a strong strap or a small rucksack is the most practical way of carrying cameras and personal belongings during your stay. Your entire luggage should be secured with a padlock. Always make sure that all cases and bags are clearly labeled. The label should carry your name and destination details but not your home address. It is a good idea to label your luggage on the inside. This will enable airport authorities to identify your luggage should it become lost, or the labels removed. Never leave your luggage unattended at airports or train stations. Your free airline luggage allowance is 20 kg per person, plus one additional piece of 'carry-on' hand luggage on domestic flights within Central Asia, except to Turkmenistan, where the maximum baggage allowance is 10 kg. Because you will be traveling in some areas where travel conditions are rather basic, travelers are strongly urged to restrict their luggage to one main suitcase or backpack and one carry-on overnight bag.
Photography in Kazakhstan - No obstacles are presented to visitors who wish to photograph places of historical interest. Photography inside some religious monuments and in airports, railway stations or near military installations may not be allowed. If in doubt ask your local guide. Please also note that there is a fee for photography in most sightseeing places (not included in your tour price). Film and batteries are available in major cities, but we recommend you purchase your supply before arrival, particularly if you have the latest model or a sophisticated type of camera that requires a specific type of film and/or batteries. If you're taking film to shoot, bear in mind that your bag will be x-rayed at least 3 times at the airport and going in and out of every train station too.
Eating - You won’t find a better range of good restaurants anywhere else in Central Asia. A large range of international cuisines is represented and some places have great design and ambience too..
Tipping - Travelers may wish to express their appreciation - a reward for extra service - to the porters, waiters, drivers and guides. The degree of appreciation may vary, and our policy is to leave this to your discretion. This is usually given individually in an envelope at the end of the tour/service.
Electrical Appliances - The current (voltage) is 220V, 50 Hz, AC two pin plugs. In some of the old buildings sockets do not take modern European plugs and may have slightly thicker pins. For your convenience, local stores carry adaptors. Current adaptors for American appliances are a little more difficult to find.
Public Toilets - Many cafes and bars have a toilet facility, but it is advised to avoid unhygienic public toilets. Visitors are advised to go to the nearest hotel, or if there is no alternative, to use pay toilets. It should be noted that toilet facilities are limited even in Almaty, not to mention provincial capitals or the areas along the motorways.