Travel, Currency and Money saving tips for Pakistan
Pakistan is often avoided due to political instability. With armed groups targetting everyone from the government to mountaineers, visitor numbers to Pakistan have slowed to a trickle, which is a shame, as this remains one of Asia's most fascinating destinations. The teeming cities of the south lie on a continuum with the ancient cities of northern India, while the rugged north is a wild frontier that has changed only superficially since Mughal times.
What currency to use in Pakistan?
The official currency of Pakistan is the Pakistani Rupee (PKR). If you want to exchange currency within Pakistan US Dollars and Euros are usually mostly accepted. Airports have 24 hour exchange bureaus, and hotels will often exchange cash, both however will usually charge a 3% charge. Banks also offer rather poor rates, making using an ATM the quickest, cheapest and most convenient way to get hold of cash. ATMs will only accept chip enabled cards, not ones with only a magnetic strip on the back. Always make sure you have the newer, undamaged notes, as otherwise they won't be accepted.
ATMs are usually easily available all through Pakistan, however in country areas they are not always reliable. So if you intend to leave the cities be sure to have some cash in hand. In Pakistan, it is mostly expected to use cash so cards are widely unaccepted. Make a point of letting your bank know you are going to be travelling in Pakistan to avoid your card being blocked by your bank, due to card fraud being high in this region.
How to get around in Pakistan?
Pakistan has a myriad of transport options. Train, bus and minibus are most common for long distance travel. For shorter distances use either rickshaws (south of Islamabad), taxis (Islamabad) or Jeeps (north of Islamabad). Pakistan has an extensive rail network. Trains are relativly comfortable, albeit a bit slow. Prices are reasonable, unless you want AC class. It is advisable to book your ticket ahead of time, and with the help of a local. English is rarely spoken, and without help you might end up with a standing-only ticket.
Pakistan’s array of bus options is sometimes dizzying. From crappy minibuses, to bedazzled local buses and a superbly run Daewoo service, you have a lot of choice. Our preference goes to Daewoo, or it’s northern equivalent, NATCO. These services are professional, leave on time and are very comfortable. Definitely worth the extra rupees.
Rickshaws have a somewhat bad reputation, but are a great way of getting around. There are no set prices, though, and sometimes you have to drive a hard bargain. As a basic rule of thumb, the actual price is 50% of what the rickshaw driver quotes you.
Public transport is not considered safe for foreigners, air travel is somewhat safer. A number of original forms of ID are required however, copies will not be accepted.
Travel tips for Pakistan.
People used to say that the risks of travel to Pakistan were overhyped by the media, but recent years have seen a marked upsurge in political and sectarian violence. Most foreign governments now advise against all travel, or all but essential travel, to large areas of the country, and in many places, foreign visitors are required to travel with an armed escort.
Almost everyone needs a visa for Pakistan. Pakistani visas are only issued in your country of residence. Don’t leave home without a visa if you plan to visit Pakistan, getting one on the road is impossible. Pakistan is an Islamic Republic, and its laws are based on sharia law. It has some of the most draconian blasphemy laws in the world. You should always be respectful of Islam and local culture. However, foreigners will hardly be hassled.
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.