The Leading Global Portal for Diplomats!    
    Keep in touch with the community Prepare for your new career Take care of personal affairs Chat with diplomats online      
Home > New Posting > Post Reports
Preface Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Independent since 1991, Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world, roughly the size of Western Europe or four times the size of Texas. Located in the heart of Central Asia, Kazakhstan is bordered by Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and the Caspian Sea.

Those who serve in a tour in Kazakhstan have the opportunity to visit the ancient Silk Road cities of Turkestan, Taraz, and Otrar in southern Kazakhstan and Samarkand, Khiva, and Bukhara in neighboring Uzbekistan. Outdoor recreational possibilities are abundant: Downhill skiing and ice skating facilities are only a 20-minute drive from Almaty's city center; snowshoeing, hiking, horse riding, and falcon hunting are all possible in surrounding areas.

The weather in Almaty is mild with plenty of sunshine. Regular rains keep Almaty green into the autumn months, and roses bloom from May to October. The growing availability of Western goods and services, a wide range of improving restaurants, and a sizable international community make Kazakhstan an unexpectedly pleasant place to live.

The Host Country

Area, Geography, and Climate Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world, covering three time zones, 1,900 miles from East to West, and more than 1,000 miles from North to South. One-fifth of the territory is mountainous, with mountains over 6,000 feet accounting for one-tenth of the country. In contrast, the oil-rich land in the Caspian Sea basin is approximately 400 feet below sea level.

The climate throughout Kazakhstan is continental and dry, and there are four distinct seasons. The weather in Almaty is very moderate, and consecutive rainy days are rare. Winter temperatures and snowfall are rarely extreme (i.e., rarely below 0°F), and the wind is light. During the 4-5-month summer average high temperatures are usually in the low to mid-80's F. "Golden Fall," is perhaps the most pleasant season, particularly in Almaty, with brilliantly clear, dry days, colorful autumn leaves, and pleasant temperatures.

In Astana, temperatures and weather conditions are similar to those in the northern U.S. and Canada: strong winds, long winters, and December-January temperatures periodically fall below 0°F. The summers are generally dry and sunny, but the weather changes rapidly and it is not uncommon to have a rainy morning followed by a sunny afternoon. Average summer highs in Astana are in the low 80's.

Population Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Kazakhstan is sparsely populated with only 15 million people (53% Kazakh, 30% Russian, and less than 5% each ethnic Ukrainian, Uzbek, German, Uyghur, and other). Twenty-six cities in Kazakhstan have populations over 50,000. Almaty is home to over 1 million people, and Astana, the capital since 1997, has grown to 322,000 people at present.

The first people to come to the region were thought to be the Aryans in 2000 B.C., followed by Indo-Europeans, Scythians, Sarmatians, and finally the Huns. When the Chinese subdued the fierce Hun warriors in 52 B.C., the resulting calm allowed the Silk Road trade routes to be established. There was never one Silk Road, but rather a network of trade routes across mountain, steppe, and desert. Starting from the Han capital of Chang-an, near the Yellow River, these routes traversed Asia and the Middle East, and ended in the Levantine ports of Antioch, Acre, and modern-day Beirut.

When the Chinese army was defeated in 749 near present-day Tashkent, all of central Asia was forcibly converted to Islam. Multiple invasions of the area continued over the next few centuries, the most famous of which was the invasion by the Mongol warrior Genghis Khan, who ruled over central Asia in the 1300s. Ethnic Kazakhs emerged from a mixture of tribes living in the region, and by the mid-16th century, the Kazakh population was divided into three hordes (or "zhus," which literally means "hundred" in Kazakh). The Great Horde was in the east, the Middle Horde in the central region, and the Little Horde in the west. Despite the intervening centuries of modernization, urbanization, and migration, most Kazakhs remain deeply aware of their origins.

By 1860, the Tsars of Imperial Russia effectively ruled over present-day Kazakhstan, through civilian administrations and military garrisons built to establish a presence in central Asia as part of the "Great Game" of geopolitics and intrigue in which Russia faced off with Great Britain for regional dominance. The Kazakhs resented the disruption to their nomadic lifestyle and staged a mildly successful uprising in 1916. When the Russian Empire devolved into revolution, Kazakhstan maintained a degree of autonomy until it became a full-fledged Soviet Republic in 1936.

Kazakhstan suffered the same hardships of its neighbors under the forced collectivization of the 1920s. It is estimated that 3 million Kazakhs were executed in purges or died of starvation, and many fled the country to Afghanistan, Iran, Mongolia, and China. During WWII, Kazakhstan played "host" to 2 million deportees, exiles, and evacuees from western parts of the USSR, including the northern Caucauses.

Soviet General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev launched his Virgin Lands program in 1954. Designed to develop Kazakhstan's fallow lands to increase agricultural output, it was a failure.

In December 1986, students in Almaty started mass demonstrations against Moscow's decision to replace the local ethnic Kazakh Communist Party boss with an ethnic Russian. The government dispersed the demonstrators by using force and military troops. Although official casualty figures for the protesters have never been made public, those who were there remain shocked by the violence and bloodshed they witnessed.

On October 25, 1990, the Supreme Court of the Kazakh SSR adopted the Declaration on State Sovereignty. Kazakhstan declared independence on December 16, 1991, 9 days before the Soviet Union officially broke up.

Ethnic Kazakhs account for over half of the population but only about a third of the population speaks Kazakh, the state language. Russian, which is recognized as the official language of interethnic communication, remains the primary language of government and business. The use of Kazakh is on the rise, particularly in the press. Efforts by the Government of Kazakhstan to teach Kazakh have been directed as much at other ethnic groups as they have at Kazakhs.

Since 1997, a nationwide city, village, and street renaming campaign has resulted in a proliferation of Kazakh language street names—a problem when asking directions from long-time city dwellers who have not learned the new names.

Public Institutions Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

The Republic of Kazakhstan is an emerging democracy with a political system dominated by the presidency. The president is elected; there is a bicameral legislature and a judiciary, although these institutions remain relatively weak. President Nursultan Nazarbayev, leader of the Communist Party of the Kazakh SSR right before independence, was elected Kazakhstan's first President in an uncontested election in 1991. He extended his term by referendum in 1995, and was re-elected to a 7-year term of office in 1999.

The 1993 constitution, which recognized political reforms and balance among government branches, was replaced by the 1995 constitution that strengthened the presidency, although a Prime Minister nominally heads the government. The President appoints all members of the upper house of Parliament (the Senate), 25% of the lower house of Parliament (the Mazhilis), the Supreme Court, and regional governors.

Many international and local organizations that promote the development of democratic institutions and the rule of law have criticized President Nazarbayev for not doing more to empower an independent judiciary and to give the legislature budget authority, something it does not currently have. Independent organizations, such as NGOs, political movements, and independent trade unions have established themselves, but their ability to influence politics and society remains limited.

The mass media in Kazakhstan is still in its formative stage, both in terms of professionalism and independence. Most journalists engage in self-censorship when discussing national politics and the government. Kazakhstan's main media outlets are owned by, or rumored to be controlled by, members of President Nazarbayev's family and/or advisers.

Arts, Science, and Education Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

National research, in physical sciences, mathematics, and some branches of medicine, was of a very high quality during the Soviet era. The "brain drain," which occurred when many ethnic Russians moved to the Russian Federation or Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union, resulted in all but a few of Kazakhstan's laboratories being left without qualified staff. Most scientists rely on international grants for employment and have few marketable skills.

In history, sociology, political science, psychology, and even certain biological sciences, Marxist and Leninist preconceptions seriously retarded the development of objective scholarship.

Commerce and Industry Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Kazakhstan, like its central Asian neighbors, has worked hard to overcome the legacy of Soviet-era central economic planning and distribution. Whereas it was once dependent on Moscow for its budget, economic policy banking, postal services, and energy development, since independence it has made great strides toward establishing market institutions and economic stability.

Largely because of vast oil reserves, Kazakhstan has been able to secure serious foreign investment, including that of ChevronTexaco, ExxonMobil, Phillips Petroleum, and most international oil companies. Cumulative foreign direct investment in Kazakhstan is over $12 billion, most of which has gone into oil extraction. Most of that investment, nearly $6 billion, has come from American companies.

