Doing business in Turkmenistan requires patience, persistence, and personal contacts.
The government verbally encourages foreign investment and business, but the current investment climate does not conform to international business norms. No commercial code has been adopted except for the Law on Trade Activity in March 2016. Most local officials are unfamiliar with Western business practices and internationally accepted norms. Few senior members of the government have been educated abroad. Business is often a matter of personal influence and politics. Many marketing methods employed in the West do not work well in Turkmenistan. Successful companies in Turkmenistan have established personal relationships with government officials through either representative offices or regular visits. Smaller or lesser known companies must establish their bona fides before being accepted at the highest levels.
Large-scale contracts are signed at the presidential level and usually require travel to Ashgabat by the company’s president or CEO to close a deal. Follow-up visits are also critical. The internet is filtered and communications with headquarters can be challenging. There are locally-based distributors representing U.S. companies, but most distributors are foreign companies themselves (usually Turkish), with established offices in Ashgabat. Franchising is not popular, although local entrepreneurs have expressed interest in iconic American brands in the fast food sector. Almost all foreign companies investing in Turkmenistan form joint ventures. Since there is limited privatization, joint ventures generally include government partners. There is no standard form for a joint venture agreement; each agreement is negotiated individually and must be approved by the Cabinet of Ministers and then finalized by presidential decree.
Travel Advisory: The State Department travel alert is routinely updated to remind U.S. citizens of ongoing safety and security concerns and the potential for terrorist acts in Central Asia. U.S. citizens are reminded to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness. The most recent relevant travel warning for Turkmenistan can be found on the Department of State website (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel.html).
U.S. Embassy personnel in Central Asia continue to observe heightened security precautions at work, as well as in public places, such as markets and bazaars. Terrorists do not distinguish between official and civilian targets. As security is increased at official U.S. facilities, terrorists and their sympathizer often seek softer targets. These targets may include facilities where Americans and other foreigners congregate and visit, such as residential areas, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, hotels, schools, outdoor recreation events, resorts, beaches, maritime facilities, airports, and aircraft. U.S. citizens in Central Asia are urged to register and update their contact information at the nearest U.S. Embassy or through the Department of State’s STEP service.
For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Internet website (travel.state.gov) where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including the Public Announcement for Central Asia and the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular tollline at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad.
Visa requirements: American citizens must have a valid passport and visa and/or letter of invitation from the Turkmenistan government to enter and exit Turkmenistan. The passport must have one completely blank page. To apply for a visa, all U.S. citizens must complete an application and have a letter of invitation approved by the State Migration Service (SMS) in Ashgabat. An individual in Turkmenistan must submit the letter of invitation on behalf of a U.S. citizen to the SMS, accompanied by a copy of the traveler’s passport ID page. Each traveler’s passport must be valid for at least six months following the date of the application. The SMS requires at least 15 working days for approval. The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat does not issue letters of invitation to citizens interested in private travel to Turkmenistan. The U.S. Embassy facilitates business travel to Turkmenistan by applying for a letter of invitation on behalf of employees of U.S. companies.
Under Turkmenistan law, a traveler with a stamped and approved invitation letter may also obtain a visa at the Ashgabat International Airport upon arrival in Turkmenistan; however, some travelers have reported difficulties with airlines not boarding passengers who only have approved invitation letters in lieu of a visa for onward travel to Turkmenistan. Travelers are strongly urged to obtain a visa before traveling.
The price for a visa will vary according to the intended length of stay. For an additional charge, the SMS can extend a visa in Ashgabat beyond its initial validity. Any traveler arriving without a visa or without the documents necessary to obtain a visa will be denied entry and may be held at the airport or border until the traveler has secured transportation out of Turkmenistan. The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat is unable to intervene with Turkmen authorities regarding the admission of private travelers to Turkmenistan. Travelers departing Turkmenistan must have a current valid visa or they will be denied exit until they have extended the validity of the visa through their departure date.
In addition, U.S. citizens traveling in Turkmenistan should be aware that they need special permission from the SMS to travel to areas of the country that have been restricted by the government, including nearly all border areas.
