Driving in Mongolia

Driving in Mongolia

Having now lived in Mongolia for three years, I have been asked on occasion if I would ever try to get my Mongolian driver’s license.  My response:

“Only if I can drive a tank.”

            First off, getting a driver’s license is a royal pain in the rear.


Step 1- Have all of the required documents

            Valid driver’s license from your country of origin

Official translation of your driver’s license


Letter requesting a driver’s license in English from your employer explaining why you need a driver’s license

Translation of your request letter

Insurance– 33,000 turgiks(13.20USD) annually

  Fee– 37,500 (15USD) turgiks


Step 2- come back a week later and fill out an application

Step 3- come back another week later and receive the license


Now for the cars, and there are lots of cars in Ulaanbaatar, far more than the city can probably handle.  (At least in my opinion)  You won’t see any American brands here either; the vast majority of cars are Asian makes and models, including Nissan, Hyundai, Subaru, Honda and a whole bunch of ones I’ve never seen or heard of before.  I think they might be Chinese.  I did see several Range Rovers, but those things are everywhere, and one BMW.  As for the type of cars, they are predominantly 4 door sedans, followed by larger SUVs, and a smattering of crossovers.  Pickup trucks do exist in Mongolia, but they are few and far between, and most of them are stuffed to the gills moving what looks like deconstructed Gers (Mongolian Teepee).

Mongolian trucks


Common tourist van for going into the countryside

Vans in Mongolia


Another common sight on many cars is the snorkel, which is used to forge small rivers as it allows for fresh air to reach the engine preventing the water from swamping it.

Mongolian SUVs


I think they are common because the Mongolians living in Ulaanbaatar love to get out to the countryside away from the pollution, and off-roading really isn’t a thing in Mongolia.  This is because the Mongolians don’t really make a distinction between types of roads or even if there is a road at all.


School Field Trip

Case in point is the field trip I took my students on to a nearby wind power generating station at Salkhit Mountain outside of Ulaanbaatar.

Ok, we must be getting close
Salkhit Mountain

Driving to Salkhit Mountain


Apparently there is no road

Salkhit Mountain


Well we made it
Driving in Mongolia

Salkhit Mountain Wind power station


Since then I have discovered the true extent of roads in Mongolia.

Total- 40,000km

Road map of Mongolia


Paved- 4,800km
Paved roads

The herd across the road happens in the city too.


Unpaved- 3,900km

Dirt roads in Mongolia


Dirt tracks- everything else

Yes that is a roads sign


Roads in Ulaanbaatar

The road by my apartment I call the Mogul slope because of all the pot holes.  PenDot could take a few lessons from the Mongolians as it was fixed over the summer between my first and second years.

Roads in UB

Not all of them are this bad


This, of course, brings up one of the more interesting facets of living in Mongolia, which is the sidewalk counts as part of the road, since the Mongolians will drive on it to avoid the potholes.  The state of the roads is not entirely their fault, because what roads would last in weather that ranges from negative 40C to 35C?


Mongolian Rules of the road (Official Version)



This does not include the unofficial rule of “if my car is in front of yours I have the right of way” when turning or merging, nor the unofficial language of honking.  In spite, of this I think the Mongolians are good drivers and I’ve never felt worried taking a taxi, even when bouncing across the countryside.  Yes, bouncing, the rides are never smooth due to the state of the roads and cars.  Mongolia is a mechanic’s dream, with the pounding a car takes out here.  Suspensions must be constantly being replaced.

The last topic I must mention is traffic, and in Ulaanbaatar it’s pretty bad.  The main issue is that the city was built for maybe a third of the population it has now (1.5 million).  There are no ring roads, highways, or other major thoroughfares.  Stoplights are few and far between as well.  When going to quiz night downtown, my coworkers and I must leave 3-4 hours ahead of time in order to make it on time.


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