Prior to visiting Uzbekistan we read several blogs that actually made us really nervous. We read about the currency being pegged so people had to exchange their US dollars on the black market. We read about foreign officials being quite paranoid about foreigners taking photos. We had a hard time finding accommodations that looked decent. And we weren’t totally sure about safety in the country.
And we found that pretty much all of our preconceived notions about Uzbekistan were way off. It’s a developing country so it’s quite cheap, but it’s also incredibly clean, orderly, and quiet. ATMs work fine (except in Khiva), getting money out at the right exchange rate is easy, and while there are police officers everywhere, they’ll never bother you. We even saw several tourists flying drones around with it seeming to bother the police at all.
And it’s so safe and the people are amazingly friendly! The accommodations are a bit questionable but nothing you couldn’t handle. We did find a few things that are relevant to Uzbekistan travel in 2019 that would have been nice to know prior to arriving. We compiled our top 32 below. Enjoy!
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- 32 Things to Know Before Visiting Uzbekistan
- 1. You’ll Need to Bring Some Cash
- 2. There are Plenty of ATMs (Usually…)
- 3. Uzbekistan is Very Safe
- 4. Russian and Uzbek Languages are Used Interchangeably
- 5. Many People in Uzbekistan Don’t Speak English
- 6. Most Signs are Not in English
- 7. You Don’t Need a Tour Guide for Uzbekistan
- 8. Uzbekistan is Not as Conservative as You Might Think
- 9. It Gets Really, Really Chilly
- 10. Uzbekistan is Crazy Cheap
- 11. Uzbekistan Hotels are Dated
- 12. You Should Book the Your Hotels in Advance
- 13. You Need to Keep Your Hotel Registration Cards
- 14. Your Diet Will Consist of Bread and Meat (and Tea)
- 15. You’ll Drink Your Tea out of a Bowl
- 16. Alcohol is Quite Common in Uzbekistan
- 17. Uzbek Wine is Actually Quite Tasty
- 18. Tipping is Uncommon in Uzbekistan
- 19. Sometimes You’ll Even Get Extra Change Back
- 20. The Locals Want to Take Photos With You
- 21. Everyone Will Ask Where You are From
- 22. Locals Love Dressing up for Dinner
- 23. Uzbeks Have Golden Smiles (Literally!)
- 24. Download Yandex.Taxi for Tashkent
- 25. Taxis Should Cost 1,000 – 2,000 UZS per Kilometer
- 26. The Wifi in Uzbekistan is Abysmal
- 27. You Should Buy a SIM Card
- 28. Most Museums are Skippable
- 29. Public Bathrooms Cost 1,000 UZS
- 30. Cars Stop for Pedestrians
- 31. Domestic Tourism is More Popular Than International Tourism so Weekends are Crowded
- 32. You’ll LOVE Uzbekistan!
32 Things to Know Before Visiting Uzbekistan
1. You’ll Need to Bring Some Cash
There are 3 ATMs at the international airport in Tashkent but you shouldn’t count on them being in service. There is also a money changer right after you exit immigration that offers a decent exchange rate.
The airport ATM may dispense cash in USD so best not to get out 3,000 unless you know if you’ll be getting US Dollars or Uzbek Sums. Once you leave the airport there are plenty of banks and ATMs all over the city. No need to bring a ton of cash with you, just enough to get you from the airport to your hotel in a taxi.
2. There are Plenty of ATMs (Usually…)
Once you leave the airport, as long as you stick to the major tourist destinations of Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara you shouldn’t have any trouble getting money out of the ATM. There are also automatic money-changing machines if you want to swap USD for UZS.
Uzbekistan’s currency used to be pegged to the US dollar at an artificially low rate. So visitors needed to change money on the black market. This is no longer the case so you’ll get a fair, open-market exchange rate everywhere you change or withdraw money. At the time of writing, the conversion rate was ~8,450 UZS to $1 USD.
Khiva is the only city where we found the ATM situation to be difficult. There are only 2 Mastercard ATMs and 2 Visa ATMs, and they rarely worked. We had to go all the way to the Urgench airport, 45 minutes away to find a working ATM that took Visa. And very few of the hotels actually accept credit cards. Be sure to stock up on cash before heading that way.
3. Uzbekistan is Very Safe
Well, actually, someone DID mistakenly take my umbrella from the cafe where I was having lunch. But really, that’s it. Yes, the country borders Afghanistan, but you’ll find the most lovely, hospitable people in Uzbekistan.
I always felt safe walking around, even at night. The stretchiest thing that a man did was attempt to hold my hand for a selfie. As a female traveler, I would have no concerns traveling to Uzbekistan solo.
