Visa Information
This section is to help you plan a similar bike trip. If you have any questions, feel free to write to us via our contact page.
When we began planning our trip, we heard stories of how difficult it was to obtain visas for Central Asia. However, we managed to obtain all our onward visas, except China and Turkmenistan, in the Consulates in Istanbul, without too much trouble or delay.
NB. We are travelling on British and Australian passports.
The following information tells you where we obtained our visas and the visa requirements at the time, plus our experience of gaining a Chinese visa in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Turkey visa
For citizens of many countries, including Brits and Aussies, Turkey gives 90 day visas at the border. At the time of writing, it cost 15 euro (other curriencies are accepted, athough at a bad exchange rate). The visa doesn’t allow you to work, although many people still do.
Renewing the visa again and again is no problem, you just have to go to the border. The quickest, easiest and cheapest way to do a border run from Istanbul is to go to Kapikule (one of the 2 borders with Bulgaria) via Erdine. Ulusoy bus company run regular bus services to Erdine for 20 lira one way, which takes about 2-3 hours. From there, catch a dolmus (shared taxi) to the Kapikule border for 2.50 lira, which takes about 20 minutes. If you have some time to spare in Erdine, Eski and Selimiye mosques are really worth a visit.
Caucasus: Georgian visa
British people may enter Georgia for up to 90 days without a visa. We have read that you can extend your stay in Georgia beyond 90 days by applying for a temporary or permanent residence permit from the Civil Registration Agency of the Ministry of Justice of Georgia.
Onward travel: Caucasus and Central Asia
We obtained our visas for Azerbaijan, Kazakstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in Istanbul, without too much trouble or delay. We got our Azeri visa 2 months in advance of travel, Kazakh 3 months, Uzbek 4 months and Kyrgyz 5 months in advance of travel.
We had, however, originally planned to transit Turkmenistan, but this visa was too difficult to obtain at the time, so we decided to cycle to Uzbekistan via Kazakstan instead.
Caucasus: Azerbaijan visa
The Consulate is situated in Levent, only about 3 stops on the Metro from Taksim. Get out at Levent 1. The visa office is open every day, applications should be made in the morning between 9-12, visa collection is in the afternoon between 3-5. Be sure to arrive in good time as there are usually alot of people waiting.
To obtain the visa, you should have a photocopy of your passport, a copy of your Turkish visa stamp, 2 passport sized photos and a receipt of payment from the Is Bank. There is a form to fill in, which asks for a specific date of entry. You can, however, ask for this to be left blank.
Visa costs vary, depending on your nationality. British and Australian nationals pay $101 US, Americans $100, Turks are free. You must deposit the money into the nearby Is Bank (5 minutes walk from the Consulate). Payment must be made in US dollars. (There was no facility to draw out US dollars from the ATM machine here, so you can either change money or draw it out from an ATM near Taksim.)
The man issuing the visas was particularly unhelpful, in fact he made mistakes on both our visas and tip-exed them out!
The visa takes 3 working days to process.
**At the time of writing, no letter of invitation was required for British people. However, we have heard from other travellers that since 5 April 2009, letters of invitation from the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Baku, costing $300 US, are now required for many nationalities! This was the requirement at both Consulates in Istanbul and Tbilisi, Georgia. Obtaining this visa now sounds like a beaurocratic nightmare, with some possible corruption involved. If you can, take some time to organise this visa before you leave, or keep your onward route open incase you have to change plans/direction. Persistence is the key – our French friends managed to avert this costly invitation by working together with their own Embassy. An alternative route via Central Asia is via Iran: There are Iranian Consulates in Istanbul, Kars, Erzurum and Ankara (Turkey) and Yerevan (Armenia). We have heard reports that Iranian visa applications take between 2-5 weeks to process.**
Central Asia: Kazakhstan visa
The Consulate is located in Florya. You can catch the train from Sirkeci (near Sultan Ahmet) to Florya. It’s open from 9–12 for applications and from 3.30–4.30 for visa collection.
You should provide a passport photo and fill in a form. You have to specify the exact dates you want to travel. You have the options of a Tourist or a Transit Visa – the Tourist Visa is valid for a month and the Transit Visa for 5 days. No letter of invitation was required for Brits or Aussies.
For the Tourist Visa we had to deposit $30US each into the IsBank, near the top of Florya Caddesi. The bank charges 12 lira each for this service.
Visa processing time was 3 days.
Central Asia: Uzbekistan visa
The Consulate is in Istiniye, a nice bus ride along the Bosporous Strait from Taksim. It’s open from 10-12, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The official was really helpful. He gave us the options of 30 or 50 day visa, single or multiple entry. We had to specify an entry and exit date, but he gave us flexible dates for a month within a 50 day period.
As well as filling in a form (which asked things like “Material Status”, “Phoone”, and “Do you have punished or found guilty during vizits to Uzbekistan?”), we had to provide a passport photo and deposit US dollars into AkBank. The bank is about 10 minutes walk and charges 5 lira commission for this service. A single entry, 30 day visa cost $80 US, a multiple entry visa will set you back $90, a 50 day visa costs $100.
