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Education and Schools in Kazakhstan

The quality of public schools and education in Kazakhstan varies. The country has a literacy rate of close to 100 percent, but due to historic underfunding, local schools may have a shortage of facilities and teachers. In addition, teaching is done in local languages.

For these reasons, most expats prefer to send their children to Kazakhstan's international schools, most of which are based in Almaty and Astana (previously Nur-Sultan).


Public schools in Kazakhstan

Education in Kazakhstan is divided into three stages: primary school, lower secondary school and higher secondary school. Tuition for state schools is free for citizens and residents. Classes are taught in either Russian or Kazakh. For this reason, most expat families opt for international schooling unless they are planning to stay in the country long term.

Those who decide to make use of the country's public school system should be aware that school is typically run in two sessions a day, with one session held in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Each child attends only one of the sessions daily, although some schools have homework programmes that allow learners to stay at school while their parents are at work.


International schools in Kazakhstan

Expats who are concerned that sending their child to an international school in Kazakhstan will cut them off from the local culture needn't worry, as many of Kazakhstan's international schools are favoured by well-off local families and other expats. Popular curricula on offer include the International Baccalaureate, as well as the British and American curricula.

There is often a high demand for spaces in international schools, so expats should apply as far in advance as possible. Schools should be contacted directly for information about application requirements and processes.

International schools typically have hefty fees, so expats should ensure they're able to fit this into their budget.

Healthcare in Kazakhstan

Expats should note that the quality of healthcare in Kazakhstan is highly variable, especially in the public sector. Although the government has been attempting to improve the service level, the quality of public healthcare has fallen dramatically since the end of the Soviet era. The public healthcare sector is chronically underfunded, and bribery and corruption have become rife among underpaid medical professionals.

For this reason, most expats avoid public healthcare services, and instead invest in comprehensive private health insurance, which provides access to Kazakhstan's private hospitals and doctors.

Expats may notice that the bedside manner of Kazakhstani doctors is quite different from that of Western doctors. While they may come off as unsympathetic or impatient, especially when facing time constraints and a language barrier, this is quite common and shouldn't be taken as a personal slight.


Public healthcare in Kazakhstan

Public hospitals are easy to find in Kazakhstan, as around 70 percent of the country's hospitals are owned by the government.

Although expats who are legal residents in Kazakhstan are entitled to use the public healthcare system, it's difficult to predict the quality of treatment. While some expats report receiving adequate to good care, others have noted that the standard of treatment is low with a constant shortage of medication and equipment.

English-speaking medical professionals are relatively rare in the public healthcare sector, and expats making use of public healthcare should either be proficient in a local language or come with a fluent speaker who can act as a translator.


Private healthcare in Kazakhstan

Although private hospitals offer better treatment than public hospitals, expats may still face some challenges. While English-speaking doctors are more prevalent in the private healthcare sector, they can still be somewhat hard to find, especially in smaller towns and rural areas. Insurance companies should be able to recommend English-speaking doctors if there are any available in the area.

Private healthcare in Kazakhstan will still most likely not measure up to the standards that many expats may be used to, but they are a definite step up from the country's public services. For major operations or serious medical emergencies, expats are usually advised to utilise medical evacuation services to a nearby country for improved standards of care.


Health insurance in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan implemented a law in 2020 requiring mandatory monthly public health insurance contributions from both employer and employee. This is expected to improve the standard of public healthcare. Regardless, expats may wish to purchase additional coverage to access the private sector and its associated benefits.


Pharmacies in Kazakhstan

Pharmacies are prevalent in Kazakhstan's larger cities, but expats should be aware that options may be limited. Over-the-counter medications common in other countries may not be readily available in Kazakhstan, so it's best for expats to bring their own from home.

Kazakhstani pharmacists may not be able to answer questions in English about medication or other health matters, so it is best to get full details from one's doctor on how to take the prescribed medication.


Health hazards in Kazakhstan

While Kazakhstan's main health concerns are non-communicable illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory illnesses, cases of HIV and tuberculosis are prevalent, so expats should take appropriate precautions to avoid becoming infected.


Pre-travel vaccinations in Kazakhstan

Expats should ensure that routine vaccinations are up to date before travelling to Kazakhstan. Expats should also get vaccinations for typhoid and hepatitis A, as there is a slight risk of contraction through contaminated food or water.


Emergency services in Kazakhstan

In a medical emergency, expats can dial 103 for an ambulance, though operators are not likely to speak English and ambulance arrival times can be slow. For this reason, it may be preferable to drive to the hospital or take a taxi instead.

Doing Business in Kazakhstan

With the country's rich oil and gas reserves and booming economy, many expats find doing business in Kazakhstan an attractive prospect. From mineral resources and space technology, to opportunities in agriculture and finance, Kazakhstan has a lot to offer.

The most common complaint among expats doing business in Kazakhstan is the bureaucracy that seems to lurk around every corner. This is a legacy of the bygone Soviet era and is something that should be taken into account when planning business operations.

