Tourist Denied Entry To Kazakhstan Because New Zealand Isn’t A Country

Filed Under: Travel

This is one of the most bizarre immigration stories I’ve heard in a while. A tourist from New Zealand was detained in Kazakhstan for nearly two days because immigration officers insisted that New Zealand wasn’t a country, and that she needed an Australian passport. At least that’s what the traveler claims.


Per the NZ Herald:

An intrepid traveller was detained in Kazakhstan after immigration officials refused to acknowledge her Kiwi passport, telling her New Zealand was a state of Australia.

“I landed in Kazakhstan on the last flight of the night, and I got to an immigration booth and they asked me for an Australian passport, and told me I couldn’t come in without an Australian passport.

“They said New Zealand’s clearly a part of Australia.”

Phillips-Harris was taken to a tiny interrogation room where there was a large map of the world stuck up on the wall, one that did not include New Zealand, meaning she couldn’t point out where she was from.

After being interrogated for hours she was locked in a guard room for a day and a half.

This is truly bizarre. I have to wonder whether the motivation was that they wanted a bribe, and if that’s the case, you’d think they’d give up once a lot of people became involved, and before they got to the point where they’d detain her for nearly two days.

Or perhaps there’s more to this story. In looking up the visa requirements for New Zealand passport holders traveling to Kazakhstan, it appears as if they need a visa. This can be issued on arrival for those from a country without Kazakh representation (like New Zealand), only in conjunction with an invitation letter. Perhaps she didn’t have one of those letters, or there was some other documentation that was missing or wasn’t adding up.


Ironically I recently visited Kazakhstan, and had the opposite problem. When I boarded my Korean Air flight from Vancouver to Incheon, the agent insisted that Kazakhstan wasn’t a country. She hadn’t heard of it, and even when I spelled it out for her, she couldn’t find it. Then I showed it to her on a map and showed the passport & visa entry requirements. She still didn’t believe me, and insisted it was part of Russia. I told her if that’s the case then my Russian visa should suffice for my visit. She was still confused.

Quite a bizarre story about the Kiwi in Kazakhstan, though. You’d think that of all countries, Kazakhstan would be quite conscientious of lesser known countries, no?

  1. “A tourist from New Zealand was detained in Kazakhstan for nearly two days because they insisted that New Zealand wasn’t a country, and that she needed an Australian passport.”

    Who is “they” in this sentence? The way this sentence reads makes it seem as if the New Zealander insisted New Zealand wasn’t a country – which obviously is not the case.

  2. This happens to DC residents a lot….IN THE UNITED STATES. I’ve heard stories of people even being questioned by TSA that their license isn’t valid because it isn’t from a state.

  3. @Joe if you don’t know who Lucky refer to then you have an issue of comprehension or just trying to pick a fight or pretending you are an English professor with bragging problem.

  4. I used to commute to Astana for a while. Yet to meet someone in the US who knows it is the capital of Kazakhstan

  5. Twenty five years ago, I had a similar problem with my New Mexico drivers license at many bars in states that didn’t border New Mexico. They thought I had a fake ID made in Mexico or something.

  6. My wife has the same problem with her Malawian passport. We had an argument in Istanbul last month when she was asked what Malawi was and why she didn’t have a South African passport.

  7. @Rambuster. LOL. Brings back (sad) memories when in the 1990s I worked in the UK and had the joy of being interrogated by UK Immigration inspectors every time I wanted to enter the county (on a valid work visa). Their standard questions were: “Why have you come?” and “When are you planning to leave?”.

  8. Back in the spring of 1995, I arrived into Dover on the ferry from Calais. The UK Customs Officer asked me how long I planned to be in the UK and how much money I had on me. I told him I planned to travel the country for a month and that in physical cash I had about 500USD worth of currency. He than asked me how I thought I could possibly support my travels with so little money. I told him that I possessed two pretty cool tools that many people around the world possessed, a debit card and a credit card 😛

  9. @Anna

    “This happens to DC residents a lot….IN THE UNITED STATES.”

    No, it doesn’t. There have been a couple of well publicized incidents of the TSA questioning DC residents’ drivers licenses. That’s it. It doesn’t happen “a lot”.

    I’m a well traveled DC resident and it has never happened to me, nor to any of my friends and colleagues.

  10. And here i thought US immigration is famous for stuf like that… “what have you been doing in Syria?” “I have never been there”, “you are coming from Istanbul! So what have you been doing in Syria?”

  11. @Imperator. I didn’t mean it happens a lot with TSA, just a lot generally. I’ve heard two or three stories about TSA, but at least a dozen about it happening in other situations like at bars. Considering it’s the capitol of our country, that’s a lot.

  12. @Rico. When I used to live in DC (about 10 years ago), my wife went to the post office to mail a package to her family in New Mexico and they insisted she would have to pay the international rate until a supervisor came out and corrected the situation.

  13. Well, to be fair, the Australian constitution does define the states of Australia to mean “such of the colonies of New South Wales, New Zealand, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, and South Australia, including the northern territory of South Australia, as for the time being are parts of the Commonwealth, and such colonies or territories as may be admitted into or established by the Commonwealth as States; and each of such parts of the Commonwealth shall be called a State.”


  14. Does the mean the US president is about to call the PM of New Zealand, as if NZ were a real country, and cause a diplomatic incident with Australia?

  15. I have a hard time believing this story. There must be more to it.

    In any case, the traveler needed a visa to enter Kazakhstan if using a Kiwi passport, and she didn’t have one.

    Also, the NZ Herald suggested things were eventually sorted out with a US passport and some cash.

    According to wikipedia, US passport holders do not require visas to enter Kazakhstan for the time being.

    Perhaps the truth is simply that the traveler is a dual citizen and was finally able to enter Kazakhstan after using “her contacts” and getting a new emergency US passport issued from the consulate in Almaty.

    She should probably be thanking Kazakh immigration authorities for not throwing her back on that flight to China.

  16. @Anna: I was thinking the same thing — the US’ own TSA doesn’t even know the 50 states, let alone countries! Likewise, I’ve heard reports of TSA saying Global Entry cards aren’t government-issued IDs.

  17. The thing that impressed me most was that Ben was able to spell Kazakhstan. No slight on Ben, I just know I wouldn’t be able to spell it if asked. I even copied and pasted Kazakhstan from the blog (twice now) rather than trying to type it correctly.

    As for US Immigration officials – have been asked 2 out of 5 trips to the USA if I was from Austria (am from Australia). We are happy here in AUS and NZ with people not knowing where to find us in our part of the world – keeps us safer.

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