Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Getting an Uzbekistan Visa in Dushanbe

One of the biggest challenges in central asia continues to be the visas. Each country we've been to requires a visa and many of them have additional requirements.

To visit Tajikistan for example, you need a visa, which is theoretically possible by simply going to a Tajik embassy and waiting. To visit the Pamir area you also need a GBAO permit, which you can theoretically only get in the country. Finally, when you show up in the country you have to register with the KGB within 72 hours of arriving.

We got both a 45 day visa Tajikistan Visa and a GBAO permit in Bishkek simply by filling out a form and writing a brief letter saying why we wanted to visit the country. We've heard though that they subsequently changed their rules and now the Bishkek embassy requires a letter of invitation from a travel agency, doesn't give GBAO permits, and only issues 30 day visas. That would have totally messed up our trip as the main border crossing into Tajikistan is only possible with the GBAO permit.

Tajikistan is not the only country that does this nonsense. Kyrgyzstan has wisely got a policy of issuing visas in the airport (Tajikistan does this too). They also didn't require visas for CIS countries like the Czech republic. They changed the rules for this in July, the middle of the tourist season. We ran into a cyclist who had cycled all the way into the Pamirs only to find out the entry requirements had changed and he couldn't complete his trip because he now needed to go back to Dushanbe and wait a week for a Kyrgyz visa. Ridiculous.

Our next destination is Uzbekistan, and the Visa requirements for there are even more silly. Canadians need a letter of invitation from a travel agent in the country. This was quite a job to get because the only decent agency that does this doesn't accept any normal payment system. We tried to pay them with a bank transfer but my bank didn't recognize any of the routing numbers and said the money would likely just vanish into a puff of electrons. Instead I paid online which required a painful registration and confirmation with some weird online payment system. In the end we got our letters, a second copy of which were sent to the Uzbekistan consulate in Dushanbe.

We had heard horror stories about this embassy from other travellers. The consul has a reputation of being none to friendly and yelling at you if you can't speak Russian. And apparently all the forms are in Russian and Uzbek only and have no translation. As a result we decided to ask for a favor. We had made friends with a guy in Khorog and we asked his brother and a female friend to come with us to the embassy to help translate. It was probably a good thing we did.

We got to the embassy at 8:30 only to find out it didn't open until 9:00. We waited on a bench for a while and then clued in and turned the corner where a small crowd had gathered at a doorway. At about 9:25 the doorway opened and people stampeded in. An unhappy man stood on stairway, barked some stuff in Russian, and gathered a handful of out-thrust passports. Then he vanished.

Our friend fought his way up the stairts and into an office for us, and after a while we were invited inside a room where we were given some forms to fill out. With our translator this turned out to be relatively easy, and we soon handed the forms, a Visa photo, a copy of our letter, a copy of the first page of our passport, and our actual passport to an unhappy man behind the desk. We were told to wait outside. Our translators were quite stressed out by now and both agreed that the people in the office weren't about to win any hospitality awards.

About 30 minute later somebody yelled "Dwa Canadensaya" (or something similar) out of a window, and we went up to the office. We paid our money and we got our passport with a Visa. The whole process had only taken about 2 hours, but I'm sure that having a translator along helped a huge amount. I've heard from other people though that you can find the form online somewhere and print it out yourself so this may work too!

Lara's decision to print out a stack of about 50 visa photos on our computer at home has turned out to be a real time saver many times over. We've used them for China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan (including the KGB registration) and Kyrgyzstan. It would be nearly impossible to get a passport photo done over here. Don't travel in central asia without a photocopies of your passport, lots of passport photos, and a healthy tolerance for ridiculous red tape.


Anonymous said...

Your blog is very informative. We are Canadian passport holders, departing from Canada, interested in traveling to Uzbekistan on a 1 month tourist visa. We don't want to join a tour. How do we get a letter of invitation? (There are agencies charging USD 350 for the visa application, including letter of invitation, but that seems very pricey). I will keep checking back to this page of your blog. Much appreciate your reply, thanks.

Taco van Ieperen said...

Try Stantours. They are on the internet. Based out of Kazakhstan I believe. That is who we used. You have to do some funky stuff to pay, but it's relatively cheap and they just email you the letter.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the quick reply Taco. Here is the reply I received from Stantours - did you have to provide such info to obtain your visa? What payment method did you use? I thought they were a German company, below says it's based in New Zealand. Grateful for your advice:

"We can supply you with an invitation for an UZbek single-entry tourist visa
for up to 30 days against a fee of USD 35 per person. The invitation will be
issued within 10-14 days and sent to you by e-mail attachment.

If you wish to proceed we would request your passport info, a copy of your
passport and a letter confirming your current employment / place of study by
e-mail attachment or fax and a full payment of USD 35 or EUR 28 per person
as follows:

1 Full Name :
2 Date of Birth :
3 City and Country of Birth :
4 Citizenship :
5 Passport Number :
6 Date of the passport issue and expiration :
7 Gender :
8 Occupation and Place of Employment :
9 Address and phone number of place of work :
10 Previous visits (year/month) :
11 Port of Entry :
12 Date(s) of Entry and Departure :
13 Cities and Sites you wish to visit :
14 City/country where you will obtain visa :

Beneficiary: STANtours Ltd., Auckland, New Zealand, Fax +49 (3212) 1039960
Bank: Aizkraules Banka, 23 Elizabetes St., Riga, LV-1010, Latvia
IBAN / Account #: LV16AIZK0001140106063

Please make sure that you include ALL bank charges and please confirm the
payment amount before transfer. We will proceed upon receipt of funds or
proof of transfer by fax.

ALternatively you can pay us in USD by credit card THROUGH Moneybookers
under "moneybookers@stantours.com" adding 5% to the amount, we can send a
payment request if needed."

Taco van Ieperen said...

That's what I had to provide. The payment is a bit of a hassle. I ended up going through Moneybookers but it took a while to sign up as I had to wait for a visa statement.

The bank account info they gave me was for a bank in Latvia or something, and they are based in New Zealand, but the office is in Almaty. My bank balked at doing a transfer since they said they couldn't figure out all the account numbers. Moneybookers worked fine other than the wait.

You'll have a great time in Uzbekistan. Make sure you check out the subway in Tashkent. The stations are amazing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Taco for your tips, we've obtained our LOI and are now applying for our visa. I've read your overview on the main cities in Uzbekistan. Do you remember the places you stayed? Looking for suggestions on accommodations. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for nice information about Getting an Uzbekistan Visa in Dushanbe. You can also find information about Emigrate to spain.

Anonymous said...

Hi, how much did u pay for the Uzbek VISA in Dushanbe?

Thanks =)

Taco van Ieperen said...

Sorry, I don't remember anymore. Less than $100.00 including StanTours.

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