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Pakistan is a beautiful country while worth traveling, but there are a few things to know about visiting there when it comes to eating, drinking, what to wear, and more. This post will help you out!
For more guidance on how to plan a trip to Pakistan, check out this post on the best places to go and getting around.
1. You need a visa!
You most likely need a visa to get into Pakistan (there are only five countries that don’t) and if you are Canadian or American then you definitely do. But don’t worry, getting a Visa for Pakistan has become MUCH easier this year thanks to the introduction of the e-visa. But it still requires a bit of work and documents. I wrote a detailed guide on how to get the visa to Pakistan, which has all the information you need.
2. Getting Money
The official currency of Pakistan is the Pakistan Rupee (1USD = 157 PKR), but it can be difficult to get money out of the ATM using your international debit card. Many banks these days have automatic blocks on their cards when used in certain locations, and in my case, I had to visit several different ATMs in Karachi before I found one that actually gave me money. If you can find an ATM with an ‘Interac Plus” square on it, the chances are higher it will work.
To avoid not being able to get money while in Pakistan, you can try and get it beforehand at your bank at home. I advise doing this with lots of time as they will likely have to order the Pakistan rupees in, and it’s possible they might no have them at all. The next best thing you can do, and something I always do when I’m traveling somewhere, is to take US cash. As much as this sucks for us Canadians, it really is an international currency. You will easily be able to exchange US dollars for Pakistan rupees at a currency exchange once you arrive.
Bigger chains and most hotels will accept visa but many small shops only take cash. Things are pretty cheap in Pakistan though so you won’t have huge expenses when it comes to day-to-day living.
3. Local Language
The official language of Pakistan is English but the national language is Urdu, and many different dialects are spoken in the Northern regions. Most of the time you can get by fine speaking English, especially in the cities. In the more remote areas it won’t be as prevalent, but usually, there will be someone around who can speak English. That said, all locals will appreciate you speaking a bit of Urdu. Here are some common phrases:
- Asalaam-walaikum – Greeting/Well Wishes
- Aap kaise (for male)/ kaisi (for female) hou? – How are you?
- Jee Han/Jee Nahin – Yes/No
- Shukeriya – Thank you
- Maaf kijeah – Pardon me/Excuse me/Sorry
- Khuda Hafiz – Goodbye
4. What to wear
You can technically wear whatever you want in Pakistan, but you might get starred at in the wrong way and may offend some locals. I recommend wearing long trousers and a loose-fitting t-shirt. In the more remote areas, I would wear a 3/4 length sleeve. You don’t need to wear a headscarf unless you are visiting a mosque.
Note on Visiting Mosques
Pakistan has many beautiful mosques that you can visit. When visiting, women should wear head scarfs, and all guests should cover their knees and shoulders, and take off shoes before entering.
I really recommend that you dress extra conservatively while visiting mosques (i.e. have your full body covered). While visiting the Shan Jahan Mosque in Sukkur, one of the most beautiful places in Pakistan, I wore three quarter length pants, a t-shirt, and a headscarf – thinking this would be OK.
Nothing was said to me at the time, but afterward, I posted the picture on my Instagram account and it got reposted by a larger Pakistan travel account. A few hours later, I start getting notifications from people commenting telling me I have shamed the mosque and offended them. It was in no way my intention to do this, and reading these comments wasn’t a fun experience. I felt terrible. It was a lesson to learn, and I will be dressing far more conservatively while visiting future mosques.
Many bathrooms in Pakistan are fine but there are going to be points when you will encounter squat toilets, especially in the more remote places in the Northern region. These generally aren’t very clean, and rarely have toilet paper.
While traveling through Pakistan, you should always carry hand sanitizer and toilet paper. You will be thankful for it many times.
I also strongly recommend bringing medicine from home in the event that you get stomach sick. Almost everyone I was with that was not from Pakistan got sick on our trip at least once. Unfortunately, I was sick for over half the trip and had to go through several courses of antibiotics to get better. Not a fun time when all you have is a squat toilet!