Despite its lingering bureaucratic issues, Kazakhstan's economy is the largest in Central Asia and, as such, it is an excellent destination for those looking to do business.


Fast facts

Business hours

9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Business language

Russian is the language of business, although multinational corporations with offices in Kazakhstan may operate in another language, such as English.

Dress

It is best to dress in formal business attire, as dressing too casually may be taken as an insult.

Gifts

Small gifts are acceptable in a business setting and are generally opened right away.

Gender equality

While there is movement towards equality in work settings in Kazakhstan, senior business positions are still dominated by men.

Greetings

Handshakes are the appropriate greeting in a business setting. If greeting a woman, expat men should wait for her to extend her hand first.


Business culture in Kazakhstan

Meetings

Interpersonal relationships are of great importance to Kazakhstani businesspeople, and those doing business in Kazakhstan should be prepared to spend some time getting to know their business associates. Small talk is common at the start of a meeting.

When it's time to get down to business, Kazakhstanis can be tough negotiators and may even raise their voices during negotiations. Expats are free to hold their ground but should never argue with or contradict someone more senior than they are.

Hierarchy

Seniority is greatly respected in Kazakhstan, and expats will notice that there is a definite hierarchy when it comes to decision-making in Kazakhstani companies. The higher-ups tend to make all the company's decisions without consulting the company's employees, and employees will tend to look to their supervisors when unsure of something.

Hospitality

Kazakhstanis are known for being extremely welcoming to foreigners, and it is likely that expats will be invited to the homes of their business associates during their time in Kazakhstan. Such an invitation should always be accepted, as turning it down would be considered a slight to the host. It is polite to bring along a small gift, such as sweets or pastries. As many Kazakhstanis are practising Muslims, it is best not to give alcohol as a gift.


Dos and don'ts of business in Kazakhstan

  • Do ask questions about your associate's family and health at the start of meetings

  • Don't try to rush the initial small talk in meetings

  • Don't ask questions related to ethnicity

  • Do get business cards printed in English on one side and Russian on the other

  • Do make eye contact when shaking hands

Transport and Driving in Kazakhstan

As the world's largest landlocked country and one of its most sparsely populated, Kazakhstan does not always make getting around easy. Because of the country's vastness, an expat's experience of driving and transport in Kazakhstan will vary from place to place.

While there are various public transport options and well-developed roads in large cities such as Almaty and Astana (previously Nur-Sultan), the country's rural areas are likely to have considerably less to offer in this regard.


Public transport in Kazakhstan

Metro

Almaty is home to the country's only metro system, although Astana is currently planning to implement a light metro system. The metro in Almaty is clean and a cheap and fast way to get around, but with just one line of 14 miles (23 km), it has limited use.

Train

Trains can be a scenic way to travel locally and regionally in Kazakhstan, and they even reach neighbouring countries such as Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, provided that time is not an issue. Travelling by rail may be cheap, but it is also rather slow.

Tram

There are tram systems in the cities of Pavlodar and Temirtau. There used to be a tram service in Almaty too, but the service was indefinitely suspended in October 2015.

Buses

Travelling by bus in Kazakhstan is a little faster than travelling by train, but slower than commuting by taxi or car. Buses frequently do not stick to any particular schedule, and most bus drivers will only speak Russian, making this an inconvenient way to travel for most expats. On the upside, fares are cheap.

Marshrutkas

A marshrutka is a kind of minibus or van that is larger than a regular car but smaller than a bus. They run on fixed routes around town and tend to be quite run down.


Taxis in Kazakhstan

Taxis are usually available outside bus and train stations throughout Kazakhstan. While more expensive than trains or buses, they are still relatively cheap, and the cost can be further reduced by sharing a ride with other passengers.

Most taxi drivers will speak only Russian, so it's a good idea to brush up on the language to avoid being overcharged. Most taxis do not have meters, so expats will have to negotiate the cost of the trip with the driver before beginning the journey.

Ride-hailing applications such as Uber are also available in some parts of Kazakhstan. This is a reliable way to overcome the language barrier and gives the passenger an upfront price.


Driving in Kazakhstan

Despite the availability of relatively affordable petrol for cars, expats planning to drive in Kazakhstan may have a difficult time ahead of them. Road quality throughout the country is highly variable, with some roads being in excellent condition and others in dire need of repair and replacement. One constant is that drivers in Kazakhstan are known for being reckless on the road.

To further add complications, the traffic police in Kazakhstan are notoriously corrupt. They will often stop cars to search for even the minutest irregularity. If they find something, they may try to solicit a bribe on the spot, with the alternative being a costlier fine and a long-winded bureaucratic process. To avoid this situation, expats should drive carefully at all times and make sure they're familiar with all of Kazakhstan's road regulations. 

Expats wishing to drive in Kazakhstan will need an international driving permit. Newcomers must ensure they have their international driving permit along with their national driving licence with them at all times.