4. Russian and Uzbek Languages are Used Interchangeably
You’ll find that English is not at all common in Uzbekistan, but Russian is. Most Uzbeks speak both. Pretty much everyone uses the Arabic phrase of “assalomu alaykum” to say hello. Although the translation is closer “peace be with you”. “Thank you” is “rahmat” in Uzbek, and “spasiba” in Russian.
And when saying “hello” or “thank you”, it is common to place your right hand on your heart and make a slight bow to show respect.
5. Many People in Uzbekistan Don’t Speak English
As Americans we are incredibly lucky and privileged that English is widely spoken around the world. Often children learn it in school, or just from watching YouTube videos. In many countries, tourism is a well-respected business and knowing English is imperative in the industry. So it is rare to find a country that is difficult to navigate without knowing the local language.
Uzbekistan is one of those countries.
English is not widely taught in school, and tourism hasn’t taken off yet. So you’ll find that only a small percentage of the population speaks English. Some people know a few phrases like “where are you from” and ” what is your name”. But you’ll need to utilize Google Translate regularly to communicate anything more complex than that.
6. Most Signs are Not in English
Most of the signs around Uzbekistan are not written in English. This probably won’t affect your life very much unless you want to take the metro in Tashkent. The signs are in Uzbek, as are the announcements at each stop. Be sure that you pre-plan your trip so that you know the name of your station destination in Uzbek or Russian. If you don’t know the name of your station you’ll need to hope someone on your train speaks English and can help.
7. You Don’t Need a Tour Guide for Uzbekistan
There is a really popular tour company in Uzbekistan and it seemed that every tourist in town was affiliated with them. We met a couple who paid $1,900 per person for a private tour guide for 10 days. That’s almost $400 a day! Even if you stayed at the fanciest hotel in town, it would be extremely difficult to spend $400 a day in Uzbekistan.
The country can be difficult to navigate if you don’t speak the language (or at least Russian), but people are always happy to help. And there always seems to be one person around who speaks at least a little English. Plus, part of the fun of traveling in Uzbekistan is trying to figure out where to go and what to see on your own. It’s a great adventure!
Skip the expensive tour guide and follow our comprehensive blog posts instead!
- Tashkent, Uzbekistan: The Top 13 Things to Do in the City
- The Top 14 Things to do in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
- Bukhara, Uzbekistan: 18 Amazing Things To Do and See
- Top 12 Things to See in Khiva, Uzbekistan
8. Uzbekistan is Not as Conservative as You Might Think
Prior to visiting Uzbekistan I assumed that because it is a Muslim-majority country, that I’d need to cover my shoulders and my knees at all times. But I was wrong. It’s actually a fairly progressive country in terms of the way the locals dress. Most younger people wear Western-style clothing and do not cover their heads unless going into a mosque to pray.
I probably wouldn’t recommend that you run around in a tube top and daisy dukes, but you don’t have to worry about dressing modestly here. I’d actually recommend bringing nice dresses, pants, and jackets on your trip to Uzbekistan as most of the locals are generally dressed up. I looked very out-of-place in my yoga pants and puffy coat.
9. It Gets Really, Really Chilly
The weather in Uzbekistan can be extreme, with winter temperature well below freezing. Spring (April to June) and Fall (September through October) are the most pleasant (and popular) times to travel to Uzbekistan. But even so, it can get really chilly in the evenings.
And many of the restaurants are actually outdoors, in courtyards or on top of terraces. We visited at the end of April and I found myself bundling up in my puffy coat, wool hat, and two pairs of pants to go to dinner in the evenings. Be sure to check the weather before you visit and pack plenty of warm clothes!
10. Uzbekistan is Crazy Cheap
Uzbekistan is cheap. Crazy cheap. You’ll rarely spend more than $20 USD on dinner and drinks, even if you go to the fanciest restaurant in town. Taxis are usually no more than $1 USD. And you can get a shellac manicure AND pedicure for $15 USD. It’s easy to stick to a tight budget in Uzbekistan.
The one thing that is surprisingly not cheap in Uzbekistan is the accommodations. And for the price you will pay, you won’t get much. The options for accommodations haven’t caught up with the increase in tourism. If you visit in 5 or 10 years I’m sure this won’t be the case.
11. Uzbekistan Hotels are Dated
Not just hotels, but restaurants and bars as well. Walls are covered in floral wallpaper with gold flecks and the window curtains are floral as well but a different pattern. Detailed rugs cover the floors and rooms are filled with 70’s style furniture. Basically it’s a blast from the past. And they are way more expensive than you’d expect.
12. You Should Book the Your Hotels in Advance
There are several hotels in Uzbekistan that are quite popular as they are less dated than the rest, and are in beautiful traditional old buildings. In Bukhara, book a room at the Komil Bukhara Boutique Hotel. In Samarkand, the L’Argamak Hotel is the nicest in the city. And in Khiva, you’ll love that the Orient Star Hotel is set inside an old madrasa! You’ll want to book all three of these several months in advance.