Australians need a letter of invitation (which can be obtained from a travel agents such as Stantours), but people travelling on British passports don’t.
Central Asia: Kyrgyzstan visa
This was the easiest visa so far! The Consulate is just off of Taksim Square. We popped in at 11am, just to enquire about the visa application process, were told to come back at 2pm with $120 US each, 1 passport photo, a completed form, et voila, our visas were ready and waiting. We had to specify dates, but needed no letter of invitation.
We heard in May 2009 from a French cyclist that he bought a Kyrgyzstan visa in the Kazakhstan embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan and it only cost 30 Euro!
Central Asia: Turkmenistan visa
If you want to try and get a Turkmenistan visa, be prepared to wait a while and spend lots of money! The Consulate is located in Yesilkoy. It’s open Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. The person we spoke to could not speak much English. There are two options, you can go for a Tourist Visa or Transit Visa.
A Transit Visa is sometimes granted for a maximum of 5-7 days with fixed dates and is issued on the grounds of the Iran / Azeri and Uzbek visa. Transit visa processing at the embassy takes 10-14 days and there is no guarantee of approval. Tour companies cannot assist with Transit Visa and no Letters Of Invitation's (LOI) can be issued for them. Some Consulates no longer accept transit visa applications based on a ferry crossing. We think this is because the ferrys are unreliable.
Alternatively, you could try getting a Transit Visa in Tehran, Iran and cross from the land border at Saraghs.
For a Tourist Visa, you should go through a travel agency so that they can provide you with an invitation letter (LOI). You will also need to make a detailed service booking with fixed dates. The minimum cost of this will be about USD 100-130 per day per person for a standard overland routing. This is negotiable if you join up with other clients.
With this visa, you are free to move around Ashgabat and its surropundings on your own, but everywhere else our car & guide are mandatory. Processing this invitation can take 2-3 weeks.
You may be able to get help from Obi Turizm, a tour company on  LaMartin Cd near Taksim Square. Speak with Bulent on 256 90 15.
Another option is to go through Stantours, a travel agency located in Central Asia. They were really helpful with our enquiries.
Himalaya: Chinese visa
We tried to get our Chinese visa in Istanbul aswell (wishful thinking). However, only Turkish citizens can apply from this Consulate, so we applied in Tashkent, Uzbekistan (Gulomova Street, fairly near Amir Timur metro).
Here’s what we needed:
* photocopy of passport
* one passport photo
* flight reservation
* hotel/hostel reservation (we booked online through
* application form (get this from the Uzbek guards outside)
* registration number (get this on morning of application from the Uzbek guards outside)
The visa office is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9am–12pm. Take all the paperwork to the embassy EARLY at about 8am (even if you are not flying, hotelling etc. you MUST have this stuff, you can cancel it all after you get your visa). You can get the application form from the Uzbek guards.
When all your paperwork is complete, get the registration number for the ‘queue’ from the Uzbek guards. Join the scrum at the gate and don’t be polite and shy like I was – I was given the first number, but lots of people pushed in front!
Visas take 4 days to process (we asked for a ‘Rush’ visa, which would take 1 day to process, but were not given it). You have to leave your passport at the Embassy.
We applied for a 90 day visa, but were only issued a 30 day one. However, according to the Trailblazer guide book, you can extend your visa from a PSB office (Chinese police station) for a month in any town (the smaller the better). *Also, good news is that we have heard that the extension doesn’t start until your visa runs out, so you get the full month!* Please note that all this info is highly changeable, China being China!
Also, we presumed that we then would have 3 months in which to enter the country – but we were only given one month from when we handed our passports in to enter the country! This meant that our time in Krygyzstan had to be cut short!
**N.B. Remember to carry a photocopy of your Uzbek visa, your passport and have your Tashkent hostel registration slip with you if you intend to travel on the metro after you have handed all your documents into the Chinese embassy. We were regularly stopped in the Metro and asked for our ‘documents’. Dan was questioned for 2 hours when he didn’t have a copy of his visa with him.**
Himalaya: Pakistan visa
We read in the China Lonely Planet that visas for Pakistan should be obtained in advance as there is a chance that a.) Chinese officials will not let you leave the country without an onward visa and b.) Pakistani officials may not let you into Pakistan without a visa. However, we decided to try.
We discovered that it is possible to obtain a Tourist Visa for Pakistan at the Sust border. We were given 30 days at the cost of 90 U.S. dollars each (British passports). We didn’t need a letter from our embassy (which we’d heard visitors obtaining visas from Delhi do). Don’t forget to have 2 passport sized photos with you, as there is no photo booth in Sust. To read about our entry to Pakistan, click here.
Please note that this information was written between March and August 2009, and that we are travelling on British and Australian passports. Be sure to do your own route and visa research as visa regulations, entry requirements and fees may change, borders open and close...
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visa info