Azerbaijan is a country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia which means it considered part of Europe or Asia. The country lies on the Caspian Sea. It borders Russia and Georgia to the north, Armenia to the west, and Iran in the south. Through the autonomous exclave of Nakhchivan, which lies between Armenia and Iran, Azerbaijan also shares a short border with Turkey.
The majority of the population (over 90%) is composed of Azerbaijanis, who are Turkic people. The Azerbaijani language is more or less identical to Turkish. History, with Russian and Turkish influence, has left the Azerbaijanis of Azerbaijan and Turkey with some moderate differences. Minorities in Azerbaijan include Lezghins, Russians, Avars, Turks, Tatars, Ukrainians, and Georgians. Most inhabitants are Shia Muslim, although a long history of Russian colonialism during the USSR has left many with very liberal, laisez-faire attitudes towards Islam and the country is staunchly secular. The government is a kleptocracy run by Ilham Aliyev and his allies. While the opposition is often sacked or imprisoned, it is not as severely authoritarian compared to Turkmenistan, Iran or the Russian Caucasus. Following independence in 1991, Azerbaijan has allowed western companies to develop its neglected, but extensive, oil fields, especially since the mid-2000s.
Despite this and related investments, Azerbaijan has its fair share of problems. Corruption is rife, and the government, which eliminated presidential term limits in a 2009 referendum, has been repeatedly accused of human rights abuses. Although the poverty rate has been reduced and infrastructure investment has increased substantially in recent years, reforms have not adequately addressed weaknesses in most government institutions, particularly in the education and health sectors, as well as the judicial system.
The Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, which is part of Azerbaijan, has been the subject of a war with Armenia that has left it a de facto independent republic, which is not internationally recognized by any UN member including, ironically, Armenia which "supports" it. Azerbaijan has lost control of 20% of its territory and must support some 800,000 refugees and internally displaced persons as a result of the conflict. Despite a 1994 cease-fire, Azerbaijan has yet to resolve its conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. Occupied by the local Armenian troops to this day, this conflict has not officially ended and minor skirmishes are frequent, and this is a major source of contention among Azerbaijanis.
These are the nationally recognized holidays for people living in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan is known for having nine of the 11 defined ecological zones. Much of the country is temperate year-round. Nation-wide the average temperature for the year is 14-15°C (57-59°F). The Caucasus Mountains protect the country from the Arctic air masses that affect Russia in winter while the Caspian Sea shields it from the hot, dry air of Central Asia in the summer. Temperatures in the winter are cool (0-10°C/32-50°F) at lower altitudes and along the coast and drops moderately as you head inland and drastically as you head into the mountains (-20°C/-4°F is possible in the Caucasus Mountains). Summers range from warm to hot (20-40°C/68-104°F) throughout most of the country, although breezes off the Caspian make life pleasant along the coast. Nakhchivan is quite different, high and arid, summers here can easily surpass 40°C (104°F) while winter nights often drop below -20°C (-4°F)...in fact the country's extreme minimum and maximum (-33°C/-27°F & 46°C/115°F) were both recorded in southern Nakhchivan!
Snow is rare in Baku and along the coast in general while common inland and copious in the mountains, where many villages may be cut off during the winter. The southern forests are the wettest part of the country, with plenty of rain in late autumn and early spring. The western central coast is fairly dry. Lankaran receives the most annual precipitation (1600-1800mm/63-71 in) while the region around Baku averages 200 mm (8 in). Baku is very breezy, much like Chicago or Wellington, most of the year.
Large, flat Kur-Araz Ovaligi (Kura-Araks Lowland) (much of it below sea level) with Great Caucasus Mountains to the north, Qarabag Yaylasi (Karabakh Upland) in west; Baku lies on Abseron Yasaqligi (Apsheron Peninsula) that juts into Caspian Sea.
Electricity is supplied at 220V 50Hz with sockets the European standard CEE-7/7 "Schukostecker" or "Schuko" or the compatible, but non-grounded, CEE-7/16 "Europlug" types. Generally speaking, US and Canadian travellers should pack an adapter and tranformer for these outlets if they plan to use North American electrical equipment in Azerbaijan.
Additionally, some older buildings may be still equipped with Soviet-era outlets. The Soviet GOST-7396 standard was very similar to the current European CEE-7/7 "Schuko plug", but the pins were of a 4.0mm diameter, while the Schuko features 4.8 mm pins. As such, the pins of a Schuko may be too large to fit into a Soviet-era outlet, although the smaller Europlug will still fit. Although the Soviet-era outlets have largely been phased out, travellers who are particularly concerned with having the ability to plug in at all times may consider packing an adapter for the Soviet-era outlets too, just in case.
