|Preface Last Updated: 3/31/2003
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
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
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
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
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 Netgrocer.com or Drugstore.com 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
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
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
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
(email@example.com), a company that focuses on recruiting expats in
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:
Embassy Dushanbe in Almaty is located at 97 Zholdasbekova Street,
Samal Towers Building, 10th floor. (Tel.: 7-3272-504879, Fax:
Legal Attaché Office is located at 97 Zholdasbekova Street, Samal
Towers Building, 9th floor (Tel.: 7-3272-504802, Fax:
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:
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
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
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 (email@example.com).
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
INTERIM BRANCH OFFICE
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Almaty Guide, The. Almaty International Women's Club 2000 (order
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
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,
Lonely Planet Guide to Central Asia. Lonely Planet Publications:
Mandelbaum, Michael, ed. Central Asia and the World. Council on
Foreign Relations Press: New York, 1994.
Olcott, Martha Brill. The Kazakhs. Hoover Institution Press:
Rashid, Ahmed. The Resurgence of Central Asia: Islam or
Nationalism? Oxford University Press, 1994.
Reznichenko, Grigory. The Aral Sea Tragedy. Diary of an
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,
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