Kazakhstan is generally a safe place for expatriates to live. There are, however, some tensions between rich and poor: muggings and theft occur, especially in the cities. Expats are therefore advised to avoid walking alone, take prearranged taxis and stick to well-lit and well-populated areas. Pickpocketing has been repeatedly reported at the open-air market in Almaty, so keep your belongings close and your eyes open.
Driving is notoriously anarchic in Kazakhstan; don’t assume that vehicles will stop for pedestrians to cross, and take care on the roads, especially when it’s cold and icy.
The emergency number to ring from any phone in Kazakhstan is 112. The police number is 102. Following criticism of the police force in recent years (with it being labeled old-fashioned and repressive), President Nursultan Nazarbayev has claimed he is working to reform and improve police operations and increase transparency.
Kazakhstan has free compulsory education up to the end of high school age, and very high national literacy levels. However, most expatriates living in Kazakhstan choose independent schools rather than state schools for their children.
There are several private international schools in Astana and Almaty, including two schools run under the Haileybury umbrella, which follow the UK national curriculum (Haileybury is a long-established UK boarding school). There is at least one school run according to the American system. But if you’re hoping to find places in these international schools, make sure you contact them well in advance, as they often have long waiting lists.
As the ninth biggest country in the world, Kazakhstan covers an enormous 2.7 million square kilometers, and much of that land is remote and practically uninhabited, so it can be difficult to get around.
There are many airports within Kazakhstan. Astana and Almaty both have their own international airports, as does Atyrau in the West, and domestic flights are often the quickest option if you’re traveling a significant distance. Air Astana is the largest airline and the only Kazakh airline permitted to fly into European airspace. It operates scheduled international and domestic flights on 56 routes.
The national rail system is essential, although it can be slow; it takes approximately 18 hours to get from Almaty in the south to Petropavi in the north by high-speed train.
Large stretches of Kazakhstan’s road network are crying out for modernization and repair, but car travel is still possible. In the mountains, there are four-wheel-drive minibuses, which can just about cope with the terrain, although it may be a slow and bumpy journey.
For shorter, localized journeys, you’ll find buses, minibuses and taxis useful, although bus departures aren’t always reliable. Almaty and Astana have small metro systems, which are due to be extended, too.