This post is being regularly updated thanks the continuous input I get from some awesome travelers. All the information you see here is based on the latest updates. If you have any further information, kindly let me know because, in Pakistan, rules do change quickly!
If you ever decide to travel to Pakistan, I promise you that you will have the adventure of your lifetime.
From hitchhiking on tractors and psychedelic trucks to driving over extremely narrow mountain roads built on a cliff 1,500 meters high, soldiers who voluntarily give you their AK-47 for taking a photo, the most striking landscape and the fact that you can camp in the middle of a paradise completely by yourself.
Traveling to Pakistan is, definitely, the ultimate experience and adventure.
However, this isn’t particularly an easy place to travel in. Going on a trip to Pakistan requires a little bit of preparation, as well as quite a lot of things to know beforehand.
Normally, I would include this kind of information in a generic travel guide, together with a travel itinerary. However, there is so much to say about Pakistan that I decided to write a separate article about it.
By the way, if you want to keep track of all my travels and photos, remember to follow @againstthecompass on Instagram.
This guide contains all the practical information. For places to visit, don’t forget to check my 1-month Pakistan itinerary
70 Things to know before traveling to Pakistan
Here you will find:
Travel Insurance for Pakistan
Tour operator in Pakistan
Cultural behavior and facts
Books for traveling in Pakistan
Security & safety
Bureaucracy and permits
Prices and money
Internet and calling
Trekking in Pakistan
Food, alcohol & chai
Other general information you should know
Total transparency! If you like my website and found this post useful, remember that, if you any product or service through any of my links, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. These earnings help me maintain and keep Against the Compass going! Thanks
Visa for visiting Pakistan
NEW information May 2019
1 – Before April/May 2019, you couldn’t get a visa on the road – As a rule of thumb, a Pakistani visa could only be applied for from your home country or country of residence.
2 – But finally, they have introduced an e-visa system – Up to 176 nationalities can now apply for a Pakistani visa online. You can apply through this portal. Many travelers have already been successful 🙂
3 – It can be used to enter through any port of entry – Both airport and land borders.
4 – Visa length – The application allows you to apply for a visa valid for up to 11 months. You can also apply for a multi-entry visa valid for more than 1 year.
5 – Price – I believe it depends on nationality and the length of your trip but I hold a Spanish passport and the single entry 2-month visa costs 35USD. Then, I tried to apply for the multi-entry visa and it cost 52USD.
6 – Apparently, a Letter of Invitation is not required anymore – Alternatively, the system allows you to upload a hotel booking confirmation (instead of the LOI). They just require a booking for the first few days and then you can cancel it immediately.
7 – However, it is not as awesome as it seems – The system presents quite a few bugs, like some functions do not work (only sometimes) and, when you submit your application, the information will be sent to the embassy/consulate of your country of residence and the problem is that the embassies themselves are not fully aware of this process and they just apply their own rules.
This means that, whereas some embassies do not require the LOI, some embassies do (like the USA), while others (like the one in Beirut), will tell you to apply the traditional way.
I recommend you try to apply yourself to see how it works, contact your embassy and, for the latest reports/questions, you are welcome to comment below.
8 – Timing – Again, this will depend on the embassy. One traveler claimed that he got it in one day while others say it takes several days. It is recommended to apply in advance.
9 – How to get your Letter of Invitation – I recommend you try to apply with a hotel booking but if it doesn’t work, you will have to get a Letter of Invitation.
An LOI can only be provided by a valid tour operator but, unfortunately, most of them force you to book a tour.
Luckily, I found the guys from Find my Adventure, a pretty cool local tour company who can issue an LOI and all you have to do is booking either a Lahore City tour or a hotel, that’s it.
They charge you 100USD for the LOI and the Lahore City tour starts at 10USD. Yes, it is very cheap, that’s why I recommend them.
Moreover, you can get an exclusive 10% discount by using the promo code ATC-PAK. Just email them through their contact page, mentioning my blog and the promo code.
By the way, this 10% discount can be used on any of their customized tours.
10 – Applying via embassy – Some embassies (like the one Beirut) may tell you to apply via the traditional way, which sucks a lot, especially because you can only apply at the embassy from your country of residence and they always require an LOI.
Embassy rules vary enormously, depending on the country you apply from. For example, I hold a Spanish passport and am a Catalan resident, so I could apply at the Consulate in Barcelona, which only cost me 27€. In Madrid, they charge double at least and, as far as I understand, UK passport holders pay up to 100USD. Moreover, it took me 40 days to get my visa, while other embassies issue it in less than a week.
