Arrival and registration requirements
When entering Kazakhstan, travelers receive a white registration card. You must retain this card throughout your stay in Kazakhstan. Two stamps on the card indicate that the traveler is registered. If the card contains only one stamp, the traveler must register with the Migration Police (OVIR) within 5 days. If you stay less than 5 days, you do not need registration (arriving at 23:55 counts as a full day!).
If you arrive by airplane, you will get two stamps at the airport and you do not need to register with the Migration Police anymore. If you arrive over land or sea, you do need to register. Some travelers have been able to get 2 stamps directly at a land border, but this privilege seems reserved for cute Japanese girls.
The OVIR offices are generally loud, busy and confusing. Try to go with a local if you do not speak Russian. All registrations should be free and valid for three months, regardless of where they are issued. This means that you can keep your registration card when you leave and enter Kazakhstan again in case you have a multiple entry visa. Many border guards however tend to take your registration card, in which case you will have to register again on re-entering Kazakhstan.
The process: you will need a copy of your passport and your Kazakh visa and the address of the hotel where you are staying at (if you are staying at a private flat things might be more complicated and additional documents from your hosts may be needed – in this event we are told to NOT recommend registering yourself, but to do it through a travel agent for KZT 3000 – 4000. We always do it ourselves though, it has never been a problem.
There is always a copy shop nearby OVIR. Give your papers to the migration police officer (locating the correct window might take some time even if you speak Russian) and she will hand you 2 forms to fill in your data. Possibly she might tell you that you need to get these forms from the copy shop as well. Hand in the forms, together with your passport. You get one form back, stamped, with which you should return later (the officer will tell you when) to pick up your passport and registration. Later usually means 1 or 2 days later. Sometimes, 15 minutes is all they need.
Overstaying Kazakhstan visa
Overstaying your visa in Kazakhstan can result in heavy penalties. How much you will have to pay depends on your ability to talk yourself out of things and the mood of the border guards. Kazakh tourist visas can not be extended. If you want to stay longer in Kazakhstan, you will need to apply for a new visa in a neighbouring country.
Procedure for registration at migration police (thanks to Neoh)
1. Check to see where their office is. It's at 29 Seyfulin in Astana and 86 Karasay Batyr in Almaty.
2. Walk straight to the registration counter - it should have a sign saying "registration" or "регистрация" in Cyrillic. It's counter No.7 in the Astana office and counter No. 3 in the Almaty office. Ignore the long line of people at the counter for forms outside.
3. Depending on your luck, the officer will fill in the form for you, or you will need to fill in a form (100% in Cyrillic) yourself. If it's the second case, refer below for helpful translation.
4. I was not asked for photocopies of my passport, but it's a good idea to bring one along. In any case, there are always photo-taking and photo-copy shops near the migration police office.
5. The whole process only took 15 mins for me. But it could take up to a day.
6. I went one day an hour before closing and the place was packed. The second time I went just after lunchtime and it was much more manageable.
Sounds easy right? Well, only because it took me two visits to work this out. The migration police office is super crowded and no one speaks any English, expect for maybe one officer - the key is to find this person. I did the civilised thing and lined up for a form, only to discover that they had given me the wrong one after I brought it back to the hostel to be translated by a friend.
Lesson learnt. I marched back into the office the following day brandishing my laptop and a picture of the correct form on it. I was immediately pointed in the right direction. Seems like the more obvious you make it you're a foreigner, the better the outcome. Don't bother being all polite and asking in broken Russian. Also, in a huge crowd, try to differentiate yourself. Waving a laptop above my head got me noticed in 5 seconds. There may be other ways. Be creative.
What happens if you "forget"?
Well, it really depends on whether you get checked, and if you get let off (unlikely). Otherwise they have been known to impose a fine (USD200) and/or delay you until you miss your flight/train/bus. Just get it done. Why risk it.
This is the Kazakh migration card. You will receive BOTH stamps if you arrive by airplane, but only the top right stamp if you get in via a land border. To get the bottom left stamp, you'll have to jump through some hoops at the migration police office.
I have read that if you ask really nicely in Russian at the land border, and/or you're devastatingly good looking, it's possible to get two stamps. I don't know because the land border I crossed was really busy and there wasn't any time to explore this.
The cryptic Registration Form. Translation NOT provided. I didn't have to fill it up. The nice lady at the counter generated a pre-filled one for me from her PC, with a smile. It really depends on your luck.