Is Uzbekistan is safe to travel to? This question is likely high on your list of concerns when considering a trip here.
After all, Uzbekistan isn’t the most common travel destination. Not to mention, there aren’t exactly a wealth of resources available about it out there either.
Add to that fact, the connotations that come with the country ending in -stan and the fact that Uzbekistan’s neighbour is Afghanistan, and it’s easy to understand why you may be concerned. So is Uzbekistan safe to travel to?
The short answer is a resounding yes. Uzbekistan is a very safe travel destination, even for solo female travellers. However, to provide more context and assurance, let’s look at the experience of travelling to Uzbekistan in more detail.
- 1 My Experience Travelling in Uzbekistan
- 2 Is Uzbekistan Safe to Travel to: The Statistics
- 3 Human Rights in Uzbekistan
- 4 Uzbekistan as a Police State
- 5 Safety in Uzbekistan: Terrorism Risk
- 6 Is Uzbekistan Safe? Troubled Neighbours
- 7 Safety in Uzbekistan: Solo Travel
- 8 Uzbek Laws to be Aware of
My Experience Travelling in Uzbekistan
I spent three weeks travelling in Uzbekistan in May 2019. First, I flew into Samarkand. Then, I visited the Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva, stopping briefly in Urgench before taking an overnight train to Tashkent.
I spent longer than was really necessary in Tashkent because I needed to do some work while I was travelling. After that, I then briefly visited the Fergana valley and the villages that occupy it.
Obviously, I am by no means an Uzbekistan expert. However, I did do the entire trip independently as a solo female traveller in her twenties, so I can surely provide some insight into the question of “is Uzbekistan safe?”
Is Uzbekistan Safe to Travel to:
According to statistics, Uzbekistan is virtually a crime-free zone. At one point in time, Uzbekistan was noted as being one of the safest countries in the world.
Remember that Uzbekistan is a Dictatorship
While that is reassuring to hear, and I definitely don’t dispute the fact that Uzbekistan is safe to visit, you should keep in mind that Uzbekistan is a dictatorship and a former USSR state. That is important to remember as the government of Uzbekistan has not been completely honest or provided transparency on their actual numbers.
Crime Rates are Low in Uzbekistan
Generally, though, both petty crimes (theft, pickpocketing), and more serious crimes (murder, rape, etc.) are very rare in Uzbekistan. One thing that I found pretty interesting about Uzbekistan is that people (including women) frequently get around by hitchhiking.
As in, 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.
I think the fact that people do that every day, having blind trust in strangers, and yet there have never been any incidents speaks volumes about the safety of the country – even for solo female travellers. This may have something to do with my next point – the police presence in Uzbekistan.
Always Carry Identification With You
It is important that you always carry a copy of your identifying documents with you when you travel to Uzbekistan. This is good practice wherever you travel, just for the off-chance that you may get stopped and asked to present ID.
A colour photocopy of your passport o driving license is sufficient. Keep your originals locked safe in your hotel room.
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 consider 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 edcuate yourself on the culture, history, and background of the places that you visit.
Locals Have No Freedom of Speech
Being a Dictatorship affects Uzbeks a lot. The people have no freedom of speech and are not allowed to speak openly about the government, political matters, etc.
Uzbek 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.
Read Up on the Nation’s Human Rights Abuse Cases
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 the UK’s Ambassador to Uzbekistan until he was removed from his post for shining a light on the nation’s human rights abuses.
Uzbekistan as 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.
Honestly, I found this quite intimidating at first. I guess just because it is something that I’m not used to seeing.
Don’t Believe Everything You Read. Experience Uzbekistan for Yourself!
Perhaps another reason that I was anxious about the police presence in Uzbekistan is on account of the advice that I had read in guidebooks. Many travel magazines and guides advise travellers to steer well clear of the police in Uzbekistan. They state that many of them are corrupt and exploit tourists for bribes.
Basically, when I arrived in Uzbekistan, I was kind of on edge about potentially running into the police. I was walking near the Registan in Samarkand when an officer stopped me and told me I had to pay a fee to get in.
Being incredibly suspicious after taking heed of the guidebooks’ advice, I thanked him, turned around, and walked all the way back around the Registan. Then, I discovered that you do in fact have to pay to get in.
My other experiences with the police were fine too. At a festival in Bukhara, they were approaching me in the street with beaming smiles on their faces, welcoming me to their country.
In Samarkand, I asked a guard outside of the Emir Timur mausoleum to help me take a photo, half expecting him to say no. To my surprise, he jumped out of his chair in enthusiasm and essentially commenced a photoshoot like he was working for Vogue.
