Moving to Kazakhstan
Expats moving to Kazakhstan will encounter an ethnically and geographically diverse country with vast fossil fuel and mineral resources that is just beginning to make its mark on the world economic stage. The country became independent from Soviet rule in 1991 and has since made headway as a market economy.
Kazakhstan is one of the world’s top oil producers and the biggest producer of uranium. Foreign companies and international banks also have branches in Kazakhstan. And the country’s entry into the world economic stage has opened up lucrative jobs for expats teaching English.
Expats usually relocate to either Almaty (the former capital) or to Astana (the current capital) in the north. Almaty – 'the city of apples' – is the country’s largest city and situated in the fertile, mountainous south, with a skyline that's a blend of the old Soviet and pre-Soviet era. Astana is across the windswept central steppe in the north, and by contrast, characterised by new, modern buildings and rapid growth.
The country’s troubled past – including Stalin-era persecution of Kazakh elites, artists and academics, and the mass relocation of Russians and other ethnicities under Stalin – means that the nation is ethnically diverse. The dominant religion is Islam, but legislature is self-consciously tolerant and promotes multi-culturalism to encourage foreign collaboration. This official tolerance has led to Kazakhstan being dubbed the 'Singapore of the Steppes'.
In reality, there are some ethnic tensions that expats should be sensitive to when in the presence of Kazakhstanis, who lack a unified national identity. Violent clashes do occasionally occur.
Relocating to Kazakhstan isn’t for everyone. The vast, empty steppe and lack of historical sites and attractions puts some visitors off, while others are drawn to the exceptionally beautiful landscape. As the largest landlocked country in the world, its sheer size could come as a shock to expats from Western Europe. Although buses and trains connect cities, travelling times can be long.
Expats moving to Kazakhstan from milder climes should prepare for the surprising variation in temperatures, with long, freezing winters and short, hot summers.
There are both public and private clinics and hospitals, and both are cheaper than in the USA. Private medical insurance, while available, is uncommon. Many companies in cities have arrangements with certain clinics where employees can get free treatment. While medical facilities and staff in the cities are fairly good, the quality of healthcare in rural areas is likely to be far behind Western standards.
For expats moving to Kazakhstan with family, the country has a good education system with free compulsory education until the end of high school. There are also a handful of private international schools in Almaty and Astana, for the most part offering international curricula