Travel to Kazakhstan Visa-Free: A Loosening of the Borders and a Boom in Tourism and Investment
As of Jan. 1, 2020, Chinese and Indian citizens are allowed a 72-hour visa-free regimen for travel to Kazakhstan. Citizens from these two countries traveling to Kazakhstan through Nur-Sultan, Almaty, Shymkent, Aktau, Karaganda, and Taraz airports, or returning from a third country, do not have to register for a visa so long as their stay does not exceed 72 hours. Travel to and through Kazakhstan, with over one million visitors, increased by 11 percent 2018-2019. This visa-free regimen is another step to increase this upward trend. In fact, Kazakhstan’s ranking in the Henley Passport Index that ranks travel accessibility has consecutively improved since 2018. Now, it ranks 67th among the 199 countries represented in the index.
Currently, Kazakhstan allows visitors from 76 different countries to enter without a visa. Citizens of the neighboring Greater Caspian region nations (except for Afghanistan and Turkmenistan) are allowed to enter Kazakhstan visa-free along with citizens of the United States, Russia, Australia, Canada, and other Asian, European, and Middle Eastern countries. Kazakhstan imposes different time restrictions for how long citizens of different countries can remain in the country visa-free with the shortest length of time being 30 days and the longest being 90 days.
Kazakhstan’s improvement in ranking in the Henley Passport Index, its issuing of a 72-hour visa-free regimen to Chinese and Indian citizens, and its new law canceling mandatory registration for foreign visitors all indicate positive changes to the country’s tourism sector. Loosening the rules on incoming travel will not only help Kazakhstan’s tourism industry grow, but it will also likely promote its transportation industries. Since Kazakhstan contains the shortest routes between Europe and Mainland China, these new travel agreements will further elevate its status.
According to the Tourism Chair of Kazakhstan, Yerzhan Yekinbayev, these changes were implemented because analysis of the Kazakh tourism market and subsequent complains revealed that loosening its borders would help improve the market. The President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, also noted that mandatory registration for visitors was a sign of corruption that had no place in the increasingly modern state of Kazakhstan. These changes will also encourage business dealings in the country; President Tokayev has allowed easier access for international financial investors to the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC). The AIFC promotes foreign investment and even has its own court based on English common law. Easier travel without the hassles of visa applications will surely attract investors to take more advantage of the AIFC.
Kazakhstan has already seen results from its recent visa-free agreements: Lonely Planet, a popular Australian travel guide, lauded Central Asia as the top tourist destination for 2020. In the guide’s reviews, Kazakhstan’s architecture was promoted, placing emphasis on visiting the Khan Shatyr Mall and the Palace of Peace and Harmony in the capital, Nur-Sultan, as well as the Khoja Akhmet Yassaui Mausoleum in southern Kazakhstan. Easier access to Kazakhstan is a positive step towards becoming a popular tourist destination, thus increasing the country’s relevance and promoting its image as an important regional actor. Furthermore, the increase in accessibility will help promote the usage of the Meridian Highway and the newly created AIFC. The latter’s success would be significant because it would render Central Asia a key player in international business. For Kazakhstan, these changes will be beneficial to attract lucrative business deals and improve its tourism industry. More importantly, however, they contribute to strengthening Kazakhstan’s diplomatic relations and fostering regional connectivity.