11 – Visa extensions – Well, the e-visa portal has an extension section/option but so far, I don’t know from anyone who has attempted it.
In any case, visa extensions can be easily done in major cities. There are passport offices in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar, Chitral, Gilgit, and Skardu but apparently, the easiest place is in Lahore.
12 – Visa extension rules – Seriously, every person traveling to Pakistan will have a completely different experience when they try to extend their visa. The reason is that rules are not written and it will all depend on the person who is behind the counter on that specific day. Welcome to Pakistan. However, most travelers claim that Lahore is the easiest place to do it.
Nevertheless, some people claim that they had to wait for 2 weeks to get the extension while others just a few days. Moreover, some people got an extension only for the duration of their current visa, while others got 5 months.
What seems to be a constant is that you can only extend it a few days prior to your expiring date, but not before. For more information, read this post from my friend Alex: Extending your visa in Lahore
13 – Overstaying and leaving overland- Again, everybody will have different experiences here. The official information says that, if you overstay for less than 15 days, you will have to pay a small fee. However, I overstayed for 5 days and, at the customs, when I said that I didn’t have any money, they let me go with a smile. Please note that I left through the Pakistan-China border, at Khunjerab Pass
Travel insurance for traveling in Pakistan
14 – Your regular travel insurance such as World Nomads (finally) covers Pakistan – And there are two reasons why I think World Nomads is the ideal insurance for traveling in Pakistan:
- The basic plan already covers trekking up to 6,000 meters (note that, in Gilgit-Baltistan, it is very easy to reach 4,000-meter base camps.
- They provide with unlimited medical expenses (and Pakistan can be wild)
15 – However, it doesn’t cover unfortunate events related to war, terrorism, kidnapping and stuff like that – In my humble opinion, Pakistan is mostly safe but safety is a subjective topic and, if that is a concern for you, perhaps, you should consider buying a travel insurance specialized in high-risk destinations, like First Allied.
Their policy covers any terrorism-related accident and, seriously, their basic policy is very cheap. However, apart from those unfortunate events, First Allied is very limited when it comes to trekking, medical expenses for getting sick, etc., so if you want to be 100% covered, it should complement your World Nomads insurance.
For more information and options, read: How to find the right travel insurance for Pakistan
Tour operator for visiting Pakistan
16 – When you visit Pakistan, some people prefer to go on a tour – Pakistan is a pretty wild country, so I perfectly understand why some travelers would prefer to travel with an experienced tour guide, especially when you go trekking.
I definitely recommend the guys from Find my Adventure, a solid company with many years of experience which can arrange absolutely anything you want, from driving the Karakoram Highway to trekking the K2 Base Camp and any customized tour or trek you may come up with.
Moreover, you can get an exclusive 10% discount (on any tour) by using my promo code ATC-PAK.
Just email them via their contact page, mentioning my blog and the code and tell them which kind of tour you want.
Cultural behavior and facts when traveling in Pakistan
17 – Urdu, which is like Hindi, is the official language – However, each region has its own (or several) local languages, so different from each other. English is widely spoken among educated people.
18 – Pakistan is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse countries – From the South Asian looking people of Punjab and Sindh; to the people of the Pashtun areas, closer to Iran or Afghanistan; the pagan culture of Kalash; the Shias from Gilgit and Nagar; the Ismailis of lower Hunza and the Wakhis (and also Ismailis) of upper Hunza. Traveling in Pakistan is like traveling in several, different tiny countries. It’s fascinating.
19 – Remember, you are the guest – People tend to say that, in Iran, Sudan and Iraqi Kurdistan, you find the most hospitable people in the world. Well, clearly, they haven’t visited Pakistan. Whereas it’s true that these countries are very hospitable, Pakistanis bring it to the next level. In this country, you are the guest, which means that the locals strive for you to have the best possible time in their country or region.
19 – The hospitality can even be overwhelming – During your trip in Pakistan, you’ll be invited for lunch, dinner and even to stay at people’s houses so many times that, on many occasions, you will have to refuse.
After your refusal, they will insist once again, over and over. They will also insist on carrying your bag and offering you food one hundred times even if you say that you are full. These are their cultural rules and you are the guest.
20 – So overwhelming but just don’t get angry – One day, some random men who I had never seen before came to my hotel at 7:30 am in the morning, knocking at the door of my room, waking me up from a very good sleep.