Upon arrival at an airport or border entry point with a valid letter of invitation, the bearers of official passports will be charged USD 19 to cover the government’s actual expenses in issuing the visa. Bearers of regular/tourist passports will be charged USD $99 for a ten-day visa. The visa fees for regular/tourist passport holders may vary depending on the length of stay in the country. Those seeking a 20-day visa, for example, will be charged USD 109. In addition to the immigration requirements mentioned above, foreigners are subject to local registration requirements. Americans who plan to stay more than three working days in Turkmenistan must register and de-register with the SMS. SMS offices are located in all of Turkmenistan’s five major cities: Ashgabat, Dashoguz, Mary, Turkmenabat and Turkmenbashy.
One day prior to their departure from Turkmenistan, foreigners must return to an SMS office to register their departure. Foreigners should be registered and deregistered at the SMS office in the city in which their sponsoring organization is located. Foreigners who fail to register their departure may be prevented by immigration authorities from leaving the country until they have done so. The penalties for remaining in Turkmenistan with an expired visa or for failing to register with the SMS include fines, arrest, and/or deportation. Foreigners who are deported for these violations may be prohibited from returning to Turkmenistan for up to five years.
American citizens in Turkmenistan are strongly urged to ensure that their visas do not expire and that they register with the SMS upon arrival and de-register upon departure. Visitors holding tourist visas organized by a travel agency must stay in hotels; other visitors may stay in private accommodations whose owner must register the visitor’s presence. Visit the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Washington, DC website for the most current visa information (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel.html).
U.S. companies that require travel of Turkmenistani nationals to the United States are advised to have those individuals apply for a visa at the U,S. Embassy. The process for visa applicants can be found on the Embassy’s website:
U.S. Embassy Ashgabat (https://tm.usembassy.gov/)
Turkmen Citizenship Law generally prohibits dual citizenship for its citizens. If travelers have dual U.S.–Turkmen citizenship, they may be denied exit from Turkmenistan until they renounce their Turkmen citizenship, a process that can take between six months and a year to complete. If you are a dual U.S.–Turkmen citizen wishing to travel to Turkmenistan, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat prior to your arrival in Turkmenistan.
State Department Visa Website: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel.html
U.S. Embassy Ashgabat (https://tm.usembassy.gov/) Turkmen Embassy website (https://usa.tmembassy.gov.tm/en)
State Migration Service of Turkmenistan (https://migration.gov.tm/ru/)
Turkmenistan’s local currency is the manat, which is the only legal means of payment in Turkmenistan. The government has introduced higher fines for illegal foreign exchange transactions (i.e., selling and purchasing foreign currency via informal channels) and requires that most transactions be in local currency. Although credit cards are not widely accepted, some hotels in Ashgabat accept Visa credit and debit cards: travelers checks are not accepted.
Cellular phone service exists throughout Turkmenistan, but its quality and reliability are substandard. State-run Turkmen Telekom is the only mobile provider in the country. Internet access in hotels is often slow or not available, and it can be difficult to arrange an Internet connection for a private home or office. The government restricts access to some websites and filters online usage.
All commercial flights were suspended due to COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020. As of July 2022, Turkmenistan airlines restored commercial flights to Kazan, Dubai, and Moscow. Purchase of tickets often must be done in person, and often only one-way tickets are sold, requiring travelers to buy a return ticket separately.
In general, visitors should use extra caution when driving in Turkmenistan. Drivers pay little attention to lanes and other road markings, with weaving and sudden lane changes (usually without use of a turn signal) a common occurrence. It is not unusual to encounter cars going the wrong way on one-way streets or divided highways. Cars also frequently make left-turns from the right lane and vice versa. Pedestrians regularly walk or stand in the middle of busy streets during the day and night, often without paying attention to oncoming traffic. Roadside assistance does not exist in Turkmenistan, where vast stretches of highway are often unmarked. Travellers with smartphones are recommended to download the app MAPS.ME and then download the Turkmenistan map to aid navigation.
The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat has received reports that police stationed at checkpoints arbitrarily pull over and fine motorists. Because of the lack of reliable local transportation, visitors and new arrivals may find it convenient to hire a local driver. These drivers are usually relatively inexpensive. Arrangements can be made at most hotels. Taxis are also available in Ashgabat and are inexpensive.
Turkmen is the official language of Turkmenistan; however, Russian is widely used in government and business. English speakers may be found in larger cities, particularly restaurants, hotels, and larger stores, though in general, use of English is limited in Turkmenistan.
