A Fistful of Visas
Let’s talk about visa applications. Our little red passport is lovely, since many countries do not require a visa to visit. However, for most of where I will be going, a visa is still necessary. To avoid the hassle of running around hunting for the consulates and embassies for this next upcoming long one, I’ve started picking my way slowly through the visa jungle. I’ll update this post with the results.
- Dropped by the China visa application office at Raffles Place. Application took all of 5 minutes. Come back in 4 working days.
- Then went to the Pakistan High Commission. Seems that visas can now only be applied in home country, with validity of 90 days. Not good news for me, because If I apply now, my visa would have expired before I cross the Pakistani border. KIV – will try applying in China.
- Wrote in to submit application for Letter of Invitation for Uzbekistan from one of the travel agencies. 14 days required to process, upon confirmation of payment.
- Decided to join in the North Korea tour. It’s the Great Leader’s 100th birthday, and I want an invite to the celebrations! Sent in my details so that they can apply for a North Korea visa.
- Confirmed North Korea tour with deposit, visa application ongoing!
- Apparently the Uzbek LOI can only be done closer to entry date, from mid-Mar onwards. Not good, since I will not be in Singapore by then. Wrote in to them to see if there is some way to get it done earlier.
- Picked up China visa. Success! 6 month multiple entry China visa. *Dance dance!*
- The Kazakhstan embassy. Dropped by the Kazakh embassy and applied for a 1 month tourist single entry visa. I was the only one at the Consular section, and after a brief interview by one officer, was told to come back on Friday.
- Doh! Kazakh visa not ready. Took half day off-work, travelled down to the embassy just to find out it’s not ready. What gives?! Come back Wedsnesday. OK.
- On a more positive note, the tour agency wrote back and said they will be able to apply for my Uzbek LOI after all. Takes 10-12 days, after which I need to apply for the visa, which takes another 5-10 days. I hope there are no unforeseen issues, I have no buffer days. =/
- A Russian LOI is obtainable, and I can apply in SG. Should I? If I do I will enter up through the mouth of the Volga.
- Got my Kazakh visa! Had a friend pick up the visa from the embassy for me. Thanks W! *Dance dance!*
- Waiting for news of the Uzbek LOI now. Expected arrival in my email: 14th – 16th Feb.
- On another note, I don’t understand why customs officers chop all over the passport page, the entry and exit chops can take up the full page. Normally if they are prudent, 6 chops can go in one page. At the rate they are using up my passport, I won’t have any free pages by the time I reach the Middle East…
- Wrote in to ask about the LOI, and voila! Got it tonight. Early by a few days. Woohoo! Next up, a visit to the embassy!
- Armed with a passport, LOI, a couple of passport photos and the visa application form, this intrepid traveller wannabe made his way to the Uzbekistan embassy. The embassy guy is friendly, and tells of the Uzbek government which has just opened a new solar energy research facility in Tashkent. And they are interested in visiting the plant I work. Wow!
Travel Info: my visa applications for central asia
The below applies to Singaporeans, and was correct at time of writing.
Application for 6 month multiple entry tourist (L) China visa. The process is pretty straightforward. Fill up an on-line form at http://www.visaforchina.org, and make an appointment. On the appointment day, bring the form, a photo and your passport. The lady issuing queue number will just check to see whether the form is filled up correctly. No return ticket or hotel booking was required. Regular collection will be 4 working days. Fee for a 6 month multiple entry visa is 70 SGD. Each entry for a maximum of 60 days.
Application for Kazakhstan visa. The Consular services require that you fill up a downloaded form, affix 1 photo, and a letter indicating your purpose of visit, places you will be visiting, type and period of visa, and contact in Kazakhstan. Also, you need to provide proof of employment (a letter from your company should suffice). No onward ticket required. You can apply for future dates of travel. (Mine was 5 months in advance). Cost is 25 USD for a single entry tourist visa. You can either pay by inter-bank transfer or by cash deposit. The latter option is better, since there will not be any extra charges. Going by inter-bank transfer will add at least 50 SGD of bank charges.
