Visas and Permits and Borders

In case someone else asks, here’s our experience and plans, so far.

We got our info on visas initially from HM FCO website and Lonely Planet Central Asia book (no, we didn’t cart this considerable tome with us, but after some dithering forked out for the Kindle version as well – zero grammes, but shamefully poorly searchable). This was then filled in on the road with website info, esp Caravanista, and Stantours, who were most helpful by email.

We’ve found these are key resources for getting into a city and starting the application promptly:

  • Stock of passport photos.
  • In Istanbul, both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan consulates offered use of their gluestick to attach photos. Others might require you to bring your own.
  • When is consulate open, and how to get there?
  • Find a local place which can print double sided forms.
  • And scan it after signature.
  • And make colour copies of your passport.
  • And scan other supporting documents.
  • A way of exchanging said docs and scans with the copy shop. I left the UK assuming taking a USB OTG cable and a USB stick sufficed. Wrong! Android is crippled and it takes a luck and effort with your phone choice and apps to get it to work. Also, whatever used, best not use anything you keep confidential data on, we bought a cheap small stick just for exchanges. We wasted ages in Vienna searching for near-extinct Internet cafes, copy shops would have been better. Conversely, in Istanbul suburbs, there are Internet cafes, but few copy shops.
  • Euros (in Vienna) Dollars (Istanbul) as the idiot banks, you must pay at, don’t accept bank cards. In Istanbul, Baku and Bishkek, at least quite a few ATMs will dispense dollars, although bank staff won’t tell you which.

In order of intended travel below. Numbers in () brackets are order of starting application, comma, getting visa.

Turkey: We got an e-visa well in advance, while in Belgrade, as the Uzbek visa application needed it emailed to approve pickup in Istanbul. Easy, cheap, and allows a large time in larger window. (2,2)

Georgia: Not required or at border. Long stay allowed.

Azerbaijan: eVisa arranged by Stantours, started while in Belgrade, emailed to us about 2 weeks later. Stantours charged about €400 for both of us, for this and Uzbek support. Only allows 22 days in 30 window, hope it’s enough. (3,3)

Kazakhstan: Required in case there more than the two weeks allowed without visa, and, we’re told, in order to take ship from Azerbaijan. Did it at Kazakh consulate in Vienna (helpful staff). 30 days in large window, so gettable without exact plan. 5 day turnaround, so given weekend and a bank holiday made 8 days, so we took advantage of Schlengen and cycled off to Budapest without our passports, and one of us whizzed back by train to collect later. This was partly necessary because we wasted nearly a week before we’d got our application ready. (1,1). In the end our first leg in Kazakhstan was about 8 days, the second about 5, so we never neared the 16 day visa free limit.

Uzbekistan: With Stantours LOI (3a,3a), collection at Istanbul took about an hour, including walking to bank and back. Needed $90 each for 30 days/2 entry visa, no window, so we have to get there on time. Awkward hotel registration requirements complicated accommodation,  we ended up with the required slips for most nights, but not all between towns. In the end, nobody asked to see them at the border. (3a, 5).

Tajikistan: Following carefully instructions on Caravanista, and wiser after our self-inflicted delays starting in Vienna, at consulate in Istanbul. Arrived with forms done at 3pm, very helpful staff offered 5 days @ $35ea or on the spot @ $70ea. Chose latter, rushed to nearby bank, dollars in hand, were out with visas by 5:15 or so. As Uzbek, 30 days and no window, but the winter will drive us from the mountains anyway. (4,4). We got GBAO permit electronically via the CBT VisitAlay in Osh, think the Bishkek CBT could also do it.

Kyrgyzstan: Not required or at border, 60d permitted, the 60d restarted when we returned from Tajikistan.

China: None. We would love to go via the Kakoram HWY route but it will be winter so impossible AND HM FCO advise against part of the Pakistan part AND the Chinese won’t issue visas outside home (to be exact, residence) country.

Pakistan: Omitted for reasons stated for China. The last problem, the Pakistanis also apply themselves.

India: Bishkek, before flying to Delhi. A very positive experience, after carefully following the instructions. Took about 2 days to get the initial appointment. Then 5 working days to process; but they didn’t need the passport during that time. Originally offered 3 months, but a discussion around the winter’s England tour raised this to 6/triple entry. Payment in cash, local currency, unfortunately extra charges for UK, but ATM is over road. EVisa not suitable as too short a visit allowed. (6?, 6?)

Myanmar: Is easing up on its previous restrictions. Some cyclists are now managing to get through from India, to Thailand, although it’s not straightforward (ask ZigZag or Josiah Skeates). We got a straightforward e-visa, which I think was $50 and no trouble and 28 days. Well, it was difficult getting the internet in Varanassi to work long enough to do it…

Thailand: Visa exempt on arrival at Mai Sae, 30 days. Extended in Immigration Office, Kanchanaburi, another 30 days, for 1900THB each. Staff helpful, process needs to be preceded by the hotel registering our presence, and us remembering the photos. Between the hotel and the extension, the Immigration staff sent us to another office next door, where they didn’t seem to actually do anything, but appeared to agree it was ok, think it was a sort of confirmation of registration (maybe they phoned the immigration people). Took half a day in total, including returning to nag the hotel & get photos. Looking on Google, Immigration offices are often way out of town: Kanchanaburi’s is only 4km out of the centre.

Indonesia: 60 day tourist visa, with a generous window to use it, obtained from the Indonesian consulate in Penang, Malaysia. It took two visits spaced apart a few days. See here. It is apparently extendable, but one has to stop somewhere for 10 days plus to do so. 

Australia: EVisa approved almost instantly whilst halfway down Sumatra. Free.

NZ: Not required, but at entry, or boarding flight, apparently we must show an onward ticket. 

USA: ESTA applied for and granted whilst in Sumatra.