Where to get visas on the Silk Road

Last updated – June 2013

GEEK ALERT: This post will probably not interest you in the slightest if you are not also planning a trip across the ‘stans of Central Asia. (These kind of posts will appear from time to time, where I basically get to indulge my list-making-inner-geek by publishing ‘useful information’ to fellow travellers.)

However, for those who are also planning a trip along the Silk Road, and wondering about the big V-question, please read on.

Of course, V stands for Very Vexatious Visas. Said to be the single biggest headache on this fabulous journey, these little slips of paper seem to take more organisation and thinking ahead than some of the bills that go through Parliament… Well have you seen the state of some of them?

And so after about five late nights, 10 different lists and copious glasses of wine, I finally have a plan of how to get our visas while travelling the Silk Road. Our main problem is that we need our passports for work before we leave so we can’t send them off to get visas before we leave – to take a look at our proposed route click here.

I shall update this list as and when things change, as they seem to do so frequently in this corner of the world. This info is a collation from recent blogs and forums, the Lonely Planet and local travel agents in Central Asia. For your reference, I am a British passport holder… with a big 48-page shiny, new passport. Bring on the visas.

Georgia: EU citizens do not need a visa.
Update: Confirmed, easy border crossing, no visa needed.

Armenia: EU citizens do not need a visa from January 10th, 2013 according to the latest info from the FCO here. (Border is currently closed between Armenia and Azerbaijan and also between Armenia and Turkey).
Update: No visa needed, no fee at border.

Azerbaijan:Pick up in Batumi, Georgia. According to recent blogs, this is very easy to do and only takes 3-5 days to come through. Strictly speaking, British citizens do not need LOIs but they are widely regarded to speed things up… I think we will try without. From the embassy in London it takes 10 working days, unless you are prepared to pay quite a bit more to seed it up by four days.
Update: Easily collected the Azerbaiajan visa in Batumi. I think it would have been next day service if it wasn’t for the fact it was Victory Day when we handed them in so we had to hang around for a few days extra.

Turkmenistan: We have decided to get the tourist visa (you can get a transit visa for a few days, which basically allows you to pass through the country) but we’re hoping to spend about 7 days there. It means we have to book a tour ahead of our visit and be accompanied by a tour guide at all times. An LOI (valid for three months) is required and we plan to get the visa in Yerevan, Armenia, where apparently it only takes a couple of days to come though. The visa will state entry and exit dates and what parts of country you are travelling to – you can enter after the start date and leave before the exit date. Apparently Yerevan is the best option at the moment as Baku is only open two days a week.
Update: The lady in the Turkmenistan embassy in Yerevan was extremely helpful but warned us travellers have been having a lot of trouble at Azeri border (before getting on boat) if Turkmen visa has been issued in Armenia, due to the ongoing conflict between the two countries. She said for some it has been very bad and they’ve had to get their embassies involved as passports have been taken… She recommended we get the visa in Baku, which we will try next.
Update: We picked up our Turkmenistan tourist visas in Baku on the same day… Eventually. Turns out they only open Monday and Friday. Once you get there you have to fill out the forms and then they send you to a bank (a taxi ride away) to actually transfer the cash. Complete hassle but got there in the end. They are open 9-12.

Uzbekistan: Amazingly, Uzbekistan will let us apply for a visa with only a copy of our passport. About 10 days later we will need to go down to the embassy in London with our real passports to get the visa put in. Therefore we shall be doing this before we leave the UK, it will be the only visa we leave with. LOI not normally needed for UK citizens, but it can speed to process up anyway and some embassies will ask for one. We shall try it without. We have been told you can also get this visa in Baku and Istanbul.

Update: We successfully got this visa from London before leaving, they processed it without our passports (just requiring a copy) then we collected it from London with our passports about 2 weeks later.

Afghanistan: Looks like we can get this in Tashkent, Uzbekistan according to the latest information here.
Update: REJECTED! We tried to get Afghanistan tourist visas in Tashkent, Uzbekistan but were told that the system changed two months ago and now visas must be obtained in home countries. They suggested we got a letter from the British Embassy just confirming who we are and requesting the Afghan Embassy assist us in eating a tourist embassy, but the British Embassy in Tashkent refused to do this. Alas, we will be missing Afghanistan out now.

Tajikistan: Need visa and GBAO permit (for Pamirs), which we plan to pick up in Tashkent, Uzbekistan (open 9am – noon) or Baku, Azerbaijan (open 15:00 – 17:00). Baku sounds the easiest option according to various forums, so we’ll try there first. I found this link particularly helpful.

Update: We got this easily enough in Baku. It took about three working days and the embassy opens from 3pm – 5pm Tuesday to Friday. We put our in on Thursday and picked it up on Tuesday. They do not currently have the GBAO permit stamp but have said we can pick it up easily enough in Tajikistan.

Kyrgyzstan: No visa needed for UK citizens according to the latest information here.

Kazakhstan: Collect visa in Baku, Azerbaijan. No LOI required. Easy and cheap to sort here according to this information.

Update: We picked up our Kazakhstan visas in Tbilisi, Georgia. All went without hitch… Very nice lady in embassy. Took about four working days to come through so we went off for a few days and came back.

China: This is our main problem at the moment and I’m not entirely sure what we will do! We have been told by a local expert it has become ‘very tricky’ to get a Chinese visa in Bishkek and Dushanbe. Currently looking into getting a six month visa before we leave the UK. This is a work in progress…

So here’s our plan:

London: Pick up Uzbekistan visa… maybe China too.
Batumi, Georgia: Pick up Azerbaijan visa
Tbilisi, Georgia: Pick up Kazak visa
Yerevan, Armenia: Pick up Turkmenistan visa
Baku, Azerbaijan: Pick up Tajikistan visa
Tashkent, Uzbekistan: Pick up Afghanistan visa

Tips for Getting Visas on the Silk Road

Make sure you have loads of free pages in your passport – we’ll be travelling with brand new ones.
Take loads of passport photos – I’m thinking at least 20.
Keep an eye on the latest information, searching the Thorn Tree forum is helpful but I think this Caravanistan website is perhaps the most helpful of all – after all, things seem to change every day.

If you have any experience of picking these visas up, then pleas share your thoughts below!