As the world's largest landlocked country and one of its most sparsely populated, Kazakhstan does not always make getting around easy. Because of the country's vastness, an expat's experience of driving and transport in Kazakhstan will vary from place to place.
While there are various public transport options and well-developed roads in large cities such as Almaty and Astana (previously Nur-Sultan), the country's rural areas are likely to have considerably less to offer in this regard.
Public transport in Kazakhstan
Almaty is home to the country's only metro system, although Astana is currently planning to implement a light metro system. The metro in Almaty is clean and a cheap and fast way to get around, but with just one line of 14 miles (23 km), it has limited use.
Trains can be a scenic way to travel locally and regionally in Kazakhstan, and they even reach neighbouring countries such as Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, provided that time is not an issue. Travelling by rail may be cheap, but it is also rather slow.
There are tram systems in the cities of Pavlodar and Temirtau. There used to be a tram service in Almaty too, but the service was indefinitely suspended in October 2015.
Travelling by bus in Kazakhstan is a little faster than travelling by train, but slower than commuting by taxi or car. Buses frequently do not stick to any particular schedule, and most bus drivers will only speak Russian, making this an inconvenient way to travel for most expats. On the upside, fares are cheap.
A marshrutka is a kind of minibus or van that is larger than a regular car but smaller than a bus. They run on fixed routes around town and tend to be quite run down.
Taxis in Kazakhstan
Taxis are usually available outside bus and train stations throughout Kazakhstan. While more expensive than trains or buses, they are still relatively cheap, and the cost can be further reduced by sharing a ride with other passengers.
Most taxi drivers will speak only Russian, so it's a good idea to brush up on the language to avoid being overcharged. Most taxis do not have meters, so expats will have to negotiate the cost of the trip with the driver before beginning the journey.
Ride-hailing applications such as Uber are also available in some parts of Kazakhstan. This is a reliable way to overcome the language barrier and gives the passenger an upfront price.
Driving in Kazakhstan
Despite the availability of relatively affordable petrol for cars, expats planning to drive in Kazakhstan may have a difficult time ahead of them. Road quality throughout the country is highly variable, with some roads being in excellent condition and others in dire need of repair and replacement. One constant is that drivers in Kazakhstan are known for being reckless on the road.
To further add complications, the traffic police in Kazakhstan are notoriously corrupt. They will often stop cars to search for even the minutest irregularity. If they find something, they may try to solicit a bribe on the spot, with the alternative being a costlier fine and a long-winded bureaucratic process. To avoid this situation, expats should drive carefully at all times and make sure they're familiar with all of Kazakhstan's road regulations.
Expats wishing to drive in Kazakhstan will need an international driving permit. Newcomers must ensure they have their international driving permit along with their national driving licence with them at all times.
Cycling in Kazakhstan
There is little to no cycling infrastructure in Kazakhstan, although that doesn't stop a few enthusiastic locals from dusting off their bikes every year and taking a few rides in the summer. The only real option is to cycle on the road, but cyclists must be prepared to encounter irate drivers and keep their wits about them at all times.
Air travel in Kazakhstan
Due to the country's great size, air travel is typically the best way to travel regionally within Kazakhstan, and several Kazakhstani airlines provide well-priced domestic flights. Almaty International Airport and Nursultan Nazarbayev International Airport are the country's two major air travel hubs.