Apparently, they heard that there was a foreigner in the village, so they just wanted to hang out with me. I got a little bit angry, continued sleeping but then I kind of felt bad, as all they wanted was to show me around the village.
21 – Paying for meals – For some reason, Pakistanis always want to pay for your meals to the extent that it gets awkward. I personally didn’t like it, especially when I could see that the local people didn’t have much money. If possible, try to back them up.
22 – Wearing a Shalwar Kameez – The traditional Pakistani dress, which 80% or 90% of Pakistanis wear, is called shalwar kameez. Should you wear it? It’s not compulsory but, if you do, the locals will really appreciate it, especially in the Pashtun areas.
23 – Islam – Pakistan is the most conservative country I’ve ever been to. You should be careful and always respect their rules. If you do, they will also respect you and you will have the best time in their country.
Useful books for traveling to Pakistan
24 – Best travel guide – Pakistan Traveller – This is the most up-to-date and ultimate guidebook about Pakistan. 256 pages full of maps and endless travel tips. The author, Tim, is an Australian man who has visited Pakistan 10 times since 2006. The guide is available in different formats, including Full-color paperback, Budget Paperback, and ebook. A must-have!Click here to check prices on Amazon
25 – To know about the culture – Pakistan – Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture – Culture Smart! is a well-known collection of books that make deep introductions to the culture and customs of many countries. In this book, they give a great analysis of the complexity of the culture and sub-cultures in Pakistan, so you will have a great understanding of the cultural etiquette beforehand!Click here to check prices on Amazon
26 – For more political background – Pakistan, a hard country – This award-winning book will give you a deep understanding of the situation in Pakistan nowadays.Click here to check prices on Amazon
247- Overcome language barriers – Urdu-English phrasebook – Most educated people speak good English but, if you plan to go to remote villages or the mountains, you will need knowledge of Urdu to communicate with the locals.Click here to check prices on Amazon
28 – A classic – Pakistan Lonely Planet Guide – It is really outdated but, if you like to collect Lonely Planet guides, perhaps you would like to buy it. In any case, history, maps, and other traveling information never gets outdated!Click here to check prices on Amazon
Security and safety when you travel in Pakistan
29 – Pakistan is not dangerous but you should be cautious. You might have read from other blogs that Pakistan is one of the safest countries in the world. Personally, I wouldn’t say that. Whereas I think that Pakistan is not a dangerous country, in some areas, it’s better to be cautious, especially in the region bordering Afghanistan.
30 – Police are there to help you. Throughout your Pakistan travels, you’ll be continuously interrogated by dozens of different policemen and people from the army. Who are you? Why are you here? Where are you going? Unlike in other countries, in Pakistan, the police and military are pretty cool and, for your own security, they are commanded to ask you these questions.
31 – You will have to register at more than 100 security check posts. I am not kidding. During my 56-day trip in Pakistan, I had to register more than 100 times at different army and police check posts. Sometimes, to get from one destination to another, I had to register more than 10 times! At each check post, you have to get off the car or bus and write down all your personal information in a notebook. This will slow down your journey considerably.
32 – Bring one thousand passport & visa photocopies. It’s good to bring loads of photocopies because, at some check posts, if you have a passport copy, you don’t have to get out of the car. Otherwise, you are going to waste your time.
33 – Occasionally, you get a personal guard, for free – Again, not kidding. For security purposes, in some areas, you will get a personal armed guard. Sometimes, you might have to pay for his meals but, according to the police, you are not forced to. It’s up to you. For more information, read my post: Is Pakistan safe?
34 – Having a personal armed guard seems kind of cool but, to be honest, it’s not that much – The first time you get an armed guard you get kind of excited. WOW! I have a guard who carries an AK-47 for just myself! However, after half an hour, you might start hating him because he will put you under a lot of restrictions.
35 – Women traveling solo is more common and safer than you think – Women tell wonderful things about their experiences during their journeys through Pakistan. I’m not the most qualified person to talk about this topic but my friend Alex has written this wonderful post: Is it safe for a woman to travel in Pakistan?In addition, the Broke Backpacker has also written this magnificent women’s interview.
36 – Pakistani intelligence is the best secret service in the world – One of the reasons why Pakistan is not a dangerous country is thanks to the Pakistani intelligence, which is considered the best intelligence corps in the world, even better than the CIA.
Be aware that they are watching your steps and they will always know where you are. I remember that, while hiking around a remote area in the Astore Valley, a man wearing a salwar kameez (the traditional Pakistani clothes), came to me and said, ”You are the Spanish, right?” Yes, he was from the Pakistani intelligence.
