Traveling in Pakistan
Pakistan has so much to offer in terms of natural beauty, culture, history, hospitality, and a lot more. But the tourism landscape here is still in the development stage, so there can be a lack of proper infrastructure and facilities at times, especially in remote areas.
Everyone except Pakistani nationals and overseas Pakistanis (those with non-resident NICOP cards) need a letter of invitation (LOI) for their Pakistani visa. If you require an LOI for your Pakistani visa, we’re here to help you get started.
Either apply for a Pakistan tourist visa in person or through a visa service at an embassy in your country (see a list of Pakistani embassies around the world).
Pakistan has introduced an online e-visa facility, which is currently available for citizens of over 175 countries. You can apply for an e-visa by logging on to the Nadra website.
You can also check out this blog for more information on how to apply for the Pakistani e-visa.
We recommend applying about 3 months before the trip starts to be safe. Most people receive visas within 2 weeks, and some in as little as a day or two.
Local Norms and Culture
Be respectful of local religion, customs, traditions, and practices. Avoid physical contact between men and women in public. Avoid eating, drinking, or smoking in public during daylight hours during Ramzan (Muslim holy month of fasting).
What to Wear
Pakistan is a conservative Islamic country, which means you need to be careful about the way you dress.
Men and women are advised to cover their shoulders, arms, and legs in public. Men can wear t-shirts and jeans/trousers almost everywhere. Shalwar kameez, the local dress/pants combination, is most ideal… and the most comfortable for men as well as women.
For women, shirts with at least ¾ length sleeves that cover your butt are the norm. Looser shirts that hide your body’s figure are ideal—leave curve-hugging and cleavage-showing clothes at home. Long pants are a must, though tighter clothing like skinny jeans and leggings won’t get you too much attention so long as your butt is covered by your shirt.
In the mountains, you can be a bit more flexible with your dressing as people are used to seeing tourists trekking in all kinds of clothes. We still recommend wearing long sleeves, but you can get away with wearing a t-shirt if walking for the day. Again, still no shorts, please.
Covering your head isn’t necessary outside of mosques, but women should always carry a scarf. You can use it to cover your head in religious places, as well as cover your chest in more conservative areas such as bazaars if you’re feeling uncomfortable.
Facilities at some clinics and hospitals in major cities are close to Western standards. In most towns, and especially in rural and remote areas these facilities are quite limited. In an extremely rare case of a serious injury or sickness, you may need medical evacuation, please ensure that your travel insurance covers this.
Vaccinations for Pakistan
There are no official vaccination requirements for traveling in Pakistan.
If you stay for more than 30 days in the country and exit through Khunjerab Pass into China, officials sometimes require you to take a polio booster before entering China.
WHO recommended vaccinations include:
- Hepatitis A and B
- Polio booster
But, of course, we’re no doctors—it’s best to ask your local physician or travel clinic about what your vaccination options are.
It is rare to see women in public spaces in Pakistan, so do not get intimidated by men who dominate the streets and love to stare. People in the north are usually more open-minded as they are used to seeing more tourists around.
Plan your trip keeping in mind the local and public holidays. Most of the religious events such as Ramzan and Eid are subject to moon sightings. Most tourist destinations get overcrowded during public holidays, so we advise avoiding traveling at these times.
Pakistan has a cash-based economy, especially in remote areas. The local currency is Pakistani Rupee (PKR). International hotels, large stores, and some shops in urban centers usually accept credit cards. ATMs and money exchanges are easily available in urban cities but can be difficult to find in the mountains and other remote areas. We advise having enough cash to meet all your requirements while on the tour before leaving the big cities.
You can tip the guides, drivers, and other individuals who serve you on the trip as per your will. The amount can range from a few hundred to a few thousand rupees depending upon the service they provided. At the restaurants, you can tip around 10% of the bill amount.
It is advised to ensure you have an extra USD 500-1,000 for emergencies (such as extreme weather, natural disasters, or political unrest) or other events that result in changes to the tour plan. The suggested amount is listed in USD for the relatability of international travelers; however, the local currency (Pakistani Rupees) is what you need while traveling in Pakistan.