13. You Need to Keep Your Hotel Registration Cards
Every time you check into your hotel or AirBnb you’ll be given a “registration card”. It’s basically a receipt that shows how many nights you stayed at that particular hotel. You’ll need to show them to the immigration agents when you leave the country.
14. Your Diet Will Consist of Bread and Meat (and Tea)
Bread and meat and bread IN meat. And lots and lots of chunks of animal fat. Vegetarians will have a rough time trying to figure out what to eat in Uzbekistan. Even many “salads” come topped with cow tongue or horse meat and they’re usually slathered in mayonnaise. So vegans will have even more trouble.
Also, unless you stick to the restaurants that cater to tourists, you’ll likely encounter at least a few spots where the menus are in Uzbek and none of the servers speak English. So good luck finding a meat-free dish.
15. You’ll Drink Your Tea out of a Bowl
It’s confusing at first when your server brings out a teapot and 3 bowls. One of the bowls is for mixing the tea, so you pour a cup and then dump it back in the teapot. This should be done 2-3 times. Then the other bowls are for drinking your tea. We can’t figure out what they have against the cup handles but it’s the customary practice all over the country.
16. Alcohol is Quite Common in Uzbekistan
This was another misconception that we had prior to our arrival in Uzbekistan. We assumed that because of the Muslim influence, alcohol would be difficult to find and expensive. But we underestimated the Russian influence on Uzbekistan. Russians love to drink.
Not only is alcohol served in bars and restaurants all over the cities, it is also incredibly cheap! A draft half liter of beer will run you 12,000 – 16,000 UZS and delicious mulled wine is usually around 30,000 UZS. Of course it’s a bit pricier in the touristy restaurants in Bukhara and Khiva.
We never saw anyone walking around the streets of Uzbekistan with an open beer, so we recommend that you don’t.
17. Uzbek Wine is Actually Quite Tasty
Before arriving in Uzbekistan, we’d read that the wine was pretty bad and to stick to beer or vodka. But unless you’re coming straight from Napa Valley, you’ll probably find that it is totally tolerable. Especially for $3 USD per glass! I always ordered the dry red Bagizagan Wine and was never disappointed.
18. Tipping is Uncommon in Uzbekistan
Tipping in Uzbekistan is quite uncommon. In fact, if you try to tip someone, they’ll probably look at you like you’re crazy and insist that you take your change back. In some of the nicer restaurants (and most tourist restaurants), they will add a 10-20% service charge to your bill. But if they don’t, no need to add a tip.
That goes for taxi drivers and anyone providing beauty services as well.
19. Sometimes You’ll Even Get Extra Change Back
When buying something in Uzbekistan, if you owe an amount like 11,200 UZS, even in a proper supermarket, it will generally be rounded down to 11,000 UZS. This results in the pleasantly surprising situation of receiving more change than you were expecting!
In fact, bills of denominations below 1,000 UZS are slowly being removed from circulation so this practice will probably become even more common.
20. The Locals Want to Take Photos With You
Especially if you look different than they do. Blonde hair, blue eyes, brown skin, anything that seems “exotic” they’ll want documented. And the older generation will often want it documented on your camera since they don’t have one. Snap the photo and then show them how it turned out, they’ll love you for it!
21. Everyone Will Ask Where You are From
When a local approaches you with a giant smile and says something in Uzbek or Russian that you can’t understand, 9 times out of 10 they’re just asking where you’re from. Whenever this happened to me I would answer “America?”. Most of the time I would get a surprised and thrilled “AMERICA!” in response. The other 10% of the time they’d just look at me like I was crazy and walk away.
22. Locals Love Dressing up for Dinner
Before visiting Uzbekistan, we’d read that restaurants and bars often have dress codes that are strictly adhered to. We gave it only a passing thought until we went out for dinner one night in Samarkand. We were wearing our regular clothes; jeans, t-shirts, jackets. But we realized almost immediately that we stood out like a sore thumb.
Everyone else in the restaurant was dressed to the nines. Sequins, lace, nylons, suit and tie, the works. Loud music was pumping and in between bites most people would get up and dance on the makeshift dance floor.
Apparently tourists aren’t held to the same dress code standards but you’ll probably feel out of place if you look like a slob. And you should eat at these restaurants at least once, it’s endlessly entertaining. Read all about our favorite spots in Samarkand here.
23. Uzbeks Have Golden Smiles (Literally!)
You’ll meet the cutest little old ladies in Uzbekistan that are dressed in colorful velour pajamas and head scarves. They’ll see you and give you a big toothy smile which will reveal a full gold grill. Most of them have replaced all of their teeth with shiny gold ones, some have replaced just a few. It’s impossible not to notice and wonder why on earth someone would do that to their mouth, so we asked around and got varying answers.
