From the vast and barren steppe to the bustling energy of the major cities, Kazakhstan is a country of contrasts. Almaty is the country’s largest city and situated in the fertile, mountainous south, with a skyline that's a blend of the old Soviet and pre-Soviet era. Across the windswept central steppe in the north is the country's capital of Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana), characterised by new, modern buildings and rapid growth.
Kazakhstan is one of the world’s top oil producers and has the biggest economy in Central Asia, bolstered recently by foreign companies and international banks setting up shop in Kazakhstan. The country’s entry into the world economic stage has consequently opened up lucrative employment opportunities for expats teaching English.
Relocating to Kazakhstan isn’t for everyone. The vast, empty steppe and lack of historical sites and attractions put some visitors off, while others are drawn to the starkness of the exceptionally beautiful landscape. As the largest landlocked country in the world, its sheer size could come as a shock to expats from smaller areas such as Western Europe. As a result, although buses and trains connect cities, travelling times can be long.
Expat families will find adequate resources for their needs. There are a few options when it comes to public and private schooling. The country has a good education system with free compulsory education until the end of high school – but the catch is that Kazakh or Russian are usually the language of instruction. A good alternative is private international schools offering foreign curricula in English. There are a handful of these scattered around Nur-Sultan and Almaty.
While expats in Kazakhstan will have to contend with many cultural differences, the Kazakhstani people are known for their hospitality and warmth, which can go a long way towards easing the adjustment period.
Ultimately, while expat life in Kazakhstan is not for the faint of heart, those who approach this unique destination with an open mind are bound to have a rich and rewarding expat experience.
Population: 18.7 million
Capital city: Astana
Other major cities: Almaty
Neighbouring countries: Kazakhstan is bordered by Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan to the south, Russia to the north and west, and China to the east.
Geography: Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world. Its terrain is comprised of mountainous areas, grasslands, steppes, wide plains and numerous rivers, streams and lakes, including the Caspian Sea.
Political system: Unitary presidential constitutional republic
Major religions: Islam and Christianity
Main languages: Kazakh and Russian
Money: Kazakhstani Tenge (KZT)
Tipping: Tipping is not customary in Kazakhstan. Service costs are typically already included in prices.
Time: GMT+5 and GMT+6
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz. European round two-pin plugs are standard.
Internet domain: .kz
International dialling code: +7
Emergency contacts: 101 (fire), 102 (police), 103 (ambulance)
Transport and driving: Drive on the right-hand side. Major cities have bus networks, trams, private taxis and shared taxis for transportation. There are also rail networks across the country and a metro system in Almaty.