“Move to the left! Step to the right! This is gold, darling, gold!” Most Uzbek people I encountered were very friendly and welcoming, authority figures included.
Police Reform in Uzbekistan
After the death of Uzbekistan’s notorious Dictator in 2016, the country has gone through an 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, 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.
Safety in Uzbekistan:
We are living in something of an age of terror. It would be unwise to say that any country is completely free from the possibility of terrorism. However, Uzbekistan has minimal records of terrorist attacks.
That is to say, there were no recorded incidents of terrorism on Uzbek soil until November 2019. At this time, 17 people were killed in an armed attack at the Uzbek/Tajik border.
ISIS/Daesh claimed responsibiltiy for the attack. However, this was an isolated incident and an unfortunate tragedy. It could have happened anywhere in the world and should not deter you from uncovering beautiful Uzbekistan.
Check Your Government’s 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 – the political climate, current events, changing entry requirements, etc.
The British government travel advice is very helpful. It can be perceived as being somewhat sternly worded. However, it’s pretty logical. Meanwhile, the American government travel advice almost scares you out of ever wanting to leave your own house!
Are There Terrorists in Uzbekistan?
You might have heard that one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in Central Asia (the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) once operated in the Fergana Valley and worked under the Taliban. That’s true.
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 towards terror.
Here it is to the point 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, just to demonstrate the efforts of the government and their condemnation of any terrorist activity on their soil.
Is Uzbekistan Safe?
No doubt another concern about travelling to Uzbekistan is found when looking at a map and making note of the countries that border it. This is particularly the case when you see Afghanistan, a country that has been tormented by war and rebel groups for years now.
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, 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.
Safety in Uzbekistan:
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 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, 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 to walk 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.
Safety in Uzbekistan:
Solo Travel as a Woman
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.
Solo Travel Helps You Meet More People
Despite the fact that this is not a common place for solo travel, and I definitely stuck out like a sore thumb, people didn’t gawp or comment. Additionally, being alone 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.
A Negative Experience in Uzbekistan
I did have one very negative experience in Uzbekistan that I believe was down to one weird individual, as opposed to reflecting Uzbek people in general. When I was in Bukhara, I stayed at a place called the Rizo Boutique Hotel which I would strongly advise you to avoid.
The letchy hotel owner made many creepy comments about my appearance, used my check-in information to take my contact details and kept calling and banging on my door in the middle of the night asking to “get to know me better”. I had to barricade myself in the room, and it was one of the most uncomfortable experiences I have ever had while travelling.
Safety in Uzbekistan: Taking Night Trains
I took a 17 hour night train from Khiva/Urgench to Tashkent while I was travelling through Uzbekistan. While it wasn’t an experience I’d necessarily repeat in a hurry, it was certainly an experience!
I’d say that these trains are pretty safe, even as a solo traveller. Police are stationed along every few carriages. Every now and then, someone got on board to do identity checks.
For added comfort and privacy though, I’d probably advise you to try and get your own private cabin rather than sharing with 50 or so people in the third class section. If you so wish, you can opt for your luggage to be kept in a designated luggage car.
Safety in Uzbekistan: Road Safety
The road conditions in Uzbekistan leave a lot to be desired. However, things are being improved and the recent uptick in tourism is aiding the country in being able to finance necessary maintenance works.
A lot of roads are uneven, old, and filled with potholes. Driving from Bukhara to Khiva meant having to go onto the other side of the road to swerve holes in the ground and then dodge oncoming traffic.
It was almost like being on a ride at Universal Studios! A tarmac road had been built for a portion of the way so as I say, things are improving.
Uzbek Laws to be Aware of
Uzbekistan has very different raws, rules, and regulations to what you may be accustomed to in your home country. For instance, homosexuality is illegal here. So too is carrying religious literature with the intent to distribute.
A few laws that you need to be aware of before travelling to Uzbekistan are detailed below. Those that break local laws are subject to sentencing, fines, and deportation.
LGBTQ Rights in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is not an LGBTQ-friendly country. Homosexuality is illegal here. Same-sex couples should be mindful not to display affection publically.
Photography Laws in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan has strict photography laws when it comes to taking pictures of police, military sites, borders, and transport hubs (including airports). Be careful to ensure not to accidentally include these sites in your images.
If you accidentally snap a picture of a policeman, he may stop you and ask you to delete it. It is not unheard of for the guards to ask to check through your camera equipmet when leaving the country.
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 drop me a comment below.
I will get back to you as soon as I can. Safe travels, Melissa xo