Pakistan is one of the most sought-after travel destinations in the world. The country is declared the next big thing in the tourism industry. And, why wouldn't it be as Pakistan has undergone tremendous advancement in the past five years! Pakistan Resumes International Flights If you want to travel to a destination offering a rare blend of versatile adventures, scenic beauty, hospitable people, eccentric culture, ethnic diversity, rich heritage, and delicious cuisine, book your tickets to Pakistan and. The country offers a healthy blend of cultural and recreational activities, from trekking across natural forests to climbing the world's largest mountain range, enjoying water sports, and visiting historical sites and monuments.
To make your trip to Pakistan as comfortable as possible, you need to prepare in advance. This guide will inform you about Pakistan visa requirements, safety precautions, travel information, and the country's basic cultural etiquette.
Before May 2019, foreign travelers' only way to apply for a visa to Pakistan was by visiting an embassy. However, from May 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Pakistan announced the much-awaited Pakistan online visa system. Now travelers from over 175 countries can apply for a Pakistan visa application online without traveling to a local Pakistani embassy or consulate.
Applying for an Pakistan e Visa is a straightforward process. You only have to fill out a visa application form, submit the scanned copies of required supporting documents, pay the visa fees using a debit or credit payment card, and that's just about it.
The visa arrives in PDF format file in your email inbox. After receiving the visa, you must print the eVisa and save its digital copy on your mobile device. Take both hard and soft copies of the eVisa when traveling to Pakistan, along with the supporting documents.
Generally, Pakistan eVisa is valid for up to 3 months single entry and the traveler can stay in the country for up to 30 days and 90 days. This validity period applies to single entry tourist or business eVisas. Multiple-entry tourist or business visas are valid for up to one year. However, on a single visit, travelers cannot stay for more than 30 days.
You can receive the visa within 7 to 10 days, depending upon the type of visa you need and the Pakistan visa fees. If you want a visa within minimum possible time, you will have to pay a slightly higher cost than regular processing time.
Though the Pakistan Visa Requirements of support documents mainly depends upon the traveler's nationality, there are specific documents that every traveler has to provide anyways.
It is possible to receive a Pakistan visa extension for up to months or even more, depending upon your circumstances. The same process should be followed to apply for the visa extension. However, you can only apply for an extension if you already have an eVisa and staying in Pakistan. You cannot apply for a visa extension from outside of the country.
In case you are traveling with a regular visa, you will have to visit a passport office to extend its validity. Passport offices are located in Pakistan's major cities, including Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Islamabad, Skardu, Chitral, and Gilgit, etc.
The documents you will need to apply for an eVisa extension include:
No matter where you are traveling in Pakistan, the single most important rule you must follow is keeping multiple copies of your vital travel documents, including your passport and Pakistan eVisa.
For your information, there are various vehicle checkpoints all along the highways in Pakistan to ensure local and foreign travelers' optimum safety. For instance, if you are traveling to Gilgit City, a popular tourism site in Pakistan, you will pass through at least 12 checkpoints throughout the 17-hour drive via the Islamabad highway. On such long drives, many travelers choose to hand over a copy of their travel documents to the driver to avoid being woken up repeatedly during the night.
Moreover, you may need to provide a copy of your passport in places like Swat Valley or Chitral. The security officials may not stop you if you are traveling in local transport, but to be safe, always keep the original documents safely packed in your luggage and their copies in your backpack or handbag for easy access.
Although traveling in Pakistan is a seamless experience, considering that it offers a versatile range of adventures to tourists, getting appropriate travel insurance is a good idea. Adventures and enthralling recreational activities pose a considerable risk of injury, which is why it is essential to have an insurance cover for unexpected expenditures. So, if you intend to go trekking, better opt for travel insurance covering hiking in high altitudes. And, if you will travel in public transportation more, do get insurance with medical coverage.
There are many different regions in Pakistan, from flat deserts to peaks as high as 8,000m. Hence, identifying seasonal shifts in the country will help you plan your trip accordingly. Here's an overview of the best time to visit Pakistan throughout the year.
(Mid-November to February)
If you want to visit Pakistan's southern region, mainly Sindh province, mid-Nov to Feb would be ideal. Throughout the year, Sindh remains very warm, but during these few months, the weather remains delightful. Winters are generally bearable in this region.
However, to enjoy cold temperatures, head to the north because that's where all the mountain ranges exist. Mountains in Baluchistan and the Northern areas get covered in snow during winters, which is a sight to behold.
From November onwards, the northern region becomes inaccessible due to snow. The Karakoram Highway is your best option to reach the north during wintertime, but it wouldn't be possible to visit side valleys.
