With Europe left behind the craziness of getting Asian visas started. After much googling and forum searching I reached my plan of attack for the central Asia visa game and therefore created my route. Here is my practical country by country guide to how I got visas, bear in mind I have a UK passport:
Turkey – This is now super easy because it’s all done on-line and costs USD20, gone are the days of needing 15 pounds in physical sterling currency and all the hassle at the border. Take you print out and go straight through!
Georgia – This is visa free so nothing needed at all for 90 days, just walk through and smile!
Azerbaijan – The visa can done online but I understand this process still needs to be completed by an agent. It also takes up to 5 weeks at the moment with no updates or indication of where it’s at. That’s a worse case scenario but it’s not worth the risk. I decided to get it remotely through an agent in Tbilisi, Georgia called Medea Travel, the person I have dealt with is called Irakli and he has completed absolutely everything for me, charging a decent amount of USD160 via Western Union (which he needs up front!). He needs a scanned copy of passport, one scanned picture and some basic info via email. He also needs two weeks notice, then I simply walked into his office in Tbilisi and dropped off my passport. I returned that same evening and picked up my passport with visa attached. Money well spent for ZERO hassle, I highly recommend them! Remember when in Azerbaijan that you MUST register within 3 days at a hotel or face deportation, Greg I was travelling with got deported, OK he didn’t pay the fine but he almost missed his ferry out.
Turkmenistan – This was struck off my route. I had hoped to get the 5 day transit visa into Uzbekistan because I had initially read that you can apply at the Turkmenistan embassy without your exit Uzbekistan visa in place so long as it is in your passport when you pick the Turkmenistan visa two weeks later. However certainly in Istanbul this is not the case because you need the Uzbekistan visa already in your passport when you apply. Therefore the whole process will take 4 weeks to get both done and I didn’t have time! This rules out Iran and crossing the Black Sea to Turkmenistan.
Iran – As of April/May 2014 British nationals can’t enter Iran without a guide, unless this has changed?
Kazakhstan – This is now visa free from 15th July 2014 until 14th July 2015, so its super simple. I entered Kazakhstan three times visa free, it took a while at the remoter crossings as they weren’t up to speed but a few phone calls and it was all good. Therefore I was effectively forced to get the ferry from Baku to Aktau.
Uzbekistan – This was pretty straight forward in the end! Basically I applied in Istanbul and picked it up in Baku while keeping my passport the whole time. There is an online form that people say needs filling in but it was not needed at the Istanbul embassy. When I completed it online I received an error message when printing. I finally gave up and headed by bike the 12km from the city centre to the Uzbekistan embassy. It turns out there is a guy next door to the embassy who fills the ‘proper’ form in for you at no cost, then with his form, a passport photo and a photocopy of your Passport picture page it was submitted.
Only US passports need a copy of all stamped pages of passport. The consulate took the form and pick up was either one week later in Istanbul or pick up in Baku when I got there. No LOI needed at all, it really was easy.
In Baku I caught a bus to the hard to find embassy and dropped off my passport (A huge thanks to Jess who helped me out!). Then I was given a slip of paper with bank details for the $75 payment. I jumped in a taxi into Baku and visited the bank at the address given. It is behind McDonalds in the central square. I then returned in the afternoon and waited 2 hours before picking up my passport. You really need another passport picture but I blagged it without. So by doing it in Istanbul you save weeks waiting in Baku meaning you can catch the next ferry!
Krgysztan – This is now visa on arrival as well so no issues getting into there, probably the easiest country to enter.
China – So this is where it all went wrong. I had hoped to pick this up in Bishkek in Krgysztan via the infamous Miss Lui travel agency. It was all fine except that the embassy opens three days a week and was closed for public holidays for TWO WEEKS!! The visa would take another few days to do. It was super bad timing to say the least.
It is also a big gamble because with the unrest in Western China they do sometimes stop issuing visas in Bishkek. I really couldn’t justify a three week wait so I changed my plans. THe border I wanted to cross had actually closed it turned out due to a terrorist attack in Xianjing. I should have got the Visa in London, lesson learnt!
Tibet – This again was a big unknown I had hoped to get a permit in Golmud and travel by bus to Lhasa but this never happened.
Nepal – I retraced my steps west and flew ALmaty to Kathmandu missing China. Nepal was easy with passport photos needed and USD for the fee, to be honest you fill in the form and so long as you have the cash the don’t care much, it was straight forward.
India – This wase obtained in Kathmandu with a bit of faff. First visit you pay your fee and drop off your passport photo copy with a printed form. British then pay three times more than everyone else!
Then a week later you drop of the passport in the morning and return the next day to pick up the passport with visa attached. It is vital that the form is accurate or you will get turned away. The queue is long so get there at least an hour before opening and expect a decent wait watching the monkeys in the trees next door. In the queue you will also meet a classic selection of faux hippies feeling spiritually enlightened on their gap yaaah’s wearing the standard linen attire, extra points for middle class dreadlocks or Henna tattoos. There were also many amazingly interesting adventurers in the queue so have a chat and make some friends!
So that is my visa experience it wasn’t too bad, and it will only get easier in the coming years I suspect.