You will have to acquire a driving license to be able to drive in Pakistan and get used to right-hand drive vehicles.
International airports in Pakistan are becoming more modern (especially in the major and tourist cities). To enter the airport, you must have a copy of your flight ticket and passport.
Domestic flights in Pakistan have strict weight limits – 20 kg of check-in luggage. Flights between Islamabad and Gilgit/Skardu/Chitral are often delayed or canceled due to unpredictable weather. If your flight is canceled, you can try to take the next available flight. Failing that, you can follow a contingency plan to travel by road.
Emergency Contact Information
These numbers are for Islamabad and Lahore only. For local area emergency contact information, our local guide will advise you.
Fire Brigade and Rescue Services
Call 1122 or 16. (Dial city code 051 for Islamabad and city code 042 for Lahore, for calling landlines).
Call 1122 or 115, or go to the nearest hospital.
Emergency helpline 15, or visit the nearest police station. (Always get a police report when you report a crime)
Travel Guide Resources for Pakistan
Travel Blogs/ Vlogs, Facebook groups, and travel guides are a good way of finding out further information about places, sites, and points of interest to visit in Pakistan. Unfortunately, there aren’t many reliable resources available, online or otherwise, for travel to Pakistan. But there are some useful tidbits hidden away if you know where to look!
Travel Guide: Pakistan Traveller by Tim Blight is the most comprehensive and recent travel guide on Pakistan. His blog, Urban Duniya, is full of stories and information from his cultural explorations of Pakistan. You can also check out Insight Guides.
Travel Blogs and Vlogs: Alex’s Lost With Purpose blog is full of all kinds of information and stories about Pakistan. Against the Compass and The Broke Backpacker also cover Pakistan. As far as vlogs go, Polish female traveler Eva zu Beck has covered a variety of places in Pakistan in her vlogs. Migrationology, has a great series of videos on food in Pakistan, as does The Food Ranger.
Books about Pakistan: Sadat Hassan Manto’s work is excellent to get a bit of historical context about Pakistan. Beyond that, Mohsin Hamid is another excellent Pakistani author based in the UK, and William Dalrymple is a travel writer who has also covered Pakistan in his works comprehensively.
Responsible tourism is essential for us. Pakistan is only just developing as a tourist destination, and what we do now sets the groundwork for years to come. Let’s do things right! As the famous saying goes, leave nothing but footprints, thus we must act as responsible travelers even if others do not.
There are some things that you, as a tourist, can and should keep in mind when going around Pakistan.
- Try to minimize your waste, and always dispose of your waste in bins or other designated places, never on the ground. Waste management is a problem in Pakistan, and the best solution is to make as little waste as possible. Bring a reusable water bottle, and fill it with clean water. Say no to plastic bags you don’t need, same goes for straws. Look for snacks you can buy in bulk that use less wrapping and aim to make sure your food and drinks are served on reusable plates and bowls rather than disposable ones.
- Be respectful of local culture. Though some things may shock or concern you, remember that you’re a visitor and it’s not your culture to change. Especially if this is your first visit to Pakistan, just observe.
- Don’t give to beggars, especially child beggars. There will be beggars in many places in the cities. Though they look desperate, please refrain from giving them any money. Doing so makes begging profitable for them, and discourages them from finding more gainful employment or staying in school. If we have food left over after meals in restaurants, we will pack the remaining food and give it to someone in need on the way out.
- Ask permission before taking photos. Photos can be sensitive in Pakistan, especially photos of women. It’s important to ask permission before taking photos of people up close. Use discretion when sharing your photos afterward – avoid sharing photos of children if possible, and think twice before sharing a photo if the subject was uncomfortable taking it. And of course, never, ever force someone to take a photo they don’t want to.
- Women need to be cautious with men. Men are likely going to try and flirt with you in some way, especially if you’re foreign. Often men are interested in finding a partner who can help them get a foreign residency or passport, though they won’t say so of course. Many men also think all foreign women are open to having sex with pretty much anyone. It is important to remember that your actions will affect perceptions of foreign women visiting Pakistan later on.