Doing Business in Kazakhstan

With the country's rich oil and gas reserves and booming economy, many expats find doing business in Kazakhstan an attractive prospect. From mineral resources and space technology to opportunities in agriculture and finance, Kazakhstan has a lot to offer.

In the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business survey for 2018, Kazakhstan achieved a rank of 36th out of the 190 countries surveyed. The country did particularly well in categories such as protecting minority investors (1st) and enforcing contracts (6th), but ranked poorly in trading across borders (123rd).

The most common complaint among expats doing business in Kazakhstan is the bureaucracy that seems to lurk around every corner. This is a legacy of the bygone Soviet era and is something that should be taken into account when planning business operations.

Despite its lingering bureaucratic issues, Kazakhstan's economy is the largest in Central Asia and, as such, it is an excellent destination for those looking to do business.


Fast facts

Business hours

9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.

Business language

Russian is the language of business, although multinational corporations with offices in Kazakhstan may operate in another language such as English.

Dress

It is best to dress in formal business attire as dressing too casually may be taken as an insult.

Gifts

Small gifts are acceptable in a business setting and are generally opened right away.

Gender equality

Women are largely seen as equals in business settings.

Greetings

Handshakes are the appropriate greeting in a business setting. If greeting a woman, expat men should wait for her to extend her hand first.


Business culture in Kazakhstan

Meetings

Interpersonal relationships are of great importance to Kazakhstani businesspeople, and those doing business in Kazakhstan should be prepared to spend some time getting to know their business associates. Small talk is common at the start of a meeting.

When it's time to get down to business, Kazakhstanis can be tough negotiators and may even raise their voice during negotiations. Expats are free to hold their ground, but should never argue or contradict someone more senior than they are.

Hierarchy

Seniority is greatly respected in Kazakhstan, and expats will notice that there is a definite hierarchy when it comes to decision-making in Kazakhstani companies. The higher-ups will tend to make all of the company's decisions without consulting the company's employees, and employees will tend to look to their supervisors when unsure of something.

Hospitality

Kazakhstanis are known for being extremely welcoming to foreigners, and it is likely that expats will be invited to the home of a business associate during their time in Kazakhstan. Such an invitation should always be accepted, as turning it down would be considered a slight to the host. It is polite to bring along a small gift, such as sweets or pastries. As many Kazakhstanis are practising Muslims, it is best not to give alcohol as a gift.


Dos and don'ts of business in Kazakhstan

  • Do ask questions about your Kazakhstani business associate's family and health at the start of meetings

  • Don't try to rush the initial small talk in meetings

  • Don't ask questions related to ethnicity

  • Do get business cards printed in English on one side and Russian on the other

  • Do make eye contact when shaking hands