2019 has been a successful year for tourism in Pakistan, with Pakistan easing tourist visas requirements for around 175 countries, allowing backpackers to visit the country without a lengthy visa application process. Pakistan also beat 19 destinations to become the best holiday destination for 2020 as per the Conde Nast Traveller. Even Forbes has listed Pakistan among the top underrated destinations for 2020. Considering all this, you might be extremely eager to see all that the country has to offer, but wait, here are some travelling tips for Pakistan that you should not overlook if you want to make the most of your trip.
Travelling to Pakistan 101
When most people consider planning for a trip to Pakistan, they’re met with an array of tips that can help them make their stay more comfortable. But we decided to take our travelling tips for Pakistan a step further. So, we’ll discuss answers to all the questions that must be going through your head as you plan your journey to the country. We’ll then move on to the general tips that will add more ease and comfort to your trip. So, let’s begin with some of the top questions that you might want an answer to as a foreigner coming to Pakistan:
Is it safe?
Yes. For the most part, Pakistan is fairly safe for tourists, especially in the major metropolises and the northern areas, all of which are frequented by travellers around the year.
Can I drive in Pakistan?
Foreigners can drive in Pakistan if they have a valid driver’s license issued by the country of their residence, along with an international driver’s permit/license, and third-party travel insurance.
How do I get a local sim for my phone?
We’ve covered this aspect in detail below, but in brief, visit the customer care centre of any local sim operator, and they should be able to guide you with regards to the process.
Should I hire a local guide/tour group?
While it is advisable, many travellers have tread through the country solo quite comfortably and safely, and it can be done if you plan it right.
Is the language barrier going to be a problem?
Most city dwellers and people in tourist hotspots are fluent enough in English to be able to communicate with travellers about the essentials. You might have to speak slowly for them to understand your accent, though.
General Travelling Tips for Pakistan
A number of world travellers visited Pakistan in the previous year, and if you check out their reviews on travelling to Pakistan, you’ll be adding Pakistan to your bucket list for sure. This is why we’ve compiled a list of the most important things to know before travelling to Pakistan:
- Plan Ahead
- Learn the Local Language
- Be Aware of the Local Culture
- Pack Your Bags Carefully
- Mingle with the Locals
- Always Carry Some Money in Cash
- Bargain Hard for the Best Deals
- Carry Photocopies of Important Documents
- Stay Vigilant for Your Own Safety
- Stay Connected to the Folks Back Home
- Watch Out for Local Foods and Beverages
Let’s discuss these tips in detail now.
While this tip works for just about any journey you’re taking, it is doubly helpful for a country like Pakistan, where a lack of advanced reservations and bookings can result in unexpected delays. Plan your itinerary as well as your transport and accommodation well in advance. If you don’t want to plan the trip on your own, there are several tour groups operating in the country that will take you to your desired destinations with either pre-planned or custom-made itineraries.
Having a local guide can help you during security checks, in communicating with the locals, as well as in attaining a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) if you want to visit some of the restricted areas in the country. You’ll also need to confirm whether you are eligible for a visa-on-arrival or an e-Visa, in order to come to Pakistan. You can check out our tourist visa guide for more information on the subject.
Learn the Local Language
While most people in the major cities will have some fluency in English, enough to be able to communicate with you, learning a few phrases of the country’s national language, Urdu, is recommended. The effort you make to learn their language is greatly appreciated by the local populace. It will surely help you in understanding them better and communicating with them in the upper parts of the country in the smaller towns.
Learn phrases like ‘Salaam’ (A local version of ‘Hello’), ‘Shukria’ (Thank you), ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ (Long Live Pakistan), and ‘Khuda Hafiz’ (‘May God be With You’, which most of the locals use to say ‘Goodbye’).
Be Aware of the Local Culture
Pakistanis generally have a modest culture, influenced by their religion, Islam. Thus, public displays of affections and revealing attire are rare, with men and women often having separate gatherings even within their homes. Most women will also be hesitant to shake hands with the opposite gender and vice versa.
Along with that, the country is a mix of several ethnicities, with Punjabis, Balochis, Pashtuns, Sindhis, as well as ‘Urdu-speaking’ communities living together but following their private cultural practices and traditions. Respect the cultural practices of the locals that you meet, do not enter a mosque with your shoes on, and dress as modestly as you can, avoiding shorts, skirts, and low necklines.
Pack Your Bags Carefully
The most important consideration when planning a trip to Pakistan is to determine which part of the country you wish to visit and explore, as the terrain, weather, and outdoor activities differ significantly between the southern and northern parts of the country. The southern parts of the country witness hot and humid summers and mild winters, but the northern half has below-freezing temperatures with sudden road closures in the peak winter season.