Cycling in Kazakhstan

There is little to no cycling infrastructure in Kazakhstan, although that doesn't stop a few enthusiastic locals from dusting off their bikes every year and taking a few rides in the summer. The only real option is to cycle on the road, but cyclists must be prepared to encounter irate drivers and keep their wits about them at all times.


Air travel in Kazakhstan

Due to the country's great size, air travel is typically the best way to travel regionally within Kazakhstan, and several Kazakhstani airlines provide well-priced domestic flights. Almaty International Airport and Nursultan Nazarbayev International Airport are the country's two major air travel hubs.

Visas for Kazakhstan

Depending on a person's reasons for wishing to enter, the process of obtaining a visa for Kazakhstan can either be a breeze or a complex procedure requiring extensive documentation. In some cases, it is possible to enter Kazakhstan with no visa at all.

There is an extensive list of countries whose citizens may enter Kazakhstan without a visa for a designated period of time – usually up to 30 or 90 days. A number of countries have this beneficial arrangement with Kazakhstan, including but not limited to Brazil, Hong Kong and Russia.

Travellers planning to visit Kazakhstan are advised to confirm with their local Kazakhstani embassy whether they will need to obtain a visa or not, and if so, which one. Those that do require a visa to enter Kazakhstan will be faced with a daunting list of the various visa categories available, so it's always best to do a bit of research to make sure one is applying for the correct visa.

Those wishing to take up employment in Kazakhstan will need to obtain a work permit.


Visitor visas for Kazakhstan

Nationals of 109 countries may apply for an electronic visa, known as an e-visa. E-visas are valid for 30 days and holders must arrive via either the airport in Nur-Sultan (previously known as Astana) or Almaty.

To apply for a visitor visa, an invitation letter is required.

B12 Tourist Visa

If visiting the country to explore and see the sights, the B12 Tourist Visa is the appropriate visa.

There are single-entry and multiple-entry B12 visas, both of which are valid for 90 days. Holders of B12 single-entry visas may enter the country once for up to 30 days within the 90-day validity period. Holders of multiple-entry visas can enter and exit the country as many times as they like during the 90-day period, with a maximum stay of 30 days each time they enter.

B10 Private Visit Visa

Travellers wishing to visit family members in Kazakhstan can apply for a B10 Private Visit Visa. This requires a letter of invitation from a friend or family member residing in Kazakhstan.

B10 visas can either be single- or multiple-entry. Single-entry B10 visas are valid for 90 days and allow one entry.

Multiple-entry B10 visas are valid for between 180 days and three years. These allow any number of entries and exits. When entering the country, multiple-entry B10 holders may stay for up to 90 days. If they wish to stay a further 90 days after the initial 90-day period, they can simply leave and re-enter the country and a new 90-day period will begin.


Work visas for Kazakhstan

C3 Work Visa

The C3, C4, C5 and C6 visas are for those travelling to Kazakhstan to take up employment. Both the individual and their accompanying family members are covered under these visas.

To obtain a C3 Work Visa, expats must hold a valid work permit. The C3 Work Visa simply allows entry for the purpose of working.

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice, and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Work Permits for Kazakhstan

Foreigners wishing to take up employment in Kazakhstan will need a valid work visa and work permit. The Kazakhstani government has been making an effort to streamline the visa application process, but the bureaucratic remnants of Soviet rule still linger, making application a cumbersome process.

Nevertheless, as long as prospective expats are careful to ensure that all their documentation is in order, they should eventually be granted their valid work visa for Kazakhstan.


Applying for work permits for Kazakhstan

In Kazakhstan, there are two important documents that a foreign worker must obtain to take up employment in the country.

The first is a work permit, which the employer applies for on behalf of the foreign worker or workers he or she plans to employ. The second is a work visa, which allows the foreign worker to enter Kazakhstan for the purposes of taking up employment.

First, the employer must arrange and apply for a work permit on the expat worker's behalf. The government has annual quotas for the number of foreigners allowed in each profession. Work permits will only be granted in cases where the quota has not yet been met.

Once the relevant authorities have authorised the work permit, the expat must then apply for their work visa. The length of validity varies, but work visas are extendable by one year as long as employees can present their current work permit and a contract confirming the continuation of the job.

*Visa regulations and requirements for work permits are subject to change at short notice, and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Accommodation in Kazakhstan

Expats in need of accommodation in Kazakhstan will find that, as is often the case, their budget will largely determine the quality of housing available to them. While the constantly expanding cities of Almaty and Astana (previously Nur-Sultan) always seem to have new apartment blocks springing up, some expats may discover that they can only afford to live in older Soviet-style apartments.

Although accommodation allowances are no longer a given as part of expat relocation packages, it's worthwhile trying to negotiate the inclusion of such an allowance. Accommodation in Kazakhstan can be expensive, especially if expats want to maintain a high standard of living.


