Is Iraqi Kurdistan safe? A Safety Guide (2023)

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Moving to a new country every two years

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Most parts of Kurdistan are safe.

Especially locally, Kurdistan is a very safe place.

Near the borders of Turkey and Iran it is less safe.

Kurdistan (Its Kurdish name is Herêmî (هه‌رێمی کوردستان), is a region that shares borders with northern Iraq, Iran to the east, Turkey to the north, and Syria in the west. Erbil, also known as Hewlêr in Kurdish, is the capital of Kurdistan.

Iraqi Kurdistan is the safest region of Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdistan has rivers, mountains with snow, forests, open grass fields and desert like parts. Some parts can look like you’re in Canada and other parts can be like a typical middle eastern looking sight.

Kurdistan isn’t always in the news in a positive way and many people have a certain view or opinion about the region because of that. But is it all bad? Not at all!

In this travel guide I will share all the things to know before visiting the autonomous region, Iraqi Kurdistan. Yalla! (Which is arabic for “Lets go!”)

Apart from running into a lion at the local pet store, Kurdistan is pretty safe! 😉

Table of Contents

The people of Erbil: The Kurds

First of all, the Kurds! One of the most, of not the most, friendly people I’ve ever met. They are warm, open and welcoming. They are super friendly. It really surprised me how welcoming and friendly they are and also have a good sense of humor.

Within the first few weeks of Living in Kurdistan I was even invited to an engagement party. Besides the friendly people there is some really beautiful scenery and nature there that you would probably not expect.

is Kurdistan open for tourist?

Yes it is. It sure is open for tourists and you can get a visa on arrival. See if you are eligible for a visa on arrival on the official website.

Discover the 21
best things to do in Erbil

How to travel to Kurdistan?

The best way to travel to Kurdistan is to fly to Erbil International Airport (EIA). Many airlines like Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, FlyDubai and Austrian Airlines fly to Erbil.

Is Kurdistan Safe to tavel in 2023?

In short, yes Kurdistan is safe for traveling. But there are different ways to answer this question. Let’s start with local safety and what my experience has been so far.

How are the criminal rates in Kurdistan?

Local crime is very low in Kurdistan. I would say your chance of getting robbed or have your wallet stolen is much bigger in Amsterdam for example. It’s something I noticed quite fast when we arrived in the capital, Erbil.

There are no strange people hanging around on the streets, no gangs, no drug crime and so far I haven’t even seen any neighborhoods that are best to avoid. And I’ve been told that when something will happen, people on the street will immediately help you. It’s part of the culture to help people when you can and to protect the safety of the cities.

You can check out the crime rates of Erbil and compare it with other cities.

As you can see it is quite low and much higher in most other cities. I’ll bet a lot of people wouldn’t expect that!

Is Kurdistan safe to visit for single travelers?

I would say it’s really safe for single travelers to explore Kurdistan. The chance of getting involved in some robbery or other crime is very low. The history of Kurdistan has been dark during the times of Saddam. So people want to have peace and safety in the region and you can really tell that’s the case.

It’s also very easy to start a conversation with people on the street. It’s actually very common to have a small-talk conversation before asking a question! This makes for such a nice friendly vibe.

Is Kurdistan safe to visit for female travelers?

Also for solo female travelers it’s safe. But, I still would recommend to have a friend to travel along with you.

Not because it isn’t safe, but the thing is, there aren’t many tourists here. So, for a female traveler, especially if you are blond, it’s something people rarely see.

Folks might look at you and that can give an intimidating feeling. I’ve been told that because almost all women have dark hair it’s very unique for them to see blond hair and they think it’s just gorgeous. Thus, it’s like a compliment but most travelers probably aren’t used to people staring at you so it can be a bit strange to experience.

Also, if you’re a solo female traveler, people will not try to approach you or make contact. They will just look at you which, like I said, is a bit odd but you’ll get used to it after a while.

Is it safe for Americans to travel to Kurdistan?

The answer to this question is not simple. Kurdistan, which is a region that spans across parts of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria, has experienced political instability and conflicts for many years. While the security situation in most parts of Iraqi Kurdistan has improved in recent years, it is still essential for American travelers to exercise caution and research the current situation before making any travel plans to the region. 

Nevertheless, Kurdistan is the most pro-american region in the middle east.

Perhaps this is why the USA is building the worlds largest consulat of the in Erbil. I’ve seen it and it is huge!

In my experience, as a foreigner, it is safe to visit Iraqi Kurdistan such as Erbil and Sulli. I wouldn’t go waving a flag in the streets or anything but if you behave respectfully people will be friendly and welcoming.

are taxis in Kurdistan safe?

