Pakistan has endured several bomb attacks over the last few years against security forces, so called western institutions e.g the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad and has seen the public assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto upon her return from exile. Currently these attacks are increasing due to increased military action against the Taliban. For the ordinary traveler it's a fairly hospitable country but social protests tend to turn violent and political demonstrations are always sensitive. Before traveling you should check with your embassy about off-limits areas, the latest political & military developments and keep an close eye on current issues with independent news sources.
Stay away from military convoys as they are a potential target for suicide bombing. Similarly, going near military or intelligence facilities can be dangerous.
Carrying firearms can land you in police custody, except if you get a special permit from a relevant authority.
Use common sense and a healthy dose of courtesy when in conversation with Pakistanis. Kashmir is a particularly sensitive topic and best avoided altogether. Discussion about religion and Islam should remain respectful and positive — some Pakistanis are not tolerant of other religions, and if theirs is spoken about negatively, it could result in violence.
The line of control between Azad Kashmir and the Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir is off-limits for foreign tourists, though domestic tourists can visit Azad Kashmir without any restriction but should keep their identity cards with them.
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas & all regions near the sensitive Afghan border should not be visited at any time by foreign tourists, as the Pakistan government has little to no authority in these areas and cannot aid you in an emergency. If you do have reason to visit, seek expert guidance, including that of your embassy, who can advise you on the special permissions required.
Peace has returned to Swat Valley and the army holds full control with lots of Foreign Nationals working in the form of NGOs. Road infrastructure was destroyed due to the 2010 floods but the army does massive efforts to restore the infrastructure. Balochistan is considered dangerous and not fit for travelers due to increased kidnappings of foreigners.
Prostitution has no legal recognition in Pakistan. Moreover despite growth of male prostitution, homosexuality is outlawed in the nation. Under Section 377 of the Pakistan Penal Code, whoever voluntarily has "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal" shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than two years nor more than ten years, and shall also be liable to fine. Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offense described in this section. Arrests are not common for homosexuality evidenced by a vibrant gay nightlife existing in many metropolitan areas.
The visitor should be aware of the ever changing rules regarding sensitive areas and No Objection Certificates NOCs, Note Verbals and other permissions and paperwork some in officialdom deem necessary for your to travel around the country. The most notorious NOC regulation is for foreigners to enter Kashmir, with the intention being so the security services can keep track i.e. follow foreigners to make sure they don't visit places they shouldn't. Outside Kashmir diplomats are the primary user of NOCs and theoretically the normal tourist should be exempt. However those in officialdom can view all foreigners with suspicion and demand an NOC when you step of a plane or out of a bus. NOCs need to be applied for through the Ministry of Interior, however if you are traveling on a non-diplomatic passport you should be fine - but its good to be aware of this nonetheless.
Finally be aware of sensitive areas. You may see road signs in English saying 'no foreigners allowed beyond this point' - for example on the road to Kahuta near Islamabad - if you see and need to pass one of these signs at the very least stop at the nearest police station and see if they will let you pass speaking Urdu an advantage here or turn back and find another route. Typically restricted areas are those with nuclear or military installations nearby. Kahuta southeast of Islamabad, and the Sakesar hill station near the Amb temples in the Salt Range are two restricted areas the visitor may stumble across. Getting caught in a restricted area will mean a lot of wasted time, embarrassment and possible involvement of your embassy.
Visitors are strongly advised to refrain from drinking tap water; many Pakistani locals themselves drink boiled or purified water. Take every precaution to drink only boiled, filtered or bottled water. Tap water is known to contain many impurities. Ice is usually made from regular tap-water, and may be even harder to avoid. Fresh milk from the carrier should be boiled and cooled before consumption. Non-pasteurized dairy can spread tuberculosis. Be careful of the people with a hacking cough. Haleeb Milk, Olpers, and others are trusted brands and are available at most grocery stores.
Take precautions against malaria, which is spread by mosquitoes. The first and most effective way is to avoid getting bitten, but if you plan to stay in a place where malaria is common, you may need to eat prophylactic medicine as well. The risk of getting Malaria decreases with higher altitudes.
In the summer it gets very hot. Be careful to stay hydrated. Temperature ranges between 40C to 50C in June-July. But as soon as Monsoon rains set in during Aug-Sept months, it gets to around 30C but with high level of humidity.
Do not eat food that has been lying out for some time, as high temperatures speed up deterioration. Avoid posh but unfrequented restaurants.
Some Pakistani dishes can be very spicy! Always notify your host, cook or waiter if you can not take very spicy food.
Beware of the dengue fever in the summer, especially during the monsoon Jul-Sept. It is caused by mosquitoes and can be fatal. The most widespread outbreaks of dengue are expected in the Punjab province.
Almost all nationalities require visas. These are usually easier to obtain in your home country, though recently the individual missions around the world have been given more authority to issue visas without checking in with Islamabad, which should help in getting applications turned around quicker.
Recently a list of 24 "Tourist Friendly Countries" TFC was announced that are eligible for one month visas on arrival if they travel through a designated/authorized (http://www.tourism.gov.pk...) tour operator who will assume responsibility for them while in the country. Any extensions on this type of visa must also be done through the tour operator. They include: Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, UK and USA.
Nationals of most other countries and those not wanting to travel with a tour operator and group need to apply in advance for a visa, which are usually issued for 30-90 days depending on nationality and where you apply. Double-entries are sometimes given, but be clear and persistent when applying that you need this.
A handful of countries are issued visas on arrival: Iceland, Maldives and Zambia for 3 months, Hong Kong, Nepal and Samoa for 1 month, while Tonga and Trinidad and Tobago nationals can stay for an unlimited amount of time.
