We decided to apply for our Russian, Mongolian and Kazakhstan visas from the UK before we left to allow a few clear months of bureaucracy-free motoring. Good plan; more time in the wilds of Siberia. Bad plan; a month behind schedule while our passports go back and forth between central Asian consulates and agents.
A visa is essentially an authorization by the government of a country granting you eligibility and permission to travel there, mainly in the form of a stamp in your passport. Visa types vary massively; tourist, business, transit, student, employment, diplomatic (marriage?) they can be single, double or multiple-entry, vary in validity and duration and cost anywhere from nothing to over £200. A Russia visa is the highest-priced in the world, costing 3 times more than the next expensive country. Then there are the ‘support documents’, the additional paperwork that a government requests along with your application form. The best advice is “know before you go”; check out any restrictions on countries you plan to visit here.
The first step in obtaining a Russian business visa is the ‘Letter of Invitation’; impossible to get independently as it comes from Moscow and is written in Russian, so you need to pay an agent whose speed in obtaining this depends on how much you pay them. The Russian authorities want to see 3 months bank statements (verified and stamped by your bank) with a minimum balance of £3,000. We had to state that we do not have dangerous mental afflictions (!) and we have no skills in firearms, nuclear explosives or biological substances or have a military background. For Kazakhstan we needed to provide a hotel booking confirmation, despite the fact that we don’t need to stay there or even visit that particular town. Kazakh officials want to see a cover letter explaining why you want to visit and outlining your itinerary. Only Mongolia wanted to check we were insured!
Rest assured this is by no means a moan; as British citizens we are fortunate enough to possess a passport which allows us huge freedom to travel to most countries worldwide, globally we rank 5th in facing the least restrictions. Check out the Henley Visa Restrictions Index to see how your country ranks in ‘travel freedom’; the Danes and Swedes are onto a winner but spare a thought for Nepali, Pakistani and Afghan citizens who rank bottom when it comes to visiting other countries. We Brits are incredibly lucky in this regard, something we generally take way too much for granted.
After a month’s wait we are relieved to know that all 3 of our visa's have been granted and we are now only 24 hours away from our passport being released from the last consulate. I may be tempting fate saying this, but next day delivery of our passports should see them back in our eager hands Tuesday morning to be quickly packed in the car and heading East before the sun sets. We’re finally off and are sure to encounter much more visa ‘fun’ along the way.
For more detailed information about Visas for Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan visit our 'Logistics' page.