From the vast and barren steppe to the bustling energy of the major cities, Kazakhstan is a country of contrasts. Almaty is the country’s largest city and is situated in the fertile, mountainous south, with a skyline that's a blend of the old Soviet and pre-Soviet eras. Relocating to Kazakhstan isn’t for everyone, though. The vast, empty steppe and lack of historical sites and attractions put some visitors off, while others are drawn to the starkness of the exceptionally beautiful landscape.
Living in Kazakhstan as an expat
Across the windswept central steppe in the north is the country's capital of Astana (formerly Nur-Sultan), characterised by new, modern buildings and rapid growth. Kazakhstan is one of the world’s top oil producers and has the biggest economy in Central Asia, bolstered recently by foreign companies and international banks setting up shop in the country. Kazakhstan's entry into the world economic stage has consequently opened up lucrative employment opportunities for expats teaching English.
As the largest landlocked country in the world, its sheer size could come as a shock to expats from smaller areas such as Western Europe. As a result, although buses and trains connect cities well, travelling times can be long.
While expats in Kazakhstan will have to contend with many cultural differences, the Kazakhstani people are known for their hospitality and warmth, which can go a long way towards easing the adjustment period.
Cost of living in Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan boasts a fairly reasonable cost of living, with accommodation likely to be an expat's highest expense. The standard of housing in Kazakhstan's cities varies greatly, with Soviet-era apartments offering few amenities and substandard quality at lower rental prices. While modern, Western-style apartments offer sought-after amenities, these come at a hefty price. Some expats will be lucky to have an accommodation allowance included as part of their relocation package.
Fortunately, expats can save when it comes to public transport and groceries, as these are largely inexpensive. Petrol is also cheaper in Kazakhstan, making running a car more affordable. Expat parents will need to budget for the usually exorbitant fees associated with international schools.
Expat families and children in Kazakhstan
Expat families will find adequate resources for their needs. There are a few options when it comes to public and private schooling. The country has a good education system, with free compulsory schooling until the end of high school – but the catch is that Kazakh or Russian are usually the languages of instruction. A good alternative is private international schools, scattered around Astana and Almaty, offering foreign curricula in English.
Expats will also need to secure comprehensive private health insurance to access private healthcare in Kazakhstan, as the quality of the country's public health system may not compare to what some new arrivals may be used to. Expat families will also enjoy exploring the country's abundance of green spaces, zoos and aquariums during the weekend.
Climate in Kazakhstan
Thanks to its vast geographical size, Kazakhstan's weather is incredibly varied but is generally classified as a continental climate. Summers in the country are scorching hot, while winters are freezing. It's not unheard of to have the north of Kazakhstan covered in snow while the south begins its sowing season.
Ultimately, while expat life in Kazakhstan is not for the faint of heart, those who approach this unique destination with an open mind are bound to have a rich and rewarding expat experience.
Population: 19.6 million
Capital city: Astana
Other major cities: Almaty
Neighbouring countries: Kazakhstan is bordered by Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan to the south, Russia to the north and west, and China to the east.
Geography: Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world. Its terrain comprises mountainous areas, grasslands, steppes, wide plains and numerous rivers, streams and lakes, including the Caspian Sea.
Political system: Unitary presidential constitutional republic
Major religions: Islam and Christianity
Main languages: Kazakh and Russian
Money: Kazakhstani Tenge (KZT)
Tipping: Tipping is not customary in Kazakhstan. Service costs are typically already included in prices.
Time: GMT+5 and GMT+6
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz. European round two-pin plugs are standard.
Internet domain: .kz
International dialling code: +7
Emergency contacts: 101 (fire), 102 (police), 103 (ambulance)
Transport and driving: Drive on the right-hand side. Major cities have bus networks, trams, private taxis and shared taxis for transport. There are also rail networks across the country and a metro system in Almaty.