Types of accommodation in Kazakhstan

Most of the accommodation found in Kazakhstan is in the form of apartments. These are usually one of two types: newly built apartments with modern finishes and amenities, and old Soviet apartments which mostly lack elevators despite being several storeys high. Soviet-style apartments are significantly cheaper than newer builds.

If expats prefer to live in a freestanding house or cottage, they may be able to find something suitable in the suburbs. That said, this comes at the cost of a long commute into the city centre for work and notably higher rent.


Finding accommodation in Kazakhstan

By far, the easiest way to find somewhere to live in Kazakhstan is by hiring a real estate agent to do the necessary legwork. Though this will incur a fee, hiring a reputable agent is also a reliable way to avoid getting scammed by fraudulent apartment listings online. A bilingual real estate agent will also be able to help navigate the more technical side of renting an apartment.

For those planning to go it alone, online property websites and local newspapers should yield plenty of results, but it pays to be cautious about any deal that seems too good to be true. It is also imperative for expats to view any potential accommodation before making any payments. Many expats arrange short-term accommodation in advance while they search for something more long-term.


Renting accommodation in Kazakhstan

Language

It is best to hire a translator or bring along a trusted bilingual friend when looking for apartments and signing leases to overcome any language barriers with a prospective landlord. As mentioned, a bilingual real estate agent can also help with this.

Applications and deposits

In most cases, only a passport and possibly a deposit may be necessary to rent an apartment – and some landlords don't even charge a deposit.

Utilities

Utilities are not usually included in the rental price, although some rentals catering specifically for the expat market include utilities in the monthly rent. Either way, expats will find that despite freezing conditions in winter, water and central heating are significantly reasonable in Kazakhstan.

Banking, Money and Taxes in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan’s banking sector is viewed as one of the most robust of the former Soviet states, and expats will find that managing their money and banking in Kazakhstan is relatively easy and straightforward.


Money in Kazakhstan

The local currency is the Kazakhstani Tenge (KZT), which is divided into 100 tiyn.

  • Notes: 200 KZT, 500 KZT, 1,000 KZT, 2,000 KZT, 5,000 KZT, 10,000 KZT and 20,000 KZT

  • Coins: 1 KZT, 2 KZT, 5 KZT, 10 KZT, 20 KZT, 50 KZT, 100 KZT and 200 KZT


Banking in Kazakhstan

Newcomers will have a wide variety of banks to choose from, with many offering services specifically tailored for expats. Banks are usually open every weekday from 9am to 6pm, with an hour lunch break, and are closed on weekends.

Opening a bank account

There are no restrictions on non-residents opening a bank account in Kazakhstan. Expats can open a local account, in either the local or a foreign currency (usually US dollars, British pounds or euros).

New arrivals will need their passport and an RNN number (Kazakh tax number), and in some cases a letter from their employer, to open a bank account in Kazakhstan. A minimum deposit will also be required.

Employers in the country sometimes specify which bank they want their expat employees to use, so expats should seek the assistance of their company before opening an account.

ATMs and credit cards

ATMs are widely available in Kazakhstan’s main cities, but can be scarce in smaller locations. Most ATMs will accept foreign bank cards. Most machines only dispense cash in tenge, but some in the larger cities also stock US dollars. All major credit cards are accepted in Kazakhstan.


Taxes in Kazakhstan

Although Kazakhstan’s tax system is relatively uncomplicated, expats should employ the services of a qualified tax consultant to assist them in managing their taxes while in the country.

Employment income is taxed at a flat rate of 10 percent in Kazakhstan. Tax residents, those who spend 183 days in Kazakhstan for a consecutive 12-month period, are subject to personal tax on their worldwide income, while non-residents are taxed only on their income generated in Kazakhstan.

Moving to Kazakhstan

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 is situated in the fertile, mountainous south, with a skyline that's a blend of the old Soviet and pre-Soviet eras. Relocating to Kazakhstan isn’t for everyone, though. 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.

Living in Kazakhstan as an expat

Across the windswept central steppe in the north is the country's capital of Astana (formerly Nur-Sultan), 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 the country. Kazakhstan's entry into the world economic stage has consequently opened up lucrative employment opportunities for expats teaching English.

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 well, travelling times can be long.

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.

Cost of living in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan boasts a fairly reasonable cost of living, with accommodation likely to be an expat's highest expense. The standard of housing in Kazakhstan's cities varies greatly, with Soviet-era apartments offering few amenities and substandard quality at lower rental prices. While modern, Western-style apartments offer sought-after amenities, these come at a hefty price. Some expats will be lucky to have an accommodation allowance included as part of their relocation package.

Fortunately, expats can save when it comes to public transport and groceries, as these are largely inexpensive. Petrol is also cheaper in Kazakhstan, making running a car more affordable. Expat parents will need to budget for the usually exorbitant fees associated with international schools.

Expat families and children in Kazakhstan

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 schooling until the end of high school – but the catch is that Kazakh or Russian are usually the languages of instruction. A good alternative is private international schools, scattered around Astana and Almaty, offering foreign curricula in English.

