For general tips on driving the Silk Road, see the driving overview page. Here we discuss specifics for driving in Kazakhstan: road rules, the state of the roads, where to find parts, repair shops, and how to deal with transporting, customs and selling a car.
Kazakhstan has embarked on an ambitious road building project, and everywhere in the country, roads are under construction. This means that at the moment, roads in Kazakhstan range from the terrible to the terrific, depending on whether they are finished, not yet started, or in progress. My estimate is that in 2020, all the main intercity roads in Kazakhstan will be of decent quality.
Of course, smaller roads to villages or in the suburbs of cities still have potholes big enough to make your vehicle disappear completely.
- Atyrau – Astrakhan: smooth for a while, then suddenly a crater. Don’t drive it at night. Treacherous.
- Atyrau – Uralsk: new tarmac (2015)
- Atyrau – Aqtobe: Atyrau – Makat: tarmac in good condition. Makat – Sagiz: really bad condition. Almost no tarmac left. Muddy due to rain. Average 15-20 kmh. Road construction ongoing in initial phase. Sagiz – Shubarqudyq: beginning bad road. Average 40 kmh. Tarmac in good condition beginning 30 km before Shubarqudyq. Road construction also going on for this stretch. Shubarqudyq – Aktobe: Not best tarmac but reasonable good quality. 80 kmh average. Updates on A-26 and A-27 roads collected here.
- Atyrau – Aqtau: new tarmac (2015) 110km/h possible.
- Aqtobe – Kostanay: 80 kms of bad road, rest is good.
- Aqtobe – Uralsk – Samara: new tarmac (2015)
- Aqtobe – Aralsk: Excellent quality tarmac. From Karabutak to Aralsk no petrol for 400 km. New petrol station halfway is under construction. May 2016 not open but looks almost finished.
- Aqtau – Beyneu: brand new tarmac (2016) – 6 hr
- Beyneu – border: 90km – completely destroyed – 2 hr
- Aqtau – Turkmen border: A desert track. Probably best left alone without a 4WD.
North & Center
- Astana – Pavlodar: under construction. Currently (2016) quicker and better for the car to detour via Karaganda. 7 hr
- Astana – Petropavlovsk: Great until Burabay. Beyond?
- Astana – Karaganda: Decent. 80 km/h possible.
- Astana – Kostanay: Good road, 110 possible, with 20 km of enormous potholes around Esil. Your GPS may advise the northern route through Kokshetau, but locals advise it is better to go south through Auliekol, Esil, etc.
- Karaganda – Kyzylorda: In the plan for an upgrade. At the moment still a desert track we think.
- Pavlodar – Karaganda: under construction (2016). 5 hr
- Karaganda – Shu: Road is relatively smooth, but lots of speed restrictions, solid white lines and police. Average speed 70 km/h
- Karaganda – Almaty: See Karaganda – Shu road. After the turn-off to Almaty, first hour bumpy (70 km/h max), then new tarmac until Almaty. 40 km before Almaty center: more villages, traffic jams, slower.
- Shymkent – Tashkent: New road (2015).
- Shymkent – Taraz – Shu – Almaty: New road (2014).
- Shymkent – Turkestan – Kyzylorda – Aralsk – Aqtobe: New road (2014). Excellent quality tarmac.
- Shymkent – Yamala (border UZ): Tarmac in bad condition. Road construction ongoing (2016). Average of 40-50 kmh due to detours.
- Almaty – Bishkek: good road. Getting out of Almaty takes an hour. In general, 4 hour to the border.
- Almaty – Kegen: Good road, except for the last bit near the border. New tarmac now also towards Charyn Canyon and Kolsai Lakes. First 70 km out of Almaty features crazy drivers (lots of Caucasians in the area) and lots of police. Road to Talgar gridlocked during rush hour, in the evening going towards Talgar, in the morning going towards Almaty.
- Almaty – Ust Kamenogorsk: Until Taldykorgan, the road is under construction. (4 hr in 2016). Taldyk to Tekeli is new tarmac. Taldykorgan to Usharal takes 5hr for 300km; parts are seriously potholed. Usharal to Alakol and Chinese border is new tarmac, 110 km/hr possible. Usharal to Ust Kamenogorsk is 10 hr for 540 km. The first part is bombed out, it gets better near the end.
- Saryozek – Altyn Emel – Khorgos – Urumqi: Decent.
- Ust-Kamenogorsk – Ridder: new tarmac (2016) – 2hr
- Ust-Kamenogorsk – northern side of Zaysan lake – Lake Markakol/Zaysan/Chinese border (Maykapchagai): new tarmac (2016) – 7hr with ferry to Markakol or Maykapchagai. Good road all the way except bit between Terekty and Urunkhayka: no asphalt.
