This is the route we drove in Kazakhstan. If you are interested, you can click on this image below and it will take you to the actual Google Map online. You can then zoom in (or out) to have a more detailed look.
Border crossing from Kazakhstan into Kyrgyzstan (Karkara Valley)
Please read about this border crossing on the Kyrgyzstan page.
Border crossing from Kazakhstan into Kyrgyzstan (Bishkek)
Please read about this border crossing on the Kyrgyzstan page.
Border crossing from Kyrgyzstan into Kazakhstan (Bishkek)
Please read about this border crossing on the Kyrgyzstan page.
Border crossing Russia – Kazakhstan (Kulunda – Sharbakte)
We arrived at the Russian side and noticed a small, lonely cabin on the left side of the road. Wondering if that’s where we can buy our Kazak third party insurance we stopped and turned around. It was.
The guy didn’t speak English, but with our Russian dictionary (on the iphone) we managed to make it clear we wanted insurance for 1 month. It was 650 Roebels for Lara and he wanted USD50 (we only had 200 Roebels left). We counter-offered USD25 as the equivalent is only about 22 and he accepted.
He needed the car registration papers, a driver’s licence and passport. A few minutes later we had our insurance. Our first third party insurance since China.
A few hundred meters after we bought our insurance we arrived at the gate. We drove past a few busses parked and also parked our car. As we got out with our paperwork we were already waved through and he opened the gate. We were asked to park just before the undercover area and take our passports inside the building on our right.
We were lucky as nobody was in front of us, but about a dozen came in after us. The guy at the immigration spoke perfect English and a few minutes later we already had our exit stamp from Russia. He did want to see our car registration paper and we also gave him the temporary import document we had been given at the Mongolian – Russian border. He looked at them but gave them both back.
Outside the officials wanted to have a look inside the car. Again we had the feeling they were just curious as the checks were not very thorough. He did want to look inside the aluminium box on the roof rack, so both Jon and the guy climbed up.
As we were leaving we realised we didn’t have an exit stamp on our temporary car import papers. When we asked about this we were told the Kulunda – Russian border only has passport control, no customs. We were told that none of the many borders between Russia and Kazakhstan have customs. They could not stamp our piece of paper as they were only passport control, not customs. But they assured us there was no problem leaving without the exit stamp. If we really wanted a stamp we could drive back into Russia to the town Kulunda (about 20km back) and go to the customs department there in the morning.
We believed him when he told us it was not necessary to have a stamp as none of the Russian borders with Kazakhstan have a customs department at the border.
When we got to the Russian exit gate the guard waved us through. There were plenty of cars waiting to go the other way, but there were not many going into Kazakhstan.
The strip of no-man’s land is very small and soon we were at the Kazakh gate. He asked us to park to the side and indicated we should walk over to him. We took our passports and car papers, including our new insurance paper.
From him we received a tiny bit of paper, the customs control form. We also received our arrivals card which we had to fill in on the spot. We both made a mistake by filling in the date underneath our signatures and had to start again. Nothing is filled in below your signature. The form has English translations on it so it was easy to fill in.
Once we had these filled in he opened the gate and we could drive through. Again we were asked to park just before the undercover area and asked to go inside the building on our left with our passports. They were interested in the car and we showed them our route, but they never asked us to open any doors or drawers. They immediately added their signature to the customs control form.
Inside the building was empty when we arrived and we went to the passport control booths on the right hand side. The lady helping us spoke perfect English and explained we need to register within 5 days at the immigration police. We’ll try to register in the towns we will drive through before getting to Astana. She even wrote down in Kazakh ‘where is the immigration police for registration’ for us. And also told us how to say hello, goodbye and thank you in Kazakh.
Again after a few minutes we were already standing outside with our stamped passports, we have entered Kazakhstan!
When leaving the Kazakhstan gate we handed in our customs control form and we were on our way again!
The whole process was super quick, the only reason it took us 1 hour was because we wanted to try to get our exit stamp for the temporary car import paper on the Russian side and chatted a while with the passport control officer. We also chatted a little while with the lady on the Kazakhstan side. They are all so friendly and helpful!
This border crossing is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
We bought our sim card in Pavlodar, a small town just across the border from Russia. Kcel and Activ are the same company and we found their big office near the centre of town. We had met Baurzhan in a café at lunch and he had offered to help, but there was also a lady there who spoke perfect English and knew exactly what we needed.
We were told to buy an Activ sim card and add internet data to it. It already comes with calling credit. The sim was 2500T (including 2000T call credit) and we bought 2Gb worth of data (1500T).
They had mini sim cards for the iphone and she even managed to change the language of the texts sent to me to English. Great!