Expats will also need to secure comprehensive private health insurance to access private healthcare in Kazakhstan, as the quality of the country's public health system may not compare to what some new arrivals may be used to. Expat families will also enjoy exploring the country's abundance of green spaces, zoos and aquariums during the weekend.

Climate in Kazakhstan 

Thanks to its vast geographical size, Kazakhstan's weather is incredibly varied but is generally classified as a continental climate. Summers in the country are scorching hot, while winters are freezing. It's not unheard of to have the north of Kazakhstan covered in snow while the south begins its sowing season.

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.


Fast facts

Population: 19.6 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 comprises 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 transport. There are also rail networks across the country and a metro system in Almaty.

International Schools in Kazakhstan

Many expat families opt for international schools in Kazakhstan due to the language barrier they face in Kazakh-speaking state schools. The good news is that there are several international schools in Kazakhstan providing an excellent level of education. Most teach in English, though some have additional foreign-language streams, such as French. Globally recognised and respected education systems are on offer, including the Cambridge IGCSEs and A-levels, American SATs and Advanced Placement subjects, and the International Baccalaureate.

Kazakhstan's international schools are mainly located in the expat hubs of Astana (previously known as Nur-Sultan) and Almaty. A few schools can also be found in Atyrau. Expats can expect a high standard of education from international schools, which are often set in modern, purpose-built facilities and staffed by well-qualified, highly-trained teachers.

Below is a list of some of the most prominent international schools in Kazakhstan.


International schools in Kazakhstan

Galaxy International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: Cambridge International Curriculum, IGCSE, A-levels and Kazakhstani
Ages: 5 to 18
Website: www.galaxy.edu.kz

Haileybury Almaty

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE and A-levels
Ages: 4 to 18
Website: www.haileybury.kz/en/almaty

Haileybury Astana

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2 to 18
Website: www.haileybury.kz/en/astana

Kazakhstan International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2.5 to 18
Website: www.kisnet.org

Miras International School Almaty

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate and Kazakhstani
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.miras.kz/en

Miras International School in Astana

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: Kazakhstani, French and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2 to 18
Website: www.miras-astana.kz

Spectrum International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: Cambridge International Curriculum, IGCSE, A-levels and Kazakhstani
Ages: 5 to 18
Website: www.spectrum.edu.kz

Public Holidays in Kazakhstan

 

2022

2023

New Year's Day

1–2 January

1–2 January

Orthodox Christmas Day

7 January

7 January

International Women's Day

8 March

8 March

Nauryz Holiday

21–23 March

21–23 March

Unity Day

1 May

1 May

Defender of the Fatherland Day

7 May

7 May

Victory Day

9 May

9 May

Day of the Capital

6 July

6 July

Kurban Ait

10 July

28 June

Constitution Day

30 August

30 August

First President Day

1 December

1 December

Independence Day

16–17 December

16–17 December

* Islamic holidays are subject to the sighting of the moon, and dates can change on the Gregorian calendar. If a public holiday falls on a weekend, it is carried over to the nearest working day.

Pros and Cons of Moving to Kazakhstan

Before moving abroad, expats will need to weigh up the pros and cons of living in Kazakhstan to ensure that relocation to this vast Eurasian country is the right decision for them.

Astana (previously Nur-Sultan), the capital of Kazakhstan, is unknown to many expats. For years, it was in the shadow of its predecessor, Almaty, but it has matured and ever more corporate headquarters, embassies and consular services are moving north to Astana.

A quick internet search will reveal that it's home to the world's second-coldest capital city, but what is life really like for expats in Kazakhstan? Below is an overview of the pros and cons of moving to Kazakhstan.


Accommodation in Kazakhstan

The quality of accommodation in Kazakhstan depends, to a certain extent, on an expat's budget or an employer-allotted allowance. For those with a healthy salary and an accommodation allowance, there are many decent-sized apartments to choose from, while those without a housing stipend may struggle to find something suitable.

+ PRO: Expanding choices in accommodation options

Astana is expanding at an exponential rate, with new apartment blocks constantly popping up. If expats move into a new apartment, the landlords are generally happy to provide furniture. There is a wide range of apartment types to choose from – from riverside homes in the older, Soviet-designed part of the city, to high-rise apartments with spectacular views in the new centre.

One- to three-bedroom apartments are the norm, but four-bedroom units are available if expats are willing to shop around.

- CON: Houses are hard to find

Most accommodation in Kazakhstan's major cities is in the form of apartment buildings. Houses are available, but rents are much higher, and they're expensive to heat.

+ PRO: Cheap utilities

Water and heating are run on a central network and piped directly into each building. This is cheaper than running an individual boiler.

- CON: No control over utilities

As the utilities are run on a central network, residents have very little choice on when the heating is turned on or off. In some buildings, the heating is so warm that tenants may have to open the windows to cool it down – even in the middle of winter.