Kazakhstan produces natural gas, minerals, wheat, rice, fruits and basic vegetables, and animal products such as meat and milk, as well as furs. Most of the food produced is for local consumption, apart from grain. Kazakhstan is a major exporter of wheat to Iran. Kazakhstan has a great deal of mineral wealth: gold, silver, uranium, beryllium, coal, copper, and bauxite deposits in commercially viable amounts exist throughout the country.

Official unemployment figures do not take into account underemployment, unofficial employment ("moonlighting"), and those who work at factories that have reduced the number of shifts to compensate for reduced demand. Due to the reduction of production and the closing of major industries in the past decade, many highly educated individuals are involved in manual labor or low-level service jobs. Twenty-six percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Kazakhstan is taking steps toward becoming a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). There are several hundred Western companies with a presence in Kazakhstan; the American Chamber of Commerce now has over 100 members and continues to grow. In both Almaty and Astana, residential and commercial construction is booming, although many projects languish for months before being completed. The eclectic architectural styles and lack of zoning laws make for an interesting, if not always harmonious, environment.

In Almaty and Astana, the economic and commercial transitions are more advanced than in the rest of the country. A random selection of Western consumer goods is generally available, although retail outlets are fewer than in European and North American countries, selection much more limited, and prices slightly higher. The service sector (everything from restaurants, Internet service providers, hotels, dry cleaning, and department stores) is rapidly developing, although quality and service is often inconsistent.


Automobiles Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Most people in Almaty and Astana get around by car or bus. Cars in Kazakhstan drive on the right side of the road and the traffic signs are similar to those found in Western Europe. The number of cars on the road has increased dramatically in recent years, and traffic conditions can best be described as chaotic and far more hazardous than those in the U.S. Traffic accidents are very frequent, primarily because of inexperienced, reckless local drivers behind the wheels of unsafe older vehicles.

Local drivers frequently fail to obey traffic signals, speed limits, or lane markings. Abrupt stops without signaling, passing into oncoming traffic, performing automobile maintenance in the middle of the street, and lining up four-to-five abreast at narrow intersections are all hallmarks of driving in downtown Almaty. Drunken driving and unbelievably careless pedestrians remain major problems.

All but a handful of Almaty's streets are poorly lit, and roads outside the city center are in poor condition. Drivers license requirements can be overcome through bribery. Vehicle safety inspections are not required. Winter weather greatly increases hazardous road conditions, and snow tires are not required.

There are few parking lots in Almaty and Astana. Most street parking is free, or likely to be less than 50 cents for an unlimited amount of time. Both leaded and unleaded gasoline is widely available in Kazakhstan. Western and local gas stations carry high-octane unleaded gasoline (up to 96), although it may be harder to find outside of the major cities. Several gas stations have minimarkets. Gasoline in the local gas stations is slightly less expensive than in the Western stations, but selection tends to be limited.

Diplomats with a U.S. drivers license may drive in Kazakhstan without difficulty, although the traffic police regularly stop cars without diplomatic plates for "document checks." Accredited diplomats may import duty free one personally owned vehicle (POV) into Kazakhstan, although vehicles may not be imported with the intent of resale or transfer. Embassy personnel, regardless of rank, may import one POV into Kazakhstan. Importing older model automobiles may be problematic, as parts may be hard to find and the poorly maintained roads outside the Almaty and Astana city centers take a heavy toll on cars.

All loose articles from the vehicle should be removed before shipping and put into UAB or HHE to minimize the risk of pilferage during transport, including cigarette lighters, removable radio/tape/CD players, and glove compartment contents. Bring an extra set of keys and send one with the car. For vehicles using diesel fuel, attach a note stating "diesel only" to the ignition key.

Some items required for regular automobile maintenance (motor oil, belts, filters, windshield wipers, wiper fluid, etc.) occasionally may be purchased locally, but it is better to ship these items in the consumable or HHE shipments. Most major American, European, Japanese, and Korean carmakers are able to maintain select models of their vehicles, albeit at a higher cost. Contact the CLO office at for a list of current dealerships and service centers. Private garages and individuals do repair work at substantially lower rates. Car theft has dropped in recent years, but theft of various car parts (windshield wipers) remains an occasional problem.

Secure outdoor or indoor parking is provided for all housing units leased. Both Embassy policy and Kazakhstani law require that cars be covered by third-party-liability insurance. The minimum local third-party-liability insurance available costs $25 to $37 per year depending on vehicle age and engine size, and additional coverage ranges from $150 to $500 per year depending on the amount of coverage desired. Embassy personnel are advised to obtain local liability insurance that enables their spouse and/or driver to operate their vehicle. Most personnel obtain additional liability and other coverage through an international company.

Clements International (1660 L Street NW, 9th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20036, (202) 872-0060), has a policy that provides coverage for transportation of vehicles from anywhere in the world to Kazakhstan. Coverage includes comprehensive collision and protection against marine, fire, and theft loss.


Local Transportation Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

For a city of over 1 million people, Almaty's public transportation system is poor. With no subway system, a fleet of aging buses, minivans, and trolleys comprise the city's public transportation system. The private minivan system, although slightly more expensive than the regular buses, is a great improvement, as routes are more direct and it services areas of the city beyond regular bus lines. Astana's public transportation system is similar to that of Almaty.


Regional Transportation Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Rail and motor transport networks in Kazakhstan and Central Asia are slow and the infrastructure, while steadily improving, will require much more investment to modernize. Whereas the 800-mile distance between Almaty and Astana takes 90 minutes by plane, driving between the two cities can take 3 days; train travel takes 22 hours, although a faster, 13-hour service is scheduled to be introduced in the near future. There are no flights between Almaty and Bishkek, but the drive is 3 hours. Travel to the ancient city of Turkestan from Almaty means an overnight train or 2-hour flight to Shymkent followed by a 4-hour drive.

Air transportation is the most reliable way to travel in Central Asia. From Almaty there are flights to Astana, Moscow, Frankfurt, Tashkent, Amsterdam, London, Dushanbe, Istanbul, Dubai, Ashgabat, Bangkok, Baku, Beijing, Budapest, Delhi, Hanover, Seoul, St. Petersburg, Tblisi, Tel Aviv, and Tehran. Only a handful of these flights (to Amsterdam on KLM, to Frankfurt on Lufthansa, to London on British Mediterranean, and to Istanbul on Turkish Air) are on Western-flag carriers.

From Astana there are daily flights to Almaty and three flights a week to Moscow, as well as weekly flights to Frankfurt, Hanover, Minsk, and Istanbul. No Western-flag carriers currently serve Astana. In the winter months, flights from both Almaty and Astana are subject to delays due to bad weather and poor visibility.


Telephones and Telecommunications Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Telephone service from Almaty and Astana to the U.S. and most European cities is not up to international standards. Direct-dial international calls are possible from the Embassy switchboard and all Embassy housing. Misconnections and wrong numbers are common, and long-distance calls often require multiple attempts to complete. Tie-line calls can be made from the Embassy after normal business hours and on weekends, but must be billed to a personal AT&T, MCI, or Sprint calling card.

Employees' families may telephone residences and the Embassy directly, although most offices are reached through the Embassy switchboard. Cellular phone and pager services are available from several different companies. Cellular service is superior to landlines and nearly all Kazakhstani professionals have cellular telephones. Prices vary, depending on the calling plan and coverage area but have been steadily declining.

The Embassy main switchboard number is 7-3272-63-39-21, operated Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The after-hours and weekend emergency number is 7-3272-50-76-27 (Marine Post One). The Embassy fax number is 7-3272-63-38-83. The Embassy IVG code is 927, and the IVG fax number is 927-0232.


Internet Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Internet service is improving in Kazakhstan and is readily available in both Almaty and Astana. Poor line quality and frequent disconnects hinder access to the Internet and commercial e-mail, and modem speeds vary in different parts of the city. Internet services are prepaid, and the rates are computed according to number of hours on-line. Opennet Plus desktop Internet service is scheduled to be installed at the Embassy by April 2002.


