Is Uzbekistan safe to travel to in 2023? The culturally rich Central Asian country of Uzbekistan is far from the most common travel destination in the world.
But it is a wonderful and worthwhile stopping point as part of a wider Silk Road travel itinerary or as a dedicated trip in itself. For decades, avid travelers and Travel Writers have raved about the “golden road to Samarkand”.
They speak highly of fascinating cities like Bukhara and Khiva which are filled with glittering mosques and madrassahs.
Traveling to Uzbekistan means following in the footsteps of Genghis Khan, discovering ancient cities that are thousands of years old, exploring desert fortresses, and learning about the once prosperous old trade route that ran from China to Constantinople (Istanbul) and Damascus.
Still, it is understandable that the question of safety would be high on your list of concerns. After all, there is a limited amount of information online about traveling to the country.
Not to mention, Uzbekistan is located in a part of the world where conflict is not unheard of. The fact that the country’s name ends in “stan” and it shares a land border with Afghanistan is enough to make anyone concerned.
But is Uzbekistan safe to travel to? The short answer is yes, provided that you take the same precautions that you would while traveling anywhere in the world.
But safety is more complex than that and it is also a very personal thing. This article has been written by a solo female traveler that has traveled extensively through Uzbekistan alone (me!)
It addresses the most common safety concerns about traveling in Uzbekistan, provides tips on staying safe, and discusses safety statistics.
Is Uzbekistan safe to travel to in 2023?
There are no travel restrictions currently in place for traveling to most places in Uzbekistan. You should avoid the Termez region and areas within 5km of the Afghanistan border but these are areas that you are not going to venture to as a tourist anyway.
Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Urgench, Nukus, and the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan are all wonderful places to explore. The Fergana Valley has not always had a reputation for safety, but it is a great place to include in your Uzbekistan itinerary, as long as you use your common sense.
You can’t exactly generalize an entire country of people and sometimes it is cliche to say “well everyone there is so nice!” But that does apply to most people in Uzbekistan.
Uzbek hospitality is unparalleled and people here are usually warm, friendly, and interested to hear the stories of international travelers. There is a relatively low level of crime in Uzbekistan.
Violent crime is rare and even petty thefts and opportunistic crimes against tourists are not common. Uzbekistan is a suitable destination for everyone – including solo travelers and solo female travelers.
Tips for staying safe in Uzbekistan
Is Uzbekistan safe to travel to? Mostly yes.
While safety while traveling is a very personal thing, most people ought to feel comfortable traveling in Uzbekistan, whatever their age and gender. Still, a lot of this depends on taking precautions and using your common sense.
A selection of useful tips to help you stay safe while traveling in Uzbekistan is detailed below.
Understand the entrance procedures
A lot of the information that you will find online about safety in Uzbekistan is outdated. Things have changed a lot here over the past decade.
Once upon a time, Uzbekistan was a hermetic country with very strict entry requirements. Getting a visa to be able to travel here was a challenge.
Today, most travellers to Uzbekistan can get a visa on arrival (VOA) which allows them to stay in the country for up to 30 days visa-free. This includes British, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, and most European passport holders.
If you are not eligible for a VOA (this includes US passport holders), you need to apply for a visa in advance. You can find the official e-visa website for the Republic of Uzbekistan here.
Historically, Uzbek customs were extremely strict. However, as the country is opening up to tourism more and more, things have been made a lot easier for international travellers.
Less than 10 years ago, if you landed at Samarkand or Tashkent airport, you would be subjected to extensive checks and have to fill in a number of extensive customs forms. That isn’t the case anymore.
Checks are random and they are the exception rather than the rule. Still, it is important to note that Uzbek customs are stricter than customs in other countries you may have travelled to.
You should be sure not to bring any prohibited items into the country. This includes sensitive/religious materials, adult content, and prescription meds, including those that contain codeine.
If you have a medical prescription that you are not sure is okay to travel with, do check before flying to Uzbekistan. Make sure that you carry the paperwork and packaging with any medication.
Understand the procedures for leaving Uzbekistan
Up until a couple of years ago, you had to collect little slips of paper at every place you stayed while travelling in Uzbekistan. These acted as evidence of where you spent each particular night of your itinerary.
