Guide rates, how to hire a car and driver, and other budgeting tips for planning a cost effective Mongolia trip in 2024.
Having now lived and traveled extensively throughout Mongolia for the last five years, I’ve seen plenty of first-time travelers to Mongolia make avoidable mistakes when planning their trip. Usually the biggest mistake most travelers make is underestimating how much things are going to cost, and not budgeting accordingly.
Spoiler alert: Mongolia is not the cheap destination most travelers think it is. While booking a night at a ger camp or budget hotel and visiting one of the country’s national parks might seem cheap at first, there are still plenty of other expenses you have to factor in to get to these remote areas. Having an authentic experience in this fascinating country adds up fast when you consider the average costs to travel here.
Another very common misconception is that Mongolia is a third-world country. Mongolia is not a third-world country. In fact, it’s a great place to visit because of the rich cultural heritage, nomadic culture, diverse outdoor activities, and natural beauty. If you ask me, during Mongolia’s summer months I think Mongols are the richest people in the world. The way they live off their herds, producing dairy products as their summer “white foods” diet is actually one of the most sustainable ways I’ve ever seen a local culture live.
As an expat living in Mongolia and a tour guide, I hope this article answers your questions about the daily costs of traveling in this part of Central Asia. Here’s everything you need to know about what to budget for a trip to Mongolia in 2024.
The official currency in Mongolia is the Mongolian Tugrik, or tögrög. It’s represented with the ₮ symbol and sometimes abbreviated to MNT. As of this article update:
Mongolia only uses banknotes and does not use coins. Banknotes start as small as 5 tugrik and the most commonly used banknotes are 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, and 20,000 tugrik. The largest banknote available is 20,000 tugrik.
This guide has the best tips for the easiest way to exchange cash in Ulan Bator →
Staying in the capital city of Mongolia comes with its expenses. Food is at a premium by Mongolian standards and so are accommodations. Leaving Ulaanbaatar your food and accommodation costs will drop drastically, but your transportation and activity costs will increase exponentially.
No matter what your personal choices and travel preferences are, use these example travel budgets to plan for your time in the city. You don’t need to hire a guide to explore Ulaanbaatar on your own. It’s an easily walkable and accessible city full of local markets and tourist attractions for visitors to navigate on their own.
For $30.50 USD per person per day ($213.5 per week), travelers on a budget can easily see and travel in Ulaanbaatar.
Accommodations will average around $22 a night in a hostel, meals can cost as little as $7.50 a day, and public transportation can be used for as little as $1 for a day.
When it comes to fun, off-beat ways to spend your days in Ulaanbaatar, there are plenty of free things to do.
If you’re looking to get this daily cost down even more, the easiest way to do this is to join a group tour. This will bring down your cost of accommodation, local transportation, and other costs that you will now share. Horseback riding trips are usually the cheapest since they are more off-grid and remote, and usually involve a good bit of camping and exploring the wilderness.
For $103.90 per person per day ($727.30 per week), mid-range travelers can comfortably see and experience Ulaanbaatar.
This includes booking a room at a budget hotel for $80 per night, meal costs at $17 per day with a drink included, transportation costs at $3.30, and museum and other attraction costs at $3.60.
For budget-conscious travelers, the best time to visit Mongolia will be June or August. July is the most expensive time to visit because prices become inflated during the Naadam festival.
For $358.10 per person per day ($2,506.70 per week), high-end travelers can comfortably stay in Ulaanbaatar.
This includes accommodation costs at one of the city’s luxury hotels for $315 per night in the city center, meal costs at $28 per day with drinks included, taxi costs at $7.90, and museum entrance fees and activity costs at $7.20.
The short answer is yes, it can quickly get expensive to travel to Mongolia. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to travel here on a budget. If you have the time and patience Mongolia can easily be explored on a backpacker budget. Plenty of people have.
There are however a few things to keep in mind, such as visa costs, travel insurance costs, airport transfer costs, and local SIM costs.
Single entry 30-day visas cost on average $50 to $70 USD, depending on the country the citizen is from. Check now and see if your country is on Mongolia’s visa-free travel list.
For any sort of adventuring or traveling outside of Ulaanbaatar, I highly recommended for travelers to purchase travel insurance before their trip. Some local tour companies, like mine, even require it. Not only does it protect you in case of an accident on the road, it covers you in case your baggage is lost, your trip delayed or cancelled, or a piece of your gear is stolen.
Travel insurance policy costs range from as little as $30 to a couple hundred dollars, depending on the length of your trip and desired coverage.
Travelers can easily book an airport transfer for as little as $19.50 through online travel services like Viator. Unless the airport transfer is included in your stay the hostel, guesthouse, or hotel you booked, don’t book your airport transfer through them. Their price is usually much more expensive and can be anywhere between $35-60 USD for an airport transfer.
For travelers with a limited budget, the cheapest way to get from the airport to the city center is by public transportation. The buses are in good condition but will take more than two hours. The cost is 10,000 MNT. You can find the bus schedule from Ulaanbaatar Airport in my complete airport transfer guide.
A local SIM card with 8 GB of data and unlimited texting and calling will cost 15,000 MNT from Unitel.
Flights are usually the second biggest expense for any trip to Mongolia, after the tour cost.
There are a limited number of airlines and flight paths to Ulaanbaatar, meaning travelers pay a premium. Your best bet is to book early for the best prices and flight options.