Mail and Pouch Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Personal mail may be sent to and from the Embassy via unclassified diplomatic pouch. The unclassified pouch mail arrives and departs once a week, although occasional interruptions in service have occurred. On average, it takes 3 weeks for the mail to arrive via pouch. Personnel are encouraged to pay bills on-line or over the phone. There is no APO at post. The address of the diplomatic pouch is:

Your Name 7030 Almaty Place Dulles, VA 20189-7030

The usual restrictions on pouch service apply, e.g., no liquids, aerosols, glass, or flammable items; incoming packages should not exceed 24 inches in length and 62 inches length and girth combined; no mailing tubes longer than 32 inches; and a maximum weight of 40 pounds. Outgoing personal packages sent via the pouch are limited to two pounds and may be no larger than a videocassette, unless merchandise ordered over the phone or on the Internet is being returned to the sender.

Members of USMEAAK, the Embassy employee association, may send out larger packages upon payment of a deposit for postage costs. Express delivery services are available in Almaty, including Federal Express and DHL. Delivery of a single letter to the U.S. takes three business days and costs $60.

The international surface mail is unreliable and not used by U.S. personnel. The Embassy address for local mail is:

U.S. Embassy 99/97A Furmanova Street Almaty, Kazakhstan 480091


Radio and TV Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

There are 76 radio and television stations in Kazakhstan (February 2002). The majority of Almaty's television stations broadcast in Russian during peak viewing hours. The most popular cable television in Almaty provides CNN, Star TV, Star Movies, BBC, and the National Geographic Channel in English, and MTV, Fox Kids, Nickelodeon, and the Discovery Channel in Russian.

Local radio stations offer a variety of Russian- and Kazakh-language news and music programs, with a heavy emphasis on Russian and international pop music. Shortwave reception in Almaty is poor, and programs from the major Western services (BBC, Deutsche Welle, VOA, etc.) can only be heard with difficulty.


Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

There are 1,019 newspapers and 378 magazines and journals published in Kazakhstan (February 2002). The majority are published in Russian, although Kazakh publications are growing rapidly. Although the English-speaking community in Almaty is growing, there remains a limited number of English-language newspapers and magazines available. The Globe, the Almaty Herald, and Respublika publish weekly inserts to their papers in English.

The Hyatt Regency Hotel has a newsstand that sells week-old copies of the International Herald Tribune, as well as past issues of the news magazines Time and Newsweek. They also have some back issues of fashion magazines like Elle, Cosmopolitan, and Vogue, as well as some popular and classic English-language fiction.

Most personnel at post have subscriptions to the magazines and journals they prefer, and the CLO maintains a small lending library of paperback books and videotapes.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

The Embassy maintains a Medical Unit that provides primary care to the official community, staffed by a State Department Regional Medical Officer (RMO) and an administrative assistant. The RMO is based in Almaty, but also covers Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The Medical Unit is equipped with basic diagnostic equipment, and able to perform minor emergency services, although complicated emergency procedures must be carried out abroad under medical evacuation from post. The Regional Psychiatrist (RMO/P), based in New Delhi, visits Almaty 1-2 times a year, and post personnel may arrange appointments during these visits.

The standards of sanitation and sterility at local hospitals and medical offices are low, and medical personnel should only be consulted as advised by the RMO. There is one dental clinic in Almaty that can provide an acceptable level of dental hygiene and routine care, but some patients have reported ineffective use of local anesthetics. The RMO does not recommend local oral surgery services.

The Medical Unit maintains a limited supply of prescription and non-prescription drugs. Some common non-prescription medications are available locally but are kept "behind the counter," and personnel must speak Russian or point at the medicines in order to obtain them. Personnel are strongly advised to bring both prescription and non-prescription medications with them to post. Several pharmacies and mail-in companies will send prescription medication through the pouch.

It may be useful to have a supply of antacids, over the counter cold medicines, cough drops and cough syrup, vitamins, allergy medications (including eye drops), and other frequently used items. As many medications have expiration dates of 1 year or less, replacements for non-liquid medications can be ordered on-line from services such as or and shipped through the unclassified diplomatic pouch. Eyeglasses can be replaced at prices similar to those in the U.S., although the selection of frames may be considered unusual.

Health and Medicine

Community Health Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

The public health infrastructure in Kazakhstan has deteriorated since the collapse of the USSR. The standard of public cleanliness does not equal that of North America and Western Europe. Public urination, spitting, and nose blowing are common practices. Public restrooms are filthy and scarce to find.

Public sewage disposal appears to be adequate, but garbage collection is unreliable in some neighborhoods. Almaty's growing air pollution, combined with a dry continental climate, may lead to increased asthma and upper respiratory problems. Low humidity is exacerbated in the winter by the radiator heating systems found in houses, apartments, and public buildings.

A thick layer of smog over the city is visible from the mountains year round. Jogging in the downtown area is not recommended. The air quality has noticeably worsened over the past 3 years, as the number of motor vehicles on the road has continued to grow. No statistics are available on air quality, and there are no medical restrictions on assignment to post.

Health and Medicine

Preventive Measures Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

The most common health problems in Almaty are salmonellosis, giardia, influenza, and respiratory infections. The RMO recommends boiling, filtering, or drinking distilled or bottled water. All Embassy homes have either distillers or double filters. Raw fruits and vegetables should be washed in distilled or filtered water. Meat must be fully cooked.

Host country nationals who are working for your family should obtain their pre-employment medical examinations and chest X-rays at least every 2 years.

Western-trained pediatricians are not currently available in Kazakhstan, and water is not fluoride-treated. Employees with small children should consult their physician regarding whether to use fluoride supplements for children or during pregnancy.

Employment for Spouses and Dependents Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Almaty. Dependent employment opportunities, both within and outside the Mission, are generally good. There are usually more Family Member Associates (FMA) and United States Personal Services Contract (USPSC) positions than can be filled. In addition to the usual State Department/ICASS positions (CLO, Consular Associate, Administrative Assistant, and Office Management Specialist), the regional AID Mission also provides dependent employment opportunities.

Almaty is a regional business and diplomatic center, and there are some job opportunities with American business, multinational companies, and international organizations. Russian speakers will find themselves much more marketable than non-Russian speakers. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also have regular employment opportunities.

Certified teachers, and others with teaching experience, may be able to find work at the Almaty International School. The Embassy's Community Liaison Office (CLO) can provide current information about job openings within and outside the Embassy. Interested parties may also contact Antal International Ltd. Almaty office (antal@kaznet.k2), a company that focuses on recruiting expats in Kazakhstan.

Family members interested in working at the Embassy should send a letter expressing their interest to the Human Resources Officer with an SF-171 Application for Employment:

Human Resources Office Department of State 7030 Almaty Place Washington, D.C. 20521-7030

Astana. The Astana Interim Branch Office has one Eligible Family Member position available, the Political/Economic Section secretary. Dependents interested in employment should contact Embassy Almaty's Human Resources Officer and submit an SF-171 Application for Employment in advance. Certified teachers, and others with teaching experience, may be able to find work at the Miras private school.

American Embassy - Almaty

Post City Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

The population of Almaty, Kazakhstan's unofficial "Southern Capital," is 1.2 million people. Founded in 1854 as Fort Verney, a military outpost of the Russian Empire, Almaty was built on the site of a former Silk Road town that had been destroyed by Mongol invaders. In both 1887 and 1911, earthquakes destroyed Almaty. As a result, there are few historic buildings in the city.

The Kazakh word for Almaty, Alma Ata, means "Grandfather Apple"—most of the land outside the city center was once an apple orchard. During the Soviet era, Almaty was the capital of the Kazakh S.S.R. and remained the capital of independent Kazakhstan until October 20, 1997. Almost all government offices completed their relocation to the new capital, Astana, in 2000.

Located at the base of the Tien Shan Mountains, Almaty's elevation ranges from approximately 2,000 feet above sea level at the Airport to 3,000 feet in the suburbs where most Embassy homes are located. The Shymbulak Ski Area and the Medeo Skating Center are both an easy 20-30-minute drive from the center of Almaty. The mountains are the city's most striking and appealing feature.

Almaty is a city of wide boulevards, green parks, and Soviet-style prefabricated apartment blocks. The U.S. Embassy Chancery is located in a quaint blue and white building on Furmanova Street, one of Almaty's busiest thoroughfares.