At the end of your trip, you had to present these to the border guards. Any overnight train tickets acted as proof for that day.
Now, these papers are no longer checked when exiting the country which is a relief. Travelling around with a mound of receipts and papers, and panicking when a train attendant walked away with your ticket was a nightmarish procedure.
You do have to declare how much cash you are entering and exiting the country with. People have been stopped and questioned if they have left the country with more than they arrived with, even if it is a marginal amount.
Although logic dictates that the person probably withdrew more cash, border guards have often assumed that that meant that the person worked in Uzbekistan. So, to be on the safe side, make sure you leave with less. Even if that means having to buy a few tacky fridge magnets at the airport before you leave.
Crossing land borders to/from Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan shares its borders with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan. If you are travelling to multiple Central Asian countries on your trip, you may decide to travel overland between them.
Just like the process of flying in and out of Uzbekistan has become easier in recent years, so too has the process of crossing overland borders.
You can use this Silk Road border crossing map to see where specific land borders are and if they are currently open. Do ensure that you have the correct visas for each country that you are travelling to.
Checks at customs are rare but do ensure that you are not carrying any prohibited items. If you have stamps for certain countries like Iraq, Iran, etc in your passport, you are more likely to be questioned at Uzbek borders.
Keep calm and answer questions as asked.
Uzbekistan is a police state
Uzbekistan is a police state and here, police are everywhere. You will find officers stationed outside of Silk Road attractions even in the dead of night. Little outposts are positioned every few hundred meters or so along each road.
This can be intimidating at first, particularly if it is something that you are not used to seeing. However, as daunting as it may be to see police, they are there for everyone’s safety at the end of the day.
As a tourist, you are not likely to have any issues with the Uzbek police. Some were very friendly, offering help/directions and even offering to take photographs!
A lot of sources online speak about the corruption of the Uzbek police. However, you cannot believe everything you read.
After the death of Uzbekistan’s notorious Dictator in 2016, the country has gone through extensive reform. One way in which this has been happening has been in the retraining of the police forces, and in encouraging a more ethical approach to policing.
These efforts not only make Uzbekistan a safer and more comfortable place to live for the locals, but it is also reassuring for tourists. As a traveller, you don’t have to worry about the same corruption as you once did.
Admittedly you can still bribe police officers to enter historical sites that are closed off. However, that’s more someone trying to make a quick buck rather than anything else.
Watch your belongings in crowded marketplaces
If you are going to be the victim of a crime in Uzbekistan, it is going to be an opportunistic one. (E.g. someone picking up your phone because you left it unattended on a coffee shop table, someone taking your wallet out of your bag in the market, etc).
This can be easily avoided by keeping an eye on your personal belongings at all times.
In crowded marketplaces, walk with your backpack in front of you so that nobody can grab it off your shoulder or open it behind you. Theft-proof backpacks like those offered by Pacsafe are a worthwhile investment.
They are a little pricier than regular backpacks but they come with a few extra security features. For instance, they are slash-proof, and water-proof and come with TSA-approved locks.
Learning a few phrases in Russian is helpful but not essential
English is not widely spoken in Uzbekistan. Uzbek is the official national language but the vast majority of people here also speak Russian as a second language.
Close to the border with Tajikistan, a lot of people speak Tajik. Several other Turkic languages are also spoken around the country.
Obviously, it isn’t practical to expect yourself to become conversational or fluent in a new language prior to your trip.
But if you are going to try and learn a few phrases of one language before going to Uzbekistan, opt to try and learn a few words and phrases in Russian. This will come in very handy too if you are visiting Uzbekistan as part of a wider trip around Central Asia.
Russian is also spoken in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan. It’s easier to learn a few phrases of Russian rather than trying to learn words and phrases in all of these different languages!
Useful phrases in Russian
The Duolingo app can be a fun way to learn a few words of Russian each day. A handful of useful phrases are detailed below.
- Privet (Привет!) – Hi!
- Poka (Пока!) – Bye!