Taxis are safe, but! It is recommended to only used taxis from Careem. It’s like the Uber of Kurdistan. These are official taxi’s that use a standard fee so you know what the price will be, and you’ll never be scammed.

Pro tip, all of the taxis have license plates with Arabic numbers. Download a picture with a translation of the Arabic numbers to western numbers. The Careem app mentions the western numbers, so you have to figure out yourself which taxi with what license plate is the one you ordered.

One time I was in a bit of a hurry to go back from the restaurant to the hotel. I ordered a taxi, and I was waiting beside the road. There were a lot of taxis and at some point, I thought I saw the taxi with the same license plate as it said on the Careem app. I got in and the taxi driver asked me where to go to, which is already odd because it’s in the Careem app. After a few minutes I saw that he didn’t have the Careem app on his phone on the dashboard.

A few minutes later I realized that I wasn’t  in a Careem taxi but in an illegal taxi which is something you really want to avoid because they can scam you in paying too much money.

Lesson learned! So, from then on I always carefully check the license plate with the Arabic and western numbers.

Is it safe to drink Tap Water in Kurdistan?

I would not recommend to drink water straight from the tap. Either buy bottles or those big water barrels and put a tap on it.

But I do use the water to cook food in which so far has been fine, no complaints. I use it to cook pasta, eggs, and rice. For tea or soup, I will use water from bottles.

They say they get most of the water from natural resources like rivers in the mountains of melting ice and snow but It’s still more safe to drink from bottles. Especially since you are abroad it’s always smart to be extra careful.

is it safe to go hiking in Kurdistan?

It is safe within a certain area. Don’t go too close to the borders or Turkey and Iraq. Within the area of Erbil it is very safe. There are many hiking trails you can follow to the top of the mountains just outside the city of Erbil.

A particular nice area is Shaqlawa. It is a small town close to Erbil with many paths to hike. For safety, make sure you go with a group and preferably someone that knows the area.

Is it safe to ride on the road in Kurdistan?

Fortunately, thus far in my experience, riding on the road has been safe with the occasional scare (I’m alright, mum!).

However, I most certainly would not classify the traffic here as safe. The first thing the firm my wife works for taught us when I received training before we began driving here was to always keep your eyes on the road. Although it may seem apparent, changing your route or taking a drink of water might be risky since so many things are going on at once on the street.

There are people crossing the road (highways!) without even looking, taxis drive crazy, and chaotic U-turns. There are so many different cars, scooters and vehicles on the highway that makes you think you’re in real life Mario Kart.

Read the full post on driving a car in Iraq.

Is Kurdistan safe at night?

Yes, Kurdistan is safe at night. Crime rate is very low and that doesn’t change during the night. It’s not like there are gangs or strange people wondering the streets during night-time. Actually, the city becomes more fun and social! Most stores and restaurants are open until 11pm or even 1 am  and it’s very common to see a long queue in front of a restaurant at 10 pm.

There is one thing to keep in mind. It can be a lot busier on the road and on the streets during the evening from around 7p, till 1 am. Therefore, if you don’t like crowded areas, it’s better to do your shopping during the day.

Is it safe to buy alcohol in Kurdistan?

It is! In many countries in the middle-east it’s not allowed to buy alcohol or even being in the same room with someone who is drinking alcohol. That is not the case at all in Kurdistan!

It’s very safe to buy alcohol and there are many places where you can. In Erbil, there are a lot of liquor stores in the area called Ankawa. It’s an area where people with many various religions live.

But there is also the famous German Bottle Shop where you can buy almost any kind of imported beer, hard liquor and also some tasty wines for a good price. The price for a bottle of wine will range from 5 euros to 25 euros. A small bottle of Heineken around 1,50 euro. There are several locations of this store in Kurdistan.

As most of the people are Muslim many of them don’t drink alcohol. However, they don’t mind it at all if you do drink. It’s one of the beautiful things of Erbil, everyone respects each other, and people don’t care what kind of religion you have.

Is it safe to go to a mall in Kurdistan?

As the crime rate is very low it is certainly safe to go to a shopping mall.

There will be a security check at the entrance. So be mindful of that and keep your bag or purse ready to put it in a tray for the baggage scan.

Females will be searched by female security and men by men security.

You might think but wait a minute you said it’s safe and the crime rate is very low. Whatsup with the security?

Well, it’s kind of a service. Most malls are luxurious or at least want to pretend they are. So, in their view, having this security entrance makes it feel special and more luxurious.

It’s like stepping into a VIP club.

Is it safe to eat meat in Kurdistan?

Yes, it is. Many local dishes come with meat like döner, kebab and kofte.

I had a lot of dinners at local restaurants and so far, (fingers crossed) no stomach problems whatsoever.

I haven’t tried any street food yet. I’ve been told its better to just dine at the more well-known restaurants. And I don’t mean Burger King of course.

There are so many big and popular restaurants with local food it’s sometimes hard to choose.

Is it safe to rent an apartment or hotel room in Kurdistan?

It generally is safe, but there is one thing to keep in mind. I would recommend renting a room on one of the lower floors of the building.

This is because there is a risk of a fire breaking out. The air is super dry, it gets crazy hot in the summer and many buildings acquire their electricity from diesel generators.

Thus, these factors are a safety risk. Plus, many people smoke so that doesn’t help either.

Occasionally you can see a huge cloud of smoke coming from somewhere in the city.

Most of the time it’s one of the generators catching fire. Besides that, in the first four months of living in Erbil

I’ve seen quite some fires on the news and social media. So, whenever you want to rent a room tell them you would like a room on the lower floors of the hotel or building.

So, what is not safe in Kurdistan?

The cities in Kurdistan are safe but there are certain areas in Kurdistan that are best to avoid.

The borders

These are the borders of Turkey and Iran. There have been drone attacks and even a few missile strikes in those parts. The situation there is very complicated, and it is not safe to go there (eventho there are some stunning landscapes). This is one of the reasons why many countries advice not to go to Kurdistan.

So, on the one hand it’s safe because the crime rate is very low, but on the other hand there is always this threat of collateral damage of a drone attack close to the border. Cities like Erbil or Sulaymaniyah are really safe but if you want to go outside the city make sure you go with two cars and a guide for extra safety.

Always keep an eye on the website of your government to see what their advice is and what the consequences are of travelling in Kurdistan.


Mosul is not safe to visit. There is a chance of terrorism. The safest cities are Erbil and Sulaymaniyah (also called Sulli).

Read the latest info here

Discover the
mountains of Kurdistan

Should you visit Kurdistan?

Yes! In short: amazing food, culture, architecture, friendly people and gorgeous nature. In the winter you can even go to the mountains to ski which I’m hoping to do very soon! Snowboarding that is, because that is way cooler! 😉 Imagine that, snowboarding in Kurdistan!

When is the ideal season to travel to Kurdistan?

February, March, April or beginning of May are the perfect months to go to Kurdistan. Even January is not bad. It is a bit colder at night but during the day the temperature can still rise to 15 degrees.

After winter, the weather is at its mildest, and the scenery is lush and lovely. Especially in the mountains where there is so much beautiful nature in Kurdistan. It can be a shock for visitors who don’t anticipate Iraq or Kurdistan to be so green.

The summer in June, July and august and even a part of September, is way too hot and dry. After summer, October and November are very pleasant. Perfect weather for flip flops!

Final Thoughts on Traveling in Kurdistan

Kurdistan is a special and unique place with a long and complicated history. Many people, including myself, have an idea of what Kurdistan is like before they go there based on the information they have. But when we go to Kurdistan, we see that the area is very different from what we might have thought.

Many people’s ideas about Kurdistan may be shaped by news stories about war and political instabilllity there.

But when you go to Kurdistan, you see a different side of the area, one that is full of culture and nature. People in Kurdistan are friendly and open, and the scenery is beautiful.

This is a great short documentary on Iraqi Kurdistan:

F.A.Q. Kurdistan

Especially Erbil is a very safe place. There is a very low crime rate and there is political stability as well.

Compared to Europe or the US most of the things are cheaper. But, apartments in the city center are quite expensive.

Groceries at the international supermarket are more expensive as well than at local shops. Overall things will be cheaper compared to Europe.

Most parts are very safe to travel. Closer to the borders or Turkey and Iran it is not safe. Mosul is also not safe to travel.

Friendly people, beautiful nature with mountains and lakes and delicious local food.

Yes, you can easily buy a SIM card in Iraqi Kurdistan at the Airport in Erbil. There are several mobile providers that offer affordable data and call packages.

Yes, Kurdish people are known for their hospitality and friendliness towards tourists. You can expect a warm welcome and helpful attitude from the locals.

Yes, there are checkpoints in Iraqi Kurdistan, especially when traveling between cities or to other regions if you go from Erbil to Sulaymaniyah. Be prepared to present your identification and travel documents at these checkpoints.

A man standing on top of a sand dune with his arms outstretched.

About the author

Chris Oberman is the founder and author of Moving Jack and has been traveling the world for over 20 years to 40+ countries.

He lives in a different country every two years which allows him to gain unique in-depth insights and experiences in new places abroad.

Quoted on, NRC Newspaper, Vice,and Feedspot.

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