12 Tips for Living in Almaty, Kazakhstan
An in-depth look at Almaty, Kazakhstan - international schools, hospitals, residency and visa requirements, recreational activities and more.
Expat Life in Almaty
Foreigners move to Almaty for careers in banking, commerce, oil, and education. The breathtaking mountains and easy access to nature, along with four glorious seasons and many Western conveniences, cultural events, and green spaces make it an ideal city for families.
Cost of Living in Almaty, Kazakhstan
The cost of living in Almaty is "Euro light". For example, American groceries and fruits and vegetable out of season can be very expensive. However, there is always an abundance of season produce that is extremely inexpensive. Gas is very cheap. Buying a car can be expensive. Household items, clothing, and public transportation is far less expensive than Western prices. Housing can be expensive closer to downtown, but in the outlying areas of the city, all with excellent public transportation, homes and nice apartments are much more reasonably prices, and well below Western prices.
Local Clubs and Organizations
Almaty has a wonderful International Women's Club. They can be reached at aiwclub.net. Also, there are excellent Parent Support Groups at most international schools in town; contact your child's school for information. There are several NGO's in town and several churches of different denominations that offer everything from moms' clubs to youth groups.
International Schools in Almaty
Almaty International School (AIS) is the leading international school in Almaty. It offers an American based, fully accredited PreK-12th grade education, including AP (advanced placement) classes for high school students. Class sizes are small (averaging around 12 students), and teachers are all native English speakers and fully certified. The facilities at AIS are top notch. The soccer pitch is ringed by the incredible mountains, there are two gyms, many sports available for student involvement (AIS is a member of COASH), a robust performing arts program with dedicated music spaces, college counseling for high school students, foreign language offerings in Russian, Kazakh, French, and Spanish, and a thriving Student Council and Parent Support Group which provide a multitude of extracurricular opportunities for the students at AIS. AIS is located just outside the city proper in the Kalkaman Microdistrict, and buses are provided for student transportation. Also, the area around AIS has lovely gated housing communities within easy walking or biking distance to school Security at AIS is excellent. For a British style education, Haileybury is the leading school with beautiful facilities. Tien Shan International is a Christian based international school located slightly out of the city.
Shopping in Almaty
The local supermarkets Magnum and Ramstore abound in Almaty. They have most everything foreigners could want in grocery and household items. The prices are far less than Western prices. For specialty groceries, Interfood and ADK have several locations in town, and the Gourmet Market at Esentai and Colibri offer many high end Western grocery products. Additionally, small and convenience markets like Bekker's and the local bazaars carry many grocery and household items and can be found in every neighborhood of the city. There are several malls (Dostyk Plaza, Esentai, Aport) which carry Western clothing brands, from luxury brands like Chanel and Burberry to H&M, Zara, and Mango. There is an amazing chain call SportMaster which has several locations and excellent prices on sporting goods and clothing. Armada has a seemingly endless array of furniture, and there are eveb pop-up IKEA stores in a couple of locations in town.
Public transportation is cheap, safe, and reliable. It consists of buses, marshrutkas (shared vans with fixed destinations), and a growing metro (subway) station network. Also, Almaty is somewhat known for its "gypsy cab" system, in which any car can be flagged down and price negotiated for journeys. Also, Yandex Taxi and Uber provide foreigners with reliable and safe ways to get around the city, at reasonable prices. Many families also have drivers.
Almaty has four true seasons, and each is glorious. The majestic mountains that ring the city are lush and green in the summer and snow covered in winter. They beckon those who love to hike, ski, or just be outdoors. Almaty's summers are warm but not humid. It is a dry climate. Winter sees quite a bit of snow, but wind chill is not a factor due to the mountains. Spring and fall are colorful and lovely.
Restaurants and Nightlife
Downtown, there are may pubs and restaurants. In the spring and summer, Almaty has somewhat of a sidewalk cafe atmosphere. There is every variety of restaurant imaginable, from fast food to English pub to high end French and Italian dining and ethnic cuisines like Uzbek and Georgian. Drinking with friends is a usual activity in Almaty, and everyone at the pubs seems very friendly. Karaoke bars are also big in the city.
What are local hospitals and emergency services like?
The International Medical Center (IMC) has a few locations in town and provides Western style medical care, including radiology, ob/gyn, and orthopedics. There are specialists in different areas of medicine throughout the city. For severe emergencies, Dubai is a four hour flight away, and International Life Flight and AirMed provide service from Almaty.
International Health Insurance in Kazakhstan
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Recreational Activities in Almaty
Almaty abounds with activities for all ages. The Kok Tobe gondola soars to Medeu Winter Park and beyond, year round. From the top, there is a children's carnival area and many hiking trails and restaurants, and skiing an ice skating in winter. There are three ski resorts within 45 minutes of Almaty. There are countless hiking trails in the mountains and by the many lakes that surround the city. There are private gyms and swimming and tennis clubs, and several golf courses. There is horse trekking just outside the city. There are thermal hot springs at the foot of the mountains, sledging hills, and nordic ski trails.
Residency and Visa Requirements
Kazakhstan requires a visa for foreigners. Work visas can be obtained through employers. Travel visa for Americans are good for 30 days. The visa process can be quite arduous, and many foreigners do a visa run to the border with Kyrgyzstan, which is quick and cheap.
Crime in Almaty, Kazakhstan
Like any big city, one should be careful venturing out at night by oneself. Almaty is a very safe city. Personal crime is very low. There is a strong police presence in most areas, and gated communities have strong security. Personal safety is most concerning on the roads; drivers can be aggressive and intimidating.
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