You should ask your doctor for antibiotics to take with you in case you get diarrhea that lasts longer than a couple of days. This is a common practice to give to patients who are traveling to places like Pakistan. They saved me once and I wish I had gotten more before my trip! I also recommend bringing over the counter medication for stomach issues, as well as dehydration salts and pain killers.
6. Staying Connected
You definitely want to unlock your phone before going to Pakistan so you can get a local SIM while you’re there. The data is incredibly cheap and often works much faster than the wifi. You can buy data at local shops.
They sell data in scratch-off cards. You have to purchase the card and then scratch the code on it, then input that code into your phone to load it. It’s a little confusing, but if you ask any local they can help you. Pakistanis are very friendly and always happy to help.
The wi-fi is not the best in Pakistan so one thing you could bring to help is a wi-fi extender. This handy portable device picks up the signal and boosts it to the room your actually in, making a huge difference in speed.
If you are traveling North past Naran you will not really have data. We lost our phone data signal on all networks after driving out of Naran, nor did the wi-fi work at any of the hotels we stayed in.
7. Getting around Pakistan
Pakistan’s tourism industry is still developing and you have to be patient when it comes to getting around. Expect long delays! You can fly between many cities in Pakistan but it’s a more expensive option. A more economical option would be to take the train or local bus.
In the Northern regions, you will have to travel via mini-bus, unless you rent a car or hire a private driver. You can find more information about getting around on my mega-post on how to plan your trip to Pakistan.
Pakistan is an Islamic republic so alcohol is illegal. There are no clubs/bars, or alcohol sold in shops. But if you really want a drink, tourists can buy and consume alcohol in hotels.
You would think without alcohol that the nightlife would be kind of dead but it’s exactly the opposite. Karachi is known as the city that never sleeps and it’s true, there are always people out on the streets at all hours of the night. It’s common to not eat dinner until late in the evening around 10, and locals stay out for much longer than that. I was going to bed before the locals I was traveling with every night (Am I secretly a grandma)?
9. Eating in Pakistan
Pakistan has an amazing food culture but as a vegetarian, it’s not the easiest country to eat in. Their diet has a lot of meat in it, and I almost felt that I was missing out on experiencing the food culture by not eating it. I can say that my fellow travel companions in Pakistan seemed to really enjoy the food! That said, there are some vegetarian dishes and they are delicious, spicy, and fragrant.
The one thing I didn’t love about Pakistan food is that it’s very rich and hardy. This is fine for a few days but after a while it was starting to make me feel sick. You can easily overeat and leave feeling bloated.
Another important thing while eating is to always wash your hands and ensure the fruits and veggies have not been washed in the local water, as this is not safe to drink. Unfortunately, hygiene standards are not the best everywhere in Pakistan and you need to be careful where you eat. Ask locals for recommendations or look at reviews before you pick a place. If in doubt you could always ask to see the kitchen.
Lastly, don’t be afraid of the street food! This was actually some of the best food that I ate in Pakistan, and where I found many vegetarian options.
10. Get ready to be the center of attention
One thing you need to prepare for if you travel to Pakistan is to be the center of attention. The tourism industry is still emerging and there aren’t that many people visiting, so locals really want to talk to you. Get ready to be asked for a lot of selfies, invitations for tea, dinner, even to stay at their house!
Pakistani hospitality is world-class. As their guest, it is an honor for them to host you. Most locals will go above and beyond to make your stay in Pakistan amazing. This is actually quite nice, but if you aren’t used to the attention it can feel overwhelming. Just remember that it’s coming out of a genuine place.
Pakistan is not what you think it is. It’s not some horrible terrorist state or a barren desert. Pakistan is a beautiful country with the most welcoming people I have ever come across. Forget about the bias you know from home, open your heart to the kindness of people here, and you will have an amazing time.