Some people said it was a sign of wealth back in the day. Some said that it was really the only option for replacing their rotten teeth. Some didn’t know. But it sounds like the younger generation isn’t as into it as the older ones so enjoy those beautiful golden smiles while you still can!
24. Download Yandex.Taxi for Tashkent
Unfortunately Yandex isn’t available in Samarkand, Bukhara, or Khiva, but it will help you get around Tashkent. It’s an app that is similar to Uber except it calls you taxis, not private drivers. So you can enter your destination into the app and get a fare estimate. It saves you from attempting to communicate your destination as almost no taxi drivers in Uzbekistan speak English. And it saves you from having to haggle over price.
In Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva you may have to call your hotel and have them speak to your taxi driver directly to give directions. Or ask them in advance to provide you with the hotel name and address written in Uzbek or Russian.
25. Taxis Should Cost 1,000 – 2,000 UZS per Kilometer
As a foreigner, you’ll rarely be quoted that price unless you download the Yandex.Taxi app. Especially when coming from the airport or the train station. After a driver quotes you a price, counter with the accurate price (the number of kilometers you’re traveling x 1,000 UZS in Tashkent and 2,000 UZS elsewhere) and start there. You’ll probably meet somewhere in the middle.
And remember, it’s only the difference of a dollar or two so aggressive haggling isn’t worth your energy.
26. The Wifi in Uzbekistan is Abysmal
If you need to get anything done online while in Uzbekistan it won’t be easy. Hotels and restaurants usually say they offer free Wifi but getting it to actually work for you is hit or miss. You’ll be in trouble if you have something really important that you need to get done while in Uzbekistan if it involves getting online. Especially if it involves uploading or downloading large files.
27. You Should Buy a SIM Card
If you do have something really important that you need to get done in Uzbekistan, your best bet is to unlock your phone before you leave your home country and invest in a SIM card once you arrive.
UMS, UCELL, and BeeLine are the Sim card options in Uzbekistan. You can’t get one without your passport so be sure to bring it with you. A Sim card from UMS will run you 42,000 UZS for 5 gigs, and UCELL is 60,000 UZS for 4 gigs.
28. Most Museums are Skippable
Most of the museums in Uzbekistan leave something to be desired. For example, if an old book is on display, the sign will just say “pages of a book”. You won’t know what the book is, or why it is significant. We found most of the artifacts on display to be copies of the artifact. The originals are in a much larger museum somewhere else in the world.
That being said, they are also quite cheap. So if you have some extra time and just want to wander around, it probably won’t be the worst $2 you’ve ever spent.
29. Public Bathrooms Cost 1,000 UZS
If you’ve traveled around SE Asia you’re probably used to paying to use the toilet. The standard rate in Uzbekistan is 1,000 UZS which will usually include some toilet paper that they’ll hand to you before you enter a stall. And most of the public toilets are squatty potties so make sure those thighs are in shape!
Tip: Buy a small package of baby wipes and keep them in your purse, just in case!
30. Cars Stop for Pedestrians
People drive a bit frantically in Uzbekistan. There seems to be a lot of wheel screeching, speeding, and slammed brakes. So when you cross the street and see cars barreling toward you, you will probably assume there’s no chance they will stop. But they do.
Use caution of course, don’t just walk blindly into traffic because this post says the cars will stop. And know that you don’t get a lot of notice when the crosswalk is changing from “walk” to “don’t walk” as cars will start peeling out before the light even turns green.
31. Domestic Tourism is More Popular Than International Tourism so Weekends are Crowded
Before we traveled to Uzbekistan we read that Bukhara and Samarkand were quite touristy. When we arrived, we couldn’t figure out where all of the foreigners were. That’s because most of the tourists in Uzbekistan are actually Uzbeks. Domestic tourism is quite a bit more popular than international tourism.
That means that many Uzbek people are traveling from their hometowns on the weekends when their kids are out of school. So if you travel to the most popular sites on a Saturday or Sunday, be prepared for big crowds. We found that the more Uzbek tourists in one place, the better. It will make your experience that much more entertaining!
32. You’ll LOVE Uzbekistan!
Uzbek people are so kind. And caring. And amazing. You’ll absolutely fall in love with the people in this country! They’ll go out of their way to talk to you, to take photos with you, and to help you if you need it. If you’re lost or need anything, they are always quick to lend a hand. And if you smile at them you’ll get a wide, golden grin right back. They are some of the friendliest people around and they will make your experience in Uzbekistan absolutely unforgettable!
We hope this helps you prepare for your trip to Uzbekistan! Have fun!
Want more help planning your trip to Uzbekistan? Check out our favorite travel guides!