- Spasibo (Спасибо) – Thank you
- Dobryy ootra (Доброе утро) – Good morning
- Dobryy vecher (Добрый вечер) – Good evening
- Dobryy noche (Доброй ночи) – Good night
- Izvinite (Извините) – Excuse me
- Ohchen priyatna (очень приятно) – Nice to meet you
- Mne Zhal (Мне жаль) – I’m sorry
- Kak Dela (как дела) – How are you?
- Ya ne ponimayu (я не понимаю) – I don’t understand
- Ya by khotel (Я хочу…) – I would like…
- skol’ko eto stoit (сколько это стоит) – How much is it?
- Prinesite, pozhaluista, schyot (Принесите, пожалуйста, счет) – I would like to pay
Useful phrases in Uzbek
Of course, Uzbek is the official national language of Uzbekistan. Most people here speak it as their first language and Russian as their second.
Your efforts to greet people in Uzbek will be appreciated and actually, you may find that the pronunciation of words in Uzbek is actually much easier. Uzbek shares some similarities with Turkish and Arabic.
- Assalomu alaykum – Hello
- Salom/Qalaysiz – Hi!
- Tanishganimdan hursandman – Nice to meet you
- Xayr – Goodbye
- Rahmat – Thank you
- Iltimos – Please
- Arzimaydi – You’re welcome
- Kechirasiz – Sorry
- Siz Inglizcha gaplashasizmi? – Do you speak English?
- Qancha?/ Nechta? – How much is it?
Usually, you will find that you can find a way to communicate with locals in Uzbekistan even with the language barrier. It is also helpful to have the Google Translate app installed on your phone so if you are struggling, you can simply write what you are trying to say in English on your phone and it will play it out in Russian.
You cannot drink the water in Uzbekistan
Drinking tap water in Uzbekistan is not considered safe. Since your stomach is not accustomed to it, you are likely to become sick if you drink it so stick to only bottled water.
Most Airbnbs and hotels will provide you with a couple of bottles of complimentary water when you check in. You don’t have to worry about having ice in your drinks when you visit restaurants, cafes, etc as this will always be made from purified water and not tap water.
It is a good idea to purchase a reusable water bottle such as a lifestraw prior to your trip to Uzbekistan. Not only does this help to minimize your plastic waste, but these bottles are also great as they keep your water fresh and cool throughout the day while you are exploring.
It is a good idea to purchase large, multi-liter bottles of water and keep them in your hotel refrigerator. Then, you can fill up your lifestraw bottle each day of your Uzbekistan itinerary.
Road conditions in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan has serious issues from a road safety perspective which are worth noting. If you are considering renting a car and driving here, you should think carefully about your decision to do so.
Although a road trip through Central Asia sounds fun, a lot of the roads in Uzbekistan are in poor condition. Not to mention, road fatalities are a cause for local concern.
A recent study and assessment by UNECE noted that more than 3,600 people lost their lives due to road accidents in 2018, including a relative number of children. This figure has not decreased in the years that have followed.
Uzbek roads are often filled with potholes, poorly paved, and not maintained. Driving at night is not recommended as many roads are poorly lit.
A lot of people see road rules and speed limits as mere suggestions so you will see a lot of wild driving and speeding. Be mindful of your surroundings and your own driving and do not follow suit.
There are a lot of speed cameras and police checkpoints scattered along Uzbek highways and motorways.
If you do decide to drive here, make sure that you purchase full coverage insurance for your vehicle and that you always have a spare tire in the trunk. Some of the potholes can be atrocious and cause popped tires that you don’t want to have to deal with in the middle of nowhere.
The roads between Bukhara and Khiva are particularly atrocious. However, work is underway to construct a new road to encourage tourism and make the journey more manageable.
If you are going to be depending on public transport during your Uzbekistan itinerary, it is generally better to opt to travel by rail than by road. The trains here are modern and efficient.
Hitchhiking in Uzbekistan
One thing that is interesting about Uzbekistan is that people (including women) frequently get around by hitchhiking.
If someone is out shopping for the day in Samarkand they will just stick their arm out into the street and wave it around. Then, drivers that are heading in the same direction as the individual will offer them a lift on their way.
