Overland truck with passport stamps

Since last year I’ve been researching the visa requirements. I thought I’d describe the requirements for the outward leg of my journey.

Ground work
The research pointed to doing it a number of ways. Get the visas before I left or on the road. As I have an ambitious plan to see as many countries as possible allied to a tight timeframe, I decided to apply in advance so I didn’t have to wait for applications to be processed.

The next decision was whether to apply for the visas myself or get a visa agency to help. Given the complexity and tight time frame I have I decided to get a visa agency to help me out. I don’t have the time in my schedule to wait at embassies for visas to be processed for the next country. I need to arrange 8 visas before I leave London. I looked into the agencies and the prices were similar in most cases. The are a few recommended about such as The Visa MachineTravcour, and VisaHQ.

In the end I chose The Visa Machine. Their website was easy to follow and as they are associated with The Adventurists who I like, I decided to go with them. It was a personal choice. I’m sure the others are just as good. Travcour was also recommended to me.

After a number of initial questions about my itinerary with Julia, I had a pretty good idea of the overall approach. I then selected and paid for my visas all the way to China. Once paid you get access to the application forms along with detailed instructions on how to complete the forms. Many of these were in the local language so the guides were instantly useful. As was the guidance on what was, and wasn’t necessary. Given that I couldn’t afford delays for errors in processing it was a great to have the support for the many questions I had.

There is a specific order that you need to apply to process in a timely fashion. This is due to a number of factors such as when you want to visit, how long you want to visit and how long the issued visa is valid for. Apply to early and another visa might expire before you arrive. Apply to late and face the risk that you will not have you visas in time to depart as planned.

I applied with a UK passport to the London embassies, even though I had a New Zealand passport to choose from as well. Using the passport for the country you are resident in is simpler and often required. All figures are in GBP pounds sterling.

Visa not required for a UK passport holders

Visa: Double Entry
Duration: 30 Days
Price: 92.60 Visa plus 10.00 Russian Tourist Visa Invitation Embassy Fee
Visa Machine Fee: 48.00
Paperwork: Straightforward
Border points: Entry – Donetsk / Exit – Vladikavkaz

I decided to go with a double entry visa valid for 30 days. This have me the option to re-enter Russia if I have a problem crossing the Caspian Sea from Baku to Turkmenistan.

Visa not required for a UK passport holders.

Visa: Single Entry
Duration: 30 Days
Price: 100.00
Visa Machine Fee: 40.00
Paperwork: Straightforward
Border points: Entry – Rustavi / Exit – Baku

I went for a single 30 day visa. I needed to specify the range of dates before and after my planned dates so I had flexibility. A hotel reservation is required and a letter from the hotel to support the application. I made this with www.bookings.com which I can cancel 3 days before at no cost if I wish.

Visa: Single Entry
Duration: 20 Days
Price: 50.00
Visa Machine Fee: 50.00
Paperwork: More difficult and time-consuming. You need a letter of invitation from a Turkmenistan tourist agency (Stan Tours)
Border points: Entry – Turkmenbashi / Exit – Dashoguz

This is probably the most troublesome visa process in The Stans. You can apply for a 5 day transit visa that costs xx but the catch is you have to specify the exact dates when you will be entering and exiting. Married with the fact I’m crossing the Caspian by a ferry from Baku that I can not book, I thought it best to get a tourist visa. The risk is that the ferry is delayed leaving, or delayed docking (it’s not uncommon for rough weather conditions to stop the ferry from docking). The drawback is that you have to hire a guide. It’s added approximately $1,000 USD to my bill for a week. The use of a guide will be very useful for immigration in Turkmenbashi as well as providing general guide services throughout the rest of the journey in Turkmenistan. The visa is for a 20 day period so I have greater flexibility should I have any problems along the way.

To get my visa I needed a LOI from a tour operator. David at Stan Tours came recommended. We developed an itinerary and once agreed I had to transfer a $300 deposit (The rest is payable in cash on arrival in US dollars). It takes 2-3 weeks to process this before to an apply for you visa.
Note: you need you the visas for you entry and exit countries before you can apply for your visa. This meant I need the Azerbaijan & Uzbekistan visas before I applied.

Visa: Multiple Entry
Duration: 30 Days
Price: 64.00
Visa Machine Fee: 31.00
Paperwork: straightforward
Border points: Entry – Khiva / Exit – Tashkent

I have a 30 day multiple entry visa (which is cheaper than a double entry for some reason) which starts at the end of the Turk visa. This is the only one where there isn’t an overlap. His is due to my initial itinerary needing to use the full 30 days. I’ve since applying developed a couple of alternative routes to give me the most flexibility possible.

