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.
You need an international driver’s license, although in all fairness, we don’t think traffic police would recognize one if they saw one. You can order your IDP online these days, for instance through International Drivers Association.
You do not need a carnet de passage for most countries on your route, with the big exception being Iran. Find a map of countries where the carnet de passage is needed at Wikipedia.
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.
Car and motorbike rental
We have a network of carefully selected partners who we trust to do quality car and motorbike rental in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Kazakhstan.
Beyond these, we recommend Economy Bookings as the best car rental search engine for the post-Soviet space. They don’t have all rental companies online yet, but they have all the major players and a good selection of local companies.
You can start your search via the form below.
- 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)
Across Central Asia, speed limits are
- 60 km/h inside the city
- 90 km/h outside of the city
- 110 km/h on highways
- 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 (difficult) 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$+ cars with tinted windows and a vanity plate like AA 007 XX.
Central Asian dirt produces a special dust, it contains quartz. Clean the air filters regularly, otherwise this stuff gets into the cylinder and can cause great damage.
We have extensive road assessments we keep updated on the country pages. A more technologically sophisticated company is Navizor, crowdsourcing information about the state of the roads in CIS countries.
Right-hand drive cars
All countries we discuss at Caravanistan allow tourists to drive their right-hand drive car. Not all countries allow a permanent import of a right-hand drive vehicle, but as a tourist, you are allowed to enter.
There is a lot of outdated information floating around about the vehicle age limit certain countries on the Silk Road impose on importing vehicles. As a tourist, importing a vehicle for a limited time, you will have no problems with this anywhere on the Silk Road.
It is possible you pay slightly more import tax or eco tax in certain countries, not more than 10 or 20$, though.
Finding diesel is a major issue in Uzbekistan, and you cannot find Adblue in Central Asia. Check out this thread for an in-depth discussion of diesel quality in Central Asia.
In general, fuel quality is low outside of the cities. Take precautions, especially for the Pamir Highway and Mongolia; your engine will suffer.
Driving an electric vehicle around the Silk Road has been done before (but not on the Pamir Highway), see E-explorer for tips.
iOverlander is the go-to resource for locations of petrol stations.
How much petrol can you take in or out of each country? We know about certain countries, but more information is needed.