There are several parks worth visiting in Almaty, one of which is Panfilov Heroes' Park, named after the Kazakhstani battalion that helped defend Moscow in WWII. The Saint Voznesensky Russian Orthodox Cathedral, one of the only buildings to survive the earthquake of 1911, is located in the center of Panfilov Park. Designed and built in 1904-1907 by the famous architect Andrey Zhenkov, the colorfully painted cathedral is topped with shimmering golden domes and built entirely of wood. Although unable to function during Soviet times, the Cathedral resumed daily services in 1996 after it was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Almaty has several museums, although the Soviet-era collections are sometimes tedious. Offbeat and interesting museums in Almaty include a geology museum, a musical instruments museum, and a retro car museum that boasts a Zil limousine used by CPSU General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. Almaty is also home to the Arasan Bath House, a six-domed Turkish bath located in the center of the city.

The Post and Its Administration Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

The American Embassy's Chancery is located at 99/97A Furmanova Street in downtown Almaty. The American Embassy's Annex and Consular Section are located at 97 Zholdasbekova Street, Samal Towers Building. The Embassy is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., except for U.S. and local holidays. The main telephone number is 7-3272-504802 (8:30 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.). The Marine Guard Post One telephones are 7-3272-504999 and 7-3272-50-76-27. The Fax is 7-3272-50-24-77. The IVG code is 927-xxxxx.

The Foreign Commercial Service is located at 97 Zholdasbekova Street, Samal Towers Building, 11th floor. (Tel.: 7-3272-504850, Faxes: 7-3272-504967, 7-3272-504874).

The Public Affairs Section is located at 97 Zholdasbekova Street, Samal Towers Building, 11th floor. (Tel.: 7-3272-504940, Faxes: 7-3272-4843, 7-3272-504887).

Embassy Dushanbe in Almaty is located at 97 Zholdasbekova Street, Samal Towers Building, 10th floor. (Tel.: 7-3272-504879, Fax: 7-3272-504839).

Legal Attaché Office is located at 97 Zholdasbekova Street, Samal Towers Building, 9th floor (Tel.: 7-3272-504802, Fax: 7-3272-504906).

USAID's Almaty offices are located in a newly renovated, seismically sound building on 41 Kazibek Bi Street in downtown Almaty. (Main tel.: 7-3272-507612, 7-3272-507613, Fax: 7-3272-507635).

The Peace Corps Office is located on 100 Shevchenko Street, 5th floor (Tel.: 7-3272-692985, Fax: 7-3272-62-40-30)

Housing Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

The Embassy's interagency housing pool consists of single-family homes and apartments. All quarters are completely furnished, including major kitchen appliances. It is Embassy policy to provide each member of its staff with the best housing available that is suitable and appropriate to the official and personal requirements of the employee and his/her family. It is also Embassy policy to provide quarters with basic furnishings and to assure that all furnishings and quarters are properly maintained. Therefore, only limited shipments of personal household effects are authorized. The Embassy has no storage facilities available for additional items shipped and are not required by the employee.


Temporary Quarters Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

No designated transient housing is currently available. Every effort is made to put newly arriving personnel into their permanent quarters. If this is not possible, new employees are housed in vacant units of the housing pool or in a hotel until their permanent quarters are available. In such an event, the Embassy will notify the employee. Personnel not staying in a hotel are issued a Welcome Kit for use until their UAB arrives.


Permanent Housing Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Permanent housing in Almaty consists of apartments and single-family homes, none of which are located more than a 15-minute drive from the Embassy.

Housing assignments are proposed and approved by the inter-agency housing board in accordance with the Department of State's 6FAM700 housing standards. The Embassy housing pool currently consists of over 50 leased properties. These properties include apartments and detached houses. The Embassy constantly reshuffles its housing inventory to meet the changing demographics at post, replace overpriced units, drop houses that have proven a challenge to maintain, and improve the seismic safety.

Properties in Almaty tend to have room layouts that can be unusual to the American eye. Rooms are typically smaller than one would expect in the U.S., particularly bedrooms. Apartment dining rooms are typically combined with living rooms. Due to size or plumbing constraints, some homes cannot accommodate full-size U.S. appliances.

Very few properties have built-in closets, putting closet and wardrobe space at a premium. Keep this in mind when planning your HHE shipments. Except for the single-family homes, there are no basements or garage storage spaces. In apartments, bicycles must be kept in the apartment and not left in the hallways of buildings. Dog owners should be aware of the requirements to keep their dogs on leashes when outdoors in every housing location, although many detached houses have fenced-in yards.


Furnishings Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Embassy Almaty's residential furniture is mostly Drexel Heritage 18th century, although some sets of the Windjammer II series may be in use for children's bedrooms and guest bedrooms. All housing units, except for the Ambassador's residence and DCM's home, are furnished as follows:

Living Room: Sofa, love seat (space permitting), easy chairs, end tables, coffee table, table lamps, bookcase. Dining Room: Dining table and chairs (8-12), china cabinet, buffet/server. Study/Den: Sofa, easy chair, end table, desk and chair, lamps (not all homes have a study/den). Master Bedroom: Queen-sized bed, bureau w/mirror, chest of drawers, end tables, lamps, wardrobes (if not built in). Other Bedrooms: Twin bed(s), bureau w/mirror, chest of drawers, end table(s), lamp. Appliances: Refrigerator, stove, microwave, freezer (space permitting), dishwasher (space permitting), washer and dryer. Miscellaneous: Vacuum cleaner, transformer(s), smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers are provided. One A/C unit will be provided for the living room and each occupied bedroom, and can be requested for the dining room.

Most houses will have drapes and carpets installed. Drapes will be installed in the living and dining rooms. All other rooms will have blinds. Neutral colors are the norm since these will blend in well with most furniture styles and tastes. The Embassy does not install wall-to-wall carpeting, although some properties may have such carpets previously installed by the landlord.

Since each property is different, each home will vary in what actually is installed. Every effort is made to make each home as comfortable as possible, yet provide adequate flexibility for employees and families to personalize their homes. For additional information, please request a copy of the Almaty Housing Handbook from the CLO at


Utilities and Equipment Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

All housing units have hot and cold running water. During the summer, city-supplied hot water is cut off for a period of several weeks for pipe cleaning. Those homes with city hot water are supplied with a hot water heater for use during the annual hot water outages.

Heating is more than adequate, but the Embassy provides space heaters. A limited supply of humidifiers is also available, since the heating system and climate combine to make the air very dry. Personnel who feel they need more than one humidifier must purchase the additional units.

The electrical current in Kazakhstan is 220v, 50 cycles. The Embassy will supply each home with three transformers. Extension cords and adapters are not provided, as they can be easily brought from the U.S. or purchased locally. Extra 220v light bulbs may also be purchased locally.

One telephone line is provided for each house, and the local telephone company supplies a telephone. Phones brought from the U.S. will operate here. The occupant is responsible for payment of all telephone bills.

Food Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

For the Western consumer, the availability of food and household products is improving. Although many food and household products used by a typical American family can now be purchased locally, the Department of State still authorizes a consumables shipment for employees assigned to Kazakhstan due to periodic shortages and seasonal selection of many basic foodstuffs. Please check with your parent agency for current regulations and shipping weight authorizations. The CLO at Embassy Almaty will have suggestions for a consumables shipment (

When American brands are not available locally, a European equivalent can usually be purchased. Vendors other than Kazakhstani stores and markets include the Turkish hypermarket chain Ramstor, the Interfood chain, and the diplomatic supply house Peter Justesen. Both Interfood and Ramstor have locations in Almaty and Astana, and both take international credit cards as well as payment in local currency.

Almaty's Green Bazaar, the main fresh food and indoor/outdoor produce market, was written up in Gourmet Magazine's November 2000 issue as a "polyglot market," where vendors hawked the best and most diverse range of produce in central Asia. With each passing week of summer, the market becomes more colorful, a place where fresh and smoked meats, fish, caviar, honey, fruit, vegetables, eggs, dried fruit, pickled foods, flowers, Korean salads, tofu, cheese, and milk products are sold. The supply of produce is seasonal, exotic, and inexpensive, as the growing season is lengthy. There also has been a dramatic increase in imported fruits and vegetables available in the winter months, albeit at slightly higher prices. The Green Bazaar carries varieties of fruits and vegetables that are classified as heirloom or specialty varieties in the U.S. Golden raspberries, yellow tomatoes, alpine strawberries, white peaches, and Italian tri-color eggplant can all be found during the summer and fall months, along with other vegetables.

