Kazakhstan is a country situated in Central Asia of Eurasian continent. The official name is the “Republic of Kazakhstan”. Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world with total area 2.7 million square kilometres. Kazakhstan has the ninth land area and borders with Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The territory of the country stretches 3,000 km from low reaches of the Volga River in the West to the foothills of the Altai Mountains in the East, 2,000 km from West Siberian Lowland in the North to the Kyzylkum Desert and the Tien Shan mountain range in the South.
Kazakhstan consists of 14 regions and two cities of republican importance – Astana and Almaty. Since 1997 Astana is the capital of Kazakhstan. The word “Astana” means “capital” in the Kazakh language. It is located in the centre of the country on the Yessil River. Astana is the administrative capital with a population over 800 000 people. Former capital Almaty remains the largest cultural and business city with a population over 1.5 million people. Being situated in the south of the country it is also well-known as “south capital”. Almaty is famous for its picturesque nature and considered the homeland of apples. Even the name of city “Almaty” means “apple” (adj.).
Kazakhstan is a multiethnic country (around 120 nations and ethnic groups) with a population over 17.5 million people living in peace and agreement. The majority of the population are ethnic Kazakhs – 63%, then comes Russians – 23%, Uzbeks – 2.85%, Ukrainians -2.08%, Uighurs – 1.4%, Tatars – 1.28%, Germans – 1,11% and others – 4.51%.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991 Kazakhstan got its independence. The Republic of Kazakhstan is a unitary, secular and democratic state with the presidential form of government. The head of state is the president of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The legislative branch of power represented by the Parliament which consists of two Chambers: the Senate and the Majilis.
The official language of the country is Kazakh. Russian is a language of international communication and used in business and administrative spheres. Every citizen freely uses tjheir own native language. Recently, the Government has promoted “trilingual” policy when a person should know Kazakh, Russian and English.
Historical events and religious beliefs influenced the development of cultures and traditions. Many traditions originate from Tengriism, pagan beliefs about world creation. People believed in Tengri – the sky (father), Umai – the earth (mother) and ancestors’ spirits. Later culture and traditions were changed by the penetration of Muslim religion on the territory of ancient Kazakhstan. This way Kazakh culture is a complex combination of customs and traditions related to stages of a human being’s life: pregnancy, birth, wedding, upbringing a child, hospitality and funerals.
One of the prominent traditions is respect and esteem for elder generation and ancestors. It is a duty of every Kazakh to know his/her ancestors up to the seventh branch. This knowledge helps to know the family tree and avoid the marriage of close relatives. Another important cultural feature is hospitality. From early childhood, children are grown in an atmosphere of hospitality and respect to mother and elder generation. Guests are very welcomed in Kazakhstan and it does not matter whether they have been invited or not. A guest is served the tastiest food and drinks. There is a proverb “If a guest comes, he brings happiness”.
Modern Kazakhstan is a diverse combination of ethnic cultures, languages, music and cuisine. This is especially evident in big cities like Almaty, Astana, and Shymkent, which are inhabited by around or more than a million people of different nations.
Food and Drink
Eating habits in Kazakhstan are strongly influenced by multiethnicity, historical roots and modern trends. In big cities, one can easily find restaurants, cafes with Japanese, Italian, American, Chinese cuisine which is quite popular all over the world. However, in everyday life, people prefer to eat and cook traditional Kazakh food (beshbarmak, kuurdak), Uzbek and Uigur food (plov, lagman, manty), Russian, Ukranian (borsh, pelmeny, varenyky).
The most popular Kazakh food suggested to respected guests is “Beshbarmak” which means “five fingers” as people eat it by hands. Beshbarmak is served on a big round plate with pasta cut into small pieces covered by lamb or horse meat.
A popular drink is tea. Kazakhstani people like drinking tea several times a day. Mostly they drink black tea with milk, sometimes with lemon. There are also traditional Kazakh drinks such as kumis – fermented mare’s milk, shubat – fermented camel’s milk and airan – fermented cow’s milk.