- Ust-Kamenogorsk – southern side of Zaysan – Maykapchagai: first bit not good, then wavy but without potholes, then perfect tarmac. Better to take northern side, more scenic and can also take in Ak Baur, Kiin Kerish and Zhanytas.
- Ust-Kamenogorsk – Rakhmanov Springs: new tarmac (2016) until Katon Karagai. Then asphalt ends (50km/h possible). Last 30 km to Rakhmanov Springs are awful, only good jeeps can navigate it. From October onwards, Rachmanov only reachable by helicopter.
- Urunkhayka – Uryl (Austrian Road): bridge broken. No way through.
A few specifics concerning driving in Kazakhstan.
- Kazakhstan has Singapore-style fines. 10 km too fast = 20 000 tenge fine. Crossing a solid white line = losing your driver’s license for a year. Police does not have Singapore-style morals, though, and they earn well on bribes. Another issue that makes it easier to pay a bribe is that fines need to be paid in regional offices, during office hours. This means that if you get stopped in some shit hole on a Saturday, it’s easier and cheaper to pay a bribe rather than wait 2 days until you can pay the fine.
- You always need to have your lights on while driving in Kazakhstan.
- Don’t break any rule. Drive as careful as you can to avoid trouble. Police is everywhere, and they are well-equipped. When stopped, see our main driving page for dealing with them.
- Going in and out of big cities, there are checkpoints where you have to slow down to a crawl. Your license plate is registered by cameras, but if you go slow enough, you are rarely stopped.
- Not stopping for pedestrians at crossings (particularly in Almaty) or driving a dirty car (particularly in Astana) is an offense.
- Kazakhstan has a zero-tolerance policy towards drinking and driving. 0,00 pro mille.
- Kazakhstan’s speed limits: 110 on motorway, 90 on some bigger roads, 60 inside the village or city.
- The city/village limits are announced by a white sign with the name of the place. Going out, it’s the same white sign with a red diagonal line across. Speed cameras are positioned behind the sign, so make sure you are already going less than 60 km/h before you hit the sign to avoid the speed trap.
In winter, driving around in the steppe can be very dangerous. Every year people freeze to death after their car got stuck due to a mechanical failure or a sudden snowstorm. At -40° this happens very fast.
This being said, Kazakhstan is very beautiful in winter, and there is little that warms the soul as much as when, during a quick stop for a wee, squinting your eyes against the bright winter sun to spot an eagle soaring overhead (his faint cry filling the silence) you are suddenly surprised by a scared bunny rushing to safety, kicking up snow over the endless plain.
Insurance and border payments
You don’t have to pay anything at the border when coming into Kazakhstan. You are, however, obligated to get a 3rd party insurance once you are in the country. Nomad and Centras are the biggest insurance companies with branches in every major city. They are also present right after the border at bigger crossings. An insurance at Centras in 2015 started from 1000 tenge for 2 weeks. However, in 2016, 12 229 Tg for 30 days seemed to be a standard price.
At the border, you only need to show your car registration, and fill out a temporary import form. Then you’re off into the wild plains!
Fuel and fuel price
It pays to shop around, as there can be considerable price differences from station to station. Prices also differ from city to city, with South and West Kazakhstan being the cheapest, and East and North the most expensive. KazMunaiGas and Helios are the most celebrated petrol sellers with European-style operations.
The following prices are for big cities. Add a few tenge for more remote locations.
- Diesel: 115 tenge/liter
- LPG: 65 tenge/liter
- Petrol AI 95: 140 tenge/liter
- Petrol AI 92/93: 125 tenge/liter
- Petrol AI 80: 90 tenge/liter
Car parts, motorcycle parts and repair shops
For car parts and car repair, see the following:
- Almaty: Car City (map) is a gold mine for spare parts. Astana Motors deals in Toyota.
- Atyrau: There is a Toyota garage on the road to the airport that can do repairs.
Motoboard and Stoppy Stars in Almaty are the 2 places you can find motorbike tyres. Russia is easier and more reliable, though. If you’re looking for someone to repair your motorcycle, Almaty is once again the place to be.
“Agent Orange” in Almaty are the KTM dealers for the country. There are also dealers in Aktau and Shymkent, but the Almaty one is probably more useful, it’s a good size and they speak English. But if you want tyres you might be advised to let them know in advance.
The BMW dealer in Almaty is useless, only knows about cars. There is also an independent shop here, freerider.kz. Updates are collected at the motorcycle maintenance Q&A.
Selling/leaving/parking a car/motorcycle in Kazakhstan
We made a separate article for selling your car in Central Asia. Dumping, selling for scrap or parking a vehicle in Kazakhstan is something we don’t know enough about and cannot advise on. Sorry.Comments are closed. If you have a question or remark, please let us know on the driving forum.