Uzbekistan can seem like a tricky country to travel to, but with the right preparation, it’s not a problem. Here are 60+ things you need to know before traveling to Uzbekistan to help you on your merry way!
September 2017 update: The Uzbek government has done away with some of its restrictive currency policies, effectively killing the black market for money. Money can now be changed at market rates at Uzbek banks, and ATMs should convert money at market rates too. This policy was implemented on September 5th, 2017, so it’s not clear whether the ATM withdrawal limit has been lifted. However, currency can now be exchanged at banks at normal market rates. It is still advisable to bring all the money you think you need in cash.
Uzbekistan is the ultimate destination when you’re backpacking the Silk Road, but it also has a reputation for being difficult to travel through. From visas to strict border checks to registration slips, we can see why it might be intimidating!
It sounds like a nightmare to travel through, but I assure you, it’s not as bad as it seems. As long as you know what you’re getting into ahead of time, traveling through Uzbekistan is a dream, one you’re not likely to forget upon awakening. To ensure your travel to Uzbekistan goes off without a hitch (and without any angry officials), here’s a list of things you need to know before traveling to Uzbekistan.
60+ things you need to know before traveling to Uzbekistan
Before you go
Fall (September – October) is generally considered the best time to visit. The summer heat is gone, and harvest season is in full swing, which means plenty of delicious fruits and veggies to be found all over the country!
Uzbekistan has land border crossings with Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. You’ll have a different experience at each border crossing, so it pays to do a bit of research beforehand. Caravanistan is a great resource for all things Central Asia.
You can also fly in by plane, of course. Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital, is the country’s main hub for international flights.
No, you probably can’t enter visa-free. Though there were talks in 2016 about expanding the visa-free policy to citizens of more countries (like nearby Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan), those plans were “postponed” until 2021. Unless you’re from Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, or Ukraine, no visa-free for you. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the policy to change.
You can only get a visa for 30 days. It’s possible to get two visas—which are back-to-back 15-day visas—but more than 30 days at a time is not an option.
You’ll need to put very specific dates on your visa. Uzbekistan visas are valid for 30 days, and have start and end dates. You can enter any time on or after the starting date, and must leave any time before or on the end date. Choose carefully!
Many nationalities need a letter of invitation (LOI) from a tour company to get a visa. If you’re from Austria, Belgium, Czechia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Malaysia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, UK, or USA you don’t need one, though it can be helpful in expediting your visa application. We recommend Stan Tours for LOIs.
Don’t try to get a visa valid on or around Uzbekistan’s independence day, September 1. You’ll have trouble getting an LOI for that time. When we applied, we weren’t able to apply for a letter for any period falling within August 20 – September 5.
Entering and exiting
You’ll need to declare how much money you’re bringing into the country at the border. You’ll fill out an immigration form with the amount on it—don’t lose it! You need to show it when exiting the country.
You must leave with less money than you entered with. That’s why you need to save the immigration form. If you’re exiting with more money than you came in with, it’ll look like you went into the country to work, and that will not bode well with officials.
Don’t bring in any pornographic material. It’s not allowed, and will be confiscated if (when) the customs officials find it. This includes videos and photos on your phone. Not that this should be a problem—who downloads porn these days?
You’ll be thoroughly checked at the border. On our way in from Kyrgyzstan, they went through all of Sebastiaan’s things, and rummaged around through my bag a bit. On our way out to Afghanistan, they went through every. single. thing. in our bags, and almost all the files on my computer. No shady business, now.
Officials might check your mobile phone and/or computer when entering and exiting the country. They’re looking for anything suspicious, from religious material to commentary on the government and Uzbek history, but porn is mainly what they’re looking for. I said no porn, and I was serious! You’ll just have to use your imagination for a while.
You can’t bring in any drugs containing codeine. Yes, they’ll check the ingredients of any drugs you bring in, so do keep your pills in their boxes or bottles.
Don’t bring in any prescription pills unless your name is on the bottle. Yes, I know, the border officials are Nazis. Just beware.
Hide any photo (or other) files that border officials might find suspicious. This could include that one porno you really just can’t go without (seriously, though, streaming), or photos from inside the country that have guards or other officials in them—a big no no.
Uzbekistan’s currency is the Uzbek som. Up until recently, there was a black market rate and an official rate. However, as of September 2017 this is no longer the case.
Change money at banks. Before September 2017, visitors were advised to change money with black market money changers. However, this is no longer the case. Money can and should now be changed at banks.
Bring a bag just for your money. No, seriously, you’ll need to carry wildly large amounts of bank notes everywhere, and a wallet ain’t gonna cut it. It’s like being a gangster in the movies: you’ll need an entire briefcase full of cash.
