If you are going to travel to Mongolia for the first time, the question you may ask yourself is if Mongolia is really safe to travel? I know I asked myself that same question on my first trip to Mongolia.
Mongolia is generally safe to travel but there are very specific safety precautions that you should take when you are traveling in Mongolia. There are different safety concerns if you are traveling in the city, then when you are traveling the Mongolian countryside.
Mongolia is a poor country where the World Bank’s latest report estimates overall poverty in the country of just over 28%. Some areas may have as high as 50% of the population is living at or below the poverty level. Ulaanbaatar the capital is no exception as there are many households there that are living in poverty.
One reason for the poverty in Mongolia and the capital city of Ulaanbaatar is due to the harsh winter months when many nomadic herders may have lost all their herds so they have no choice but to move their Ger to Ulaanbaatar’s Ger district to try to find some kind of work. If you are interested to read more about this you can read our blog on 5 Lessons in Grit and Perseverance
Over the last few years, the U.S. Embassy has reported that crimes have increased in Mongolia. You can read the U.S. Embassy report here. But the truth of the matter is that though crime has increased in Mongolia, it is still relatively safe to travel to Mongolia.
Like traveling to most countries in the world, there are things that travelers should look out for and be aware of for their safety and wellbeing. As the U.S. Embassy reported stated, there is “minimal risk” for crime to happen during your trip to Mongolia. But there are things which every traveler to Mongolia should be aware of:
Pickpockets and Petty Crime
There are pickpockets and petty crime thieves in Mongolia. This tends to happen more in certain areas and here are some areas that travelers should be extra cautious when traveling to:
- Naraan Tuul or Black Market – This Black Market area is notorious for having petty crime. If you are interested to find out more about the Black Market, you can read our blog called What to buy at the Mongolian Black Market (Naran Tuul)? What to Know
- Ulaanbaatar’s Central Sukhbaatar District – This is the area that has a lot of the Embassies, Offices and Tourist Attractions. So be extra careful when you are in this area.
- The State Department Store
- The Mercury Food Shopping Center
- The Seoul Street – In particular the restaurant and bar section of the street
- The section of Baga Toiruu (Little Ring Road Area) – In this area, the section that is of the most concern is near the Urgoo Cinema and Ulaanbaatar Hotel
- Anywhere larger crowds are gathered such as at large sporting and other events.
I would recommend that anyone that is serious about travel get a very good anti-theft backpack like the kind that PacSafe has. You can find PacSafe on Amazon by clicking here. They have a nice selection of bags that are made especially to help guard against theft. I have one of their bags and a great thing about it is that it does not look like an anti-theft bag even though it has anti-theft protection.
Some of the other Petty Crimes they have seen in Mongolia recently include:
- ATM Fraud – There have been some reports of ATM fraud where a thief will attach a scanning device on the front of the ATM to scan the user’s information. This is actually a scam that has been seen in a lot of parts of Asia. When using an ATM look for any suspicious camera that is attached to the ATM.
- Skimmers to duplicate credit cards – There have also been some reports of employees at some restaurants or hotels using a skimming device to duplicate the magnet strip information when you are using your credit card. Stay at a reputable hotel or if you are using a travel agency, make sure you use one that is reputable. We recommend New MIlestone Tours (for more information about them, please look below)
- Credit card fraud – As you would do in any other country, keep your bank and credit card information secure and safe. There have been some incidents of people’s bank and credit card information being stolen. Closely monitor your credit card account before and after your trip to Mongolia.
Scams and other concerns
Like in any other country there can also be scams that take place. Here are the biggest scams that have been seen in Mongolia:
- Taxis – Like in many other parts of Asia, a taxi may try to get more money from you and they have meters that will charge you double for a fare. It is always best to use a reliable taxi company, or be clear about the price before you get into a taxi.
- Border Guards – There has also been some report of some “fake” border guards that will have the uniform and ask for money. Be aware of this if you are crossing any of the borders.
- Privacy Laws – Mongolia does not have privacy laws as in a country like America. For this reason, hotel staff may enter your room at any time and for any reason. For this reason put the security lock on your door when you are in your room and when you are away from your room, secure your valuables.
Horse or Camel Thieves
This may seem like something from the wild wild west, but when people go on a long horse, camel trek or another kind of trek they may wake up and find they have been robbed and their horse or other forms of transportation is gone.
Sometimes your local guide may be working together with the thieves. But the best way to protect against this is to make sure you work with a reputable travel agency that understands these risks and has properly vetted their travel guides and all the other people or organizations they work with.
Female Solo Travelers
If you are female and traveling alone there are a few extra precautions that you should take to ensure your safety. Sexual assault in Mongolia is real and can happen. On top of this, Mongolia’s sexual assault laws are not highly developed, so some of the people you encounter may see sexual assault very differently than what we do in the west. Here are a few things that female solo travelers should be aware of concerning sexual assault in Mongolia.
- Gers- Sexual assault has been known to happen when women were alone in their ger at night. If at all possible, always lock your ger at night. This is also another reason why it is good to use a reputable travel company that has properly vetted all their people.
- Monasteries – Incidents have also been reported at monasteries where a monk or someone else may try to get a solo female traveler on her own so they can sexually assault her. If you are traveling alone, try to join a group so that you are not alone in a circumstance like this.
- Drunken Behavior – Alcholol and alcohol abuse is a problem in Mongolia. If you are in an area where there are a lot of drunk men, you should try to get away from the situation, There have been reports of sexual assault of some foreign women by groups of drunk men.
- Trekking, hiking or camping alone – The U.S. Embassy recommends that women should not trek, hike or camp alone in Mongolia. The reason for this is because they have seen enough sexual assault incidents due to women being alone in these situations. So if you are a solo female traveler it is safest for you to find a group or tour to travel with.
Other safety tips
Like in many Asian countries there are a few other things that travelers should be aware of to ensure their safety in Mongolia. Here are some other safety tips:
- Rent a car that has seat belts – Many people in Mongolia do not use seat belts in their cars or other vehicles. When you are renting a car and you have a local driver, make sure to check to ensure the car has proper seat belts for both the front and back seats.
- Nighttime driving – There is a law against drunk driving, but still there is a lot of drunk driving in Mongolia. It is best if you can ensure that you are not on the long-distance highways during the night or evening time as this is when drunk driving usually occurs. Drunk driving can increase significantly during the major holiday times.
- LGBT – There are no laws in Mongolia that criminalize being LGBT, nor are there specific known targets toward the LGBT community as a whole. But, some Mongolian NGOs have reported that LGBT persons, especially in some rural areas have faced harassment or violence. LGBT individuals may want to be aware of this, especially when traveling outside Ulaanbaatar.
Many of these safety precautions are similar to safety precautions that travelers should be aware of wherever they travel. Despite these travel risks, Mongolia is considered a very safe place to travel.
How can I find a reputable tour company in Mongolia?
I can personally recommend New Milestone Tours. I personally know one of the owners, Adiyabold, and I know that he will vet and check out all his guides and those he works with.
One of the first steps in ensuring your safety in Mongolia is to ensure you use a reliable and reputable travel company. New Milestone Tours can help you with an individual or a group tour. You can contact them by clicking here.
What is the population of Mongolia?
The population of Mongolia is about 3,100,000 people yet the landmass is 1,564,116 square kilometers or 603,909 square miles. It is the 18th largest country in the world but also considered one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. Mongolia is landlocked. It borders on Russia, China, and Kazakhstan.