For further information on safety, including which areas are the safest, read my post: Is Pakistan safe?
Bureaucracy and permits for your trip in Pakistan
37 – Don’t trust any source of bureaucracy information, not even Against the Compass – In Pakistan, rules are not written and things are constantly changing. Places which no longer require a permit, might require it overnight, by the next day it was changing it back again.
A military guy told me once that, when this happens, it’s because they are suspicious of some Taliban or terrorism activity. This information doesn’t flow throughout the country, so you will see that everyone (including national police, local police, the Army, the locals, travelers and blogs) will always have a different opinion. Don’t trust anyone. Check it yourself, once you’re on the ground.
38 – In Pakistan everything is possible – If there is something valuable I learnt during my trip in Pakistan, it is that, as in any corrupt country, everything is possible and it all depends on your contacts. If you know the right people, you can do absolutely everything you want, including visiting forbidden areas without a permit.
39 – What is an NOC? – A No Objection Certificate, which is basically, a permit required for certain restricted areas.
40 – How to get an NOC – The best way to get an NOC is through a local with contacts. If you don’t know any local, contact your embassy, but it can take up to 4 or 5 working days to proceed. Furthermore, Ishan, from SWAT Valley Backpackers can get it for you.
41 – When do you need an NOC – As I said before, don’t trust any source of bureaucracy information. During my trip in Pakistan, a friend of me was required to get an NOC to use the road between Timargara and Chitral. One day later, I tried to use that road but the NOC was not required anymore. However, officially, you would need an NOC to visit Balochistan, the Khyber Pass and Tribal Areas and Kashmir.
Prices and money
42 – It’s pretty cheap – You can easily travel in Pakistan for less than $20 a day, sleeping in private rooms and eating 3 meals outside.
43 – Everything is negotiable – Everything can be bargained for, especially the hotel rooms. Expect to pay different amounts from other guests.
44 – Always come with a reference – During your trip in Pakistan, contacts are very important and that’s why in either hotels or trekking tour companies, if you come referenced by a local, you will get a better price.
45 – A cash economy – Pakistan barely believes in credit cards. Bring cash.
46 – Pakistani Rupees are the official currency – At the time of writing, 1USD = 100PKR, which makes it pretty easy to convert.
Internet and calling
47 – Internet – Except in Gilgit-Baltistan, the internet works reasonably well throughout the country
48 – The Chinese are about to introduce optical fiber – Apparently, by the end of 2017, the Chinese will have introduced optical fiber to Gilgit-Baltistan so, hopefully, the internet will work properly in this area as well.
49 – Get ZONG – Don’t think further. ZONG is the best mobile operator, especially in the northern areas. Except in the Kalash Valley and some remote areas in Upper Hunza, ZONG has the fastest internet.
50 – Tell a local to sign up for you – The downside of ZONG is that, as a foreigner, you need to go the central office and pay quite a lot of money to sign up for it ($20 or $30). Tell a local to sign up for you, so you’ll just pay $7 for a SIM Card plus 1 month’s worth of data and calls.
Transportation for traveling around Pakistan
51 – You’ll get used to the mountain roads – Most mountain roads are very scary as they are extremely narrow and built on insanely high cliffs. Don’t panic. You’ll just get used to them!
52 – You will learn to be patient – In absolutely almost every long bus journey I took, we had a breakdown. Sometimes, we were stopped for two hours! And one day, we stopped because the bus ran out of gas! Can you believe it?
53 – Public buses & minivans go everywhere – Like in most developing countries where most people can’t afford to buy a car, buses and minivans travel to even the remotest areas in the country. In Sindh and Punjab provinces, Daewoo is the most luxury bus. For traveling to Gilgit from Islamabad, you should definitely take NATCO VIP Bus ($17). Don’t worry, is not that VIP.
54 – Train – In Sindh and Punjab provinces to Peshawar, you can move around by train. There are different train companies but you should always take the private ones, as they are more punctual. Use AC standard, as it is the one used by the Pakistani middle class. It’s not expensive, not smelly and comfortable enough.
55 – Psychedelic trucks are a way of life – Everybody falls in love with the trucks in Pakistan, as they are so particularly decorated that they are a blessing to your lens.
56 – Hitchhiking is too easy – It’s so easy, that sometimes, it’s faster and easier than taking public transport, especially on the Karakoram Highway (from Gilgit to Khunjerab Pass). Everybody will want to pick you up! As a general rule, on the KKH, I didn’t hitchhike on motorbikes (there are so many accidents) and cars with women inside.