Also, make sure to bring your own automated voltage transformer because the electricity in Azerbaijan short circuits and "jumps" a lot and many items may get shocked if you don't bring the adapter.
Foreign nationals of the following countries can enter Azerbaijan visa-free:
For up to 90 days: Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan
For up to 30 days: Turkey
For up to 15 days: Iran
How to apply
Foreign travelers must obtain a visa to travel to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan simplified electronic visa system (https://evisa.gov.az/) for citizens of designated countries in January 2017.The system is called ASAN Visa and the visas are issued for a single-entry visit up to 30 days. According to Presidential Decree on ASAN Visa, foreign visitors may able to get evisa through following steps:
1) Applying to website https://evisa.gov.az/
2) Submit information on passport, personal information and arrival date to the system of ASAN Visa and pay the state fee ($24).
3) E-visas will be issued to the email of the applicant within 3 working days
The e-visa should be printed and presented together with the passport (that should be valid at least 3 months more than the validity period of the electronic visa) at the border checkpoint.
Should note, e-visa is available for citizens from 93 countries, including USA, Australia, United Kingdom, China, Hong Kong, Macau.
Good to know
Nationals of Bahrain, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Macau, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea and UAE can obtain a visa on arrival at any International Airport. The cost of a single entry visa on arrival is 55 USD (Free of Charge for Japanese citizens)
Citizens of Turkey can obtain a visa on arrival only at Baku International Airport.
Citizens of the United States can obtain a visa on arrival at Baku International Airport if arriving on the Azerbaijan Airlines direct flight from New York (JFK)
A letter of invitation (LoI) from a contact in Azerbaijan is not required. The embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia does not issue transit visas. Around the corner from the embassy, MEDEA TRAVEL will organise a visa within 3 days, priced €80 in total which covers everything. The embassy of Azerbaijan in Washington, D.C. will issue visas without a LoI, provided your stay in Azerbaijan is no longer than a few days. According to Azerbaijani law, foreign nationals intending to remain in Azerbaijan for more than 30 days must register with local police within three days of their arrival. Foreign citizens should approach the passport section of the local district police office and fill out an application form. The registration fee is AZN9.90. If you should fail to register within the first three days of your arrival, you are liable to a fine of AZN300. If you are still within the 30 days and happen to have a double or multi entry visa, an option is to hop over to Georgia and the period will start over.
It is now possible to enter Azerbaijan on an e-visa. Generally, if you book accommodation through an agent (even if not for your entire stay), the visa price will be incorporated into the accommodation rate.
Sample rates from the above agents would be USD 230 for two nights at the Swan Hotel (normally around USD 95 per night) and processing of the e-visa, effectively making the e-visa USD 40. Rates for the e-visa without any accommodation or land services start at around USD 60. Most agents will require a stamped letter from your hotel confirming that you have paid and booked your accommodation before they will proceed with an e-visa only transaction, making booking accommodation via the agent a convenient proposition. Some agents quote prices in Euro and Azerbaijani Manat.
To process the e-visa, you will need to send the agency a scanned copy of your passport photo page, a scanned passport photo, your confirmed air tickets to and from Azerbaijan, and the completed visa form (the agency will email you a copy to complete).
The primary international gateway is Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku, with additional international airports (whose international routes are basically some Russian cities, Istanbul and Tehran) found in Nakhchivan City, Ganja, & Lankaran.
National air company AZAL (Azerbaijan Airlines) is the main carrier which flies to Ganja, Nakhchivan, Yevlakh, Lenkoran, Tbilisi, Aktau, Tehran, Tel-Aviv, Ankara, Istanbul, Trabzon, Antalya, Aleppo, Dubai, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kiev, Nizhniy Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, Urumqi, Mineralniye Vodi, Milan, New York, Beijing, London and Paris. British Airways flies seven days a week to Baku. Lufthansa also has a couple flights a week to Baku (which continue onwards to Ashgabat). Turkish Airlines is another carrier connecting Baku with and via Istanbul. Also, there are several Russian, Ukrainian, Uzbek, Iranian, and Austrian airlines connecting Baku with several cities of the world. Qatar Airways flies to Baku with 2 flights a day, one to Tbilisi and one to Doha connecting to their global network. The cheapest option to fly from Europe is Wizzair from Budapest to Baku.
