Practical Travel Guide
Getting a visa for Uzbekistan has become much easier in recent times. The pesky letter of invitation has mostly been done away with, and it’s even possible to apply for an e-visa for many nationalities now.
Uzbekistan is a very affordable country. Dealing with its cash situation can be tricky, though.
Uzbekistan is a cash only economy. Cards are virtually useless, and even if ATM’s work, you can only get $20 at a time. What’s worse, ATMs will convert your money at the official exchange rate, which is about half that of the black market rate. Our advice: bring all the cash you think you need, and then some, in USD.
Changing money on the black market is easy and straightforward. Money changers hang out at most tourist hot spots and near bazaars and train stations. The exchange rate at the time of writing was 6,300 som to the dollar. Changing money can be easily done in the open. Just make sure to count all money. The highest denomination bill is 5,000 som, so changing $100 will leave you with quite some cash. Count everything and carry a small bag to put the money in.
Food & drinks
- Water and soda: 1,000 – 3,000 som
- Tea: 1,000 – 3,000 som
- Breakfast and lunch: 6,000 – 18,000 som
- Dinner: 10,000 – 20,000 som
- Dorm bed in hostel: 60,000 – 70,000 som
- Private room in a guest house: 60,000 – 80,000 som
- Main historical sights: 15,000 – 20,000
We tracked our expenses over our 19 days in Uzbekistan. You can check out our budget report here.
We also keep a detailed tab on all our expenses in a spreadsheet. If you really want to get nitty-gritty, check it out here.
The most common modes of transport between cities are train, (shared taxi) and bus.
Trains run between most major cities. Standards range from new, fast, and luxurious Italian made trains, to old Soviet rolling stock. Prices are commensurate to the type of train you take. We advice taking the Soviet rolling stock, especially if you want to cover a large distance (from Tashkent to Bukhara, say).
There are two classes: platzkart and kupe. We recommend platzkart, which is inexpensive and relatively comfortable, with a reasonable berth to sleep on for overnight journeys. Make sure to bring snacks and drinks, since journeys can easily take 20+ hours.
Getting tickets is relatively straightforward. Just go to the train station, preferably a day before departure, and buy a ticket at the counter. Uzbeks are not known for creating orderly lines, so don’t be shy about cutting in line when necessary.
Check out the Uzbek Rail website for train schedules, or ask your guesthouse for help. Tickets cost between 60,000 – 80,000 som for a platzkart 20+ hour overnight train. Note that newer, faster trains don’t run overnight.
For shorter distances, from Tashkent to Samarkand, say, shared taxi’s are the way to go. Shared taxis usually leave from set departure points in a given city. Ask your guesthouse or hostel for the exact location.
Shared taxis leave when full, and will bring you to your desired destination within a city. Ask your guesthouse or hotel how much a shared taxi should cost before you go, or be prepared to overpay. Bargaining is the norm. Shared taxis should cost between 30,000 – 50,000 som on the main routes, and a bit more to less popular destinations.
Buses are a lot less popular than trains and shared taxis, and mostly used for shorter trips between close-by cities and towns. We recommend taking either a train or a shared taxi. If you really want to take a bus, ask your guesthouse for the possibilities.
Within cities most people either use the metro, taxi, marshrutka or bus
Tashkent has a new, comprehensive metro network. Rides cost 1,200 som, regardless of destination. Your bags and passport will be checked, so it’s not advised to travel with all your luggage, but the metro is a perfect way for getting around town.
Every car in Uzbekistan can be a taxi. If you want to hail one, just stand on the side of a road a wave your hand. A car will stop within a couple of minutes. Taxis are very cheap, and its usually up to you to start the bargaining procedure.
Once a car stops, tell him where you want to go. If the driver says yes, ask him how much it is. He’ll most likely ask you how much you want to pay. If you offer him a reasonable price, he’ll most likely say yes. Ask your guesthouse what a reasonable price should be. Most rides will be between 5,000 – 10,000 som.
Marshrutky are small minibuses that drive a set route. They are not as ubiquitous in Uzbekistan as in other Central Asian countries, but are still an easy way of getting around in cities. Ask your guesthouse about useful routes. Most rides will cost about 1,000 som.
Cities have plenty of buses going around. Ask your guesthouse for useful routes. Most rides will cost about 1,000 som.
Entering and exiting
Uzbekistan has some of the most tedious entry and exit procedures we have encountered on our travels.
When you enter, you have to fill in two entry forms. On these forms you’ll have to declare all foreign money you have on you. You’ll also have to declare all electronics and other valuables. It’s imperative to fill in the correct amount of foreign currency. Sometimes you’re checked, sometimes you aren’t, but it’s important for the exit procedure, since you can’t leave the country with more foreign money than you came in with.
Once you’ve filled in the forms go to the immigration officer. He will stamp the forms, and hand one back to you. Don’t lose it!
After this your bag will be scanned and checked. This means everything will be taken out, and a lot of questions will be asked. Your medicine pouch and electronics are of particular interest to the boarder guards, so make sure to hide any photos and videos (porn and otherwise) that might be considered controversial. It’s illegal to have codeine in Uzbekistan, so make sure you leave your codeine invested medicine at home, too.
After all this you are ready to go. Again, make sure to keep your immigration card somewhere safe. You need it to leave the country.
Check out our report on entering Uzbekistan from Kyrgyzstan here.
We advice you to have yourself registered at each hotel, hostel or guesthouse you stay. Technically it’s only required if you stay somewhere for two days or more (except in the Ferghana Valley, where you always have to register), but in our experience accommodation will always register you anyway. Make sure to keep all your registration slips for a somewhat smoother exit.
In our case, exiting the country was much worse than entering. This might have something to do with the fact that we crossed into Afghanistan, though. Intensity seems to depend on the border crossing, but prepare to be there for a while. Bring you patience and winning smile.
When exiting, all your stuff will be double-checked. The guards will go through your bags, clothes, electronic, money belt, everything. They’ll also ask you a lot of questions about where you’re going, what you’re going to do, what you thought about Uzbekistan, etc. Don’t be afraid to tell them what they want to hear. Normally we associate these sorts of questions with curiosity, but in this case we believe there was more to it.
The whole procedure took about two hours. After all the checks, they want your immigration cards and hotel registration slips. Once you have handed everything over, you’re good to go.
Check out our report on exiting Uzbekistan to Afghanistan here.
Tipping in Uzbekistan
Tipping is no big deal in Uzbekistan. Some upscale restaurants might include a service charge, but besides that it’s not expected.
Corruption in Uzbekistan
The days of widespread corruption aimed at foreign visitors are over (although we don’t know what will happen when a new president is installed). Still, it’s a good idea to keep your wits about you. Never give your passport to the police outside of general accepted checkpoints (metro and train stations, traffic checkpoints, etc.). Police generally have no business asking for your passport. If for some reason someone does ask, give him a photo copy. This usually does the trick.
Hospitality in Uzbekistan
Uzbeks are generally hospitable people. It’s not uncommon for them to strike up a conversation with travelers, or to invite them for tea or vodka. Just remember that it’s forbidden for you to stay at an Uzbek’s house overnight. Doing so could lead to your deportation, and something much worse for your Uzbek host.
Religion in Uzbekistan
Most Uzbeks are Muslim, but many are moderate. Drinking is widespread and people dress much less conservatively than in other Muslim majority countries. Visiting a mosque without a headscarf on or while wearing short sleeves is not a problem, although we still advice against it.