57 – Plane is pretty convenient – Traveling by bus from Islamabad to the northern areas, including Chitral, Gilgit and Skardu takes ages (from 15 to 20 hours). There are flights connecting Islamabad with all these cities. Tickets cost up to $100, approximately. Book your flights here. Please note that, for flying to and from Gilgit, you must book several days (even weeks) in advance. Also bear in mind that many flights get canceled due to the weather condition.
Trekking in Pakistan
58 – The most accessible mountains – Nowhere else in the entire world, will you be able to trek to the base camp of an 8,000 meters high peak summit in only two days. Even if you are a beginner trekker, you can do short treks and be able to enjoy the most awesome mountains!
Food, drinks, and alcohol
59 – Food is extremely oily – Pakistanis love oil too much. They put tons of it in absolutely every meal, including in the steamed rice, which they will always fry afterwards. When you are in a restaurant, always ask for half fried.
60 – It’s almost dry – In the Sindh province and Islamabad, you can find liquor stores. In the rest of the country, alcohol is only available on the black market, but most locals (who drink) can get it for you easily.
61 – Expect to have ten cups of chai a day – Chai, which is tea with milk, is a way of life in Pakistan and a sign of hospitality.
62 – Tap water, watch out! – Don’t dare drink tap water. In the northern part of the country, the locals will tell you that the tap water is good, as it comes from the mountains and glaciers. This may be true, but I still got sick when I drank from a mountain fountain. Always use a water purifier.
63 – You’ll get sick – I don’t know anyone who didn’t get sick in his stomach during his trip in Pakistan. Try to avoid salad, food stalls with flies (they are hard to find) and don’t drink tap water.
Accommodation during your visit in Pakistan
64 – Prices can be negotiated to the extreme – Whenever they tell you the price, ask if they have a cheaper room. Seriously, on many occasions, I managed to get half of the initial price.
65 – If you are on a budget, always ask if they have a dorm – Surprisingly, many hotels have dorms and they don’t tell you until the end of the negotiation. The good thing is that, since there are not many backpackers, you are most likely to get the dorm just for yourself!
66 – In most of Pakistan, you are covered – In Pakistan, there is a lot of domestic tourism, so most touristic areas are filled with hotels for absolutely every budget, from hostel to mid-range and luxury rooms.
67 – But it may be harder to find decent accommodation in the rest of the country – In cities like Peshawar, Karachi, Multan, and basically anywhere outside of Swat Valley, Chitral, Northern areas, Islamabad and Lahore, finding decent (budget) accommodation may be challenging.
68 – Couchsurfing is quiter popular! – There are loads of profiles, especially in the big cities.
If you want to know all my hotel recommendation per city, read my Pakistan Itinerary
More information you need to know for traveling to Pakistan
69 – When to travel to Pakistan – Most travelers come to Pakistan because of the mountains. However, these are only accessible from mid-April to mid-October. For the rest of the year, they become isolated, due to the heavy snow. On the other hand, if you want to visit the Sindh and Punjab provinces, you must come in winter, from November until February, when the weather is cooler.
71 – Sign up to the Backpacking Pakistan Facebook Group– If you want to get up-to-date traveling information from travelers who have been there recently, this group is quite useful, plus is also a great place to meet other travelers who are traveling in Pakistan at the same time as you.
72 – Sign up to The Karakoram Club Facebook Group – With over 80,000 members (mostly Pakistanis) this is an awesome forum to meet locals, who will provide you with local tips, as well as a chance to meet up with them. Thanks to this group, I’ve made a couple of very good local friends! One note: ignore the people from this group who wants to sell you rubbish.
73 – Remember that in Pakistan you need friends – Pakistan is not an easy place to travel around. From booking buses to getting permits, friends are crucial for a country where rules are not written. The Karakoram Club is a great place to make local friends. In big cities, especially in Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi, Couchsurfing is also a big deal. Both sites helped me immensely.
Here you can read all my guides and articles about Pakistan
Are you traveling to Iran? Here you can also see all my articles and guides to Iran
And if you are traveling to Central Asia, don’t forget to check all my guides to the Stans
That’s everything you need to know! If you think I forgot something, please let me know! Ah, Ah, and remember that, in Pakistan, you shouldn’t plan too much! Welcome to the country of unexpected events. From endless bus breakdowns to time-consuming check posts, new local friends and paradises where you want to spend ages, during your Pakistan travels, you will realize that nothing will go according to your plan.