There is an overnight train connecting Tbilisi, Georgia and Baku. Heading out of Azerbaijan, this costs 26AZN and departs nightly from Baku at 20:00. The time of the trip varies considerably based on how long is spent at the border (longer when entering Azerbaijan). Be careful on your visa as the train does not arrive at the border until the next day. They will boot you off the train and make you take a taxi to the border control (50km away from the border) and then you need to take a taxi back to the border (50 euro, May 2014). This segment of track is currently being modernized as part of a project, financed in part by Azerbaijan, which includes the construction of a rail segment from Akhalkalaki, Georgia with Kars, Turkey. Originally scheduled to open in 2010, it is now planned to finish in 2017 connecting the railways of Azerbaijan with Turkey via Georgia. Look out for Baku-Istanbul service once completed.
There is a domestic train line running from Astara on the Iranian border to Baku and there are high hopes to get a 300km connector line built from Astara to Qazvin, Iran to connect the Azerbaijani and Iranian rail networks. Rail service to Iran, which once existed from Nakhchivan after crossing through southern Armenia, was severed after the border with Armenia was closed.
A minibus also runs from the Georgian border at Krazny Most (Red Bridge) and should cost about AZN10 or 12 (or GEL25). It can be picked up at either side of the border (don't worry if they ask you to pay on the Georgian side - they turn up to pick you up. Insist on bringing your own bags across, however). Journey time to Baku should take about 8 hours. Be warned, driving in Azerbaijan is a genuinely scary experience. Virtually all drivers have scant regard for the rules of the road and the standard of the roads themselves is shockingly poor. It is emphatically not for the faint-hearted, so whilst the long train might challenge your stamina your nerves should remain intact. Check AZAL flights from Tbilis-Baku well in advance for some reasonable deals.
Return minibuses to Tbilisi can be caught at the indescribably chaotic bus station, which doubles up as an eerily quiet shopping-centre (take bus 65 from outside Double Gate in the old town for the 20min trip, which leaves you with a 400m long dodgy stretch of road/highway with pestering taxi-drivers on which to walk: Cost 20q) or simply taxi it from the centre for approx. AZN15 (worth it!), which saves on hassle. Both buses and minibuses are available from this station direct to Tbilisi, price approx AZN12 for both. Bus counter 26 at very back of ground floor. The bus is a few hours slower and not guaranteed to pick you up once you cross the Georgian border, so minibus is preferable.
The safest way to rent a car is to reserve it through rental offices at the airport or online reservation in advance through AVIS, Expedia and etc. While using taxi services UBER and Taxify are preferable, simple taxis may overcharge. If you are using one of "London" Taxi services make sure that driver turned on the counter. There are no card payments in taxi cars, except online payment on UBER or Taxify. There is no Lyft in Azerbaijan. The best way to reach the city center from the airport is to use Airport Express (Hava Limani Express) buses which cost about 1.20 AZN.
There is currently no ferry or cruise service with any other country on the Caspian. Be forewarned that the much talked about "ferries" on the Caspian are simply cargo ships with some extra space to take on passengers. Getting a ride on one of these "ferries" is no easy task. First you must find the notoriously difficult to find ticket office, which basically keeps track of ships which are departing. If you manage to find the ticket office and manage to get a booking, you still have little idea of when the ship will depart. Give them a phone number to reach you and be prepared, they may call you an hour or two prior to departure...two days after the first departure the office gave you and the day before the second departure date they gave you! This is only the first of you troubles. After paying for your place on the boat (about USD50-100), the captain and perhaps other crew members will expect an additional amount to get a bed and a shower. You are expected to bring your own food. The crossing will only take 1 day (Turkmenistan) or 2-3 days (Kazakhstan). Most ships go to Turkmenistan, where ships must wait for an open berth...so you can wait 2-5 days on the boat just waiting for a place to dock! Unless you are on a very small budget or have a bike and especially if you are on a short time schedule, you should pay twice as much (c. USD200-250) for a one way airfare to Kazakhstan, Russia, or Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
The total of 31,800km of "paved" roads includes some all-weather gravel-surfaced roads and many "unpaved" roads are made of un-stabilised earth and are difficult to negotiate in wet weather.
Buses, minibuses (marshrutka), and taxis connect most cities. There is often a hub such as a bus station near the bazaar in these cities. The fares for buses and minibuses are posted usually in both old and new manat (qepik). Taxis, on the other hand, require negotiating skills, and this usually takes a proficiency in the language that ordinary non-Azeri/Russian/Turkish speakers do not have.