Don’t count on having access to ATMs. They don’t always work, and sometimes have withdrawal limits set up. However, with the new policy on foreign currency, it should be easier to get money from the ATM. We will update this page as we get more information on using ATMs in Uzbeksitan.
No need to tip. Tipping isn’t very common in Uzbekistan, short of rounding up the bill at nicer restaurants.
Many sights have a second entrance where you can walk in for free. You’ll see plenty of Uzbeks sidling in through side and back entrances at sights, so if you’re on a tight budget, feel free to join them!
Hotels will give you registration slips. The slips will have the dates of your stay written on them, and hotels will usually give them to you when you check out. DO NOT LOSE THEM. You may need them to exit the country.
Hostels exist, but they fill up quickly in high season. Be sure to book ahead at popular hostels in major cities. You can book online using sites like Booking.com, you’ll just pay in cash once you arrive.
Hotels usually ask to be paid in dollars. Apparently a law introduced in 2017 requires all foreign tourists to pay in dollars. In some off-beat places you might get away with paying in Som, but expect to shell out dollars when paying for accommodation.
You can only pay hotels with Uzbek som. A new law has been introduced, barring foreigners from paying with dollars. You can, however, pay with international cards.
Couchsurfing is technically not allowed. There are people who host or are hosted, but we can’t officially recommend it, as you could potentially get your host in trouble. It’s up to you to use your own discretion, of course.
Note: Whatever you decide Couchsurfing-wise, do not go Couchsurfing anywhere in the Fergana Valley. You must have registration slips for every night you spend in the valley.
Shared taxis are often the cheapest transportation often. They’re often the same price—or cheaper!—than trains. Just make sure to check with a local or your hotel manager to get an idea of how much they cost before you go, as you usually have to haggle.
If taking a shared taxi, do not let the taxi driver leave before the car is full. Some men will try to rip you off by claiming they’re a shared taxi, then driving off and making you pay for all of the seats. Prevent them from doing this by standing outside the taxi until it’s full.
Don’t be afraid to ask other passengers how much taxis should cost. Most Uzbeks are very friendly, and will be happy to help you get the proper price. (Unfortunately, some are also shady and will make you pay more so they get a discount, but we’ve found the former is more common than the latter!)
You’ll be checked twice before entering the metro in Tashkent. Uzbekistan is big on security, and they’ll usually check your bags in two different places before you can enter. No worries, most of the guards are quite friendly!
Buses stop often, but not for food. Don’t forget to pack snacks if you’re heading off on a long journey!
You should generally keep windows closed while driving. Uzbeks believe open windows on the road will lead to colds, and will often shut the windows right after you open them. Don’t ask questions… unless it’s too hot to function.
You need to bring your passport with you to buy train tickets. Shouldn’t be a problem since you’ll always have your passport on you… right?
There are 4 train classes: spanlnyj vagon (SV), kupe (K), platzkartnyj (P) and obshchyj (O). All trains will have at least K and P classes. SV, the most expensive, is made up of cabins with two beds. K is four-bed cabins, P is an open carriage with dormitory style bunks, and O is like P, but with more beds squeezed in. The Man in Seat 61 blog has more on train travel in Uzbekistan.
If you’re looking for a balance of space and value, P class on trains will be fine. Platzkart is a good place to meet and chat with Uzbek travelers, and there’s nice a sense of camaraderie in the P class.
If security is important to you, look to the SV or K classes. You can lock the doors of the cabins if necessary.
Read more: A two-week Uzbekistan photo itinerary
Culture and dress
Islam is the majority religion in Uzbekistan. Figures say anwhere from 70% to 96% of the Uzbek population is Muslim.
Islam can be quite loosely interpreted in Uzbekistan. Women dress much more liberally than in other Islamic countries, and you won’t be hard-pressed to find Muslim men downing a shot of vodka (or three) in the evenings.
Uzbekistan used to be part of the Soviet Union. It declared its independence on September 1, 1991. There’s still a minority community of Russians distributed throughout the country, though.
The official language is Uzbek. It’s a Turkic language, and is written using Latin letters. If you know a bit of Turkish, you might be able to understand snippets of conversation!
Russian is common in Uzbekistan. Many Uzbeks know Russian as a second language, and it’s the main language of 14% of the population. Being able to read the Cyrillic alphabet or knowing a few Russian phrases can prove quite useful in Uzbekistan. Do consider picking up a Russian phrasebook before jetting off.
English, on the other hand, isn’t so common. Youth in cities will often know a bit of English (because internet), but the older people get, the less common English is. Never fear, people in tourist areas will often have a bit of English up their sleeves.