Application for Uzbekistan visa. What’s required: 2 passport photos, 2 copies of the application form, a copy of the Letter of Invitation. To get the letter of invitation, you need to contact an agent. I went through Stan Tours, which is probably the most convenient way to do it. The LOI takes 10-12 working days and costs 40 USD, to be paid through Auctionchex (which is the cheapest method with 8% service charge). The visa cost is dependent on how long a visa you need. My 1 month single entry visa costs 75 USD. Also, visit I Have Travel Lust for more useful information. Same thing as the Kazakh visa payment, do it by cash deposit through any HSBC account.
Edited: I’m back from my trip, and thought I would update with information current as of Jun’13. Below is extracted from a forum post I posted.
Thought I’d give an update on all these Central Asian visas.
First some general common-sense stuff
1) Do a bit of research, check online for the embassy webpages, and look for the opening hours. Go there first thing in the morning when it opens.
2) Have you photocopy of passport and photographs ready
3) Print and fill out the application form. Normally you can download the application form online.
4) Find out how much and how to make payment (through bank or cash). Bring USD to pay, and bring exact change.
Probably the easiest of the lot to obtain.
Embassy in Singapore: Easiest to get it here in SG. Takes 3-4 days for a single entry visa. No special requirements just normal documentation (application form, photo, passport copy). You can apply a few months in advance (I applied 5 months in advance!). If you are coming from China, then it makes sense to apply in SG. website: http://kazakhstan.org.sg/
Embassy in Bishkek: Takes around 3-4 working days, open 9-12pm weekdays, closed Weds.
Embassy in Tashkent: Takes 5 working days. You have to leave your passport there, remember to make a photocopy of your Uzbek visa and passport, make sure the Kazakh embassy people stamp their official “This individual’s passport is with the Kazakh embassy” stamp. And be prepared to convince Uzbek police that your photocopy is valid identification. Apply in morning as early as possible. Collections in evening at 6pm.
And like rvn85 mentioned, remember to register within 5 days of entering. I know someone who kena fined 400 USD because he didn’t register…
LOI is needed for travel to Uzbekistan. Got mine from Stantours (http://www.stantours.com/), they are reliable. 40 USD, 10-14 days, pay through T/T (telegraphic transfer).
Embassy in Singapore: You still need an LOI, even if you apply in SG. The Uzbek visa application here in SG is straightforward, though you can only apply up to 3 months in advance normally. Took me 2 working days, 75 USD for single entry. website: http://www.uzbekistan.org.sg/
Embassy in Ankara: This is where I applied for my visa. Easy enough. With the LOI in hand, it was same day collection. I think it was 80 USD for single entry.
Embassy in Almaty: Apparently quite easy to get it here if you have your LOI ready.
Bring lots of USD into Uzbekistan cos the ATMS mostly don’t work. Remember how much you bring in cos u have to declare when u exit. Change money at black market cos the rate is much better (in apr 2013, official 1USD to 2200 soms, black market 1 USD to 2800 soms). Keep all your registration slips from the hotel with you, if you take night trains, keep the train tickets.
Visa free since 2012. Bishkek is cheap, friendly and the best place to sit around and wait for your visas. I used Kyrgyzstan as my base and kept returning there since it’s visa-free. No need for multiple entry visa etc.
This one can be a little more troublesome. If you intend to travel the Pamir Highway route, you need to apply for a GBAO (gorno-badakhstan autonomous oblast) permit. Not all embassies issue this.
Embassy in Bishkek: Best place to apply for the visa. Same day collection, and they process double entry visas with GBAO permit as well. Friendly lady manning the consulate. You need to write a letter of intent, but they give you a template, so you just fill in the blanks. 75 USD (85 for double) + 100 Kyrgyz Som for GBAO permit.
Embassy in Baku: The other place where I applied. Takes 4 days to process, embassy opens Tue-Fri. They only do single entry visas and no GBAO permit.
Once in Tajikistan, there’s no need to register if staying less than 45 days, but apparently some police don’t know that. Good luck tearing your hair out explaining that to them.