Disclaimer: The U.S. Embassy Ashgabat, Turkmenistan assumes no responsibility or liability for the professional ability or reputation of, or the quality of services provided by, the medical professionals, medical facilities or air ambulance services whose names appear on the following lists. Names are listed alphabetically, and the order in which they appear has no other significance. Professional credentials and areas of expertise are provided directly by the medical professional, medical facility or air ambulance service.
International Trauma Hospital, 118, Gorogly Street, Ashgabat Telephone: 34-14-29
Ashgabat City Children’s Hospital, 29, Garaja Burunow St. (formerly known as Children’s Hospital on Shaumyan St.), Ashgabat Telephone: 92-67-21
Cardiology Scientific Clinical Center’s Hospital (former Red Cross Hospital), 192, Atamurat Niyazov Avenue, Ashgabat Telephone: 97-13-79
Scientific-Clinical Center on Maternal and Child Health, 80, Gorogly Street, Ashgabat Telephone: 97-21-73
National Clinical Hospital named after S. Niyazov (formerly known as Treatment and Consultation Clinical Center named after S. Niyazov at the 11th micro-dictrict), 11, Oguzhan Street, Ashgabat Telephone: 43-85-27
International Eye Clinic, 27, 1970 Street, Berzengi, Ashgabat Telephone: 48-94-23
Dental Clinic, 25, 1970 Street, Berzengi, Ashgabat Telephone: 48-71-05
International Cardiology Center (formerly known as International Cardiology Center named after S. Niyazov), 30, 1970 Street, Berzengi, Ashgabat Telephone: 48-90-09
Maternal and Child Health Center “Ene Mahri” (“Mother’s Love), 30, 1970 Street, Berzengi, Ashgabat Telephone: 48-93-03
Sanitary Aviation of the Ministry of Health of Turkmenistan
Dr. Dovran Saparovich Telephone: 93-82-12
Monday through Saturday (working hours) 97-07-30 - numbers for emergency medical evacuation from different areas of the country.
Ambulance Services Government Ambulance Service Telephone: 03.
Andalyp street, 15 (former Mira street, based in Burgan store),
Gorogly street, 29 (former Pervomayskaya street, just across the Student Polyclinic), telephone 92-03-03.
Sona Myradowa street, 2 (former Stepana Razina Street),
The following is the list of companies that can assist U.S. citizens with medical evacuations. Please be aware that the Embassy cannot provide administrative assistance, such as airport and flight clearance assistance, for private medical evacuations.
Delta Consulting Moscow, Telephone: +7 (495) 937-64-77
Geneva SOS Emergency Telephone: +41 (22) 785-6464
SOS Philadelphia, PA, the emergency number for the home office is +1 (215) 244-1500.
International SOS Alarm Center, Moscow
Telephone: (+7-495) 937-64-77
Fax: (+7-495) 937-64-70 / -72
AEA International Worldwide emergency assistance (in Almaty, Kazakhstan):
Dr. Francois Gourraud,
Medical Director for Central Asia
(+7-327) 258-19-11 or doctor on call at (+7-300) 744-11-11.
Local time, business hours, and holidays: Local time is five hours ahead of GMT (Zulu) or 9-10 hours ahead of the U.S. east coast, depending on spring or fall scheduling.
Businesses are generally open from 9 to 6, Monday through Friday, with many employees in the public and private sectors working a ¾ day on Saturdays.
Temporary Entry of Materials and Personal Belongings: Turkmenistan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary import in to, or export from, Turkmenistan of items such as carpets, jewelry, musical instruments, pieces of art, archaeological artifacts, antiques, and protected animals. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements. Travelers who wish to take carpets out of Turkmenistan must obtain a certificate from the Carpet Museum in Central Ashgabat indicating that the carpet does not have historical value. In addition, buyers may have to pay a tax calculated according to the size of the carpet. Travelers who have purchased other items that could be perceived to be of historical value, such as jewelry, have also reported difficulties in taking these items out of Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan’s indigenous dog, the Alabay, is considered a national treasure and cannot be exported without prior permission. U.S. citizens should also check to ensure that any item they intend to bring into the United States is permitted by U.S. customs regulations.