Consensus is that Central Asian visas are an expensive, time-consuming hassle. Unfortunately this is mostly true …
Anyway, a popular travel blogger – and one I personally have alot of time for – recently emailed me with questions about obtaining Central Asian visas while travelling overland, so figured if he wanted some info – so might others.
Simply, this region continues to hold the world title for: Most Intense Bureaucratic Visa BS (a Communist legacy) but anyhow this can be eased considerably with some advance planning – like 4-6 weeks – prior to actual applications lodged at embassies.
This summary is after much research while on the road and the information has been obtained from travelers and online, then put into use as I traveled across Central Asia.
It represents the best, easiest options – as there are many and not all embassies are uniformed in their regulations and often surly staff are another factor adding to the BS factor
Getting Central Asian visas – traveling from China towards Europe
Visa costs are for a New Zealander and in US dollars (others maybe less; Americans, often more). Info applicable for most western nations (but check latest @ Lonely Planet ThornTree – Central Asia forum here).
You must specify exact entry and exit dates for all visas (except Iran). Tourist visas are one month and extensions are often problematic (except in Kyrgyzstan and Iran).
KYRGYZSTAN – Get visa in Urumqi in China:
No LOI (Letter of Invitation) needed: issued within: 3 days = 700+ RMB (=$110) / 7 days = 300+ RMB / double entry visa = extra 200 RMB
(I passed on it … But it takes 5 days. No LOI. Visa costs $30 in Urumqi, China.)
TAJIKISTAN – Get visa in Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan:
No LOI needed. Receive visa while you wait (30+ minutes) = $75 + 50 som ($2) for GBAO (Pamir permit).
IRAN – Get visa in Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan
(not strictly Central Asia but often on this travel route):
YOU MUST HAVE A LOI (= 40 Euros; valid 3 months) or you’ll wait weeks or be refused. Get it online at various agencies like http://www.touranzamin.com/ or Iranvisa.com and with this application number (approved prior in Tehran; takes 10+ days) you will be able to get it issued same day = 150 euros OR 100 euros = 3 days.
ALSO: You must already have your onward visa for the next country, usually Armenia or Turkey, both of which are easily available on the borders for most western travelers; tell them this at the embassy when applying. No issues.
A 1-month tourist visa is valid for 3 months (- enter up to 90 days after issue date).
UZBEKISTAN – Get in Dushanbe in Tajikistan:
YOU MUST HAVE A LOI (= $40; valid 3 months) go via Stantours.com then apply at embassy with LOI. Issued while you wait = $70. Embassy somewhat chaotic – try having a Russian speaker present.
TURKMENISTAN – get in Dushanbe in Tajikistan:
5 DAY TRANSIT VISA issued in 1 week = $55 (Or: issued within 2 weeks = $35)
Cool, English-speaking Ambassador: gives you 5 days and the exact entry / exit points THAT YOU WANT !!! (an unusual practice for Turkmenistan).
ALSO: You must already have the visa for your next onward country – heading west that will be either Azerbaijan, Afghanistan or Iran.
Note: Tashkent in UZ takes 20 days to issue a transit visa; no express service. To get a real tourist visa visit: www.stantours.com for the procedure: expensive and drawn-out, including a mandatory guide each day @ around $100 / day.
General advice about visas for Central Asia
Central Asian visas cost a packet (for most Western countries), especially when including LOIs and express visa services (often cheaper than sitting around in an expensive city for a week). Budget: $500+.
TAKE CASH as most visa fees are payable in US dollars only (Iran only Euros; Chinese-based embassies will take RMB).
Get very organised beforehand (especially for Uzbekistan & Iran).
With exact entry and exit dates I used a 5-day-overlap between each country, which gave me 3+ weeks in each country for sure, allowing for any problems that might occur on the road. (But a 3-day overlap maybe better).
If continuing onto:
Armenia: Visa on arrival =$10.
Georgia: FREE for 3 months, issued at border.
Azerbaijan: Go to Batumi in Georgia: 5 days to issue = $100, and no LOI (according to one traveler).
Afghanistan: Dushanbe in TJ – same day issuance = $50.
Hope this saves the stress and BS. Central Asian visas are easy to obtain – with a little planning. Central Asia is amazing … ENJOY.
Travels in Central Asia – 2011-12
UPDATE – 2013
Kyrgyzstan is now VISA-FREE for many nationalities.
AND for EU citizens: Armenia is also visa-free.