Transport and Driving in Kazakhstan
As the world's largest landlocked country and one of its most sparsely populated, getting around in Kazakhstan is not always an easy task. Because of the country's sprawling size, an expat's experience of driving and transport in Kazakhstan will vary greatly from place to place.
While there are various public transport options and well-developed roads in large cities like Almaty and Astana, the country's more rural areas are likely to have considerably less to offer in this regard.
Public transport in Kazakhstan
Almaty is home to the country's only metro system, although a light metro system is currently being planned in Astana. The metro in Almaty is clean and a cheap and fast way to get around. However, with just one line of 11km (7 miles), the metro has limited usefulness.
Trains can be a good way to travel locally and regionally within Kazakhstan, and can even be taken to neighbouring countries – provided that time is not an issue. Trains in Kazakhstan are a slow but very cheap way to travel. Countries like Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan can be reached by train.
There are tram systems in the cities of Oskemen, Pavlodar and Temirtau. There used to be a tram service in Almaty too, but the service has been suspended indefinitely since October 2015.
Travelling by bus in Kazakhstan is faster than travelling by train, but slower than travelling by taxi or car. However, buses tend not to stick to any particular schedule, and most bus drivers will only speak Russian, making this an inconvenient way to travel for most expats. On the upside, fares are cheap.
A marshrutka is a kind of minibus or van that is larger than a regular car but smaller than a bus. They run on fixed routes around town and tend to be rather dilapidated. However, they can be a useful way to speed up a journey as they are usually faster than buses.
Taxis in Kazakhstan
Taxis can usually be found outside bus and train stations throughout Kazakhstan. While more expensive than trains or buses, they are still relatively cheap, and the cost can be reduced further by sharing a taxi ride with other passengers. This is a fairly common practice, but waiting around for other passengers to materialise can be frustrating.
Most taxi drivers will speak only Russian, and it's a good idea to brush up on the language to avoid being overcharged.
Driving in Kazakhstan
Despite the availability of cheap petrol for cars, expats planning to drive in Kazakhstan may have a difficult time ahead of them. Road quality throughout the country is highly variable, with some roads being in excellent condition and others being in dire need of repair and replacement. One constant is that drivers in Kazakhstan are known for being reckless on the road.
To add further complications, the traffic police in Kazakhstan are notoriously corrupt. They will often stop cars to search for even the most minute of irregularities. If they find something, they may try to solicit a bribe on the spot, with the alternative being a costlier fine and a long-winded bureaucratic process. To avoid this situation, expats should drive extremely carefully at all times and make themselves familiar with all of Kazakhstan's driving laws.
Expats wishing to drive in Kazakhstan will need an international driving permit.
Cycling in Kazakhstan
There is little to no cycling infrastructure in Kazakhstan, although that doesn't stop a few enthusiastic locals from dusting off their bikes every year and taking a few rides once summer has arrived. The only real option is to cycle on the road, but cyclists will need to be prepared to encounter irate drivers and must keep their wits about them at all times.
Walking in Kazakhstan
It is relatively safe to walk around in Kazakhstan but it is always preferable to arrange to travel via car or public transport instead, particularly at night.