Traveling to Uzbekistan is amazing and is getting easier by the day. In recent years the country has opened its doors to host more and more international tourists. I visited the country twice and have seen how it’s rapidly changing. As Uzbekistan is growing as a tourist destination, I decided it was time to bundle all my recommendations for this country. Are you planning a trip to Uzbekistan? Then this blog post will be a lifesaver and prepares you for your trip to this Silk Road gem.
Read next: The perfect 10-day itinerary for Uzbekistan.
1. Most international visitors don’t need a visa
This is one of the biggest things that changed over the years. In 2016 I had to apply for my Uzbek tourist visa in Belgium, because the Netherlands doesn’t have an Uzbek embassy or consulate. Moreover, I had to hand in a letter from my employer, saying that they approved of my trip. Fortunately, the visa rules are much more relaxed now. Since 2019, most European countries don’t even need a visa for a stay up to 30 days. US citizens need to apply for an e-visa before traveling to Uzbekistan.
Please note that visa rules can always change. Check here the latest visa updates for your nationality.
2. More and more Tedious rules disappearing
More positive changes! Uzbekistan is gradually getting rid of outdated bureaucratic rules. Here’s an overview of the rules that do not apply anymore:
- No registration needed (but not 100% sure!): the compulsory registration for foreign visitors was set to disappear on the 1st of July 2020. This means that in theory, it is not necessary anymore to register yourself within 72 hours after arrival. However, as 2020 has been a strange year, I’m not sure whether this rule actually disappeared or not. Click here to read more.
- No need to fill in customs forms: since the 1st of January of 2018 the practice of filling in customs forms in twofold is also abolished. Instead, all border crossings and airports have red and green zones. When you’re not bringing more than 2,000 US dollars with you, you can continue via the green zone. Click here to read more.
- No blacklist for medicines anymore: the notorious blacklist for medicines was also abolished in 2018. Codeine was prohibited, used as a pain reliever. Luckily, this is also in the past. Click here to read more.
Also gone: the black market. For years Uzbekistan had a lively (and illegal) black market. This had everything to do with the gap between the official and unofficial exchange rates of the Uzbek sum. In 2017, the official rate was adjusted to the unofficial rate which caused the black market to essentially disappear. Click here to read more.
3. Uzbekistan is more touristy than you think
Uzbekistan is not as undiscovered as you might think. It has quite a busy peak season (May-August). During these summer months, you can expect to see large tourist groups in Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva. The type of tourist is also different than the ones you see in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. These countries attract young backpackers, but in Uzbekistan tourists often fall into the age category of 50+. This is because of the organized tours, which have a more senior target group.
- Looking for a hotel in Khiva? Click here for an overview of the best hotels in Khiva.
4. There are ATMs, but you have to be lucky
You can find ATMs in every Uzbek city. Unfortunately, you cannot always get money out of them. ATMs can be empty and some only accept Visa while others only accept Mastercard. Finding a full ATM that accepts your card can be a challenge. I recommend using the app maps.me to locate ATMs. And when you do find one, always withdraw the maximum amount. Uzbekistan is a cash country. The only thing we paid by card was the online train tickets.
Because you cannot 100% rely on ATMs, I also recommend bringing extra euros or dollars in cash. I would suggest bringing around 200 – 300 USD. You can exchange this for Uzbek sum at the banks.
5. become a millionaire fast – in UZS
Uzbekistan is a country where you can become a millionaire in a matter of hours. When you exchange around 80 EUR (or around 97 USD) you’ll receive a million UZS. Until a few years ago, the biggest banknote was 5,000 sum. So when you exchanged quite a lot of money, you’d get a big pile of UZS. Travelers often made the joke that you had to bring an extra bag just for your money. Fortunately, in 2017 the 10,000 and 50,000 banknotes were introduced making the money piles a lot smaller.
6. Uzbekistan is not expensive but also not cheap
We spent 450 euros during our 10 days in Uzbekistan, not including flights (because we traveled overland). That is 45 euros per day for 2 people. We didn’t visit many sights, as it was our second time in Uzbekistan. If you are planning to visit sights, add roughly 50 euros for 10 days to your budget. Here’s an overview of our cost of travel in Uzbekistan for 2 people:
- Hotel and guesthouses: around 23 euros per night
- Lunch and dinners in restaurants: around 12 euros per day – breakfast was often included in the hotel
- Transportations: on average 9 euros per day
Uzbekistan is not an expensive destination, but it’s not the cheapest one. Most of your budget will be spent on accommodation. In the tourist cities, everything is located within walking distance, so you don’t have to spend much on taxis. In Tashkent, you can rely on the cheap metro system.
- Looking for a hotel in Tashkent? Click here for an overview of the best hotels in Tashkent.
7. Uzbekistan is a great train country
You can easily travel around independently in Uzbekistan. The country improved its train network and upgraded the train stations, allowing tourists to visit every major Uzbek city by train. Tickets can be bought online via the Uzbek Railway Website. The website is translated into English, but some parts are in Russian. For me, it’s not a problem, but it might be difficult for others. Also good to know: you need to exchange your online ticket at the train station ticket office to get the actual train tickets to board the train.
The Uzbek train network has two types of trains:
- Afrosiyab: modern, slightly more expensive, and quiet. The seats look good and you even get a free snack and tea. This train only has one class and is available between Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara.