(June to September)
Summers are generally sweltering and uncomfortable in the entire country except for the north. Therefore, it's the perfect time to visit the northern region and enjoy trekking in high altitude mountains. Avoid Sindh and Punjab because of the scorching heat that may not suit many foreign travelers.
Mountains are at their best and most accessible during these months. The entire country's weather becomes pleasant during this period. In March and April, you must visit Punjab to enjoy the Basant festivities, which is a festival held throughout the province to celebrate spring.
Autumn falls in Pakistan during different timespans, and weather generally isn't too unpleasant or dry in the southern or south-eastern regions. You can visit all the four provinces and enjoy the scenic beauty of the country's diverse landscape.
During Ramadan, non-Muslims may find Pakistan a daunting place to visit, especially if it falls during summers, which it has been from the past 6-7 years. Ramadan is a holy month of fasting, and Pakistan is an Islamic Republic and has set strict rules for citizens during this month.
Fasting is strictly observed, and eateries and restaurants remain closed during the day. You cannot eat or drink and smoke in public as it is considered indecent and may provoke adverse sentiments among the general public. However, foreigners can carry water bottles wherever they go but find some secluded area to eat food or have food in your hotel room.
Apart from this little inconvenience, Ramadan could be one of the most entertaining months of the year in Pakistan for tourists. All the restrictions are lifted as soon as the sun sets, and you can enjoy the widest variety of snacks and sweets in hotels, restaurants, and cafes, which hold all-you-can-eat feast known as Iftari Buffets.
You may not even need to pay for food because, as the time of Iftari (sunset feast after the breaking of the fast) approaches, people voluntarily start distributing food and gifts to anyone and everyone.
No matter who you are and where you are, in your car, inside a mall, walking on the street or public park, or even at the grocery market, you will get your share of Iftari for free. Malls and shopping centers stay open until the wee hours of the morning, and discount sales are observed countrywide. It is just like visiting any western country during Christmas time. Roads are decorated with lights, and there is an aura of festivity that you cannot afford to miss.
There is a total of nine international airports in Pakistan. The major gateways are located in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. Pakistan International Airline (PIA) is the country's official national carrier. AirBlue and Serene Air are two budget-friendly options.
PIA operates flights between Pakistan and all major foreign destinations worldwide. It covers all the key European destinations from Paris, Milan, and Barcelona to Copenhagen.
Reaching Pakistan by air is relatively easy as British Airways regularly offer flights between London and Islamabad. Mainstream Middle-Eastern air carriers like Emirates, Etihad, Oman Airlines, Turkish Airlines, and Qatar Airlines all provide either one or more daily flights to main cities in Pakistan. Thai Airways offers direct flights to Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad from Bangkok.
Pakistan shares its borders with India, Iran, Afghanistan, and China. You can enter Pakistan through any of these regions except Afghanistan, which is on the western side. Previously Pakistan allowed travelers to enter from the legendary Khyber Pass that connected it to Afghanistan, but this gateway is now off-limits for everyone.
China has the world's highest border crossing, and you can quickly enter the northern and northeastern region of Pakistan via China from the famous Khunjerab Pass. It is the Karakoram Highway's highest point with an elevation of 4.733m above sea level. Please note that the China border in the north remains closed between 31 Nov and 1 May.
On the eastern side, Pakistan shares its borders with India, a country with which its diplomatic relations aren't too cordial. However, Wagah Border is the easiest way to enter Lahore city Punjab province from the Indian city of Amritsar via land travel as several bus operators offer this service.
Iran is located on the southwestern side of Pakistan, and it is possible to enter the country via the Iranian border. You can enter Quetta (Pakistani city located in Baluchistan province) from the Iranian town Zahedan, but it will be quite an adventurous journey, so pack accordingly. Surprisingly to many, Pakistan shares a tiny stretch of its borders with Tajikistan, located on the northwestern side of the country, but there's no open border crossing available.
Traveling within Pakistan is dirt cheap, and there are many options available.
For bus traveling, the luxurious Daewoo Bus Service is your best bet. It operates between all major cities and highways in the country and is the safest option to travel between cities, even at night. Daewoo buses are comfortable, and a uniformed bus host/hostess offers free food, water, and pillows/blankets to all passengers. They also play movies and music to keep the passengers entertained. NATCO is the ideal option to travel in the country's northern region.
Although there are hordes of rent-a-car services and taxi services available, we would suggest that you rely on Uber or Careem for traveling within cities. These are the safest options for foreigners to travel within major cities. The cheapest mode of travel in a town is Rickshaw, which is suitable for a single passenger or a couple. Ching Chis are an extended version of the Rickshaws that can accommodate 6-8 people at once.
Pakistan has an extensive rail network, and you can easily book your tickets online by visiting the official website of Pakistan Railways. The Green Line is the best option for tourists as the rails are comfortable, fully airconditioned, and offer 24 hours free Wi-Fi. Pakistan Railways cover most of the country from the south to the north.