Unlike the fruits and vegetables, the quality of local meat is poor. Refrigerated meat is available at some local stores, but most of it appears to come from markets where there is no refrigeration, raising questions about spoilage. Fresh fish is occasionally available.

Long-life UHT milk imported from Russia and Germany is usually available, but subject to periodic shortages. Lactose-free milk is occasionally available. Good, locally produced fruit juices are readily available. Decaffeinated coffees and teas are difficult to find. Sugar available locally is beet sugar, and spices are widely available at the Green Bazaar.

Imported and local baby food is available, as are diapers and other basic baby care products. Convenience foods are limited to prepared salads, frozen pizzas, and grilled whole chicken. Packaged foods, especially imported goods, are often kept on store shelves well past the marked expiration dates.

Many non-liquid food and pet supply items can be ordered from Internet services such as Netgrocer, PetsMart, and Drs. Foster Smith. Additionally, the CLO has begun placing orders for the Embassy community from a local restaurant supply company for imported meat, cheese, and vegetables, including Butterball Turkeys for the holidays.

Bakers need to note that Almaty's elevation ranges from approximately 2,000 feet above sea level at the Airport to 3,000 feet in the suburbs, where most Embassy homes are located. Many recipes must be adjusted accordingly.

Clothing Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Temperatures during the year in Kazakhstan can range from -40 to +105°F, and clothing should include items for all four seasons. It is necessary in both Almaty and Astana to be prepared for the winter climate and local outdoor sports with plenty of warm clothing and outerwear. Men and women often wait until they arrive at post to purchase a fur hat, and many women also purchase fur coats locally. Most locally available winter gear may not meet American standards and/or style. Summer evenings can be cool, and many people find a sweater or light coat necessary no matter what time of the year they arrive.

The best type of clothing to have in Kazakhstan is washable, since clothing soils easily here. Sturdy, waterproof clothing and footwear with good treads is essential. Sidewalks can be slick in the winter, and pavement is generally uneven. One should consider bringing enough clothing to last until replacements can be ordered through catalogs or while on leave outside Kazakhstan.

Sports equipment and sportswear should be brought to Kazakhstan when possible. There are many recreational activities at hand, including downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, snowboarding, ice skating, tennis, swimming, volleyball, etc. Some Western winter sports equipment can be found around town, but larger size men's and women's shoes and boots are hard to find, and prices of sporting equipment tends to be high. Activities in the mountains near Almaty, at any time of year, require sunglasses and sun block.

There are a number of drycleaning establishments in Almaty that use imported equipment and chemicals. The quality is reasonable, and the prices are moderate to high. The CLO arranges for twice a week drycleaning pickup and dropoff for Embassy staff.


Men Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Both heavy and light topcoats are desirable for spring and fall. Men wear down parkas or heavy topcoats over suits during the winter. Lined raincoats are not warm enough in the dead of winter although many people wear them in the spring and fall.

Warm gloves, warm and waterproof boots, and a warm hat are all essential. Building interiors are often too hot by American standards in winter, but in fall and spring, when there is no central heating, indoors can be uncomfortably cool. Bring appropriate cold-weather clothes for outdoor sports. Dark suits are worn for representational affairs. Almaty's expatriate community has several formal occasions, such as the Marine Ball, which call for black tie.

Standard Western suits or sport jackets and ties are the usual office dress. Casual clothing acceptable for the U.S. is fine for Kazakhstan, although men and women rarely wear shorts in public, unless participating in sporting events.


Women Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

In general, women in Kazakhstan wear the same style clothing worn in the U.S. Dresses or moderately dressy suits with blouses are worn most often for receptions, dinners, and evenings out. American-style office wear is acceptable as office wear in Kazakhstan. There are a handful of occasions annually in Almaty where more formal dress is required.

Women need a light coat, a raincoat, and a heavy coat. Warm, waterproof, thick-soled boots, rain boots, warm gloves, and thermal or silk long underwear are useful. Sportswear and a large supply of stockings, tights, and underwear are important to bring, although replacements may be ordered through the diplomatic pouch.


Children Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Children can never have enough hats and scarves, sets of gloves and mittens, rain boots and rain gear, as well as a snowsuit, pants, and boots. Locally purchased clothing may not meet American standards and/or styles, and in many cases is more expensive than in the U.S. American-style casual clothing is acceptable for children. School uniforms are not required in either international school.

Babies need warm winter clothing. The CLO can be contacted for more details on needs for babies.

Supplies and Services

Supplies Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

European toiletries, paper goods, household cleaners, film, and batteries are available most of the time in the Ramstor and Interfood shops. Party supplies, stationery items, school supplies, greeting cards in English, and any specialized household cleaners that you favor are best brought to post with you.

Bring moisturizing lotion, soap, and any personal cosmetics you prefer. The choice of quality children's toys is limited. Books in English, both for children and for adults, are rarely available. The CLO maintains a small lending library with videos and paperback books, although children's books and videos are very limited. Videos for NTSC (American standard) VCRs are not available. Multisystem TVs and VCRs can be purchased locally. Personnel with children may want to bring movies for kids or order them on the Internet.

Pet supplies, including cat and dog food and cat litter, are available but limited in variety and quality. Clumping cat litter can be obtained from Internet retailers Petsmart and Netgrocer, as well as ordered from Peter Justesen. Special diet pet foods are not available, grooming supplies are very limited, and pet toys are low quality. Space and desire permitting, custom-built doghouses are available locally for about $150.

Supplies and Services

Basic Services Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Most post personnel employ one or more local domestic staff. The going rate for full-time (40 hours per week) domestic help is $200-$300 a month. There are always housekeepers, cooks, nannies, gardeners, and drivers with previous experience in search of employment. Live-in domestic help is rare in Kazakhstan, although most housekeepers and nannies will gladly stay overnight to care for children and pets while the parents and owners are traveling.

Domestic staff that has not previously worked with American families may need training in the use of certain appliances and cleaning solutions. Cooks may need to be trained to prepare American-style meals, including salads.

Western-style beauty shops and barbers are available. The quality is generally good, and the prices are comparable to the U.S. Photo developing is acceptable, but the quality is inconsistent. Computer and electronic repair is available, but it is advisable to consult with Embassy computer and maintenance personnel for recommendations.

There are many florists in Almaty selling quality flowers and houseplants. Gardening is popular in Kazakhstan, and flowers, fruits, and vegetables grow well during the long summer months.

Embassy personnel have tried several local veterinarians specializing in small domestic animals, and have located a few who provide satisfactory vaccination services and emergency medical attention, at a cost well below the U.S. average. Most vets make house calls for a minimal fee (less than $5), and the CLO can provide a list of local veterinarians after you arrive at post. Local veterinary surgery is not up to Western standards. Your pet should be well vaccinated and in good health before coming to post, since viral or bacterial diseases are common, especially Parvo.

Religious Activities Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Many major religions are now represented in Almaty and Astana, although services in English are not always available. The Embassy CLO office can supply you with a current listing of places of worship.

An interdenominational Protestant service, a local Catholic Church, and a Lubavitcher-sponsored synagogue all welcome Americans. There are also a number of Christian missionary groups in and around Almaty, which sponsor religious services and other activities from time to time.


Dependent Education Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Most children of Mission employees attend the Almaty International School (AIS). A coeducational day school founded in 1993, AIS offers an educational program from pre-kindergarten through grade 12 for students of all nationalities. AIS is run by Quality Schools International (QSI), a not-for-profit organization based in Yemen. The curriculum is similar to that of U.S. public and private schools. AIS regularly receives grant money from the State Department Office of Overseas Schools.

The faculty is comprised of 24 full-time and 7 part-time faculty members, the majority of whom are Americans. At present, the school has approximately 160 students, over half of whom are Americans. A new school is under construction in Almaty and plans to open in the fall of 2002. AIS also intends to open a school in Astana as soon as there is sufficient demand from the Western diplomatic and business communities.

The parents of AIS students have generally been happier with the education and atmosphere provided in the lower grades (through grade 6) than they have with the junior high and high school. This has less to do with the quality of the education (recent graduates have been accepted to top universities in the U.S., including Stanford and William and Mary) than with small class sizes and limited facilities.