The fact that people do that every day speaks volumes about the safety of the country. Many Uzbek locals have blind trust in strangers, and yet there have never been any incidents.
Even single Uzbek women and solo female travellers can do this without a problem. This may be in part due to the inherent respect Uzbeks have for each other, and partly due to the police presence in Uzbekistan.
Terrorism risk in Uzbekistan
The threat of terrorism in Uzbekistan is marked as moderate. However, the likelihood of you getting caught up in an attack here is extremely small and terrorism concerns should not be a deterrent for you travelling to Uzbekistan.
There were no recorded incidents of terrorism on Uzbek soil until November 2019 when 17 people were killed in an armed attack at the Uzbek/Tajik border. ISIS/Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack.
However, this was an isolated incident and an unfortunate tragedy. This kind of thing has happened all over the world and is usually a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Several years ago, a terrorist group called the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan operated in the Fergana Valley and worked under the Taliban. However, the government has since gone to great lengths to stamp out the risk of any such event happening again.
Uzbekistan, like most countries, has a zero-tolerance policy toward terror. The local authorities have taken this to the extent where mosques are not allowed to blast out their call to prayer, and men with thick beards are looked at with concern.
Obviously, this is unfair profiling of innocent Muslims. A middle point ought to be reached.
However, it is worth mentioning all of this just to demonstrate the efforts of the government and their condemnation of any terrorist activity on their soil.
Check your government travel advice
It is advisable to check your government travel advice before you travel anywhere in the world. Visiting Uzbekistan is no different.
Government travel websites provide some good insight into the situation on the ground at each destination. For instance, the political climate, current events, changing entry requirements, etc.
The British government’s travel advice is very helpful, even if it appears a little sternly worded. You can also find the US government travel advice for Uzbekistan here.
Human Rights in Uzbekistan
Travelling to Uzbekistan may raise some ethical questions. Few people seem to know the ins and outs of the situation in Uzbekistan.
However, it is important to note that Amnesty International considers Uzbekistan as being one of the very worst countries for human rights in all of Central Asia. Does that affect you as a tourist?
Not really. However, as a mindful traveller, it is important to educate yourself on the culture, history, and background of the places that you visit. Locals have no freedom of speech here and Uzbekistan is still a dictatorship.
Uzbek people are not allowed to speak openly about the government, political matters, etc. The local jails are filled with local Journalists and Bloggers that have spoken out about various issues within their country.
Uzbekistan has a long way to go before becoming a just, safe, and equal place for all. If you are interested to learn more about this prior to your trip, consider picking up a copy of “Murder in Samarkand” by Craig Murray.
Murray was formerly the UK’s Ambassador to Uzbekistan. He was removed from his post for shining a light on the nation’s human rights abuses.
The Afghanistan border
Uzbekistan borders Afghanistan. This can be alarming and make you question how safe you are going to be when travelling in this part of the world, particularly since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 2021.
Never forget that a country is not its neighbour. Turkey borders Syria for example.
However, millions travel to Turkey every year and enjoy trouble-free visits. Equally, France and Germany border each other but you can’t say that the countries or cultures are the same.
The border that stands between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan is one of the most fortified and secure in the world. For Uzbekistan, the security of the country’s citizens and visitors is paramount.
Even to travel in the border area between the two countries, a special permit is required. Additionally, the military presence is high around all border areas.
Is Uzbekistan safe for solo travellers?
Perceptions of safety in Uzbekistan and the ease of getting around the country have both improved dramatically in recent years. This is following the changeover in the Uzbek government, and the various reforms within the police force.
A 2019 Gallup poll questioned residents of 142 different countries on how safe they felt in their native lands. It covered various scenarios related to their safety.
For instance, it asked questions such as whether they have ever been a victim of crime, whether they trusted the ability of their police force, and whether they felt safe walking alone at night. Uzbekistan’s results were overwhelmingly positive.
In a Solo Travel Safety Report that was released in 2019, Uzbekistan came in 5th place, with Iceland, Singapore, Finland, and Norway just in front. If that isn’t reassuring, I don’t know what is.