Nowadays urban population of the country is very sport-driven. Plenty of people several times a week go in for sports sections: fitness, cross-fit, yoga, dancing, cycling, boxing, karate and etc. At weekends people prefer to relax and have a fun time with friends or relatives often in various restaurants, cafes, pubs and night-clubs. For those who prefer cultural pursuits, there are plenty of museums, theatres, opera houses and exhibitions.
Another popular activity of all generations in Kazakhstan is going to cinemas and watching new movies with popcorn and soft drinks. A lot of people are fond of singing and going to karaoke. Good karaoke places are of high demand and places there need to be reserved in advance.
In south capital Almaty there is a great variety of activities connected with mountains as the city situated at the foothills of Zailiiskoe Alatau of the Tian Shan. Citizens and tourists love going to mountains for hiking, picnic, climbing and rafting in summer, and in winter for skiing and skating. Shymbulak ski resort and Medeo skating rink are favourite destinations for active holidays.
The climate of Kazakhstan is sharply continental. Weather peculiarities are due to the location of the country deep in Eurasian continent. The territory is landlocked and there are no oceans close to Kazakhstan. As a result, temperature differs significantly between winter and summer, the air is dry, precipitation is low, winters are long and cold and summers are short in the north, and vice versa in the south.
In Kazakhstan, people can enjoy all four seasons: cold winters, warm springs, hot summers and rainy autumns. The coldest month is January, the temperature in the north can be as low as -19 C0, and the south -4 C0. Sometimes, the temperature can fall below -50 C0. In summer the temperature is usually between +19 C0 and +26 C0, quite often it rises up to +35 C0 or +40 C0.
Safety and Security
Kazakhstan is a comparatively safe country. To avoid negative experiences, you should follow the ordinary safety rules. Do not walk alone at night, especially in city outskirts or rural areas. Do not talk or come into contact with strangers who you think may be aggressive. It is recommended to use official taxi services instead of private ones. Criminal incidents usually happen around local nightclubs, bars, cafes, late at night.
The education system of Kazakhstan has changed dramatically since the country gained its independence in 1991. Soviet education was focused on fundamental, theoretical knowledge. Primary, secondary and higher educations were free of charge. Every citizen has the right for an equal, free of charge and high-quality education. Twenty-five years of independence resulted in numerous reforms in education. Among them Kazakhstan joining the Bologna Process, the introduction of a credit system, lifelong learning, three-tier higher education (bachelor-master-doctor), decentralisation of education sphere, privatisation and focus on the critical thinking. Along with these reforms, education institutions divided into private and public, fee-paying and free of charge. Although primary, secondary and partially higher education is free of charge, the issue of whether everyone has equal access to quality education is debatable. There are private elite schools, for example, Miras, Haileybury, Almaty International School, Tamos Education, Dostar and etc. However, the government tries to regulate this difference and open new schools for talented students (Nazarbayev schools, Daryn).
Primary education is compulsory and free of charge (although there are fee-paying schools). Students accepted to primary schools from kindergartens or pre-school organisations at the age of 6-7. Education in primary schools takes 4 years (1-4 grades). Main languages of instruction are Kazakh and Russian. Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan regulates education content, programs, periods and quality. A certain level of freedom is provided in private schools. Usually, students study in two shifts in the morning or afternoon. Education Year consists of four terms and three ten days holidays after 1-3 terms and 3 months of summer holidays after 4 terms.
Secondary education consists of two stages: middle school and senior school. Middle school lasting five years (5-9 grades, 10-16 years old) is compulsory and free of charge (although there are fee-paying schools). After graduating middle school students get ‘Attestat o nepolnom srednem obrazovanii’ (Certificate of Secondary Education) and choose one of three possible options: 1) to continue education in senior school, 2) to continue education in vocational school or college and obtain a working qualification; 3) not to study further. So at the age of 15 students make an important decision on which pathway to go – whether to continue education or not.
The period of education in senior school is two years (10-11 grades, 17-18 years old.). Senior school is not compulsory but free of charge (there are fee-paying options). At the final stage, students undertake graduating exams in schools to achieve ‘Attestat o srednem obrazovanii’ (Certificate of General Secondary Education). Graduates of senior schools and colleges can enter Higher Education Institutions.