About one-third of the children of Mission personnel attend the Kazakhstani Government-affiliated Miras School. Miras opened in September 1999 and operates in both Almaty and Astana. The Miras schools were designed to conform to the International Baccalaureate Program. Classes are taught in English, Kazakh, and Russian. After enduring some serious growing pains during its first few years, Miras has shown serious improvement during the 2001-2002 school year, thanks in large part to a new director (a New Zealander) who has endeavored to bring in more international staff.

The Kazakhstan International School is also an option for parents with preschool-aged and early elementary school-aged children. KIS is a Montessori school with an emphasis on intense individual and small-group activities. Check with the CLO office for more details.


Higher Education Opportunities Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Piano rentals, music lessons, horseback riding, fencing, gymnastics, ballet classes, and private tutors for Russian and other languages are reasonably priced. The Almaty International Women's Club offers a variety of activities for members, including small discussions and handicrafts groups depending upon interest.

Recreation and Social Life

Sports Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

With its proximity to the mountains, the Almaty area offers outstanding winter and summer outdoor opportunities. During the warmer months, excellent camping and hiking are available in the mountains near Almaty. Trail maps are available for day hikes, and several tour operators offer overnight and multiday hiking trips, including a 3-day walk through the mountains to Lake Issyk Kul in neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

During the winter months, world-class skiing is available at the Shymbulak ski area, approximately a 30-minute drive from downtown Almaty. A day of skiing, including equipment rental, lifts, and lunch, costs approximately $40 per person. Halfway up the mountain to Shymbulak is the Medeo speed skating rink, one of the world's largest outdoor ice rinks where the former Soviet Union trained its Olympic speed skaters. Medeo offers public skating sessions almost daily between mid-November and late February.

Other outdoor activities available near Almaty include horseback riding, hunting, fishing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, white water rafting, falcon hunting, and hot air ballooning. Five-star hotels located in Almaty and Astana have indoor swimming pools; yearly membership fees are expensive but include use of the health clubs and tennis courts. Both Almaty and Astana have modern nine-hole golf courses, although greens fees are expensive, currently about $55 on weekdays and $85 on weekends. Tennis and bowling are also popular.

Cultural Activities. Almaty has a symphony orchestra, a beautifully renovated ballet and opera house, chamber music ensembles, traditional Kazakh music groups, and other types of theater. A variety of local and international works are performed at the Abai Opera and Opera Theater. A typical monthly schedule includes the operas Carmen, Yevgeniy Onegin, La Traviata, Madame Butterfly, Rigoletto, and the Tsar's Bride, as well as the ballets Don Quixote, Sleeping Beauty, Corsar, and Giselle.

Jazz and pop music concerts in Kazakhstan are performed by local artists or those from the former Soviet Union. There are art galleries and a growing number of movie theaters, including one that regularly shows films in English.

Almaty has decent Indian, Chinese, Korean, Turkish, English, Irish, French, and American restaurants, in addition to a newly opened Japanese sushi bar. There are also a variety of nightclubs, pubs, bars and casinos, and many cafes offer outdoor seating in the warm summer months.

Entertainment for children includes a children's theater, a puppet theater, the National Circus, several outdoor amusement parks, and two new water parks. The local zoo has a wide variety of animals, though the cages are small and the facilities not very clean.

Social Activities Within the International Community. The English-speaking expatriate community in Almaty is a relatively tight-knit group of several hundred that socializes frequently. In addition to informal home entertaining, going out to restaurants and pubs is very popular. In the winter months, the ski slopes are also a place where many English-speakers meet friends and socialize.

Most social activities for children are school-centered and include informal parties, after-school activities, and organized field trips. There are active Boy and Girl Scout Programs covering all scout age groups. There are also two informal play groups for younger children organized by the Almaty Women's Club and the Diplomat's Club.

Social Activities Within the Local Community. Social functions involving local Kazakhstanis tend to be more formal and elaborate. Food and drink is plentiful, and guests are expected to remain for the duration of a function. Many dinners can last for up to 5 hours, as the local population is very hospitable.

When socializing with Kazakhstanis, remember to observe local customs;

Never shake hands over a threshold. Do not sit in a way that points the sole of your foot or shoe at someone. Never point at anything or anyone; indicate an object or a direction with a tilt of your head or by moving your whole hand, palm up. Always hand people things with your right hand and not your left hand. Greet the eldest person in a group first. Always wash your hands before sitting down to a meal. If you throw away a piece of bread, never let a Kazakhstani see you do it, as they will ask permission to take it home with them even after it has gone in the trash. Kazakhstanis are also superstitious. It is not uncommon that sellers fan money over their goods in an attempt to ward off evil spirits and attract more sales.

Cuisine. The local diet is centered on meat and potatoes. In addition to Russian-style shashlik, pork, or chicken kebabs, there are a few unusual specialties such as sheep's head and horsemeat. Horsemeat is considered a delicacy and is served both raw and cooked. The guest of honor at a traditional Kazakh banquet will not only be called upon to carve the roasted sheep's head, but also to eat an eye or ear. Fermented camel's milk and mare's milk are popular drinks, but take some getting used to. Alcohol is more acceptable in Kazakhstan than in many Muslim countries, and Kazakhstanis will continually try to fill your glass and offer multiple toasts.

National Games. In 2001, the Discovery Channel filmed a special segment on central Asian sports that are both exotic and different from popular Western sports. Of the many games played on horseback, Kyz Kuu, "overtake the girl," is a courting game in which young men chase a young woman for the pleasure of a kiss. Audaryspak, "wrestling on horseback," involves hand-to-hand combat in which the first man dislodged from his mount loses. Kokpar, "headless goat tearing," involves two teams fighting over the carcass of a decapitated goat.

Local Handicrafts and Souvenirs. Opportunities abound to shop for a wide variety of central Asian carpets, many very reasonably priced. Other textiles characteristic of the region include woven camel saddlebags, embroidered and appliquéd wall hangings traditionally used as dowry pieces, wall hangings made of felt pieces, traditional hunting implements, tribal jewelry, and carved wooden items.

Russian-style nesting dolls, amber jewelry, and lacquer boxes are also available, although quality and selection pale in comparison with Moscow and St. Petersburg.

For true central Asian enthusiasts, full-sized yurts, the round tent-like dwellings favored by Kazakh nomads, can also be purchased. Traditional folk costumes consisting of long embroidered robes, vests, and hats for both men and women can be purchased in Almaty and Astana.

Recreation and Social Life

Touring and Outdoor Activities Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

The natural beauty of Kazakhstan lends itself to outdoor activities and tours. Whitewater rafting on the Ili River, one of the few large rivers in the area, can be undertaken as a day trip or an overnight trip. Charyn Canyon, an impressive sandstone formation often compared by locals to the Grand Canyon, is a 4-hour drive from Almaty. The Tamgali Tas Petroglyphs, located approximately 3 hours from Almaty, are prehistoric cliff paintings from the Bronze Age.

One hour's drive from Almaty is Big Almaty Lake, a reservoir high in the mountains that is a common destination for both foreign and local tourists. More experienced hikers can also hike on a glacier located a half day's hike from Almaty.

There are many travel companies that arrange trips to the Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva in Uzbekistan. Most people fly to Tashkent and then onward by air or car. Travel to China, despite its proximity, can be difficult to arrange. Farther afield, inexpensive flights from Almaty are available to Delhi, Bangkok, Beijing, Dubai, and Istanbul. The Embassy's Travel Management Center can assist with private travel arrangements abroad.

Official Functions Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Representational events are a challenge in Kazakhstan because Astana, the capital city, is 800 miles from the Embassy's location in Almaty, the country's financial and cultural center. The Ambassador hosts major representational events, including the annual Independence Day and September 11 commemoration receptions, in both cities on back-to-back days. Embassy officers with representational responsibilities generally host events in Astana for government contacts and in Almaty for business, diplomatic, press and other contacts. All major embassies remain in Almaty and it is the venue for most representational events hosted by third country diplomats to which Embassy officers are invited. The Government of Kazakhstan hosts nearly all official functions, including its Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations, in Astana.