Expect the price of an economy seat on a flight from the US to Mongolia to cost anywhere between $1,500 to $2,000. In recent months Turkish Airlines has been showing the cheapest flights, but they won’t appear on flight trackers like Google Flights.
Budget flights from Seoul have recently launched on Jeju air, and flights from Hong Kong are usually the most reasonably priced. MIAT offers nonstop flights from Hong Kong to Ulaanbaatar on Tuesdays and Fridays for about $260 USD.
An internal round-trip ticket on domestic flights will cost as low as $150 USD and can be as expensive as $450. When searching for a domestic flight, look into flying with MIAT, Hunnu Air, or Aero Mongolia.
Yes, if you eat at a small, fast-casual local restaurant. No, if you eat at some of the city’s more upscale restaurants. Most restaurants in Ulaanbaatar accept credit cards.
For example, when I’m in Ulaanbaatar I like to eat most of my meals out. I tend to go to restaurants that serve American, European, or Japanese cuisine.
Eating lunch out in Ulaanbaatar doesn’t feel like such a splurge, you can find great deals because most restaurants offer set-price lunch sets. If you’re strictly looking for a budget-friendly option, the local buuz stalls are cheap and convenient.
Here’s a breakdown of my most common food costs when I’m in Ulaanbaatar.
In 2024, expect the average price range to hire an English-speaking local guide to be around $80-$100 USD per day.
When hiring a tour guide in Mongolia, please keep these two things in mind.
This answer always surprises people. It’s cheaper to hire a driver with a car than it is to rent a car.
The daily rate to hire a driver with a UAZ Bukhanka russian van, or a furgon as they’re more commonly called locally, is currently 200,000 tugrik per day. That’s about $58 USD a day. Drivers with a Land Cruiser 200 or Alphard luxury mini-van can be hired for roughly the same rate, but you’ll pay more in gas expenses. Especially during long drives. It’s best to hire a driver in the major cities like Ulaanbaatar, Murun in northern Mongolia, or Bayan-Ulgii in western Mongolia.
Be aware this price does not include fuel, your driver’s meals, and your driver’s nightly accommodations. Which you are responsible for covering.
To put fuel costs into perspective, one full tank of fuel for furgon will cost about 20,000 tugrik or $60 USD. These vehicles have small tanks so you’ll need to fill up often. It’s a good idea to have enough cash on hand to pay for gas in the local currency, especially in smaller soums (towns).
Hiring a driver with a Prius will cost roughly the same daily rate, but you’ll save on gas. The downside is that Priuses aren’t as capable off-road, despite many Mongolians’ best efforts. It’s a great way to travel around the city and to make day trips, but I don’t recommend it if you’re planning to cover long distances.
Renting a car in Mongolia will cost you on average at least $200 per day. Plus, car insurance, fuel, and a security deposit around $1,500 to $2,000 if you’re renting from Sixt Mongolia.
First of all, Mongolia is not an easy destination to get to. If you’re traveling from anywhere outside of Europe, like from the United States, long flights and even longer layovers mean making the most of any Mongolia travel plans.
Not to mention, things in Mongolia are very remote and hard to reach. Those things take time. It takes at least four days to drive from one end of this beautiful country to the other!
To put that into perspective, if you’re interested in visiting the Tsaatan tribe, the last tribe in the world that rides reindeer, you’re looking at a three day journey just to get to the tribe. And then, three days back. That’s six days alone just to get to the Taiga and back.
Add in a day on each end in Ulaanbaatar after landing and before flying out.
If you plan to spend three days living with the tribe, that means a total 11 days are necessary for this Mongolia itinerary. No extra sightseeing, no stopping to smell the Mongolian wildflowers.
No matter how you decide to see the country, I recommend at least 7 days on the ground in Mongolia. If you have the time, 10 days is more ideal.
Revisit my daily budgets above for a better idea on actual prices for a week trip or more done as independent travel.
When it comes to traveling with a tour company in Mongolia there are basically two options: luxury or budget. I happen to be one of the few people who offer all-inclusive tours for a mid-tier budget. My tours cost $3,500 USD for seven to ten days on the ground, everything except international flights included.
The most popular and well-known luxury tour operators are Nomadic Expeditions. Their trips cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 and include five-star hotels, luxury transportation, private chefs, and the most knowledgeable guides in the country. If you have the money, and you want to see Mongolia without lifting a finger, these are the guys to do it with.
For travelers on a budget, every hostel and guesthouse sells tours at the lowest possible cost. Usually from $500 to $1,500 USD depending on the experience, destination, and number of travel days. The more people you can convince to travel with you, the lower the cost. For example, driver daily rates are fixed. So, whether you’re traveling solo or in a group of five, hiring a driver will cost you the same amount.
The best place to search for cheap Mongolia tours is on Viator →
Absolutely. I might be a bit biased, but Mongolia is one of the most wild, thrilling, and captivating destinations you can visit in the world. Whether you head out on a Gobi Desert Tour, you want to spend time with the Golden Eagles in western Mongolia, or you want to search for wild horses in Khustai National Park, there’s no other place or culture like what you’ll find in Mongolia.
And, at the end of the day, a place where travelers on any budget can find the perfect experience.
Author: Breanna Wilson
Hi! Sain uu! I’m Breanna, an American travel writer and adventurer living in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for more than 5 years. I’ve written for and been featured in Condé Nast Traveler, CNN, Forbes, and the New York Times, among others. Read more of my Mongolia travel articles here.
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