- Sharq: older, cheaper, and a bit bumpier. This train has three classes: spanly vagon (SV, privat compartment with two beds = 1st class), kupe (K, private compartment with four beds = 2nd class), and platzkartny (P, open dorm = 3rd class). We often traveled 3rd class and thought it was okay. Sharq is the only option when you travel to Khiva, Urgench, or further. Or if the Afrosiyab is sold out.
Tip: bring a power bank for the longer train rides, because there are limited plugs available.
8. shared taxis are an interesting local experience
Shared taxis are the minibusses of Uzbekistan. It’s a form of public transport (just like buses and trains) and it’s used all around Central Asia. Shared taxis are perfect for short distances. You pay per seat and the driver usually waits until the seats are filled up. I say ‘usually’, because sometimes drivers will not wait. They will start driving and charge you for all four seats. To avoid this, I would recommend standing outside the car. The driver will probably insist that you wait in the car, but better to be safe than sorry. Sometimes there aren’t enough customers to fill up the car. In this case, you just have to give up and pay for the empty seats. Use the app maps.me to find the departure points of the shared taxis.
To give you an idea of the prices for shared taxis, this is what we paid:
- Nukus – Urgench: 35,000 UZS per seat – there was a total of three people and we split the cost of the 4th seat
- Urgench – Khiva: 7,500 UZS per seat – it was just the two of us and we had to pay for the 3r and 4th seat as well
9. Useful apps for Tashkent
For your stay in Tashkent, I’d like to recommend two apps. The first one is 2Gis. This app is very useful to find out which bus you need to get to your destination. It works offline and follows your location with GPS, so you know exactly where to get off the bus. This way you don’t have to worry about the public transport information being in Cyrillic. The second app is Yandex. This is the Russian version of Uber to quickly book a taxi. Everything is done through the app, so you don’t have to worry about communicating about the destination or price with your Russian-speaking taxi driver.
10. Uzbek taxi drivers act like hyenas
Speaking of Uzbek taxi drivers, negotiating with them is one of the most intense things I’ve experienced during my long overland trip. They ambush you like a pack of hyenas when you walk out of the train station and they will keep following you. One time, there was a taxi driver who chased us in his car and tried to block our path. So prepare yourself mentally for the craziness, think of a price that you want to pay, and don’t let the guys intimidate you. And don’t say yes to the first offer. It will be too high. Use your phone to negotiate about the price, so there is no misunderstanding between your English and their Russian.
Examples of prices we paid for taxis in Uzbekistan:
- Bukhara train station – hotel: 40,000 UZS – night rate, during the day we paid 30,000 UZS
- Khiva train station – hotel: 30,000 UZS
- Samarkand train station – hotel: 20,000 UZS
11. Uzbekistan is not super conservative
More than 80% of the Uzbek population is Muslim, but this doesn’t mean that the country is overly conservative. The government has a secular policy and most people follow a moderate form of Sunnism. Alcohol is widely available and don’t expect women to be covered in all black. Instead, they often wear bright colors like yellow, green of blue colors. I often felt that my clothing was way too dark and boring.
What to bring when it comes to clothing: long loose paints, t-shirts, and long dresses. Uzbekistan may not be super conservative, but this is not the country for tank tops.
12. Uzbekistan is a safe travel destination
Somehow Uzbekistan has a bad reputation. It’s probably because it ends on -stan and it has Afghanistan as its neighbor. But don’t let that fool you, because Uzbekistan is a peaceful country that is working hard to welcome more tourists into their country. The country is doing everything to give tourists a good experience. I even saw a tourist police office in Bukhara. Of course, there is always a risk of pickpocketing, just like in every country. Always watch your stuff carefully.
Naturally, the situation in Uzbekistan can always change. Please check the latest travel advise for Uzbekistan from your government before traveling to the country.
13. the food is getting better for vegetarians
Uzbek cuisine is heavily meat-based, like many other Central Asian countries. Popular dishes are plov (rice with mutton, onion, and carrots), manti (dough filled with greasy minced meat), and shaslik (meat skewers). Fortunately, the influx of tourists has triggered restaurants to offer more vegetarian options on their menus. Veg options are cold and warm soups, non (big flatbread) and Korean carrot salad. I also saw vegetarian versions of traditional dishes such as vegetable shaslik, pumpkin manti, vegetarian plov, vegetarian lagman, and samsa with potato and onion. So it’s getting better!
14. English is not going to help you
Uzbekistan is a country of many languages, but English is not one of them. The main language is Uzbek (a Turkish language), but most people also speak Russian. A small group speaks Tadjik. Most people don’t understand English, especially the older generation. I’d recommend learning a few words of Russian, like ‘hello’ and ‘how much is this’. Are up for a challenge? Try to learn the Cyrillic alphabet, because this helps with reading signs.
15. Read up on Uzbekistan at Caravanistan
The best source with up-to-date information about traveling in Uzbekistan, and the whole of Central Asia, is the Caravanistan website and forum. I am telling you: without Caravanistan we would have missed out on a lot of practical need-to-know things. So ditch your paper travel guides, because it’s mostly outdated. Uzbekistan is changing way too fast to keep up.
And there you have it: 15 things you need to know about Uzbekistan. Would you consider visiting Uzbekistan?
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