Kazakhstan has ambitious plans to be in the top 30 developed countries of the world. This goal requires the development of economics, industry and education. In light of development strategies, Higher Education is implementing and transferring successful Western and American policies. Overall, Kazakhstan has 127 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) with around 450,000 people. HEIs are divided into national, state and private. Both national and state HEIs are state-owned and fully funded from the national budget. Private HEIs are funded from private capital. Thanks to the market economy, Higher Education of Kazakhstan has developed into a competitive environment. Universities have to compete for clients and constantly improve the quality of services and education. Universities take part in national and international rankings and accreditations. In 2015-2016, eight Kazakhstani Universities entered top 100 of QS: Eastern Europe and Central Asia Rating.
The entry requirements to universities are Certificate of General Secondary Education and UNT or CT Certificate with required scores. UNT is a Unified National Testing for graduates of schools, CT is a Complex Testing for college leavers. Higher education provision in the country is both free-of-charge or fee-paying. Annually, the Government allocates a certain amount of budget for State Scholarships, which cover tuition and a monthly stipend. School and college graduates can apply for the State Scholarship Competition. A successful scholarship recipient is defined by the UNT or CT grades and achievements at national and international competitions. In the 2015-2016 academic year, around 30% of students were allocated State Scholarships and 70% were fee-paying.
Since Kazakhstan entered the Bologna Process and became part of EHEA (European Higher Education Area), all HEIs implemented a credit system and an ECTS system. As a result, Kazakhstani HEIs are cooperating with many foreign partner universities to promote the academic mobility of incoming and outgoing students and staff.
Universities provide education programs in Kazakh (63%), Russian (34%) and English (3%). The Soviet five-point grade system is substituted by the American 4.0 GPA model (grade point average). Education programs consist of compulsory and optional components. Optional components are elective courses chosen by students.
Cost of living
The cost of living in Kazakhstan is cheaper than in Europe and America. However, in comparison with Central Asia and CIS countries, it is expensive. Rich mineral resources (especially oil) and positive developments in the economy led to the overall living standards increase followed by a price increase. Later, economic recession and tenge (KZT, Kazakhstan currency) exchange rates falling resulted in another price increase and the decrease of average citizens’ income.
Accommodation prices are very expensive, so the majority of the population rent property or take out mortgage loans. The government’s Affordable Accommodation Program builds economy class apartments, making them available through mortgage loans in all cities.
Utility rates are not so expensive. Utilities are provided by state-owned or private companies. The utility list in Kazakhstan comprises of electricity, gas, central heating, cold and hot water, wastewater disposal, landline telephone and garbage removal.
Healthcare and medical costs
Healthcare in Kazakhstan has also undergone numerous reforms starting with privatisation and ending with compulsory insurance which will be introduced in 2017. The healthcare sector is mostly public. People can get all kinds of services and medicine free-of-charge. All emergency medical services are also free of charge, including surgeries. However, the quality of free medical services and medicine is far from perfect.
The situation is better in the private sector, but it is not affordable for all people. Through a benefits package, top companies provide their employees with good medical insurance covering visits to doctors, treatment, medicine, stomatology, hospital and outpatient treatment.
The best shopping destination in Kazakhstan is Almaty. The south capital has plenty of modern shopping centres, such as Mega, Dostyk Plaza, Esentai Mall, ADK, Tsum and etc. Popular brands such as Zara, Mango, Karen Millen, Next, Marks & Spencer are available in the shopping centres of Almaty, Astana and other big cities.
The cheapest supermarkets are Small, Magnum chains or even better bargains are dealt at bazaars, for instance, Zelenyi Bazaar. Zelenyi bazaar is one of the attractions of Almaty, representing the spirit of oriental bazaars. Every month, craftsmen from Central Asia gather in Almaty for a Handicraft Fair. Here, one can find national (Kazakh, Russian, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Turkmen) souvenirs, clothes, toys, jewelry, hats and bags.
Most sales in Kazakhstan are subject to 12 % VAT. The introduction of a tax free system for foreigners is being discussed.
Rent of one-room apartment in city centre – ₸213,437.50 (375.86)
Rent onf one-room apartment outside city centre – ₸144,800.00 (254.99)
Roads in Kazakhstan are not of high quality with unexpected potholes of different sizes. The speed limits in the country: in town – 60 km/h, open roads 90 km/h, motorways – 110 km/h. To drive a car one should have a driving license, obligatory third party insurance, and vehicle ownership documents.
