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Living in Turkmenistan
A practical guide to the way of life in Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan is one of the world's most unexplored countries, with much of it covered by the Karakum Desert. As it is the world's fourth largest suppler of natural gas, its economy has been a rising star in the last years, developing rapidly and attracting expats from all over the world.
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Life in Turkmenistan
Compared with much of Central Asia, living in Turkmenistan is quite appealing. Turkmenistan is a relatively young country — it only achieved independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 — and is still learning to stand on its own. The rich natural resources of the country could help it to become a regional power in the near future.
Education in Turkmenistan
Education in Turkmenistan is managed by the Ministry of Education, which handles all levels of schooling in the country. Huge strides have been made in the education sector in the last few years, and this is an area where Turkmenistan is making rapid progresses to bring standards up. Turkmen students currently do not pay any tuition fees and two new universities, the Agricultural University in Dashoguz and the Military Academy in Ashgabad, are being built.
Turkmenistan has 23 higher education institutions and there are also post-graduate places at the Turkmen Academy of Sciences, which was restored in 2007. However, the number of spaces at the institution is strictly limited, with only a few dozen places available each year.
Transportation in Turkmenistan
Many people in Turkmenistan use the railways to get around the country, with the system owned and operated by state-owned Türkmendemirýollary. Lines from Kazakhstan–Turkmenistan–Iran and Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Tajikistan are currently under construction, with passenger traffic currently limited by the national borders.
The Turkmenistan road network has seen heavy investment in the last few years and the building of new roads has helped to boost the country’s ever growing economy to new heights. Expatriates living in Turkmenistan will need an international driver’s license.
Air travel in Turkmenistan remains fairly rudimentary but there are commercial services out of the nation’s two largest cities, Turkmenbashi and Ashgabat. Government-managed Turkmenistan Airlines runs flights from these cities, but, at the time of writing in 2014, only about half a million people travel into and out of Turkmenistan via planes each year.
Flights are currently available to major cities such as Moscow, London, Frankfurt, Bangkok, Delhi, and Abu Dhabi, as well as Minsk, Almaty, Tashkent, and St Petersburg.
Safety and Security in Turkmenistan
Official crime statistics are not published by the Turkmenistan government, but estimates to the safety and security levels in the country can be made.
There is some violent crime in Turkmenistan but it usually concerns the narcotics trade — Afghan and Iranian opium is shipped through Turkmenistan — and expats do not tend to be involved. Alcohol-related incidents are common and there is also a risk that women traveling alone may be assaulted or harassed. Extra care should be taken when traveling near the Turkmen/Afghan border, but the capital city Ashgabat is generally thought to be quite safe.
As expats may be perceived by local criminals to be rich, they may be targets of theft, so be careful with your belongings to avoid pickpocketing. Driving at night in Turkmenistan is not recommended as many roads remain of a poor quality, and outside of Ashgabat they are not lit. Tap water should not be used for drinking and unpeeled fruits and uncooked vegetables sold at markets should also be avoided.
ID need to be carried at all times by expats living in Turkmenistan, as checks are regularly made. Turkmenistan has a number of laws people living there should be aware of. For instance, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. Smoking is also strictly forbidden outdoors in public areas, but is permitted inside many restaurants, cafes, and nightclubs.
It is also worth noting that Turkmenistan is in an active seismic zone, where infrastructure problems mean electrical and telecommunication issues do arise at times.
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