Although there has been some improvement in Pakistan's public transport infrastructure in recent years, safety remains a major concern when it comes to getting around. Not only have there historically been terrorist attacks aimed directly at public transport, including trains and buses, but traffic congestion can reach epic proportions in Pakistani cities, and the country's drivers have a reputation for being reckless.
Expats moving to Pakistan should use public transport with extreme caution or ideally avoid it altogether, if possible. Most opt to hire a car with a driver instead, which is usually arranged and paid for by their employer.
Public transport in Pakistan
Trains operate within and between Pakistani cities, and are a popular means of getting around the country. While Pakistan's train network does function to an adequate level, it is by no means on par with systems in Europe or North America, so train travel may be a frustrating experience for expats from those parts of the world that are accustomed to a higher standard of transportation.
It's possible to buy train tickets online, but the system is unreliable. It's recommended for expats to buy tickets several days before travelling, should they choose to use trains. Trains have been the target of terrorist attacks in the past, and expats should avoid train travel where possible.
Buses are the most popular means of intercity transport, and most cities also have domestic bus services. Bus travel is relatively cheap, and it’s not necessary to book ahead, as passengers usually pay the bus driver directly upon boarding the bus.
Again, there are some concerns when it comes to bus travel; not only are they often overcrowded, but many have been the target of terrorist attacks in Pakistan. Expats should keep this in mind when deciding whether to travel by bus in the country.
Auto-rickshaws are a popular option for getting around in Pakistani cities. It’s best to negotiate a fare before getting into the rickshaw to avoid being overcharged or disputing the fee later. Due to the pollution caused by auto-rickshaws in Pakistani cities, the government has clamped down on their operations, and some older models have been banned and replaced with more modern, less noisy and more environmentally friendly models.
- For more on train schedules and routes, visit Pakistan Railway's website.
- The Northern Area Transport Corporation (NATCO) is one of the biggest bus companies in Pakistan.
Taxis in Pakistan
Taxis are available in all cities. Expats should be wary through, as some drivers have been known to take advantage of unsuspecting foreigners, so it’s best to negotiate the fare and ensure that the driver switches the meter on before embarking on a journey. Female expats should avoid travelling in taxis on their own, especially at night. It's also safer to arrange a taxi ahead of time via the telephone rather than hailing one from the street.
Ride-share services such as Uber are available in Pakistan's bigger cities such as Islamabad and Karachi. Cars and auto-rickshaws can be hailed via certain apps. Due to traffic congestion, users should expect fairly long waiting times for their ride. It is possible, however, to book in advance to save a little time.
The advantage of using such services is that users can track the whereabouts of their vehicle using the app on their smartphone.
- Uber is a global ride-hailing company with operations in Pakistan.
- For local ride-hailing apps, visit Apni Sawari or InDrive.
Driving in Pakistan
Due to safety concerns, the majority of expats in Pakistan choose not to drive themselves and prefer to hire a car with a driver. This is a prerequisite for many foreign executives and diplomats in Pakistan. Many are even accompanied by an armed escort.
Carjackings are common and expats should avoid travelling at night when the danger is increased. Hijackings have also been linked to kidnappings of foreigners in Pakistan.
Expats can drive with a foreign licence and an International Driver's Permit in Pakistan, but they will eventually have to convert it to a local licence. Expats can continue driving with their foreign licence for the duration of their visa. Citizens from certain countries such as South Africa, Australia, the UAE and Switzerland can simply exchange their foreign licence for a Pakistani driving licence. The process for exchanging a foreign driving licence involves applying at a local licencing authority and proving one's medical fitness.
Only foreigners who do not have valid driving licences from their home countries will need to take begin by applying for a learner's permit, which will remain valid for six months. Thereafter, expats must take and pass a series of computerised tests within six months of obtaining their learner's permit to secure a Pakistani driving licence.
- The National Highways and Motorway Police Department issues most driving licences in Pakistan.
Air travel in Pakistan
There are daily flights between all major Pakistani cities, including Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore. The main airlines include Pakistan International Airlines, SereneAir and Airblue.
Due to the safety and security concerns surrounding Pakistani public transport, air travel is the recommended option for intercity travel.
►Learn more about ensuring a safe stay in Safety in Pakistan
Photo credits: Train in Pakistan by M Sajawal Fareed from Pexels; Driving in Islamabad by Ali Hamza Tullah from Unsplash.
Are you an expat living in Pakistan?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Pakistan. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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