Getting Visas for Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan

Getting Visas for Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan

As far as people’s travel bucket lists go, the ‘Stan’s’ of Central Asia usually feature somewhere in the never column. But for me they always represented the real unknown and adventure of travel, a lost point between Russia and Asia, long since neglected from Western intrigue since the days of Marco Polo and the Silk Road, save for a brief revival from Borat, entirely in the name of slapstick. It has been a long time since I really embarked on a serious traveller’s trip – and this year finally I decided to do it. They say getting there is half the fun, but the Stan’s make you work for it before you’ve even begun to go there.

Central Asia is traditionally defined as five countries: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Two more countries complete the Stan Septet, but I need not dwell on why I’ll be leaving those alone for a while.

Of the five, Turkmenistan – a secretive desert police state – is the hardest to get into, having adopted a ‘Fuck-You’ based lottery system for the intrepid traveller. One requires a letter of invitation, applied for in advance, from an official tour guide operator from within the country, to the Ministry of Migration. So you have to pay for a tour before you’ve even been issued an invitation, and then, for reasons you’ll never be privy too but perhaps related to your astrological sign, there’s a good chance you’ll be denied anyway. You’re allowed to apply for this twice, after which you’re barred.

I booked a tour through Dragoman Tours (Ashgabat to Tashkent) and was approved for my invitation on the second attempt, though a few people on the same tour were denied on the same second attempt, ending their bizarre vacation plans before they began. Only once you have the letter can you can apply for a visa. All up you’d want to allow yourself at least two months for getting everything done, assuming you’re successful at all. With such a Byzantine process in place, more tourists end up visiting Afghanistan every year than Turkmenistan.

Uzbekistan is essentially the same process, though with far less random chance of denial. From my understanding, the letter of invitation is only denied to known journalists and human rights campaigners. Fortunately, this blog doesn’t count as journalism. Getting this one was a formality that only required time, as opposed to the addition of chance.

Next up, Kazakhstan, requires no letter of invitation but does require a visa in advance for New Zealanders – though not Australians for some reason. Tajikistan has pretty much the same process while Kyrgyzstan is the only country to recognise the value of having no visa requirements at all.

So I mailed my passport, visa forms, various supporting documents and passport photos off to London (the nearest cities with embassies for all the countries) using the services of a company called the Visa Machine to get the Kazakh, Uzbek and Turkmen visas, which left me stuck in Helsinki for 7 weeks while I waited for my passport to return with said visas printed in them. Tajikistan on the other hand, was a breeze. Once in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, the Tajik embassy there issued me my visa and GBAO permit (for the eastern bloc of the country) in a matter of five minutes. Elsewhere you could expect this takes a couple of weeks.

 

Mission Accomplished.

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2 thoughts on “Getting Visas for Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan”

  1. I too am looking into this Dragonman tour (Ashgabat to Tashkent)! How was your experience with them? I have all the visas in place but the Turkmenistan one… such a hard border to conquer!

    1. It was pretty good overall. It would have been REALLY hard to do some of the stuff like the Darvaza gas crater without them. And you kind of need to be in an organised tour to have a good chance of getting a Turkmen tourist visa. The 4-5 other people I met elsewhere in Central Asia who applied specifically for Turkmen transit visas (I.e. a 3 day clearance with no tour booked) were rejected.

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