Thus, one of the most important travelling tips for Pakistan is to pack your bags according to the seasonal requirements and the particular destinations in your itinerary. Travel light but with proper winter gear if you are heading for a trek into the mountains, but light clothing can work well for a summer visit to the southern towns in Sindh. Additionally, it is advisable to travel with some Over-The-Counter medicines (OTCs) for headaches, stomachaches, nausea, and other travel-related conditions, because you might not be able to find the exact brands that you’re looking for in the local pharmacies.
Mingle with the Locals
Pakistanis are hospitable people who love to have guests over for meals and will truly enjoy showing you around town. They will go to great lengths to ensure that you are comfortable and might also insist on paying for your meals or shopping trips. If you are uncomfortable with the kind of attention and kindness being showered upon you as a foreigner, be diplomatic in declining their invites and offers. Revering guests is part of their culture, and they really mean no harm by it in most cases.
Always Carry Some Money in Cash
Pakistan’s currency is the Rupee, and with a cash-based economy, all tourists to the country should consider carrying some cash with them at all times. Plastic money is acceptable at malls, hyper stores, and ATMs, but everyday transport needs are generally met via cash transactions or apps. You can search for some prepaid wallet apps in Pakistan that can help you avoid carrying cash or minimum cash. You should also consider getting your currency exchanged before entering the country or find reliable money exchange companies in larger cities. Avoid the currency exchange at the airports, because they will always have higher exchange rates in comparison to local branches.
Bargain Hard for the Best Deals
Another thing to know before travelling to Pakistan is that haggling for prices is common in almost all the major markets of Pakistan, and it is a haven for bargain shoppers. If you know how to haggle like a pro, you’re in good hands. Otherwise, you’ll need to work hard to avoid paying more than is due for your purchase. Ideally, take a local along with you if you can. Shopkeepers will automatically raise prices for foreigners, and letting a local buy your goods is one way to get fair prices for them.
There are a number of souvenirs that you can collect during your travel to Pakistan that will stay with you as reminders of an amazing trip. You can find souvenir shops in hotels and major metropolises like Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, or customise your orders online from various Facebook pages and get them delivered to your hotel. Local handicrafts remain the most popular souvenir for most tourists.
Carry Photocopies of Important Documents
Make sure you have all the necessary documents before you travel and carry several photocopies of each document with you throughout your journey. You will be required to submit copies of your documents at several check posts around the country. Rest assured that the security staff is generally courteous and welcoming of foreigners, but these checks are for your own safety and not having copies at hand will make it more time consuming than it needs to be.
Stay Vigilant for Your Own Safety
While Pakistan is now a lot safer for tourists, it is always best to plan proactively for the best times to visit places or to avoid certain areas. Heed warnings from the locals and the police. Carry your cash in two to three different pockets and watch out for pickpockets. Avoid using your phone in a secluded area where you might attract the attention of mobile snatchers.
Stay Connected to the Folks Back Home
Several local telecom operators offer their sim cards that will work well throughout the country for local calls as well as internet data packages that will allow you to ring up your loved ones back home. Do your research while planning for a trip to Pakistan and buy a sim upon reaching the country. Get a local to do it for you if you can, as foreigners might be charged more for local sims.
Also, consider the duration of your stay. If you’re staying in Pakistan for less than 60 days, you can use your own phone for the local sim without any issues. However, for a longer stay, as of 2019, you will need to look into the PTA mobile registration process online, which will prevent the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) from blocking your phone for use on a local sim card.
Watch Out for Local Foods and Beverages
Pakistani food is generally spicy, so be prepared to test your taste buds to the limit if you are going for local foods. Foreign cuisine varieties are available in major cities if you want milder options. Always drink bottled water that is sealed tight before you open it. Tap water is not drinkable, and refilling water bottles with tap water is a common practice in many roadside restaurants. Do not drink the water unless it comes from a sealed bottle. Alcohol consumption is frowned upon, and it is preferable to stay sober during your travel to Pakistan. Fruits, dry fruits, biryani, nihari, lassi, and Kashmiri chai are just some of the must-try items here.
You can learn more about the experiences of fellow tourists if you’re a solo female traveller in Pakistan in order to plan your trip efficiently. You can also check out our tips for travelling to the northern areas of Pakistan for a smoother itinerary. Stay tuned to Zameen Blog for more travel and tourism posts. Reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org for any queries and concerns.