Self-driving the Silk Road: a great way to get around. A lot of interesting places are hard to reach with public transport, and if you’ve taken some buses and taxis in Central Asia before, you know of the simple delight of being able to pick your own music.
But there are pit-falls. Most importantly, if you are driving your own car, think of a back-up plan if you get refused for a Turkmen transit visa. Driving through China is the other big issue: you need an expensive guide unless you have a Chinese driver’s license.
There are 2 ways of dealing with the road rules. First is to follow them to the letter. Second is to break them continuously and look for signs of police checks (oncoming traffic will flash their headlights to warn you).
If you follow the first strategy, be prepared for a lot of frustration. The biggest issue is that all roads are single carriageway and often have long stretches of solid white line (which is illegal to cross, unlike in some countries, where it is only discouraged to cross). Couple this with a lot of slow-moving trucks and old Ladas stuffed with watermelons, and it becomes almost impossible not to overtake.
We advise the second strategy in places where fines/bribes are low: Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan (but drive safely, of course!). However, try to follow all the rules in Kazakhstan. Fines start at 100$ and 6 months removal of driver’s license for simple offences, which means bribes will be considerable as well.
While chatting to police and stating your innocence as a foreigner works well in the aforementioned countries (lady drivers can pretty much do whatever they want), don’t count on it in Kazakhstan. Police there will bleed you dry at every chance they get.
- You need to keep your lights on at all time in Kazakhstan and Russia, and in Kyrgyzstan outside towns and villages.
- Unlike in certain countries, crossing an unbroken white line is always an offence.
In former Soviet countries (except Russia, which changed the rule in 2017), be aware that vehicles entering a roundabout have the right of way over vehicles that are already on the roundabout. This is opposite to the European system. If you are already on the roundabout, you must stop to let others enter.
You can find alcohol limits below, courtesy of RFE/RL. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, not on the picture, all have 0,00 alcohol limits while driving.
Speed limits (in km/h)
- Kazakhstan speed limits: 110 on motorway, 90 on some bigger roads, 60 inside the city.
- Kyrgyzstan speed limits: 60 in the city, 90 outside of the city.
- Uzbekistan speed limits: 60 in the city, 90 outside of the city.
- Tajikistan speed limits: please let us know if you find out!
- Turkmenistan speed limits: 60 in the city, 90 outside of the city.
- Loose animals crossing the road are a serious danger when driving with low visibility.
- Police will try to extort money from you. The best way to deal with this is to not do anything wrong and to not give in if you do get stopped.
- Drunk, reckless, irresponsible driving is the norm.
- Central Asia’s elite knows that they will not be held accountable if they damage another car or kill a person. Stay out of their way. They drive black or white 100,000$+ cars with tinted windows and a vanity plate like AA 007 XX.
We have extensive road assessments we keep updated on the country pages. A more technologically sophisticated company is Navizor, crowdsourcing information about the state of the roads in CIS countries.
Right-hand drive cars
All countries we discuss at Caravanistan allow tourists to drive their right-hand drive car. Not all countries allow a permanent import of a right-hand drive vehicle, but as a tourist, you are allowed to enter.
There is a lot of outdated information floating around about the vehicle age limit certain countries on the Silk Road impose on importing vehicles. As a tourist, importing a vehicle for a limited time, you will have no problems with this anywhere on the Silk Road.
It is possible you pay slightly more import tax or eco tax in certain countries, not more than 10 or 20$, though.
Shipping a vehicle into/out of the region – buying, selling, leaving a vehicle
Generally not cheap, and logistics companies tend to be unresponsive and often changing. We collect questions and reports in the shipping a car into the region topic.
Possibilities for buying, selling and leaving a car are discussed in the country pages, but we do have a general forum topic for where to leave your vehicle for an extended stay.
We also have a forum for buying and selling your car to a traveller, and a topic for questions about how to do that.
Basic Russian for drivers
Russian is still understood by most people in Central Asia. A short dictionary for drivers (bold syllables are stressed)
- Petrol: Ben-zin
- Diesel: Di-zel, solyarka or diz-top-li-vo
- Fill up the tank completely: Pol-nyi bak
- To which direction is …?: Koo-da…?
- Map: Kar-ta
- Tire: Shy-na
- Engine: Dvi-ga-tel