Is Uzbekistan safe for solo female travellers?
I travelled completely independently through Uzbekistan and consider my trip to be one of the best adventures I have had so far. There were never any occasions where I felt creeped out or afraid while walking around the various cities.
Despite the fact that this is not a common destination for solo travel, and I definitely stuck out like a sore thumb, people didn’t gawp or comment. Being alone also gave me more opportunities to talk with the locals.
For instance, on the night train from Urgench to Tashkent, families were inviting me into their cabins for a chat and offering me food and snacks. This is an experience that I will treasure forever.
Maybe it wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t alone. If you are travelling solo and want to meet other travellers during your trip, consider starting in Tashkent as that is where most people fly into.
Hostels are a good way to meet other travellers and some places, like Rumi hostel in Bukhara or Topchan hostel in Tashkent, are famous for being great social spots. Uzbekistan also has a fast-emerging Couchsurfing scene.
Taking night trains in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is a huge, vast country and the distances between some of the points of interest are huge. For example, there is a distance of 745km between Tashkent and Khiva, and a distance of 387 km between Bukhara and Khiva.
You can opt to take domestic flights if you want to save time. And if you book them in advance, you can find tickets between Tashkent/Samarkand and Khiva for reasonable prices.
However, you may also want to consider travelling overland and taking the train to/from Khiva to Samarkand and Tashkent. Although it isn’t the most luxurious experience, it is worth doing for the travel stories and the experience alone.
If you travel on a night train, you can opt to pay for a budget-friendly bunk bed or a private cabin (which is still affordable). For additional comfort and safety, it is worth paying extra for a private cabin.
Even solo travellers and solo female travellers can feel safe travelling across Uzbekistan over land. Police are stationed along every few carriages.
Every now and then, someone got on board to do identity checks.
Photography laws in Uzbekistan
In the past, Uzbekistan had strict photography laws in place. You could not take photos of police, military sites, borders, and transport hubs (including airports).
You are unlikely to be yelled at or stopped if you take a photo of something and a policeman is loitering in the background. Similarly, the chances of someone searching your devices when entering/exiting the country are extremely slim.
But to be on the safe side, it is still better to avoid taking photos of police, authority figures, and military sites. There are more exciting things to photograph here anyway, right?
FAQs about Safety in Uzbekistan 2023
Do you have any further questions or concerns about staying safe in Uzbekistan in 2023? The answers to some frequently asked questions on the topic are detailed below.
Hopefully, you will find the information you are looking for. If not, please do not hesitate to reach out!
Is Uzbekistan tourist friendly?
Yes. Uzbekistan is rapidly developing into a culturally rich, off-the-beaten-path tourism destination. In 2019, tourism accounted for 3.4 % of the GDP.
This is a figure that is expected to grow as the world reopens following the global pandemic, and the formerly hermetic country focuses on marketing its tourism industry and improving its infrastructure. Currently, most people that travel to Uzbekistan do so on organized silk road tours.
However, getting around here is very easy for independent travellers too. Despite the language barriers, taking trains and buses in Uzbekistan is straightforward to do.
Khiva, Samarkand, and Bukhara in particular are tourist destinations that are packed full of cultural and historical sites.
What should I avoid in Uzbekistan?
Uzbekistan is a largely secular country and although most people identify as Muslim, there is no expectation for people to dress a certain way or for women to cover their hair. Still, most people dress relatively conservatively.
So, to not draw attention to yourself, it is a good idea to follow suit and not wear clothing that displays cleavage if you are female, or particularly short shorts or skirts. For your own safety, you should also not drink the water, as it is likely to make you sick.
Final Thoughts on “Is Uzbekistan safe to travel to”?
Is Uzbekistan safe to travel to in 2023? Yes, with caution and common sense.
If you have any further questions or concerns about travelling in Uzbekistan, you can consult this comprehensive Uzbekistan travel guide. It addresses a range of questions and concerns about planning a first trip to Uzbekistan.
If you are still worried as to whether Uzbekistan is safe to travel to, or you have any unanswered queries, feel free to reach out.
I will get back to you as soon as I can. Safe travels, Melissa xo