Expats moving to Kyrgyzstan will find themselves in a small yet fascinating nook of Central Asia. With the rocky Tian Shan region covering 80 percent of Kyrgyzstan, this landlocked country is as mountainous as it is tiny, with numerous lakes and valleys dotted between the soaring peaks.
Once part of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan has been making gradual changes to embrace a democratic future since it gained independence in 1991.
Expats who come to Kyrgyzstan usually work in the development sector for a range of international or local organisations and NGOs, or in the mining industry. Volunteering is also becoming increasingly popular, and there is always a high demand for English teachers. Kyrgyzstan is considered one of the safer, more attractive countries in Central Asia, and is frequently used by various companies as a base for conducting projects throughout the rest of the region.
That said, Kyrgyzstan is not a typical expat destination, with few moving there for reasons other than an already-established job contract. Most expats settle in the capital city of Bishkek, with a minority heading to the country's second-largest city of Osh instead.
The majority of Kyrgyzstan’s population is Muslim, but this is not an immediately apparent aspect of everyday life. Modern Kyrgyz culture is a blend of ancient tradition tempered with touches of Islam and Soviet-style habits (which becomes obvious when dealing with anything bureaucratic). In perfect demonstration of this careful balance, vodka is an essential part of any Kyrgyz celebration, though pork products are very much absent from such gatherings.
It is inexpensive to live well in Kyrgyzstan thanks to the country's low cost of living. Many companies organise comfortable accommodation for their employees when they arrive, but if not, various options are easily accessible in larger cities. Within most Kyrgyzstan city centres, renting is limited to apartment buildings of varying size and age, while those willing to venture further into the periphery will find houses and more spacious accommodation available.
Outdoorsy expats will be right at home in Kyrgyzstan with its stunning natural beauty offering plenty to do, see and explore. Endless opportunities for skiing and hiking present themselves on the country's many mountains, and swimming and lounging on the shores of the idyllic Lake Issyk-Kul are popular pastimes.
Not a typical expat enclave, Kyrgyzstan is certainly a destination primed for those seeking something a little less ordinary. A spirit of adventure and an open mind will go a long way in helping new arrivals adjust to life in this Central Asian country.
Official name: Kyrgyz Republic
Population: 6.5 million
Capital city: Bishkek (also largest city)
Political system: Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic
Neighbouring countries: Kyrgyzstan is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west and southwest, Tajikistan to the southwest and China to the east.
Geography: Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked mountainous country. The land is rich with minerals, but due to the mountainous terrain, very little of the land is cultivated.
Main languages: Kyrgyz and Russian (official)
Major religions: Islam
Money: The official currency is the Som (KGS), divided into 100 tyiyn.
Tipping: Tipping is not a common practice in Kyrgyzstan. Service charges are typically built into restaurant bills and flat-fare taxi rides, though expats may give an extra tip if they desire.
Electricity: 220V, 50 Hz. Round, European-style two-pin plugs are common.
International dialling code: +996
Internet domain: .kg
Emergency numbers: 102 (police), 103 (ambulance), 101 (fire)
Transport and driving: Bishkek has an established public transport system consisting of buses, trolleybuses and taxis, but outside of the major urban centres, transport is limited and expats should consider purchasing their own vehicle.