Lifestyle in Kazakhstan

It's natural for expats to worry about the winter temperatures, but Astana is well equipped to deal with this and most people find it an easy city to live in, with plenty of options for socialising.

+ PRO: Growing social scene

Kazakhstanis are friendly and welcoming, and while the expat community in cities such as Astana and Almaty is still relatively small, it's growing rapidly and there is an active international club for just about any interest.

- CON: The country's cities are largely isolated

Astana is a long way from anywhere else. The city has a limited number of direct flights, so expats will have to transfer through hubs such as Moscow, Frankfurt or Vienna to travel to most destinations. Fortunately, the airport does operate throughout the winter – rarely closing even in the most extreme temperatures and conditions – but road and rail links are sometimes disrupted due to bad weather conditions.


Safety in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is generally quite safe, especially if expats exercise the necessary level of caution. Driving in Kazakhstan can be challenging, and those that have no experience driving during a harsh winter should be extra careful.

+ PRO: Low crime rates

Astana is a very safe place, with low levels of petty crime and even lower levels of serious crime. The new town centre is safe to walk through until late at night, even for a woman alone.

- CON: Hazardous driving conditions

Most expats have the use of a company car and driver, but many still drive themselves.

Astana's road network is new and well maintained, and snow is cleared almost as soon as it falls. However, roads in other areas of the country may not match this standard.


Working and doing business in Kazakhstan

Expats working or doing business in Kazakhstan will find that practices differ slightly from what they're used to. However, making the necessary adjustments will be essential to an expat's success in the workplace.

+ PRO: Good salary packages

Most expats are in Kazakhstan with a large international company or embassy, although an increasing number work in education. Such positions are usually highly paid and may come with perks such as housing, education and medical allowances.

- CON: Bureaucracy is rife 

Things are improving, but there is still a lot of bureaucracy to cope with in Kazakhstan.

Not everyone will speak English, so be prepared to take a translator to any meetings with local contractors and suppliers. Be aware that while Russian is the language of commerce and spoken by most people, Kazakh is the national language and may be used for speeches, particularly by government ministers.

- CON: Nobody says no

It can be difficult to get to a final decision. People in Kazakhstan have a difficult time saying ‘no’ and will often agree to a proposal only to fail to put it into action simply because it cannot be done.


Culture shock in Kazakhstan

Overcoming culture shock and learning to accept local cultural nuances will play a major part in new arrivals settling into their new life. Having an open mind and taking the time to get to know the locals will definitely help expats make the most of their experience in Kazakhstan.

+ PRO: Friendly and welcoming locals

Kazakhstanis are famously hospitable. Expats shouldn't be surprised if their landlady has left some food or small gifts for their arrival, and neighbours will almost certainly come to introduce themselves and bring gifts for national holidays.

- CON: Drinking culture

Whether it is drinking fermented camel’s milk or learning how to knock back endless vodka toasts, drinking is a cultural initiation expats will never forget. Some expats may find the Kazakhstani love of drinking a bit overwhelming at first.


Cost of living in Kazakhstan

The cost of living in Kazakhstan will depend significantly on each individual's lifestyle. For those who are willing to immerse themselves in the local way of life, it is possible to live modestly and save money.

+ PRO: Affordable basic food

The very basic foods such as bread and milk are very cheap in Kazakhstan. If expats want a good range of food products, particularly foreign (non-Kazakhstani) food, they should expect to pay a lot of money.

- CON: Pricey furniture, clothing and electronics

Almost everything is imported into Kazakhstan, and that is reflected in the price. Furniture imported from Europe or Turkey retails at a premium, and even lower-quality imports from China are expensive. Electronics are also pricey, but the markup is not as severe. Imported clothing from popular brands is available, but expats shouldn’t compare prices with the online charges in their home country.


Education and schools in Kazakhstan

There is a growing range of international schooling options, mostly in Astana and Almaty. Local schools are good but are best used only by local students due to the language barrier.

+ PRO: Increasing choice of international schools

International schools tend to recruit their teachers from abroad, and many offer an excellent quality of education. Children can continue with their curriculum from home with minimum disruption. As a result of demand, more international schools are continuing to open in Kazakhstan, giving parents more options.

- CON: Limited space in international schools

The country's international schools are very popular with locals as well as expats, so space is limited and there is often a waiting list. It is wise to contact the schools as early as possible to reserve a place.


Healthcare in Kazakhstan

+ PRO: International health insurance

Most expats in Kazakhstan have health insurance provided by their employers. The health insurance company will have a relationship with a specific clinic that will facilitate access to local healthcare.

- CON: Most intensive medical care takes place abroad

Health insurers and local partners will facilitate GP services, triage and emergency treatment in Astana, but they are likely to send expats, either by commercial flight or medical evacuation, abroad for more serious matters. The closest centres of medical excellence are Frankfurt and Istanbul.

