Accommodation in Kazakhstan
Pro: Expanding choices in accommodation options
Astana is expanding at an amazing rate and new apartment blocks are being built all the time. If you move into a new apartment the landlords are generally happy to provide furniture to order. Most apartment buildings have some underground parking, a shop and a children’s playground. Entry is usually controlled by a secure entry-phone system.
There is a wide range of choice in the types of apartments – from river views in the older, soviet designed right bank part of the city to high rise apartments with spectacular views of the new centre.
One to three bedroom apartments are the norm, but four bedroom apartments are available if you are willing to shop around.
Con: Houses are hard to find
Most accommodation in Kazakhstan is in apartment buildings, and whilst houses are available, rents are much higher per square metre. Furthermore houses are extremely expensive to heat.
Pro: Cheap utilities
Water and heating are run on a central network and piped directly into each building. This is cheaper than running an individual boiler.
Con: No control over utilities
As the utilities are run on a central network you have very little choice on when your heating is turned on or off. It comes on in October and turns off in April. If it gets cold before the magic date you have to use an electric heater. If there is a hot spell in early April you will swelter. In some buildings the heating is so warm that you will need to open the windows to cool it down – even in the middle of winter.
Many buildings will have an interruption in the supply of hot water of between one and three days twice a year while the systems are switched from summer to winter and back again.
Lifestyle and shopping in Kazakhstan
Pro: expanding social scene
The expatriate community in Astana is still very small but growing rapidly. There is an active international club which has a social group for just about any interest. Kazakhstanis are very friendly and welcoming.
Astana’s restaurant scene was very limited in the past but new offerings are opening every month and there is good range of quality food available for every budget.
There is a wide range of concerts, plays, ballets and circuses available in the city, all at very good prices. Although the quality is not always the highest you will never be stuck for something to see.
Pro: Beautiful parks and architecture
While the old town is rather chaotic in places, the river has beautiful pedestrianised embankments which make them a wonderful location for a stroll at any time of the year, in the summer pleasure boats take customers for rides and beaches are opened for swimming. In the winter the city constructs fast ice slides and skating rinks at intervals along the river.
The new centre has been built with gardens in mind. It runs East West along a central garden boulevard that is carpeted in flowers and fountains over the summer months.
Astana has some impressive buildings mostly situated along the central boulevard. At the western end the largest shopping centre in Kazakhstan is a giant tented complex that has a beach (complete with sand imported from the Maldives) and swimming pool complex on its 5th floor.
At the other end of the boulevard and across the river you find the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, Norman Foster’s pyramidal concert hall and conference venue. In between there is the magnificent Ak Orda, the President’s Palace complete with blue dome, the Baiterek – a tower topped with a golden egg – the symbol of Astana and the new Kazakhstan.
Astana is a long way from anywhere else. Borovoye – the nearest lake resort is 250 km drive or a 3 hour train journey. Karaganda, the nearest neighbouring big city is a similar distance and Almaty is an expensive flight or a 12 hour train ride.
Astana has a limited number of direct flights so to travel to most destinations you will have to transfer through a European hub such as Moscow, Kiev, Vienna, Frankfurt or an Asian hub such as Almaty or Abu Dhabi.
The airport does operate throughout the winter – rarely closing even in the most extreme temperatures and conditions but the road and rail links are sometimes blocked for some time.
Safety in Kazakhstan
For anyone considering a move abroad, safety in their new destination is a priority. Kazakhstan is generally quite a safe place, especially if expats exercise the necessary level of of caution. Driving in Kazakhstan can be challenging and those that have no experience driving during a Kazakh winter should be extra careful.
Pro: Low crime rates
Astana is a very safe place with low levels of petty crime, and even lower levels of serious crime, the new town centre is safe to walk through until late at night, even for a woman alone.
Con: Hazardous driving conditions
The driving in Astana is best categorised as interesting. The road network is new and very well maintained, all snow is cleared almost as soon as it falls with the ploughs operating on a 24 hour basis throughout the winter.
Cars are required to pass an annual check and to use winter tyres during the snow. Not all drivers change their tyres however and this can lead to some bad skids, particularly at junctions. Lane discipline is a fluid concept and many drivers use their horn in place of indicators.
Most expatriates have the use of a company car and driver but many do drive themselves. The bus network is extensive and cheap, and it is simple, safe and acceptable, to hitch a ride in a ‘gypsy’ cab. Proper taxis are more expensive and not always easy to order.
Working and doing business in Kazakhstan
Pro: Good salary packages
Most expatriates are in Astana for work, usually with a large international company or an embassy although an increasing number work in education.
Many expatriate jobs are tax paid and come with very good housing, pension, education and medical allowances.
Things are improving but there is still a lot of bureaucracy to cope with in Kazakhstan – from obtaining your work permit to registering with the police on arrival in the country (and every 90 days thereafter).
Not everyone will speak English or German so be prepared to take a translator to any meetings with local contractors and suppliers. Be aware that while Russian is the language of commerce and spoken by most people, Kazakh is the national language and may be used for speeches, particularly by government ministers.
Con: Nobody says no
It can be difficult to get to a final decision. People do not like to say ‘no’ and will often agree to a proposal only to fail to put this agreement into action because it cannot be done.
Cost of living in Kazakhstan
The cost of living in Kazakstan will depend significantly on each individuals lifestyle. For those who are willing to immerse themselves in the Kazakh way of life it is possible to live modestly and save money.
Pro: Affordable basic food
The very basics of food such as bread and milk are very cheap in Kazakhstan. If you want a good range of food products, particularly foreign (non Kazakh) food, expect to pay a lot of money. .
Con: High cost of living
Almost everything is imported into Kazakhstan and that is reflected in the price. Cars do not depreciate so the investment cost, even in a very old second hand model, is high. Furniture imported from Europe or Turkey retails at a premium price and even the lower quality imports from China are expensive. Electronics are also expensive but the mark up is not as severe. Imported clothing from popular brands such as Gap, Desigual, Zara, Mango, Topshop, Massimo Dutti etc is available but don’t compare prices with the online cost in your home country – it will only depress you.