Visa Hell

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
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Flag of Uzbekistan  ,
Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Before venturing too far from Tashkent, where any onwards visas were found, I needed to figure out how to travel west. Flying to Istanbul would have been an easy way out--and believe me, I considered it a number of times--but part of traveling is the challenge of making your way across the landscape day-to-day. Besides, the Silk Road travelers of old didn't have an airplane: it was an overland experience.

That left me with four choices.

Option One: Russia
Well, not really a choice, as now Russia has just tightened their visa policy, so you need to get the visa in your home country, or bribe you way through the Mafia machine (but who knows if that's even possible).

Option Two: Iran
I applied for an Iranian visa about six weeks before, but did not receive any reply from the MFA, who carry out background checks on travelers, especially Americans, because of our foreign policy with them (I could easily be a spy). The time had come to make a decision and Iran was then scratched off the list.

Option Three: Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan offers a transit visa, good for only five days. You must specify entry and exit points and exact days of travel. Getting the visa can take up to ten days. From Turkmenistan you can either enter Iran (see choice two) or take a ferry across the Caspian Sea to Baku, Azerbaijan.

Option Four: Ferry from Kazakhstan to Baku, Azerbaijan
This ferry leaves sporadically, everywhere from once every six days to once every two weeks. One Japanese traveler was stranded in Aktau, Kazakhstan for 20 dyas before finally boarding the ship.

So, at squeezed at the crux of the continent, I chose option three.

On Monday, I went to the Turkmen Embassy, but it was closed because of the New Year (I partially expected this, but it was worth a try). The guard said to come on Wednesday. I returned Wednesday, but it was closed. The guard said to come back Friday. It was closed. "Come back in the evening," the guard said, as their hours had changed. I waited in line outside in the dark cold for a couple of hours before the man in the office told me "no transit visa issued to Azerbaijan, only Iran."

This was new news not found on any websites or in the guidebooks: one week of waiting only to be told "sorry." Supposedly a ferry arrived late this past summer, stranding travelers in Turkmenistan, with expiring transit visas--something they didn't want to happen again (have they considered making their visa policy more flexible perhaps?)

For a break from Tashkent, I went to Samarkand for the weekend. There I learned that my Iranian visa had been approved. On Monday, I went back to the Turkmen Embassy and applied for a transit visa to Iran. But the next day, the Iranian agency e-mailed back saying I still had two to three more weeks of processing to endure. My Uzbek visa would expire by then so I abandoned this option...again.

This left option number four, so I needed to get an Azerbaijan visa, which took from between two and seven days depending on the mood of the apparatchik (people described him as almost crazy) and wait for up to three weeks for the ferry. Hold on a second...is this insane or what?

These two weeks continually reminded me of four things:

First, the ever-tightening grip of governments over people's movements, despite talk of "free trade" and under the umbrella of the "War on Terror."

Second, how foreign relations--good or bad--get transferred to visa policies. Thus, countries like Iran put Americans through many hoops.

Third, how thousands of people around the world are seeking a better life, applying for American or Canadian, or Australian or European visas. They must wait months for an answer (but hopefully better lives can happen at home too).

Fourth, that the old Silk Road had its taxes and bandits and bureaucracy too. Government control is a part of life, but one that must be continually checked by the people to avoid Uzbek style "democratic" rule with false elections and more militsia than you can shake a stick at (I don't recommend doing this though).

So I needed another option...

Option Five: Cross Uzbekistan, travel to Kazakhstan to the edge of the Caspian at Aktau, then fly across the Caspian Sea to Baku, where you can get a visa on arrival for $100. This became the only feasible choice, unless I wanted to be waiting for visas and ferries for most of my trip through Central Asia.

At this point, I was tired of the visa game, took option five, and got an easy Kazakhstan visa (thank you, Kazakhstan), processed in one working day and left Tashkent.  At least now I could take a deep breath and move forward.

But visas were only part of the story in Tashkent...
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Comments

viki on

if you want to get tranzit visa in tashkent uzbekistan ou have to pay $100 in ovir. I did it, to get out .

Uzbekistan Visa on

Getting Uzbekistan Visa is the easiest amongst all the CIS countries. For Citizens of European Union, US, Malaysia they do not need any invitation, The citizens can go to the Embassy and get Visa same day. For other Countries Citizens they need Letter of Invitation which takes 10 days to get approval from Uzbekistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

hans47au on

Visas for Uzbekistan
You think they are easy to get ?? Try their embassy in Vienna !! They do not answer the phone, the FAX machine, is no FAX machine, only one of their 2 e-mail addresses works and they have 2 addresses listed.They do not respond to the only way to contact them - one valid email address !! Easy ? It's something I have never seen !! It's a nightmare !!

Vladislav on

Most of the people speaking of problems to get Uzbek, Russian, Iranian etc. visa
just do not really imagine how difficult is to get visa to their own country ;) So it
is always funny to read about "visa difficulties" from them. Believe me, you don't
know what are real problems to get visa look like.

Julia on

Ha! have to agree with Vladislav, people complain that Russian visa application is too long (the whole 2 pages for the tourist visa). But if a Russian is trying to get a UK visa (which takes ages to fill out as the questions they ask are ridiculous, or the working one, which is 53!!!! pages long) or an Australian one (35 pages in application just for the tourist visa!) and you also have to attach banks statements, papers from work, etc.

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