Special Information Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM



The U.S. Embassy plans to open an Interim Branch Office in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, before the end of 2002, pending congressional approval to establish a diplomatic presence there. The penthouse floor of the Renco Presidential Plaza—Astana's prestigious, modern Italian-designed office building located near the new government center under construction—has been chosen as the location for the Interim Branch Office. Land also has been reserved for a new U.S. Embassy in Astana and the Department of State plans to begin a design/build New Office Building project in Astana in 2003. President Nazarbayev opened the new capital in 1997, and the government completed its move from Almaty to Astana in 2000. All U.S. senior official visitors now travel to Astana; nearly all Embassy meetings with government officials take place there as well.

The Interim Branch Office will be an unclassified facility staffed by eight Americans and 30 FSN employees. It will be headed by the Embassy's Political/Economic Section Chief, who will be permanently assigned to Astana. Officers from the Embassy's Political/Economic, Administrative, and Public Affairs Sections and USAID will also be permanently assigned to the Interim Branch Office. All of those positions are currently advertised as Almaty/Astana jobs on State Department bid lists. Officers from the Embassy's Defense Attaché's Office will staff the Interim Branch Office on a rotational basis.

Personnel serving at the Interim Branch Office will be the first Americans assigned to represent the U.S. in Astana. Much like the pioneers who opened our country's diplomatic representation in republics across the former Soviet Union a decade ago, the first Americans to serve in Astana will have a chance to make a lasting and unique contribution to the conduct of American foreign policy toward Kazakhstan.

The city of Astana was originally founded by Cossack troops of the Imperial Russian Army as a fortress in 1824 and named Akmolinsk. By the middle of the 19th century, it had become a regional administrative center, and in the 20th century an important rail junction for goods moving north and south. By World War I, the city's population had grown to 20,000 inhabitants. Located in the center of the area chosen by the Soviet Union for its Virgin Lands program, in 1961 the city was renamed Tselinograd ("Virgin City" in Russian). The city's name was changed again after Kazakhstani independence in 1991 to Akmola, Kazakh for "White Tomb."

On October 20, 1997, President Nursultan Nazarbayev decreed that the capital be moved from Almaty to Akmola, and in 1998, changed the city's name to Astana, meaning "Capital" in Kazakh. Since 1991, out-migration by Russians and in-migration by Kazakhs changed the ethnic mix of the city to 40% Kazakh, 40% Russian, and some Ukrainian, Polish, and others. Since the government left Almaty and moved to Astana, the city has doubled in size to approximately 322,000 inhabitants.

Massive amounts of private and government funding have been poured into upgrading the city. The Japanese architect Kise Kurakowa won a multimillion-dollar international competition to design a new government center for the new capital, and construction is continuing at full speed. Many Kazakhstanis have been enticed to move to Astana by the excellent job prospects, higher salaries, better housing, and increasing cultural attractions.

Supplies and Services

Astana's downtown is modern, clean, and pleasant, with easily navigable streets. There is a promenade along the Esil River that attracts joggers, bikers, and in-line skaters in the warmer months. The relatively affluent nature of Astana's residents has fed the growth of restaurants, cafes, and movie theaters. The Intercontinental Hotel, a five-star luxury hotel in the center of Astana popular with the diplomatic community, international business travelers, and members of the Kazakhstani government, has several restaurants, a fitness club, an indoor pool, and a casino. Most government ministries are now housed in brand new buildings. There are several modern shopping centers, new apartment buildings, office buildings, and many bowling alleys. Kazakhstan's State Museum opened in Astana in 2000. There is a Ramstor and an Interfood shop.


Housing for personnel assigned to the Interim Branch Office has not yet been assigned. Apartments in Astana are similar to those in Almaty, and the Government of Kazakhstan is constructing a new subdivision with American-style, single-family homes specifically for diplomats.

Education and Medical Facilities.

Astana's educational and medical facilities are still developing. A Western-style VIP hospital is being built, and other acceptable medical facilities will likely follow as the international community grows. There is a Miras school in the capital city as well, and Quality Schools International has expressed an interest in opening a facility once the international community increases.

Employment for Spouses and Dependents

The Astana Interim Branch Office has one Eligible Family Member position available, the Political/Economic Section secretary. Dependents interested in employment should contact Embassy Almaty's Human Resources Officer and submit an SF-171 Application for Employment in advance. Certified teachers, and others with teaching experience, may be able to find work at the Miras private school.

Post Orientation Program

Embassy Almaty has an active Community Liaison Office (CLO). Newcomers are assigned a sponsor and receive a welcome packet of written material that contains information on the post and its operation, descriptive information on Almaty and its environs, a brief sketch of the history of Kazakhstan, a city shopping guide and maps, health and medical information. Sponsors generally take newcomers on orientation shopping and trips around town.

Notes For Travelers

Getting to the Post Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Apply for your passport and Kazakhstani visa well in advance of your intended travel. Allow 3 weeks to obtain your Kazakhstani visa. Notify the Embassy Human Resources Office in advance of the date, time, and place of your arrival in Kazakhstan. It is Embassy policy to meet all incoming personnel. Arrivals who find no Embassy representative awaiting them in Almaty should telephone the Marine Security Guard at 50-76-27 for assistance.

In order to register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and obtain Embassy identification, employees and their dependents must bring their passports to the Embassy on the first business day after arrival.

Unaccompanied air baggage (UAB) usually arrives within 3 weeks. Shipping time for household effects (HHE) and personally owned vehicles (POVs) from Washington to Kazakhstan can take up to 3 months. The arrival of shipments from other posts varies in accordance with their proximity to Kazakhstan. While awaiting the arrival of UAB, the GSO unit will issue employees a Welcome Kit, including a minimum supply of bedding, towels, dishes, glasses, cutlery, pots, pans, an iron, and an ironing board. If you will need a baby crib, please notify the GSO unit in advance of your arrival and one will be loaned to you.

Choice of Route to Almaty. Currently, no American flag carriers fly into Almaty. Lufthansa operates flights from Frankfurt under a United Airlines code-share, and KLM from Amsterdam under a Northwest Airlines code-share. Check the latest schedules to determine what carriers and stopover combinations you are authorized. Alternate means of transportation to post (train, automobile, or ship) are not recommended.

Send post sufficient advance notice of your arrival so that a Welcome Kit and transportation from the airport upon arrival can be arranged. After disembarking the plane, you will be met before the passport control and assisted through immigration and customs.

Travel to Astana. Employees assigned to the Astana Interim Branch Office should arrange routing to Astana via Almaty, allowing 2 days of consultations at the Embassy. Currently, no Western airlines fly to Astana; however, Air Kazakhstan operates several flights daily from Almaty. Driving from Almaty, a trip that takes up to 3 days, is not recommended.

Customs, Duties, and Passage

Customs and Duties Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

U.S. Government employees permanently assigned to the Embassy and Peace Corps employees are entitled to full duty-free privileges for the duration of their tour, on all their incoming household shipments, and for personal items shipped through the diplomatic pouch.

Those with diplomatic passports are not required to fill out customs declarations upon entering or leaving Kazakhstan, nor are they required to submit their bags to a customs inspection. Others, such as relatives and employees of diplomatic personnel, must fill out customs declarations and submit their bags to a customs inspection if requested.

Shipment of Effects—Almaty and Astana. No personal shipment (UAB, HHE, personally owned vehicles, or consumables) should arrive at the Embassy before the employee arrives in country. The Embassy does not have storage facilities for personal shipments. Mark HHE shipments bound for Almaty (or Astana):

American Ambassador American Embassy Furmanova 99/97A Almaty, Kazakhstan Attn: (Office symbol abbreviation and full name of receiving diplomat)

Send the original bill of lading to the European Logistical Support Office (ELSO), Antwerp, Belgium, and a copy to the General Services Officer, American Embassy, Almaty.

If you are on a direct transfer from European posts or those in neighboring states, you may ship HHE by truck directly to Almaty. In this case, the losing post must advise Almaty in advance (by cable) of the shipping company's name, the truck and trailer numbers, the number of pieces, the weight, the date of entry into Kazakhstan and the entry point, and the estimated time of arrival in Almaty. Maximum dimensions for lift vans are as follows: capacity, 9-1/2 cubic meters; weight, 2-1/2 tons; width, 7 feet; length, 8 feet; and height, 6 feet.