Kazakhstan has right-hand driving:
Driver and front seat passengers should fasten seat belts;
Zero tolerance for drinking alcohol and driving;
It is prohibited to talk on a mobile phone;
Children under 12 should be transported in child safety seats or fastened by a child safety seat belt.
The Taxi services sector is represented by official taxi companies. Taxis are ordered by phone calls or online. The price of a trip can vary from one company to another, but mostly it differs between vehicle class – business or economy. Non-official taxis are widespread in the country when every individual can stop and ride to the destination place. Although this option is not safe or comfortable (often dirty and broken cars), people frequently use such taxis as it may be cheaper (a price is agreed) and immediate.
Buses and Coaches
Public transport is represented by buses, trolleybuses, trams and the Metro (Metro only in Almaty). Ticket price for a trip is around $0.25, one month pass $23.4, student month pass $6.25, pensioners and disabled month pass $6.25. Public transport in Almaty is equipped with special terminals to pay for a trip.
The most popular method of transport among Almaty citizens and its guests is the Metro. The metro was opened in 2011. It has one line with nine stations. The deepest Abaya station is 78 metres below ground. Every station has a unique design and artistic conception. Some stations are decorated in a modern style, others in the national style with Kazakh ornaments.
Buses and coaches connect cities and regions. The tickets can be bought on stations. The buses are good for a 5-6 hour trip. Similarly, small minivans owned by individuals go between cities and regions. The average price is cheaper than the same trip by train or aeroplane.
The length of railways in Kazakhstan is 15,300 kilometres. Railways were constructed during the Soviet period so that Kazakhstan was connected with neighbouring Soviet countries: Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan. It is better to buy railway tickets in advance (especially during holidays) on Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (national railway operator) website www.railways.kz, or booking offices at railway stations or travel agencies. Upon boarding, a passenger must show passport and ticket (or e-ticket).
According to speed, trains are divided into slow and fast types. Fast trains go twice as fast as slow ones. Slow trains are old soviet-time trains with ‘platscart’ (open sleeping place for 4 people), ‘kupe’ (sleeping place with a door for 4 people) and ‘SV’ (sleeping place with a door for 2 people). Fast new trains are called Talgo. Tickets for this type of train are as expensive as an economy class aeroplane ticket.
Kazakhstan has good flight connections to all regions. Plenty of international airline companies operate flights to Kazakhstan. There are, however, only a few local airlines within the country (Air Astana, Scat and KazakhAir). Air Astana is a Kazakh company meeting international safety requirements and flying not only within the country but also to the most popular international destinations.
Tickets are sold online through airline companies’ websites, travel agencies and online airfare booking portals, for example, www.aviata.kz.
Other ways to get around
An alternative way of travelling is cycling. In comparison with other places in the country, Almaty is more popular for cycling. The city centre has bicycle tracks, mountain routes (as the city situated close to mountains) and bicycle rent shops. Local people prefer cycling to work in summer. The city administration is promoting cycling as an eco-friendly alternative to other types of transport.
In Kazakhstan, the working week is 6 or 5 days, Monday to Friday (or Saturday), from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with lunchtime from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Usually, employees have 24 calendar days annual leave. The amount of days may differ depending on the field of activity, for example, teachers receive 56 calendar days. In addition to annual leave, workers get 16 days public holidays. The number of days for holidays may increase if they fall on weekends.
There are 12 public holidays in Kazakhstan.
Public holiday dates
New Year’s Day: 1st January
Day after New Year’s Day: 2nd January
International Women’s Day: 8th March
NauryzHoliday: 21st – 25th March
Kazakhstan Nations’ Unity Day: 1st May
Defender’s Day: 7th May
Victory Day: 9th May
Capital City Day: 8th July
Constitution Day: 30th August
First President’s Day: 2nd December
Independence Day (observed): 17th December
If the first day of Muslim KurbanAit and Orthodox Christmas fall on working days, people also have a holiday.
