Being the former capital of Kazakhstan, before power transferred to Astana in 1997, Almaty is still the largest city in the country and remains its cultural and commercial center. The population of the city is around 1.5 million according to the most recent census. Around half of this population is made up by Kazakhs, along with Russians (around 30%), Uyghur (5%), Korean (2%) and others making up around 7%. There is a notable expat community.
Almaty is located in the far south of the very large country of Kazakhstan, slightly to the east and not far from the border with Kyrgyzstan. It is also quite close to the border with China to the east.
Almaty has very defined seasons, with hot summers and very cold winters. The annual average air temperature is around 10°C (50°F). January is the coldest month with averages of −4.7°C (24°F), while the hottest month, July, averages 23.8°C (75°F). Frost usually begins in mid-October and continues until mid-April, with late December to late February being extremely cold. Being a large city, the center of Almaty experiences a "heat-island", making it warmer than outlying areas.
Annual precipitation is around 650-700 mm, a third of which falls during the wettest months of April and May. Snowfall has, on rare occasions, been recorded in May. Smog and pollution can be a problem in Almaty.
Expats tend to choose one of two accommodation options when they move to Almaty. One is to live in the center of town, with luxurious apartments plus entertainment, cafes and restaurants all within walking distance. However, smog can be an issue here and some prefer to live uptown, closer to the mountains, with cleaner air. This is around a twenty-minute drive to downtown, and many of Almaty's elite choose this option, too.
In the city center, an average one bedroom apartment costs roughly 500 USD per month, rising to around 900 USD or more for a three bedroom apartment. However, apartments considered "luxury" and probably about the standard that the average Westerner would be used to can cost from 1500 to 3500 USD per month. Apartments, rather than houses, are the predominant form of accommodation. Outside the center, costs fall a little.
ARE (Almaty Real Estate) has a good website in English with rental listings covering most areas of Almaty.