Airfreight-Unaccompanied Baggage (UAB). Airfreight shipments bound for Almaty should be marked as follows:

American Ambassador American Embassy Furmanova 99/97A Almaty, Kazakhstan Attn: (Office symbol abbreviation and full name of receiving diplomat)

Personally Owned Vehicles (POVs). Winterize all vehicles before shipping them. POVs are shipped through the U.S. Dispatch Agency in Baltimore. HHE/POV shipments originating in most other locations are routed through port of discharge Antwerp,

Belgium and consigned to European logistical support office (ELSO). POVs should be consigned as follows:

European Logistical Support Office (ELSO) Antwerp, Belgium Noorderlaan 147, BUS 12A, B-2030 Antwerp For forwarding to American Embassy, Almaty

Send the original bill of lading to the European Logistical Support Office (ELSO), Antwerp, Belgium, and a copy to the GSO in Almaty. For those employees on direct transfer from Western European posts, the same shipping instructions apply as those for shipment of HHE, listed above. You may ship your POV directly to Almaty via truck. The losing post must advise Almaty in advance (by cable) of the shipping company's name, the truck and trailer numbers, the number of pieces, the weight, the date of entry into Kazakhstan and the entry point, and the estimated time of arrival in Almaty.

Please consult your personnel technician and the transportation division for details on consumable allowances and regulations.

Customs, Duties, and Passage

Passage Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Persons assigned to Almaty must have a valid Kazakhstani entry visa. To ensure your visa is issued in time for your scheduled departure date, you should request an issuance date 2 weeks in advance of the actual travel date. Please coordinate closely with the State Department's Country Officer for Kazakhstan in the office of Caucasus and Central Asian Affairs, as visa requirements for Kazakhstan are very restrictive. To expedite registration at the Embassy and with the Kazakhstani Ministry of Foreign Affairs, bring at least four non-Polaroid visa-size photos.

It is imperative that all incoming personnel notify their respective agency of their exact travel plans, so that they can be met and assisted at the airport by an Embassy expediter and vehicle. TDYers can also request this service with advance payment from their travel orders.

Customs, Duties, and Passage

Pets Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

There is no quarantine on pets in Kazakhstan. Although housing assignments are not made specifically to accommodate pets, most apartments have sufficient space for small animals and most houses have fenced-in yards. Itinerary cables sent to post should include information on accompanying pets and whether they will be traveling with you or in cargo.

For entry into Kazakhstan, dogs and cats must have a health certificate issued not more than 72 hours before departure (a certificate from the vet is sufficient) as well as a current rabies vaccination. These documents should be faxed or e-mailed in advance to the GSO so the pet(s) will be pre-cleared at the airport. Copies of these documents should be kept in the pet carrier and with the traveler at all times. Check with the airlines for specific shipping guidelines and regulations.

Firearms and Ammunition Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

The Chief of Mission is the ultimate authority in determining who may possess and carry firearms and under what conditions, in accordance with 22 DSC 3927. This policy applies to all U.S. citizens and their dependents who fall under the authority of the Chief of Mission. This policy also applies to all foreign national employees, third country nationals, and contractors who may be authorized to possess and/or carry firearms as a result of duties with the Mission. All persons subject to this policy, and wishing to import a firearm, must acknowledge in writing that they have read and understand the Mission's firearms policy.

For purposes of this policy, official firearms are defined as those weapons owned by the U.S. Government, or personally owned firearms that are: 1) authorized for use by employees serving in security, law enforcement, or similar positions; and 2) required in the performance of employee's official duties. Personal firearms are defined as those weapons owned by an employee and intended for sport.

All personnel who seek to possess firearms must be adequately trained and knowledgeable in the safe handling, firing, transport, and storage of the firearms in their control or custody. Each individual authorized to possess a firearm under this policy is responsible for maintaining proficiency with the weapon. The Mission is not responsible for providing firearms familiarization, training, or qualification for personally owned weapons. The Mission accepts no responsibility or liability for the misuse of personal firearms.

The Chief of Mission may authorize the importation or acquisition of personal firearms by Mission personnel consistent with Kazakhstani law. Any employee who wishes to import or locally purchase any firearm must forward a written request to the Chief of Mission through the Regional Security Office. Such permission must be secured prior to the employee's arrival at post or local purchase.

Importation or purchase of personally owned handguns must be approved by the Department of State per 94 STATE 119532 and authorized by the Chief of Mission. All other types of personally owned legal firearms must be approved in advance by the Chief of Mission. Justification considered for the importation or acquisition of firearms includes use in the performance of official duties and sporting purposes.

The only authorized means of shipment of an unloaded personal firearm to or from post is in your HHE. The employee is responsible for obtaining any customs declarations and export forms that may be required by U.S. law. Personal firearms cannot be sold or traded to host or third-country nationals, including members of other diplomatic missions. However, such firearms may be sold or presented as gifts to other U.S. citizen members of the Mission with the prior written approval of the Chief of Mission. For all required forms and details of the procedure, contact the RSO at Embassy Almaty.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

The Kazakhstani unit of currency is the tenge, which is divisible by 100. The rate of exchange is relatively stable at 150 tenge to the dollar. Check the Embassy, local banks, or hotels for the latest rate. Embassy personnel receive no preferential rate of exchange. Citibank ATMs are available in Almaty, at the Chancery, and at the Renco Park Palace Building where the USAID Mission is located. The metric system of weights and measures is used.

Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

Diplomatic personnel are exempt from taxes, although VAT taxes are included in the price of all goods and services. The process of VAT reimbursement is handled by the Embassy's Budget and Fiscal Section on a quarterly basis. To receive VAT reimbursement, the proper documents must be submitted to the B&F unit.

Personnel may sell personal property with the approval of the administrative counselor. The exchange accommodation of proceeds from goods sold in tenge must be reviewed by the Committee on Sales that will approve the amount to be accommodated.

There is a deregistration fee for personal vehicles that must be paid upon departure or sale of the vehicle.

In Almaty, the Embassy and USAID Mission cashiers cash travelers' checks and personal checks for U.S. currency. A personal checking account with a U.S. bank is a necessity.

Recommended Reading Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Almaty Guide, The. Almaty International Women's Club 2000 (order from

Bowker, John, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. 1997.

Bradley, Catherine. Kazakhstan. Aladdin Books: London.

Community Liaison Office, U.S. Embassy Almaty (e-mail:

Ferdinand, Peter. The New States of Central Asia and Their Neighbors. New York, 1995.

Foreign Service Assignment Notebook, The. Available from the Overseas Briefing Center at the Foreign Service Institute, (703) 302-7276. Also available on the State Department intranet.

Foster, Amy and Rothbart, Michael. Guide to Almaty. BAUR Publishing: 2001.

Gross, Jo Anne. Muslims in Central Asia. Duke University Press: Durham and London, 1992.

Grousset, Rene. The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia. New Jersey, 1991.

Hopkirk, Kathleen. Central Asia: A Traveler's Companion. London, 1993.

Lonely Planet Guide to Central Asia. Lonely Planet Publications: Australia, 1996.

Mandelbaum, Michael, ed. Central Asia and the World. Council on Foreign Relations Press: New York, 1994.

Olcott, Martha Brill. The Kazakhs. Hoover Institution Press: Stanford, 1995.

Rashid, Ahmed. The Resurgence of Central Asia: Islam or Nationalism? Oxford University Press, 1994.

Reznichenko, Grigory. The Aral Sea Tragedy. Diary of an Expedition. 1992.

Scrikbaycva, Klara. Kazakhstan. Flint River Press: London, 1995.

Sevcrin, Timothy. In Search of Genghis Khan. Arrow Books: 1992.

Talanova, Olga. Along the Great Silk Road. 1991.

Thubron, Colin. The Lost Heart of Central Asia. New York, 1997.

Whittell, Giles. Central Asia: A Practical Handbook. London, 1993.

Local Holidays Last Updated: 3/31/2003 6:00 PM

You can arrive on any day of the year; local customs, border entry points, and hotel facilities are open every day.

New Year's Day January 1, 2 International Women's Day March 8 Nauryz (Spring Equinox) March 22 Day of Unity of the People of Kazakhstan (May Day) May 1

Adapted from material published by the U.S. Department of State. While some of the information is specific to U.S. missions abroad, the post report provides a good overview of general living conditions in the host country for diplomats from all nations.
Share |