Visas

Visas are the one thing that we underestimated when we first starting thinking about the trip, and it can sometimes cause huge headaches or douse your enthusiasm. Although we have different passports (Nate's Australian and American; Jieming's Hong Kong), the only difference is the number of visas required. For budget travelers, it is possible to do all visas on your own, if you have the time and patience. Below are our steps and some tips:

  • Figure out what visas you need
  • gather info for each country (consulate address, opening hours, documents required, fees) 

Useful links to do that: 

Visas and documents are required: Visa HQ

Address and locations of embassies/consulates around the world

For those who have extra cash to burn and would rather not deal with visa issues themselves, there's the Visa Machine, which charges an arm and a leg for their services, but saves you a lot of trouble.


Plan ahead, but not too much

The amount of visa's jieming needed (30) stressed him out a lot at first because he likes know everything is ok --and definite-- ahead of time. To keep organized we used an excel spreadsheet and tried to get in touch with as many local consulates by phone and email. However, through this it became apparent, that getting all your visa's in your home country is neither practical nor convenient; instead look in to where you can get visas along the road and look online for other people's experiences.   

 

What's more important is to figure out what documents are needed and how long it takes to obtain such documents. Two such documents are:

  • Letter of Invitation (LOI). Central Asian countries (all the 'stans) require official LOIs that are verified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs  (MFAs) in the capitals of the respective countries. The easiest way to obtain the LOI is through a travel agency. The agency will write a letter explaining what you want to do in the country, providing your basic information, listing the dates that you plan on visiting the country, in addition to other information. The agency will take the letter to the MFA, who then decides whether or not they want you in their country. If they do, they will issue a reference number for the LOI. The MFA will then send the reference number to the consulate in the city that you plan to obtain visa. Make sure that you follow up with the travel agency and have them confirm that the MFA has sent the number to the consulate. It can take 2-3 weeks for the LOI to be issued, so plan accordingly.
  • Vaccines. African countries require proof of your vaccination book (yellow book) before they give you the visas. These can be obtained at most hospitals or vaccination centers around the world. 



Our Experience

Kyrgyzstan

The Kyrgyz visa can only be obtained earliest one month before your visit. Jieming obtained his LOI through the travel agency C.A.T. Travel, contact details below, cost is USD 80. They are somewhat responsive, but be sure to pester them to confirm that the MFA has sent the LOI to the consulate where you plan to apply for the visa. Jieming's was sent only after three failed visits to the consulate in Beijing. 


Jie had to re-apply for his Kyrgz visa in Almaty. Once he had the LOI, the process was done same day. 


C.A.T. Travel

PIC: Enn Raginskaya

124, Chui Prospect, Bishkek, 720040, Kyrgyzstan

Tel.: (+ 996 312) 663 664, 663 665

Fax: (+ 996 312) 900 420

E-mail: travel@cat.kg,  outgoing@cat.kg   

Website: www.cat.kg

 

Tajikistan

Done in Beijing (Jieming) and Washington DC (Nate)

Letter of invitation. In both China and the United States Tajik embassies a letter of invitation was required; in Almaty it was not. Nate obtained his  through the Orom Travel and the service was excellent. Orom issued the LOI  for USD 25 with a reference number and payment will be done in person when he arrives at their partner hostel, Yeti Hostel, in Dushanbe. Jieming used a travel agency and it was much slower and more expensive. oromtravel@gmail.com.


And again in Almaty (Jieming & Nate)

Our Tajik visa's were going to expire by the time we would be there, so we had to get new visa's issued in Almaty. The process is fairly painless. Neither Jie nor Nate (applying on an Australian passport) needed an LOI. Processing was 4 days after some haggling with the officer, who will ask you a high price that you need to haggle down. We paid $85 USD each. Despite the corruption, a fairly nice guy who speaks some English. Not many people at the embassy. 

 

GBAO permit. Be sure to ask for the GBAO permit if you want to visit the Pamir Highway. Jieming got his for free in the Beijing consulate, because not many tourists go to Tajikistan, and even fewer want to visit the GBAO region; in the US embassy this cost USD 50 .