There are roads to all cities of Azerbaijan. They are not really wide and most of them have only two lanes.
Local travel agents can arrange private cars to the borders. Some Georgian travel agents such as Concord Travel can arrange to pick you up in Baku and then go to Tbilisi. Although more expensive than bus or train, it will be faster and can be combined with sightseeing along the way.
If you decide to rent a car, there are a growing number of car rental companies, including Europacar, Naniko Rent a Car and others throughout central Baku.
Azerbaijani is the official language. This is a Turkic language, closely related to Turkish itself. However, English is spoken in places frequented by foreign tourists and expats, especially Baku, where Russian is now slowly declining but is still much more widely spoken. Outside of Baku it wise to still either bring an Azeri phrase book and/or brush up on your Azeri/Turkish/Russian before arriving. About 80% of population at least understands Russian, and about half the people under the age of 35 will speak at least a little English. English is well catered for in most midscale and all upscale shops, restaurants, bars and hotels in Baku as a result of more than 15 years of expats from the oil industry. It might be difficult to talk to people in English in remote areas or even just outside of Baku. However, often they will know someone that knows English, call or get them and use them as translator.
Currency: New Azerbaijani manat (Yeni Manat)
Currency code: AZN
Exchange rates (approximate, January 2018):
Keep in mind that import and export of big amounts of manat is strictly forbidden.
Economy - overview: Azerbaijan's number one export is oil. Azerbaijan's oil production declined through 1997 but has registered an increase every year since. Negotiation of production-sharing arrangements (PSAs) with foreign firms, which have thus far committed $60 billion to oilfield development, should generate the funds needed to spur future industrial development. Oil production under the first of these PSAs, with the Azerbaijan International Operating Company, began in November 1997. Azerbaijan shares all the formidable problems of the former Soviet republics in making the transition from a command to a market economy, but its considerable energy resources brighten its long-term prospects. Baku has only recently begun making progress on economic reform, and old economic ties and structures are slowly being replaced. An obstacle to economic progress, including stepped up foreign investment in the non-energy sector, is the continuing conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Trade with Russia and the other former Soviet republics is declining in importance while trade is building with Turkey and the nations of Europe. Long-term prospects will depend on world oil prices, the location of new pipelines in the region and Azerbaijan's ability to manage its oil wealth.
Cabbage, grape leaves, and eggplant wrapped meat (kelem, yarpaq, badimjan - dolmasi), kabab (kebab), rice with different variety of toppings (plov - It is said that plov is the national dish of Azerbaijani cuisine), Qutabs and meatballs (kufta) are some of the several specialties of Azerbaijan. Shashlik similar to Shish Kebab is a popular skewered meat dish. You can find shashlik anywhere on the menu in restaurants or cafés.
Bread is a staple, and is quite revered by the people of Azerbaijan.
Georgian food, in particular kajpuri (a cheese-filled bread), along with some Russian staples (borsh, creps) have become common throughout Azerbaijan. Other cuisines such as Turkish, Italian, Asian, Western & fast food, along with Asian food can be found in Baku.
Some local drinks include ayran (a yogurt drink based on sour milk) and sherbet (made from rose petals or saffron). There are also different sorts of quite decent wines produced from local grapes and a wide array of mineral waters from natural springs. In some areas of Azerbaijan the markets offer lemonades (limonat/dushes) made from pears or taragon.
There is a good selection of hotels in Baku, including many Western chains, but options elsewhere in the country are limited. Prices for the hotels start from USD60 and higher. Rental apartments might be a good choice as they are cheaper than hotels and sometimes are even more comfortable.
You can get the information you need about Azerbaijan from the hotels where you will stay. They have different guides for Azerbaijan. Also at some new bus stations in Baku there are maps of the capital.
There is a great deal of work to be done in Azerbaijan from teaching and NGO work to work in the oil and tourism sectors.
Robbing and pickpocketing in the capital Baku, especially in poor and sparsely populated areas is possible but rare and is higher across the capital at night. Common sense is useful as in all other countries. Also watch your stuff in public transport.
Do not talk about Armenia to anyone in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijanis can get sensitive and it can hurt their feelings because they where forced out of their lands during the war. It is best to avoid politics about Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan.
Corruption is widespread. But as a foreigner you have a fairly strong position in refusing to pay "hörmet" (bribe). Never give any bribe. Often Azeris are so ashamed of their corrupt economy, that they might hide it from you anyway.
