Turkmenistan is located in the heart of Central Asia, with the Caspian Sea to the west of the country. The nation also shares a border with Kazakhstan (towards the north-west), Uzbekistan (north and east), Afghanistan (south and east) and Iran (south and south-west). Turkmenistan is roughly the same size as Spain and is mostly landlocked.
Ashgabat is by far the largest city in Turkmenistan with a population of nearly one million in 2013; more than three times larger than the next biggest city, Türkmenabat. All in all, around five million people live in Turkmenistan and 85 percent of them are locals, with sizeable numbers of Uzbek and Russian people also living in the country.
Turkmen is the most common language but many people also have a grasp of Russian. English is rarely spoken, even in major cities. Around nine out of ten people living in Turkmenistan are Muslim — most of the remaining residents are followers of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
The Karakum Desert, which covers a vast part of Turkmenistan's area, is one of the driest places in the world and much of the country is the same, with levels of precipitation having been recorded at around the 12 mm mark. About 80 percent of Turkmenistan's land mass is desert.
Temperatures can also be very high in Turkmenistan, especially in inland cities such as Kerki, which is located on the banks of the Amu Darya River. Temperatures have been recorded higher than 50°C, making it one of the warmest countries in the world during summer.
Despite this, overall Turkmenistan has a cold desert climate that is best described as severely continental. The country's summer runs from May through September and is hot and dry, with thunderstorms not uncommon, though evenings can be cool. The winters are typically mild and dry. However, towards the north of the country, the winters can be colder and damp.
A visa is required to visit Turkmenistan regardless of where an individual is from, with only small exemptions for parts of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Every visa application must be supported by an official invitation that has been approved by the State Migration Service of Turkmenistan. Depending on the reason for your visit, this can be obtained with the help of travel agents (for tourist visits), a local company, or a private individual.
For stays of over three days, expatriates also have to register their presence with the local State Service.
Anyone planning to visit Atamurat, Serakhs, Cheleken, Serhetabat, or Dashoguz must first acquire permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Furthermore, expats planning to use the railway system to travel through Turkmenistan must first acquire a transit visa.
A week to ten days should at minimum be allowed for visas to be processed, but there’s the option to fast-track one’s application for an additional fee.