And, for the first time since South East Asia, the personal hotspot is working again too. We did have to go into an Apple shop in Astana to get it set correctly, but all good now.
All major / main roads in Kazakhstan are tarmac (so far) and dead-straight most of the time. Some sections are in really good condition, others are terrible with many potholes, ruts and rough tarmac. And of course anything in between. Some of the potholes are big enough and deep enough to swallow up your wheel and if you don’t pay a lot of attention this can easily cost you your suspension.
There are lots and lots and lots of police checks in Kazakhstan, including speed checks with speed guns that records your speed, but it is possible to avoid paying fines. A few things to remember is that the police have checks at every road into and out of the bigger towns. They make you drive at 20km an hour and can pull cars out of the line without any reason. We always were busy looking the other way and managed to avoid those.
A bit harder is avoiding the speed guns as they are set up (as everywhere in the world) around sneeky corners where you won’t see them until it is too late. We saw lots of checks on roads where the limit is 50km an hour. This they do for example on perfectly good roads that go over a pass and are up and down and windy. It’s very easy to go faster here, but even the locals seem (mostly) to stick to the 50km/hr and for a reason. Another one is in or just before or after villages. There are no signs to show the speed limit, but it is 50 in villages. Sometimes the white sign with the village name is all there is to indicate the speed change. If you stick to it you will avoid the many checks in the villages. Locals will sometimes (as in other countries) flash their lights 2 times to warn you for upcoming police checks if you are lucky.
A last warning for those with tinted windows at the front: wind them down whenever you see a police check coming up! If not, you risk being pulled over and given a fine as this is illegal in Kazakhstan! By winding ours down every time they can’t see the tinted glass and have no reason to stop us. They might even try to scratch it off if they see you with tinted windows, so be aware (thanks for the tip Guy & Cheryl).
We had no problems with the quality of diesel in Kazakhstan, although at times we did feel like Lara was misfiring or hesitating when accelerating. We made sure we kept the fuel filter clean and it caused no problems.
We don’t like their system of filling up though. You have to pay for a certain amount of liters first before they turn the pump on for you. You can’t leave money or a credit card to fill up and pay afterwards, you have to nominate a number of liters.
It’s a pain as you can never fill up to the top for a long journey, but we’re getting better in guessing how many liters we want.
Diesel is around 102 Tenge a liter (about $0.70 in August 2013), but we saw it as cheap as 93T around Shymkent.
Oddity – clean cars
We have been warned to clean our car before entering Astana (the capital). The president lives there and he likes things to be clean and tidy. We have noticed this in other cities too where people sweep the streets and clean up rubbish, but in Astana he takes it one step further.
His reasoning: “if you have enough money to buy a car, you have enough money to keep it clean….” Can’t argue with that. So, to avoid a fine and / or hassles with the police we’ve decided to clean up Lara before we enter the city boundaries.
In Kazakhstan you MUST register your visa with the immigration police within 5 days of arriving in the country. Usually this is done automatically when you arrive by plane, but if you arrive overland, chances are this won’t happen automatically.
There is a good chance the border immigration officer will actually tell you to register within 5 days, but if not you can easily tell if you have been registered automatically by looking at your arrivals card.
The arrivals card is given to you at the border and you must fill it in. If you have been registered automatically you will see 2 stamps on it. If not, there will only be one and you will need to get the second one from the immigration police in a town.
We registered in Pavlodar, the first town for us after the border. We wanted to do it here and not wait till Astana as we thought it would be easier to find it in a smaller town.
It was quite easy to find (address: 68 Toraigyov St), most people seem to know where it is.
Once there we joined the queue and Violet helped us whenever we needed an interpreter (all the time). We had a nice chat and when it was our turn she explained what we wanted to the officer on duty. He couldn’t help us he said. We would have to check into a hotel and then come back again with the address, as we couldn’t register without an address. But when offered an address of a local hotel, he still couldn’t (wouldn’t ?) help us.
Violet then offered to help us by providing her address to the officer and that worked…
We had to fill in a form each (all in Russian, so unless you speak / read Russian it might be good to get somebody to help you with this). The officer didn’t have any forms, so she wrote out the details they needed by hand.
Once the forms were filled in, it was another few minutes before we had our required stamp. He had to copy some details into his book, then add our number from the book to our forms before he stamped the lot and finally our arrivals card. We can now stay in Kazakhstan until our visa runs out.
Food and shopping
The majority of the Kazakh cuisine is meat-based as they have a nomadic origin. There is plenty of fish on the menu and also salads and soups that are suitable for vegetarians.
Kazakhstan has supermarkets, but also the market style individual shops where every lady sells similar stuff. They do have a wide range of things (especially compared to Mongolian shops) so you just have to look around. We did find plenty of western style food in the supermarkets in Astana and Almaty. Including things like green pesto, powdered ice tea (our treat on a hot day after a long day driving) and chickpeas.
