Bishkek International Airport, also known as Manas International Airport (named after the legendary founding figure of Kyrgyzstan) is the most popular way to arrive in Kyrgyzstan. If you’re flying into the country, chances are you will be arriving here. The airport is roughly 30km by road from the centre of Bishkek.
In Kyrgyz the airport is known as Манас эл аралык аэропорту and in Russian is it Международный аэропорт «Манас». Interestingly the airport code is FRU, which is quite different from the name Bishkek. This is due to the fact that until 1991 the city of Bishkek was named Frunze, but was renamed Bishkek after independence from the Soviet Union. Despite this the airport kept FRU as its code.
Immigration, Baggage Collection and Customs
After arriving, you’ll need to go through immigration. You can read here about the visa policy of Kyrgyzstan. It’s a relatively straight forward process and there is very little questioning. Luckily Bishkek Airport is quite small, so the distances are much less than in the average international airport.
Next, you’ll need to collect your bags. There are only three baggage carrousels, so you won’t find it difficult to find which is yours. Chances are it’ll be the only one in use at the time. Before you arrive at the baggage carrousels, there are mobile phone providers, taxi services and toilets. There is a duty free shop, although we’ve never seen it open. Alcohol and cigarettes are so cheap in Kyrgyzstan that there’s not much point in them opening anyway.
Finally, you’ll need to go through customs. There are the usual red and green lines, red for those wishing to declare and green for those with nothing to declare. Regardless of whether you head to the green channel, customs officers will often instruct you to go through the red channel anyway to have your bag scanned.
Getting From the Airport
For catching a taxi there are essentially three options. The first is to use the Taxi Desk which is just before baggage collection. The usual price here is around 800 Som, however this desk is not always open.
As soon as you exit customs into the arrival hall, the second option will present itself – haggling with people offering taxis. They’ll obviously try to make as much money as possible so don’t be afraid to negotiate. Even if they seem aggressive there is no chance any harm will come to you, they’re just desperate to compete for business. Once again 800 Som should be the going rate from the airport. Even after you leave the airport there will be taxis who have just pulled up who will come up to you. There have been reports of unofficial taxis trying to scam customers, so if this is the route you take it's usually better to use a taxi who has just dropped another customer off.
Finally, you can download a local taxi app just as Yandex and order a taxi. The rate could be anywhere from 700 Som to 900 Som depending on what time you arrive and how many options there are at the time.
There is a local minibus which runs to and from Bishkek Airport. It is the number 380 and leaves from the front of the terminal. The price is 50 Som. The bus only runs from 6:30am until 9pm, so if you arrive after these times it is no longer an option. The bus drops passengers off in the centre of Bishkek at the corners of Chuy Avenue and Jash Guardiya Boulevard.
Getting a Sim Card
After immigration, but before you’ve collected your bags, the three main providers in Kyrgyzstan all have desks selling sim cards with plans. The three main providers are Beeline, Megacom and O!. They will not only sell you a sim with a plan, but will also put it in your phone for you and make sure it works. Plans range from limited data and calls from 100 Som up to unlimited data plans for 495 Som (about $6). There is no advantage to waiting until you’ve arrived in the city centre as the plans and rates are the same offered everywhere. All three providers are essentially the same price and provide the same coverage so heading to the desk with the smallest queue is your best bet.
One thing to note though is that some providers don’t automatically give the ability to turn on a hot spot and share your data with other devices. If this is the case for the plan you chose all you need to do is pay a small amount extra to turn on that feature – about 40 Som per week, or 100 Som (about $1.20) for a month.
In the arrivals hall after you’ve exited customs there are three money changers. Although the rates offered aren’t as good as those offered in the centre of Bishkek, they are still much better than you’d get at most international airports. Most major currencies are accepted at these as the Kyrgyz Som is a fully exchangeable currency.
Using an ATM
There are around a dozen ATMs throughout the airport, most of which are in the arrivals hall, after you’ve collected your bags and gone through customs. Most major banks in Kyrgyzstan are represented but not all will accept your card. Some only accept VISA, while some only accept Mastercard, some also accepting Maestro. These are displayed on the outside of the ATMs quite clearly. Most of the ATMs charge a fee, ranging from 1% (minimum of 50 Som) to 250 Som, but the machines will tell you before finalising the transaction so you can decline without being charged anything.