Emergency contact numbers
You must speak in Azeri, Turkish or Russian to communicate your needs. It would be a good idea to memorize key phrases before coming to Azerbaijan - see the Talk section for phrase books.
Make sure your diphtheria, tetanus, and Hepatitis A and B immunisations are up to date. Malaria is a risk in lowland Azerbaijan, particularly around the border with Iran. Anti-malarials are not a must for Baku, but the risk is present in rural areas not far from the city.
Water should not be consumed unless from a sealed bottle. Bottled soft drinks or boiled drinks, such as tea or coffee, also reduce risks.
Azerbaijanis are a very reserved but very polite and well mannered people.
Things to avoid
Even though 95% of the population is Shiite Muslim, Azerbaijan is a strictly secular state is by and large an agnostic and non-religious nation. This is true in large cities, and even in villages and rural areas. Despite seeing themselves as Muslims, Azeri men often drink alcoholic beverages, and this is widely accepted, probably due to the Russian and Soviet legacy (though it bears mention that drinking is rare among women and almost never occurs between men and women in rural areas or socially conservative families). Recent unrest in Iran, Iraq and Syria made the government very strict about religious clothing and symbols and prompted greater secularization and stricter control of the southern borders. Any religious signs, flags, slogans in public and proselytizing (missionary activity) for any religion are prohibited by law. Any violation will result in fines, imprisonment, and in case of foreigners, deportation from the country. Don't assume that anyone you do not know believes in God or has a passion for Islam or in other faiths. Investigations into people's faith is largely unwelcome, and outside places of worship, displays of your faith should be kept private. Saying grace for example, is likely to be met with bewilderment and silence. Religious attire such as Muslim headscarves, Kippahs or even T-shirts with religious slogans, will - while tolerated - also make many Azerbaijanis feel uncomfortable. However, it is acceptable to wear small necklaces with religious symbols. Those with long beards may arouse the suspicion of the authorities. Respect that and you will also be respected.
Social custom and etiquette breaches
Other things to watch for
Gay and lesbian travellers
Homosexuality is no longer criminalized in Azerbaijan, but the negative stigma still is strong throughout Azerbaijan. Same-sex relationships are not recognized by the government and showing your orientation openly is very likely to draw stares and whispers. The few establishments geared towards homosexuals are almost (if not exclusively) in Baku and are mostly underground. Azerbaijan is not the happiest place in the world for LGBT travellers; be quite cautious when travelling as a LGBT traveller.
There are three mobile operators: Azercell, Bakcell, Nar Mobile. Each network has its own 3 digit code that's different for each operator followed by the 7 digit long subscriber number. For example (050) xxx xxxx, (051) xxx xxxx, or (055) xxx xxxx, or (070) xxx xxxx, or (077) xxx xxxx You can buy cards for use with different operators almost in every store. (See note below) All of them have LTE (4G) network.
Agjabedi 113, Agdam 192, Agdash 193, Agsu 198, Agstafa 244, Astara 195, Babek 136, Bakou 12, Balaken 119, Berde 110, Beylagan 152, Bilesuvar 159, Dashkesen 216, Devechi 115, Fizuli 141, Gandja 22, Gedebey 232, Goranboy 234, Goychay 167, Hajigabul 140, Horadiz 141, İmishli 154, İsmayilli 178, Jebrayil 118, Jelilabad 114, Julfa 36, Kelbejer 137, Kurdemir 145, Lachin 146, Lenkeran 171, Lerik 157, Masalli 151, Mereze 150, Mingechevir 147, Nabran 156, Naftalan 255, Nakhchivan 136, Neftchala 153, Oguz 111, Ordubad 136, Qakh 144, Qazakh 279, Qazi Memmed 140, Qebele 160, Qobustan 150, Quba 169, Qubadli 133, Qusar 138, Saatli 168, Sabirabad 143, Salyan 163, Samukh 265, Sederek 136, Shahbuz 136, Shamakhi 176, Sheki 177, Shemkir 241, Sherur 136, Shirvan 197, Siyezen 190, Sumqayit 18-64, Shusha 191, Terter 246, Tovuz 231, Ujar 170, Khachmaz 172, Khankendi 162, Khanlar 230, Khizi 199, Khojali 102, Khudat 172, Yardimli 175, Yevlakh 166, Zagatala 174, Zengilan 196, Zerdab 135.