When I started writing Caravanistan in 2011, I spent the first 2 months writing about visas. It was so complicated, so obscure, so anti-tourist. It was interesting. Visas was what Caravanistan was about.
Revisiting in 2017, visas are no longer the big issue they once were. This type of friction-less travel is wonderful on one hand: less frustration, less time and money wasted. On the other hand, it has removed some of the charm of traveling the Silk Road. The challenge is gone; anyone with a desirable passport can now just saunter into many of the countries listed below.
However, there is still fear and paranoia. Governments in the region fear Islamic terrorism (Middle East, Pakistan), a hostile takeover (China), sex tourists (India), Ebola and poverty (Africa). If you are from one of these countries, applying for visas is still time-consuming, frustrating, confusing and sometimes downright scary. We know, we’ve been there.
And even the best passports still have to deal with some surprise reversals and kafkaesque bureaucracy, if they want to visit everything.
So, to help you on your way, we have compiled The Complete Guide to Silk Road Visas. We spend a lot of time writing and updating this guide, and we like to think it’s the definitive resource on visas in this part of the world.
Getting visa support
We have searched long and hard for local travel companies to offer visa support for those who need it. We think we have found the best ones, delivering quality service at a good price.
Getting visa support is now as easy as filling in a small form (and paying :-).
Can I trust this information?
We keep this guide as up to date as possible. Besides living and traveling in the region and having a lot of direct experience with bureaucracy in these countries, we also get a lot of information from other travelers. There are no longer sources referred to in the articles because of link rot, word of mouth or e-mail, but all the basic stuff is cross-checked with the international Timatic website airlines use.
So we do everything we can to keep the information on this pages correct. But please remember that you are coming to a place where rules change as quickly as the mood of those who make them, and nothing is 100% certain. And please, if you find out something new at the embassy, let us know.
Visa Cheat Sheet
This is just a quick schematic overview that cannot fit in all the conditions for different passports – dig in to the country articles for that. But, you can use the scheme to fill in your visa journey according to your nationality.
|Country||Visa-free||Visa on arrival||Tourist visa duration||LOI needed?||Remarks|
|Afghanistan||No||No||30 days||No||There is no transit area in Kabul airport. If in transit, apply for a transit visa.|
|Armenia||180 days for 43 countries: EU, US, CIS + few others||For certain countries not eligible for visa-free||21 to 120 days||Yes, for Africans, Indians, Chinese||E-visa is available|
|Azerbaijan||90 days for 8 CIS countries||For 15 countries – conditions vary||30 days||Depends on embassy||Rules are highly variable depending on embassy, pick a good one or go for e-visa.|
|Georgia||1 year for 94 countries||No||30 days within 120 day window||No||E-visa is available|
|Iran||15 to 90 days for 11 countries||30 days for all countries except 11, incl. UK, US, Canada, India. Only at airports.||30 days – 90 days to enter||Yes, if not coming via airplane||US, UK and Canadians only with tour. Israeli passports or passports with Israel visits are banned.|
|Kazakhstan||15 to 90 days for different countries||Yes, but complicated||30, 2×30 or 3×30 days||Yes, for all except 47 easier nations|
|Kyrgyzstan||60 days for 44 countries: EU, US, CIS + few others||Yes, at airports only.||15 or 30 days||Yes, for most countries not on visa-free|
|Mongolia||14 to 90 days for 23 countries||At UB airport with Immigration office permission||30 days – 90 days to enter||No|
|Pakistan||6 countries only, different duration||Only for Turkish with positive visa history, and group tours from 24 countries||30-45-90 days, 3-4 months validity||Sometimes, depends on embassy||Can only apply in home country embassy or nearest.|
|Tajikistan||9 CIS countries only||Yes, at airports only, for 80 countries.||30 or 45 days||Only for Washington DC embassy||Extra GBAO permit necessary for Pamir visit not available in all embassies|
|Turkmenistan||No||Yes, if you booked a tour.||Duration of the tour||No, tour needed||Because of need to get a tour, many overlanders choose to get a transit visa (valid 3-7 days). Random refusals are common.|
|Uzbekistan||9 CIS countries only||Yes, at airport, if no embassy in country of departure and with LOI||7, 14 or 30 days||Yes for all except 14 countries|
- If you are planning an overland trip, we recommend you to get as many visas as possible in your home country. Start as early as possible with this task, this always takes longer than you expect.
- Plan where you will get the remaining visas. You cannot get all visas everywhere, and price and processing time changes from place to place. Keep in mind also that some cities are much more expensive than others to stay for a longer period.
- Let your fixed date visas overlap a day or 2. You don’t want to add more stress to your border crossing.
- Give away information on a need-to-know basis. Generally speaking, nobody needs or cares to know you are cycling, going to go to some far-off corner of Xinjiang, or are a journalist with a multimedia-project for an NGO. But once they know, they have to follow the rules. So in this case, it’s best to be as ordinary as possible. An office worker, only interested in the most touristy sights, sleeping in hotels and using public transport.
- Learn a bit of Russian.
- Consuls love holidays.