Safety in Kyrgyzstan

Even though Kyrgyz people are generally welcoming toward foreigners, expats must still be vigilant about their personal safety in Kyrgyzstan. That said, most obvious dangers can be avoided with a bit of common sense and a heightened awareness of the surrounding environment. It should also be noted that political and ethnic unrest within the past decade has not directly affected expats, and daily routines have always resumed within a few days.

Crime in Kyrgyzstan

Petty crimes, such as pick-pocketing, are the most common safety threat to foreigners, especially on public transportation or in crowded public areas and markets. Foreigners can also be targets for muggings, so it is important not to walk alone at night. Common sense practices such as acting discrete (especially when speaking English), trying to blend in, and not carrying large sums of money can help expats avoid drawing unwanted attention.

Foreigners may naturally draw attention in Kyrgyzstan, including unsolicited physical contact. Usually, it is harmless and fueled more by curiosity. In general, foreign women are rarely targeted for harassment or catcalling, but they should nevertheless be aware of their surroundings and be cautious if walking alone.

Protests and unrest in Kyrgyzstan

During episodes of political and ethnic unrest such as those of June 2010, Western expats were not targeted or affected by violence (unless they put themselves directly in the protests) and the biggest concerns they faced were that major businesses closed for a few days. It is advisable to avoid joining protests and to lay low if a tense situation arises. Ethnic unrest has been limited to parts of southern Kyrgyzstan.

Driving safety in Kyrgyzstan

There is organised chaos to driving in Kyrgyzstan. The default speed is fast and drivers are willing to swerve around anything in their way to get to their destination. Traffic laws are rarely enforced and it's not unusual for traffic police to try to solicit a bribe. It follows that expats should drive defensively and be aware at all times.

The condition of the main road network throughout Kyrgyzstan is not perfect but has improved dramatically over the past few years due to investment projects from China or the US. Outside of cities the roads become more speckled with pot-holes and are poorly lit, which is especially dangerous when travelling over mountain passes.

One source of concern on the road is that although Kyrgyz cars drive on the right side of the road, some locals and expats may drive British-style vehicles with the steering wheel situated on the right, making some drivers more unaware of their surroundings.

Emergency services in Kyrgyzstan

There are emergency services in Kyrgyzstan’s larger cities and resort towns, but the employees do not speak English. Medical service is inexpensive, though Kyrgyz hospitals are best avoided if possible. There are private hospitals and clinics in Bishkek with better-trained staff and newer equipment, though their services cost more. For simple treatments, some Kyrgyz doctors make house calls.

Expats cal dial the following in an emergency:

  • Fire: 101

  • Police: 102

  • Hospital: 103

Kirstin Styers Our Expat Expert

I'm a 23-year-old media analyst starting a research organization in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I previously lived in Jordan and Iraq, studying Arabic and consuming massive quantities of hummus, but gave it up to learn Russian and develop media projects across Central Asia. I try to tell some of Kyrgyzstan's untold stories through my photography and writing on my personal blog. I'm also working hard to bring the magic of cupcakes to Bishkek.

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