Culture Shock in Kazakhstan

Seen as an unusual expat destination, Kazakhstan is a little-known country, and there are very few online resources or guidebooks to help prospective expats prepare for their new life. Famous in the past for a nomadic lifestyle marked by camels and yurts, Kazakhstan has now become a regional economic superpower with modern cities to match. The remnants of the older way of life can still be seen in the villages out on the steppe. Expats moving to this gargantuan country will likely experience some degree of culture shock, though less so in Kazakhstan’s major cities.


Language barrier in Kazakhstan

While Russian is acknowledged as the ‘language of business’ in Kazakhstan, there has been a push to increase the use of Kazakh and to reintroduce lost traditions in the country. Most expats working in Kazakhstan will need to learn Russian, as this is universally spoken in the workplace. That said, even a few words of Kazakh will be highly appreciated by locals.

Although there is some discussion about altering the alphabet and moving the Kazakh language over to Roman script, both Kazakh and Russian are written in the Cyrillic alphabet. This can seem a little daunting on arrival, but it makes sense to learn the letters as quickly as possible. This helps expats adapt to life in Kazakhstan through language acquisition and is useful in everyday situations, such as understanding menus in a restaurant or the signage at the supermarket.

Most Kazakhstanis are keen to learn English, and there is no shortage of opportunities to learn Russian and Kazakh through a language-exchange agreement.


Bureaucracy in Kazakhstan

The post-Soviet bureaucracy in Kazakhstan is highly involved, confusing and often frustrating to both expats and locals alike. The bureaucratic nightmare, more than anything else, is frequently the biggest cultural shock for new arrivals in Kazakhstan.

Most officials only deal with expats infrequently and may therefore be unaware of the requirements for registering a car to an expat owner, for instance. It helps to research the exact requirements before meeting with the relevant authority, and then bringing along evidence of what is required. Remaining polite at all times and keeping a sense of humour will have most locals willing to do their best to help.


Business culture in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstanis want to be perceived to be helpful and always avoid letting people down. The Soviet legacy also means that people's roles within an organisation are very heavily defined, with a clear chain of responsibility.

This combination means that people will typically avoid giving a negative answer to any question and will simply ‘table’ difficult issues, hoping a resolution will come from someone else. This can be very frustrating for the newly arrived expat, and therefore adapting to Kazakhstani business practices can be a challenge. Expats should research the structure of any business, who is responsible for what areas, and address all queries to the relevant person. 


Socialising in Kazakhstan

People can appear rude on the streets, so do not expect people to hold open doors or help carry a pram. Even so, expats will soon see that this is very much a facade, as Kazakhstanis are extremely friendly and hospitable.

New arrivals should not be surprised if they get invited to the home of a Kazakhstani they’ve recently met. If invited for a meal, it is polite to bring a small gift for the hosts and to try a bit of every food offered.


Family in Kazakhstan

Family is important in Kazakhstan; elders are respected as wise and knowledgeable, and children are cosseted and adored. The idea of a child-free wedding or celebration would be anathema in Kazakhstan, so expect to see children at all large events, from weddings to New Year’s Eve parties. Do not be surprised if invitees bring young toddlers to an evening meal.


Religion in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is a secular state, home to people of many ethnicities. Kazakhstanis are proud of the diversity of their population, and the country strives to promote peace between religions worldwide.

There is freedom of worship, but expats should not proselytise. The majority of the population (about 70 percent) is Muslim, with the second-largest religious grouping being Christian.

Alcohol is freely available, although imported wines are exorbitantly priced. Pork is also available, but only at certain stores, and is kept separate from the other meat products. Most Kazakhstanis will enjoy a drink or, if not, will not object to expats drinking. When inviting people for a meal, do check their dietary preferences beforehand to ensure that they can eat the food served.

Cost of Living in Kazakhstan

Expats are likely to find that the cost of living in Kazakhstan can vary greatly from city to city, not to mention the ever-fluctuating value of the tenge, which makes it extremely difficult to generalise about common costs.

Mercer's 2022 Cost of Living Survey ranked Almaty as 219th out of 227 cities, indicating that it's an inexpensive city to live in compared to other popular expat destinations worldwide. The situation remains unpredictable, though, so it's important for expats to make sure they're up to date with Kazakhstan's current financial situation before making any commitments.


Cost of accommodation in Kazakhstan

Some expats are lucky enough to have accommodation provided as part of their employment contract, in which case they need not worry about the expenses involved. While this used to be the norm, it is unfortunately becoming rare, so most expats will need to bear this expense themselves.

Generally, accommodation costs more the closer it is to the city centre. There are a few modern apartment complexes, but old Soviet-style apartments are more common – naturally, these are cheaper, but might not be up to the standard of living that many expats are used to.


Cost of transport in Kazakhstan

Most public transport is inexpensive. It's comparatively pricier to travel by taxi, though fares are still cheaper than in many other countries around the world. It's costly to purchase a car, even second-hand, although petrol prices are usually reasonable.