There’s not much of a dress code for women in the major sights. Despite being an Islamic country, plenty of women went into major Islamic sights sans-headscarf or with shorter dresses and skirts. That doesn’t mean girls should roll in with hot pants and tube tops, though—modest dress is always appreciated.
Islam Karimov was the first president of Uzbekistan, and you don’t want to insult him. He died in 2016, to the great sorrow of the Uzbek people, but was internationally known for running an authoritarian regime guilty of many human rights abuses. Uzbeks love him, foreigners are dubious, and it’s better to avoid the subject with the local populace.
Uzbeks pray by holding their hands out, then making a wiping motion over their face. They’re holding out their hands for Allah to fill, then washing the blessings over themselves. You’ll usually see this before and after meals, and inside mosques and other religious sites. I believe it’s called dua, but I’m no Muslim, so sorry if I got the term wrong, Allah.
The country is highly dependent on cotton and other commodities. You’ll see endless fields of cotton when driving through the countryside. Unfortunately, there are plenty of problems plaguing cotton production, ranging from extremely poor wages for cotton pickers to serious water resource depletion. The Aral Sea between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan is drying up, and much of that is due to the high water demands of growing cotton.
Read more: A practical Uzbekistan travel guide
Prepare for culinary monotony. Though Uzbek food can be delicious, and the produce is rich and varied, pickings are slim when eating out on a budget. By the time you leave Uzbekistan, you’ll be able to dream the menus in your sleep. Brace yourself, you’re about to eat a lot of bread and meat. Vitamin supplements aren’t a bad idea.
The most common dishes are lagman (noodle dish), plov (rice), shashlik (kebab), and manty (dumplings). Though restaurants usually have all of them listed as options, you’ll find there’s only ever one or two actually available at any given time. Don’t get your hopes up.
Plov is king in Uzbekistan. Plov is a rice pilaf-like dish commonly found in Uzbekistan (and throughout the rest of Central Asia), and is the proclaimed National Bestest Food Evar according to many an Uzbek. Though simple, it can be hearty and delicious, and you must try it at least once or twice while in Uzbekistan.
are getting scurvy need a dose of veggies in your life, head to the market. There are lots of Koreans in Uzbekistan, and there are lots of tasty Korean-influenced vegetable salads on sale in many of the bazaars.
For cheap and tasty food, look for signs saying “CHOYXONA”. They’re small teahouse-restaurant combinations. If there are plenty of locals inside, you know you’ve found a keeper!
Eat melons. Lots and lots of melons. The melons in Uzbekistan are utterly succulent, and famous in the region. You don’t want to miss out!
Vegetarians and vegans are not common in Uzbekistan. People might have trouble understanding what you’re asking for, and be cautious, as what you get might still have meat or animal products in it.
Read more: Why you need to see sunrise in Uzbekistan
I saved the best for last! (Sarcasm.)
Uzbekistan is a land in love with all things official and bureaucratic, and there are a handful of things you definitely need to be aware of before entering the country, or risk pissing off people in power. Though things might sound difficult, I assure you, it’s not so bad in practice. Just be attentive, and play nice.
Never, ever take photos of anything military, power plants, or transportation. There’s a good chance you’ll get in trouble, and they may think you’re a spy. You never ever want to give an official reason to believe you’re a spy in these kinds of countries.
Always carry a copy of your passport with you. Uzbekistan loves a good security check, and it’s important to have ID on you at all times.
Be wary of police after bribes. Though this problem is seen less and less as things progress, there have been problems with police (and other officials) demanding passports from tourists, then demanding a bribe before giving it back. We almost had this happen to us once in Andijan. To avoid coughing up any baksheesh, always show a copy of your passport to officials, rather than the real deal.
You officially need hotel registration slips for every night you’re in Uzbekistan. At the airport and some border crossings officials will check if you have hotel registration slips for most of the nights you were in the country. You’ll probably be able to slide if you’re missing a night every once in a while—let’s say one in every three days.
If you’re traveling through the Fergana Valley, make sure to have a slip for each night. The valley is the one place where you will get in trouble if you don’t have registration slips for each night, as it’s an area that is closely watched by the government due to violent uprisings in the past. Don’t worry, the area is safe to visit now (and we highly recommend it!), but you’ll need to be on top of your slips there.
Keep your tickets when taking overnight trains. You can use them as registration slips, too.
And so ends the lengthy list! If any of you have more tips on things you need to know before traveling to Uzbekistan, do give a shout. The more information, the merrier!
Want more Uzbekistan goodness? Don’t miss our two week Uzbekistan photo itinerary!
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