Visa: Double Entry
Duration: 30 Days
Price: 65.00 Visa plus 50.00 GBAO Permit (required for Pamir Highway)
Visa Machine Fee: 31.00 plus 10.00 (GBAO)
Paperwork: Straightforward
Border points: Entry – Khujund / Exit – Sary Tash

You can apply for a 14 or 30 day single or double entry visa. As I’m planning to visit Afghanistan I needed a double entry. I also decided to go for a 30 day visa as a 14 day visa would have been tight and risked problems if I had any delays. I also need to apply for a GBAO visa to drive in the Pamir highway area in eastern Tajikistan. From there I can drive east and eventually north to Kyrgyzstan.

Visa: Single Entry
Duration: 30 Days
Price: 70.00
Visa Machine Fee: 40.00
Paperwork: Straightforward until they asked for an additional document from my tourist agency at the last minute.
Border points: Entry – Ishkashim / Exit – Ishkashim

I required an invitation letter from a tour company that has been recommended to me. This cost $70 USD on which I paid $35 upfront via Western Union.

This is the one country where you don’t need to arrange anything in advance. Rock up to the border, smile nicely and you’re in. A most pleasant change for the rest of the region.

Visa: Double Entry
Duration: 30 Days
Price: 50.00
Visa Machine Fee: 50.00
Paperwork: Straightforward
Border points: Entry – Almaty / Exit – Almaty

30 day multiple entry visa. I may not even need this visa. If I have any delays in my schedule this is the section mostly likely to be missed. However having a multiple entry visa will give me options if I’m unable to travel through the Caucasus region. I will be able to re-route from Russia to Kazakhstan and then on to Uzbekistan. Unfortunately I would have to miss Turkmenistan as the visa restrictions don’t allow for you to change the border entry points.

Visa: Single Entry
Duration: 60 Days
Price: 109.00 (this was the express service fee to save me a day when I thought I would be close to departure date)
Visa Machine Fee: 31.00
Paperwork: Straightforward until they asked for an additional document from my tourist agency at the last minute.
Border points: Entry – Tourgat Pass, Kyrgyzstan/ Exit – Mohan Pass, Laos

This has been the most complex visa process. The restrictions and costs associated with vehicle overland travel in China are significant and not to be taken lightly. You have to have a guide to support the tour and arrange all of the local permits. The cost is significant as well. However you only need one guide per group. If you can organise a larger group you can reduce your costs as you share the guide costs. I was able to join a group of other travellers that came together on the HUBB overlanding forum. This process has taken close to 9 months to put together. From finding a group, to finding a tour operator, getting quotes, agreeing the itinerary, paying the deposits, and arranging paperwork it has been a slow process. However I’m now part of a group of 2 trucks and 6 bikes from Wales, England, Germany, Australia, Brazil and NZ. It promises to be an interesting experience given I will meet all of these people for the first time on the Kyrgyzstan / China border. We will be travelling together for 35 days. To make this happen you need to be prepared to compromise for the benefit of the group. A major discussion point was the entry date. Once set you can not change this as the Chinese give require a complete a detailed itinerary for your time in China. We had members wanting early June and others mid July. We settled in the middle. Personally I would have preferred another a date closer to the beginning of July but I went with the group decision.

I have chosen an ambitious route that goes through every country in the Stans. Due to time constraints with the China entry date and my departure date I didn’t have a lot of spare time to wait around for visa applications along the way. Therefore I applied to get 8 visas in advance of departure. This will get me as far as South East Asia before I need to apply for another.

The final order that I applied for my visas was:

  1. Russia
  2. Azerbaijan
  3. Uzbekistan
  4. Tajikistan
  5. Kazakstan
  6. Turkmenistan
  7. Afghanistan
  8. China

The inevitable surprise arrived in the form of a request for more information from the Afghanistan Embassy. I quick set of emails, texts and phone to my Afghanistan contact in Afghanistan produce the required letter in within 12 hours. Pretty impressive response time.

I started applying for the visas at the end of January and I received the Chinese visa last, on April 9th, the day before I was due to leave (I actually left on April 13th). It was perfectly timed, though I would have preferred not to have cut it so close.

Collecting the last of my visas from Julia at The Visa Machine
Collecting the last of my visas from Julia at The Visa Machine

The Visa Machine and the lovely Julia in particular were a massive help in the process. It may seem like a lot to pay for their service but it easily saved me days that I didn’t have. In the long run I think it’s better to pay for the service and use the time working to pay for it, instead of doing it all yourself. However if you are not on a tight time schedule then applying on the road is a far cheaper solution.

I still have to arrange the visas for India, Nepal, Pakistan and Iran but that’s another story…

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