Tajikistan is a mountainous, landlocked country bordered by Kazakhstan to the north and China to the east, and while it's perhaps not the most popular choice for expats or tourists, the country does have wonderful natural scenery and rugged, snow-capped peaks popular among avid hikers and climbers.
Recently, there has been a relaxing of visa laws in an effort to follow the example of neighbouring countries and encourage tourism. That said, Tajikistan remains conservative, and new arrivals, especially women, should dress modestly.
Living in Tajikistan as an expat
Tajikistan is one of the poorest countries in Central Asia, devastated by a civil war that engulfed the country after the fall of the Soviet Union. It has very few natural resources and over 50 percent of the country’s nationals live below the poverty line, mostly working in agriculture – particularly cotton farming.
The refining and export of aluminium and chemical production are the largest contributors to the GDP, and the government is encouraging foreign investment in agriculture, oil, gas and hydroelectric power. The largest investor in the country is China, with the UK, US, Russia and South Korea following close on their heels.
There are only a few hundred expats in Tajikistan, mostly in the capital, Dushanbe, mostly working in the diplomatic or NGO fields, or at the hotels that serve this sector. Few people speak English outside these sectors, and most locals speak Tajik or Russian.
Accommodation in Tajikistan is highly affordable, even close to city centres. While housing in large cities is modern and reasonably easily accessible, options in rural areas are few and far between. Tajikistan does have some housing poverty, and many expats – especially those only staying for a short amount of time – prefer staying in hotels.
The country does not have extensive transportation networks in place. Marshrutka (minibuses) are the main forms of public transport in cities and towns and are highly affordable. Larger buses travel between towns, offering a cheap way to traverse bigger distances. Though much of the country is not widely accessible by train, the capital of Dushanbe has a reasonably accessible railway system. There are also several taxi services in many of the larger cities. The roads in the country are often in bad condition, and cars with 4x4 are necessary outside cities. Those who do choose to drive will find that it offers great autonomy and the opportunity to explore the beautiful countryside.
Healthcare and emergency resources in the country are extremely limited. Necessary resources can be scarce and public facilities usually lack sufficient and up-to-date equipment. Having said this, there are a handful of private clinics in the cities. Medical care is affordable but no insurance plans are available; most people pay in cash. Expats are advised to have full international health and medical evacuation insurance for themselves and their families.
Tajikistan is relatively safe if expats follow basic common sense. However, local law enforcement is severely under-resourced. It is not advisable to travel to rural areas alone, or to walk around anywhere alone at night. Long-term visitors may opt to hire drivers and private security guards.
Cost of living in Tajikistan
The cost of living in Dushanbe is low at 223rd out of 227 cities according to Mercer's 2023 Cost of Living Survey. The city's low cost of living is only rivalled by that of Bishkek, Havana, Karachi and Islamabad. The country boasts decent apartments and family houses available for rent at reasonable prices.
Expats can expect to spend little on housing, transport, entertainment and utilities. Food and market prices are occasionally higher. As a largely import-dependent country, Tajikistan’s market and food prices often depend on the export prices of other countries.
Expat families and children
State education will likely be below expat standards, but Dushanbe has a small selection of international schools, including QSI International School and Dushanbe International School.
As a country with beautiful natural features, expats fond of the outdoors will have a blast here. From Lenin Peak to Iskanderkul, expats will have a wide variety of interesting sights to explore. Rokhat Teahouse is also a lovely attraction for any new arrivals, offering tea and beautiful architecture. The country also has a range of historical sites and ruins, perfect for the curious expat and those looking to learn more about the country’s history.
Climate in Tajikistan
Tajikistan has an arid continental climate, with hot, sunny summers and cold winters. Rainfall and temperature are highly influenced by the different altitudes in the country, and the mountainous nature of the landscape often leads to snow in winters. The hottest month is usually June, and the coldest is January.
Tajikistan is a country with many pros and cons to consider. Experienced expats may find a lifestyle filled with adventure and beautiful scenery, but new arrivals may also have a difficult time adjusting to life here. Overall, the country has much to offer prospective residents, and expats who plan ahead can settle down and live an interesting life here.
Population: Around 9.1 million
Capital city: Dushanbe (also largest city)
Neighbouring countries: China sits to the east of Tajikistan, while its other borders are shared with Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Geography: The terrain is mostly mountainous with a large system of rivers. The climate changes radically depending on elevation, from freezing temperatures to fairly warm. While there are a few desert areas, Tajikistan is regarded as the wettest of the Central Asian republics.
Political system: Semi-presidential republic
Major religion: Islam
Main languages: Tajik, Russian
Currency: Somoni (TJS)
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz.
Internet domain: .tj
International dialling code: +992
Emergency contacts: 112
Transport and driving: Driving is on the right-hand side of the road.