Countless tour operators are offering attractive packages for foreign travelers. However, you should travel with government recognized or accredited tour operators. Intrepid Travel is one of Pakistan's best tour operators if you want to dive into the Karakoram Mountain ranges, Lahore, and Islamabad. The company has recently launched nationwide tour packages with transportation, planning, lodging, and activities included.
In the last few years, Pakistan's security situation has undergone a dramatic improvement. The northern areas, which used to be the hub of terrorist activities, are now all clear and has become a thriving tourist destination. The breathtaking scenery of the north is now an attractive sight for tourists from around the globe. The same is the case with Sindh and Baluchistan.
Now travelers can roam around freely throughout the country without carrying the NOC (no-objection certificate), which previously was compulsory. The country is safe for tourists traveling with travel operators/guides, backpackers, and independent travelers.
However, some areas are still off-limits to tourists, including some points in the Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces and areas alongside the Pak-India border, such as the Neelum Valley in Azad Kashmir (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir). It is better to check with the government officials or check out the government's latest security updates for any other restricted areas.
Pakistani security forces are the best in the world, and you will be duly notified if you will reach a point where your safety may be compromised. There are numerous security checkpoints across main highways, entry points, and border crossing in the country.
The World Crime Index has ranked Lahore as safer than Paris, Chicago, and Berlin. The security situation in Pakistan's financial hub Karachi, has considerably improved. However, you must follow similar safety protocols when visiting Pakistan as you would follow in any other foreign country. Such as take care of your belongings and do not travel along at night. Keep your travel documents safe and protected at all times.
Urdu is Pakistan's national language and is widely spoken across the country. However, over a dozen more languages are spoken in different provinces, as each community has a particular local language. English is spoken almost all over the country. Even the local vendors will understand English if they cannot talk too fluently. But, we suggest that you carry an Urdu-English Phonetic dictionary to make communication even more comfortable.
One of the fascinating facts about Pakistani culture and society is ethnic diversity and homogeneity. Nowhere else in the world would you find such a welcoming attitude towards all nationalities, religions, races, and ethnicities as Pakistanis have. You can expect to meet South Asians, Persians, Ismailis, Afghans, and the peculiar Kalash community in Pakistan. Moreover, Punjabis, Sindhis, Shias from Nagar and Gilgit, Hunzans and Wakhis, Pashtuns, and Balochis. Traveling in this country is like visiting many different states at once.
Pakistanis surely know how to take hospitality to the next level. Hospitality isn't only a part of the country's culture, but a religious obligation as guests are considered gifts from Allah, and hence, Pakistanis treat them as such. So expect to receive free lunches and gifts even from shopkeepers. And, you will be invited for an endless array of lunches and dinners by your hosts/relatives.
As strange as it may sound, Pakistanis have a habit of not letting their guests pay for the meal. They will never let you spend money on food even if you stress. Many find it awkward, but it is their way of showing respect and admiration to the guest.
Shalwar kameez is Pakistan's national dress worn by around 80% of the population. It is an excellent option to wear in hot weather. However, contrary to popular perception, tourists aren't forced to wear shalwar kameez at all, and there's no such dress code for tourists to follow.
Unlike other Islamic countries, there is no obligation for female travelers to wear a scarf all the time except for when entering a mosque or a tomb. Similarly, male travelers can dress up as they want to. Pakistani society is not as conservative when it comes to dressing. However, since it is an Islamic republic, tourists should dress decently, particularly in the tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Pakistan offers a heavenly combination of flavorful meat dishes, fragrant bread called Naan, delectable beverages such as Thandai and Limca, and a unique variety of sweet and savory dishes.
Don't forget to try out Biryani (fragrant rice with meat), Haleem (gravy-type mix of lentils and meat), Nihari (meat stew), Paye (goat hooves stew), and Chapli Kabab (mincemeat patties). Every region in Pakistan has its own fair share of local specialties. Halwa Puri with Chickpeas or Potato gravy is a staple breakfast item in the whole country.
For Pakistanis, tea (chai) is a way of life. They are addicted to tea and have invented dozens of milk tea varieties from masala tea to cardamom tea and even smoked tea. Every guest is first offered tea before and after meals. Tea stalls and dedicated tea cafes are located at every nook and corner of large and small cities in the country. Usually, tea is served with sugar, but it is sipped with salt in Northern areas to keep warm in cold weather.
Chana chaat, a mixture of boiled chickpeas, tamarind sauce, fresh vegetables, and yogurt served with masala powder, is another incredibly refreshing and nutritious dish you must try.
Butt Karahi and Javeh Nihari are not mere restaurants but culinary institutions and offer the best meat dishes, including their specialties Karahi and Nihari.