Visas and Eligibility to Work
All foreign nationals planning to visit Kazakhstan need to have a visa. A Kazakhstan visa obtained at diplomatic/consular services. There are several types of entry visas: business, tourist, transit, diplomatic, official, investor, work, study and medical.
The list of documents required to apply for a visa are:
A Valid passport (at least 6 months valid after planned departure date);
A Visa support (invitation) letter;
A Visa application form;
Flights booking confirmation.
Upon arrival, foreign nationals should receive a registration card. However, some nationals get their registration card together with their visa.
The procedure of receiving work permits in Kazakhstan is quite complicated. Work permits may be given to an employer or worker for certain occupations. A Foreign work permit is given to four categories of workers: 1) chief executives, 2) senior managers; 3) skilled professionals, and 4) skilled workers.
Targeting investment and tourist attractiveness of Kazakhstan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan (MFA RK) is simplifying visa procedures. Hence, the MFA RK has introduced visa-free entry to Kazakhstan to nationals of 48 countries, among them member countries of OECD, UAE, Malaysia, Singapore and Monaco.
In Kazakhstan, the Tax Year starts on January 1st and ends on December 31st. Legal entities submit Tax Reports quarterly, private and small entrepreneurs twice a year. Legal entities pay two main types of taxes: Corporate Income Tax 20% and Value Added Tax 12%. Other taxes depend on the property of the company. Individuals pay 3 taxes from their income: first, deducted Individual Income Tax 10%; second, Pension Contributions 10% and third, Social Tax 5 %. Those who own real estate, vehicles or land are obliged to pay Land Tax, Real Estate Tax and Vehicle Tax.
The pension system of the country has undergone reforms. Pension savings of people were moving from state-owned funds to private funds and back again. At present, all deducted pension contributions are collected in the United Accumulative Pension Fund. Kazakhstan pension system is made up of three types of contributions: compulsory pension, compulsory professional and voluntary pension contributions. Pension funds are invested in deposits, shares, bonds and other financial instruments. So, in addition to personal pension savings people may also get investment income. Women at 58 years of age and men at 63 years of age start receiving pensions.
Since early 1990 Kazakhstan has been open to foreign and international companies and investors. Nowadays, the Kazakhstan market consists of local, foreign and international companies. Despite this, the management style is still mostly hierarchical. All innovations, decisions are imposed from the top and fulfilled by employees. Senior, middle and low-level managers get used to subordinating and making executive orders. While negotiating, be ready for a comparatively long process particularly in cases involving government structures. Direct access to the highest-ranking person, personal connections and loyalties will help to shorten negotiations.
Business meetings are rather formal. A handshake is a common greeting and negotiators shake hands with all men at the beginning and end of a meeting. For women, nodding is more common. If women shake hands, they usually initiate the handshake themselves. During a first meeting, people address formally using titles and usually move quickly to communication without titles. Business cards exchange is an important part of meetings. While negotiating, expressing personal opinions and standing your ground is normal. However, arguing and contradicting someone who is senior by age or position is considered unacceptable and disrespectful.
Doing business is attached to interpersonal relationships. In Kazakhstan, to cooperate and work, people should first feel comfortable with, and respectful of, future partners. Therefore, to build partnerships with Kazakh business contacts, one should be ready for small introductory talks and meetings to establish a connection.
Dress code in Kazakhstan may vary from conservative official to smart casual. Banks and government bodies’ employees wear conservative official attire; private companies and foundations smart casual clothes. Dress code requirements are set in organisations’ internal regulation documents. When it comes to business meetings, local people take clothing etiquette quite seriously and business attire is conservative official. Wearing casual clothes for business meetings is interpreted by Kazakh businesspeople as not taking the situation seriously.
In general, Kazakhs are considered not to be punctual and it is true for different celebrations, weddings, anniversaries, and birthdays etc. However, in business people stick to a schedule and try not to be late. If, for any reason, someone is late s/he informs immediately the other part.
Although Kazakh is the official language, business is also done in Russian and English. Russian is widespread because of the Soviet history of the country and close ties with post-soviet countries. The country is often doing business with Russia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and etc. The English language is also important as Kazakhstan has plenty of partners, foreign companies, international organisations and investors from all over the world.