Nationals of Israel are not allowed entry as it is not recognized as a nation by Pakistan and most other Muslim countries, but there is no restriction on Jews holding passports from other nations. Despite much online information to the contrary, Israeli stamps and visas would usually pose no problems for entry into Pakistan, though you may be subject to more stringent questioning by immigration officers.
Indian nationals can apply for 30 day tourist visas but must travel in a group through an authorized tour operator. Visitor visas to meet relatives or friends are more easy to obtain, and come with some restrictions. Religious visas are granted for groups of 10 or more for 15 days.
Nationals of Afghanistan are refused entry if their passports or tickets show evidence of transit or boarding in India.
Holders of Taiwan passports are refused entry except in airport transit.
Business visas are now being issued for up to 5 years, multiple entry, as soon as 24 hours before arrival.
The Pakistan Consulate in Istanbul does not issue visas unless you are a resident of Turkey, although it may be possible in Ankara.
The consulate in Zahedan in Iran no longer issues visas, head for the embassy in Tehran.
The High Commission for Pakistan in New Delhi issues visas with varying degrees of difficulty, taking at least 1 day and sometimes several to process the application. Applications are only accepted in the mornings from around 9-11AM. Arrive early and expect the process to take a few hours, and possibly a few return visits. Window 5 is for foreign tourist and business visas under the big white sign.
People of Pakistani origin living overseas are granted 5 year multiple entry visas along with their spouses, good for single stays of up to 1 year. Visas aren't required at all if they are holding a Pakistan Origin Card POC or a National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis NICOP.
Urdu is the national language and is spoken throughout Pakistan as lingua franca. In addition to Urdu most Pakistanis speak their regional languages or dialects such as Punjabi, Pothohari, Sindhi, Pashto Pushtun, Balochi, Saraiki, Shina, Burushaski, Khowar, Wakhi, Hindko etc.
English is the official language used in all government and most educational and business entities, and is also understood and spoken at varying levels of competence by many people around Pakistan, especially the upper classes and people who have gone through higher levels of education, and those residing in the larger cities.
Pakistanis pride themselves on their tradition of hospitality to guests mehmanawazi in Urdu, milmastia in Pashtu, puranadari in Punjabi. When entering a house, you will often be showered with tea, sweets and gifts — it's considered ungrateful to refuse these. Finishing a meal involves a delicate balance.... cleaning your plate will invite more to be served, while leaving too much may be a sign you didn't care for it. Aim for leaving just a little, announcing you're full, and heavily praising the food.
Most of the Pakistani women don't usually interact with strangers. So, don't get embarrassed if they avoid communicating with you.
Business tends to move slowly, and will often be preceded by a lot of socializing, tea drinking, and meeting of the family. Rushing to the point may be considered rude, and even sour the deal.
Pakistan is a conservative country and it is advisable for women to wear long skirts or trousers in public Pakistani women wear the traditional shalwar kameez. But in the big cities, women wearing jeans and khakis is not very uncommon sight, especially in casual settings, shopping malls and around picnic spots. Dress codes for men are more lax, though shorts are uncommon. Men should never shake hands with or touch a woman they don't know very well.
As with most of South Asia, you should use your right hand for eating, shaking hands and giving or receiving everything including money, and reserve your left hand for handling shoes and assisting in toilet duties.
Cybercafes can be found on virtually every street corner and the rates are as low as Rs.15-20 per hour. They usually don't have a very fast operating system, so don't be too impatient! 14" monitors, Windows 2000, Windows 98 or Windows XP are usually installed and most of the cafes have an internet connection with a decent speed.
Internet Access can be obtained easily on notebook computers with the help of GPRS enabled mobile connections, supported by almost all of the 5 mobile operators. Mobilink provides EDGE based connection in very limited areas of Karachi, however Telenor's coverage of EDGE is wider. The standard cost of GPRS/EDGE usage is Rs 10 - Rs 18/MB data transfer but Zong offers Rs 15/hour, however if you wish to download much more you may want to use unlimited packages, provided only by Warid, Mobilink and Telenor at this time. World Call and Ufone also offers USB Modem.You can also subscribe to GPRS/EDGE bundles, which drops the price really low. (http://www.ufone.com/mobp...)
Wateen, Mobilink Infinity, WiTribe, and Qubee are WiMax internet providers. National telecommunication company PTCL offers a USB EVo device for very fast internet connection.
There are Wi-Fi hotspots all over Pakistan, in hotels, malls, cafes and restaurants.
The country code for Pakistan is +92 if you are calling from outside the country. Phone numbers are seven digits long with two digit city code in larger districts, and six digits long with three digit city code in smaller districts, for a total of nine digits as a standard nationwide except for Azad Kashmir. All mobile numbers, however, are seven digits long and begin with a four digit city code "03XX", where XX indicates the cellular provider. Thus Pakistani mobile numbers are linked to one particular cellular provider, NOT one particular city as in some other countries. Therefore the city prefix should not be dialled in addition to the cellular prefix. As in many countries, omit the initial zero when dialing a city or cell code from outside Pakistan and prefix the '92' country code after dialling your country's international access code. Thus Telenorâ¢ cell number 7654321 dialled from the USA/Canada would be 011-92-345-7654321 and Peshawar landline 2345678 dialled from France or the UK would be 00-92-91-2345678. The int'l access code for outgoing calls from Pakistan is 00.
PTCL (http://www.ptcl.com.pk) offers landline and wireless phone services.
Public Call Offices can be found all over the country. You will find a PCO in nearly 50% of the general stores where there is usually someone who operates the phone and fax. Fees will be charged according to the time spent, and you will pay when you have finished your call.