Cost of food in Kazakhstan

The cost and quality of food in Kazakhstan vary according to season. In summer, local fruit and vegetables are inexpensive and of good quality. In winter, however, fruit and vegetables are expensive and tend to be poor-quality goods. To keep costs down, expats should do the bulk of their shopping in local bazaars and markets.


Cost of living in Kazakhstan chart

Prices may vary across Kazakhstan, depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Almaty in October 2022.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

KZT 400,000

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

KZT 275,000

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

KZT 225,000

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

KZT 145,000

Groceries

Milk (1 litre)

KZT 461

Eggs (dozen)

KZT 629

Loaf of white bread 

KZT 147

Rice (1kg)

KZT 440

1 packet of cigarettes (Marlboro)

KZT 645

Transportation

City centre bus/train fare

KZT 80

Taxi rate per kilometre

KZT 225

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

KZT 2,500

Coca-Cola (330ml)   

KZT 333

Cappuccino

KZT 919

Bottle of domestic beer

KZT 600

Three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two

KZT 15,000

Utilities

Mobile-to-mobile call rate (per minute)

KZT 13.70

Uncapped ADSL internet (per month)

KZT 5,423

Utilities (average per month for standard household)

KZT 23,035

Embassy Contacts for Kazakhstan

Kazakhstani embassies

  • Kazakhstan Embassy, Washington, DC, United States: +1 202 232 5488

  • Kazakhstan Embassy, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 207 925 1757

  • Kazakhstan Embassy, Toronto, Canada: +1 416 221 0111

  • Consulate General of Kazakhstan, Sydney, Australia: +61 292 333 350

  • Kazakhstan Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 460 0162

  • Kazakhstan Embassy, Singapore (also responsible for New Zealand): +65 6 536 6100


Foreign embassies in Kazakhstan

  • United States Embassy, Nur-Sultan (previously known as Astana): +7 717 270 2100

  • British Embassy, Nur-Sultan: +7 7172 70 21 00

  • Canadian Embassy, Nur-Sultan: +7 717 247 5577

  • Australian Consulate, Almaty: +7 776 108 3090

  • South African Embassy, Nur-Sultan: + 7 717 292 5326 

  • New Zealand Embassy, Moscow, Russia (also responsible for Kazakhstan):  +7 495 956 3579

  • Irish Embassy, Moscow, Russia (also responsible for Kazakhstan): +7 495 937 5911

Weather in Kazakhstan

Due to its vast size, Kazakhstan's climate is predictably varied. Generally, though, the country has a continental climate. Summers are hot, while winters go to the other extreme and are typically freezing with lots of snowfall. Kazakhstan has such diverse climatic conditions that the north can be covered in thick snow while the south begins its agricultural season.

Springtime may come as early as February in the south, but typically lasts from March to early June. Temperatures remain below 50°F (10°C) in early spring and rise above 70°F (20°C) by June.

Summer, from June to early September, can be stiflingly hot, with temperatures rising well above 90°F (30°C).

Autumn lasts from September to November and brings cloudy and windy days. Snowfall may begin in mid-Autumn, when temperatures begin to drop below freezing in some areas.

January is the coldest month, and winter temperatures can reach extreme lows, dropping to -6°F (-21°C) or less. Snowfall is thick and falls throughout Kazakhstan during this time of year. The extremely low temperatures and heavy snowfall make this a dangerous period. Winter is a particularly harsh time of year, and it is important to pay attention to weather warnings. Flooding, snowstorms and blizzards are all possible during this time, so expats should be on the lookout for any government communication regarding this.

 

Working in Kazakhstan

As Central Asia's largest economy, Kazakhstan is an attractive prospect for expats looking for career development.

Most expats working in Kazakhstan will find themselves in the nation's capital, Astana (previously Nur-Sultan) or in Almaty. Abundant natural resources and a variety of thriving industries offer many opportunities for expats considering employment in Kazakhstan.


Job market in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan has several valuable natural resources, including oil, gas and metals. Prominent industries include engineering, construction, mining and manufacturing. As is the case with many countries in Asia, there is a high demand for English teachers.

There are also some expat government workers and diplomats working in Kazakhstan, most of whom are based in Astana.


Finding a job in Kazakhstan

Many expats working in Kazakhstan are employed by multinational companies through an intra-company transfer. This is a relatively easy way to secure a role in Kazakhstan. Others are not as lucky and have to face the daunting task of finding a job in Kazakhstan.

Online job boards and classified sections in local newspapers are great places to start the search, but making personal connections in the country is likely to yield better results and more opportunities. LinkedIn can also be a valuable resource, as can local business meet-ups.


Work culture in Kazakhstan

Most businesses in Kazakhstan follow the classic 40-hour Monday to Friday work week, with an eight-hour workday.

Business dealings in Kazakhstan tend to be formal, and expats should ensure they are dressed smartly. There is usually a chain of authority in the office, with the most senior members making decisions. It's important to treat such individuals with a great degree of respect.