The famous Kazakh meat dish is beshbarmak and consists of horse meat or mutton, onion rings and layers of pasta, all heaped together on a big dish. It translates into ‘5 fingers’ as it is traditionally eaten using them. According to Jon it was fantastic, it certainly looked and smelled very good. It’s generally eaten with a bunch of people as it is a huge dish, containing a lot of meat!
I found various vegetarian Kazakh snacks, some filled with potato, others with cheese. Their bread balls (almost doughnut like or even like ‘oliebollen’, but not sweet) are also fantastic.
Land Rover garages
There are 2 Land Rover garages in Kazakhstan. One relatively new one in Astana (shared with Ford) and one bigger one in Almaty. They both have a workshop and are extremely helpful if you need them.
They are happy to work on your car pretty much immediately and try to get it done as soon as possible. Several of the staff members speak either perfect English or some English, so communication is not a problem.
Address Land Rover Astana
5 / 1 Taha Husein str.
Republic of Kazakhstan
Phone: +77172 204204 (showroom) +77172 204162 (service) or +770188 58088 (Inessa – speaks perfect Englilsh)
Address Land Rover Almaty
15 Suyunbaya ave
Republic of Kazakhstan
We applied for our visas in Singapore as it is the nearest embassy to Australia. Lynn from the embassy was extremely helpful, answering questions via email quickly. We decided to apply for a double entry visa with a validity of 2 months (USD50) which should give us some more overlap of dates.
We sent the application forms, our cover letter and our passports on 12 November 2012 to Singapore using express registered mail ($41.75) and got them back on 12-12-12 (see below for reason!). We used a standard envelope with 10 international mail coupons ($33) to allow them to mail our passports back with registered mail, avoiding the high costs of a courier that way.
We had a hiccup with paying for our Kazakh visas which we discovered when Lynn sent us an email to let us know we were USD25 short on our payment! I found out today (23 Nov) after calling Westpac that they used an intermediate bank in the US which also charged USD25 for the privilege and that meant we were USD25 short… Westpac has kindly refunded all the extra fees and made another payment for the missing USD25 today (as they admitted they should have checked for intermediate banks for us). But, as you can imagine, this will delay getting our visas by a week or so as we now need to wait for this second payment to clear in the Singapore bank. Luckily we have an extra week or so before we fly to Europe… In the end the passports came back on Wednesday and we fly out to Europe on Saturday… plenty of time 🙂
The recommendation our bank gave us, is to request explicitly they call the international department of the bank and ask if any intermediate banks will be used when making an international payment. They should be able to tell you if they have to use one. If an American bank is used, they will charge a flat fee of USD25 per transaction, if another bank is used (in another country), they might not be able to give you an exact amount…
The citizens of Australia and The Netherlands can apply for single entry tourist, and double entry tourist (up to two month) visas WITHOUT an official invitation (=LOI) arranged through Kazakhstan authorities on the basis of their personal written statements submitted to the Consular Section of the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Singapore:
Visa processing fees are:
– Single entry tourist visa up to one months – 25 USD;
– Double entry tourist visa up to two months – 50 USD;
The processing time is 5-7 working days.
In order to apply for Kazakhstan single entry tourist visas, you will need to provide the following documents:
1. A letter with request to issue a visa addressed to the Consular Section of the Embassy of Kazakhstan. Please, indicate the purpose of your trip, your contact in Kazakhstan, the dates of your planned trip, and places to be visited.
2. A completed visa application form (one per person). All fields must be completed, otherwise your application can be refused.
3. A valid passport (a photocopy will not be accepted) which should have at least one blank page for a visa. The passport must be valid for at least six months longer than the validity of the requested visa.
4. One passport size photo of the applicant which should be stapled/paste to the marked space in the upper right hand corner of the application form.
5. Payment should be done by inward remittance / telegraphic transfer only.
NOTE: A tourist visa cannot be extended in Kazakhstan.
Payments for all type of consular services should be made by inward remittance, telegraphic transfer or cash deposit into account only.
Payment should be made in NET amount, EXCLUDING BANKING FEE. Upon making a payment, please, indicate in IR/TT application form your full name and passport number for verification purposes and REFERENCE NUMBER of the application, which is given upon submission (for the applicants from Australia and New Zealand reference number is given upon receiving documents by the Embassy via post or courier service), otherwise your visa application or any other application will be refused.
PLEASE, do not make payment in advance before documents are submitted.
We saw lots of animals in Kazakhstan, but most of them are cattle and we didn’t take many photos of them. We do have quite a few photos of other animals we saw in Kazakhstan: