This article provides an overview of Nur-Sultan for those keen to explore the possibility of living and working in the city. The information presented is gathered from open sources and is not exhaustive or meant to supplement or substitute legal and professional advice.
Nur-Sultan, known as Astana before March 2019, is the capital city of Kazakhstan. It is located in the north-central part of the country, along the Ishim River, at the junction of the Trans-Kazakhstan and South Siberian railways. Founded in 1824 as a Russian military outpost, Nur-Sultan became an administrative centre in 1868. Its population had reached 33,000 when it was made an oblast (province) in 1939.
The city grew in importance during the Soviet period by the government’s Virgin and Idle Lands Campaign from the mid-1950s. In 1961, the city was named Tselinograd, meaning “City of the Virgin Lands” in Russian. There was much new construction and the establishment of various research and higher educational institutions such as teacher training, agriculture, medicine, engineering and construction. Following Kazakhstan’s independence in 1992, the city was known as Aqmola. In 1994, the Kazakh government resolved to transfer the national capital from Almaty to Aqmola, a process that was completed in 1997, and the city’s name was changed to Astana (“Capital City” in Kazakh), the following year.
After he took office in 1990, President Nursultan Nazarbayev began spending the country’s oil profits on a drastic expansion and reconstruction of Astana. The government hired Japanese architect Kurokawa Kishō to design the plan for Astana’s new broad avenues and blue and gold buildings, including the Presidential Palace. Nazarbayev also employed British architect Sir Norman Foster to design the new Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, a 62-metre-high pyramid that includes, among other things, a library and an opera house. The city continued to develop rapidly throughout Nazarbayev’s presidency, and, on 20 March 2019, the day after he left office, the city was renamed Nur-Sultan in his honour.
Located in the centre of Kazakhstan, the territory of Nur-Sultan exceeds 722 square kilometres with a population of more than one million. The city consists of three districts – former capital Almaty, Saryaka and Yessil. Situated in the dry steppe zone, which is a sub-zone of dry grass steppes, Nur-Sultan’s climate is sharply continental with cold and long winters and hot, moderately arid summers. Its convenient location in the centre of the Eurasian continent makes Nur-Sultan an economically advantageous transport, communication and logistics centre, described as a “transit bridge” between Europe and Asia.
Nur-Sultan’s metropolitan economy comprises industrial production, transport, communications, trade and construction industries. A leader in construction in Kazakhstan, the capital also leads in the production of building metal products, ready-for-use concrete and concrete building products in the country. After gaining its metropolitan status, 10 million square metres of housing were built in the city.
Facilities such as the Tselinograd car-repair plant, Tsesna-Astyk concern, Tulpar-Talgo LLP passenger-car assembly plant and Eurocopter Kazakhstan Engineering LLP helicopter assembly plant are among the city’s largest enterprises.
With a dynamic entrepreneurial culture, the city is home to more than 128,000 small and medium-sized businesses, making it one of the largest business centres in Kazakhstan.
Nur-Sultan boasts futuristic architecture with a skyline that rivals Dubai’s. The city is also home to educational and cultural institutions, including several universities, an opera, a symphony orchestra, museums and shopping malls. Nur-Sultan is distinctly modern, thanks to President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s efforts to make it a culturally advanced city in Central Asia. The city has been spending billions of dollars hiring international architects, making Nur-Sultan an interesting site with a unique mix of futuristic architecture and Kazakh flair. It is home to many impressive government buildings, such as the Presidential Palace, Parliament House and Supreme Court.
Noteworthy tourist spots include the Bayterek, a 97-metre high monument and observation tower completed in 1997. It is meant to embody a Kazakh folk tale about a mythical tree of life and a magic bird of happiness. The height of the tower commemorates the year that Nur-Sultan became the nation’s capital in 1997.
Unveiled in 2006, the Khan Shatyr is a giant, glowing tent built in the neo-futurist style. Standing at 150 metres, the tent has an enormous 140,000 square metre base. Inside, it houses a park large enough to fit 10 football stadiums. It also has numerous shopping and entertainment venues, a boating river and a mini golf course. Designed by British architect Norman Foster, it is the highest tent structure in the world. During the day, it is entirely flooded with sunlight, while at night, the Khan Shatyr is a site to behold, as it is brilliantly lit up by changing colours.
Singapore and Nur-Sultan
In 2016, trade in services between Singapore and Kazakhstan amounted to $40 million, while total bilateral trade in goods between Singapore and Kazakhstan was valued at $133.6 million in 2017. Singapore’s imports from Kazakhstan amounted to $110.7 million, while Singapore’s exports to the country stood at $23 million. As of 2016, Kazakhstan’s cumulative foreign direct investment in Singapore amounted to $2.5 billion, mainly in the financial and insurance services sector, while Singapore has invested $180 million in Kazakhstan.
On 21 November 2019, Singapore and Kazakhstan signed a bilateral investment treaty. The agreement was exchanged by Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon and Kazakhstan Minister for Investment and Development Zhenis Kassymbek, in the presence of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Kazakhstan Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev at the Istana. The treaty sought to support greater investment flows between both countries by protecting the interests of investors from Singapore and Kazakhstan and providing them with more confidence to seize investment opportunities. Another 12 agreements were signed at the Kazakhstan-Singapore Business Forum held at the Shangri-La hotel on the same day.
Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean visited Kazakhstan’s capital Nur-Sultan on 14 October 2019 and held meetings with the country’s leaders. At the meetings, they reaffirmed the warm ties between Singapore and Kazakhstan and welcomed the signing of a free trade agreement between Singapore and the Eurasian Economic Union on 1 Oct 2019. The agreement is expected to strengthen trade and investment links between Singapore, Kazakhstan and the trade bloc, which comprises Kazakhstan, Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Russia. Mr Teo and Kazakhstan’s leaders also discussed ways to strengthen cooperation in areas such as civil service transformation and governance, digital economy and financial technology, legal and judicial exchanges, and people-to-people exchanges.
Singaporean Ms Queenie Lee’s business venture Aveneer, is among a cluster of Singapore companies that has made a mark in Kazakhstan. When she was 22, Ms Lee decided to set up a tour consultancy business in Kazakhstan as she was attracted by the immense potential for tourism in what was then considered an “exotic” location in Central Asia. Other Singapore companies in Kazakhstan include education consultancy Educare, urban planning company RSP Architects Planners and Engineers, and coffee and tea manufacturing company Food Empire.