Most people apply for the 5 day transit, because you need a guide if you apply for tourist visa. My application got rejected.
Embassy in Tehran: I applied in Tehran. You need a self-written letter of intent. I asked to collect in Mashhad one week later. In Mashhad they said it was rejected, and obviously the guy there doesn’t know why.
To be sure, I recommend going with Valli, the guesthouse owner/agent who can sort out your application for a fee. I suspect my visa got rejected because I listed Merv on my list of places to visit (you should just put the border towns at each end of the country). Edit edit: Apparently as of Jul’13 Valli stopped his visa service. Anyone can confirm?
I’m going to add in the other countries in the area as well:
I went into the Wakhan Valley region of Afghanistan through the Ishkashim border from Tajikistan. Spent a few days in the villages there before going back into Tajikistan (hence the double entry Tajik visa)
Embassy in Khorog: Best place to apply for the Afghan visa. 100 USD for a single entry 30 day visa, issued within half hour. Apparently I was first SG that applied at that new embassy, had to wait longer for them to check if “singaporeans can be issued visas”.
Wakhan Corridor is very safe, but getting down to Fayzabad, which is the nearest big city with an airport to the rest of the country, involves travelling through Warduj district which was dodgy when I was there (18 afghan soldiers killed by taliban in mar’13). Just check the ground situation when there.
You can only apply for the visa from home country. They are quite strict about this now. Many tried, but I haven’t met anyone who got the visa on the road.
Embassy in Singapore: 35 SGD i think, for 1 month single entry visa and you should have an invitation letter. I got mine from Lost Horizons (http://www.losthorizontreks.com/) for 50 USD. Application takes a 3-4 days. Website curiously missing now (used to be http://www.parep.org.sg/), but I found this blog: http://pakhc.blogspot.sg/2012/04/visa-requirements-and-forms.html
The most painless way is to apply for an authorisation code through an agency. The agency contacts Tehran and gives them your application. Then they pass you the authorisation code and you can apply for the visa at whichever embassy with no problems.
Embassy in Trabzon: Best place to get the visa. If you have the authorisation code with you, then it’s straightforward and you can get it within a day. Actually, in Trabzon, you can also get it without the authorisation code. But without the AC, they were only willing to give me 20 days. I took out my AC, and got 30 days easily.
There are several online agencies that issue the AC. I used iranianvisa.com (35 euros). They suck, try using another, I heard visaforiran.com is pretty ok.
The other pain-in-the-ass visa to pick up. The earlier post by Kyrgyz says that Batumi, Georgia is good place to apply. I tried that but the consul’s changed. Now he’s a bored guy who says that its not possible to get it done in Batumi. I think it’s bs, because weeks later I heard from other travellers who managed to get it done in Batumi. In the end I applied in Tblisi
Embassy in Tbilisi: LOI needed. So if you end up applying in Tblisi, go to the travel agency 100m from the embassy and get them to process the entire application. 100 USD for LOI and application. They will sort out everything (at the same time complaining about the Azerbaijan embassy’s constantly changing requirements) The travel agency is Medea Travel (http://www.medeatravel.ge/ website doesn’t have much info, but you can probably email them). I only got 8 days visa (applied for 14 days) apparently because “it is my first time going to Azerbaijan”
I think that’s about it. Other places around there are pretty straightforward. Briefly:
They just made it visa free for EU. So SG is one of few countries left who require visa. 3000 drams, straightforward, visa on arrival at land border.
You can go into NK Republic through Armenia, Get the visa in Yerevan for 3000 drams.
Enter Republic of Abkhazia through Georgia. Visa application is odd. You write to the MFA to request for an entry permit (http://mfaapsny.org/en/council/visa.php). Bring that permit and at customs show to border guards. Once you are in the capital Sukhumi, go to the consular ministry building and apply for the visa. Yes, you only get the visa inside the country. When leaving you need to show the customs your visa.
If you need more info or need to know about border crossings, feel free to drop me a message.