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 Russian 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.
Gone are the days when you could rock up to your destined countries consulate passport in hand; these days the visa application ‘business’ is often outsourced to a private company which you have no choice to deal with (and pay their fees). Duration is the maximum amount of time you can stay in the country. Validity is the period of time you have from when the visa is stamped in your passport to when you can enter the country.
Some countries require a lot of support documentation. Kazakhstan wanted to know where we'd be staying, don’t waste money paying a hotel up front that you probably won’t even use; you can make an online reservation at sites such as booking.com without paying anything (and you receive an e-mailed, printable official confirmation which you can submit with your application). Kazakhstan officials also require an itinerary of your travels as part of a ‘cover letter’ plus details of your car. Russia requires three months worth of bank statements and you may or may not have to declare that you do not have dangerous mental afflictions (!), no skills in firearms, nuclear explosives, biological substances or have a military background.
We used an agency to acquire our Russian, Mongolian and Kazakhstan visas, we won't be recommending them!
Immunisations can be expensive but essential; the plague is still rife in Mongolia as are rabid dogs and some countries will not let you enter without a Yellow Fever certificate! Most GP surgeries have a travel specialist who will be able to help you decide what you need and when you need it.
You can download an excel spreadsheet here of what Andy required, feel free to use it as a template. The schedule for injections can be a little complicated, a good travel nurse should be able to plan your schedule to require the least amount of visits (dead arms). It is advisable to speak to your doctor at least 6 months before you leave.
A Carnet de Passage (available from the RAC in the UK) allows you to temporarily import your vehicle into a country; it is an A4 sized booklet allowing your car to enter and exit certain countries where it is a legally required document (for a list of these countries click here).
Basically, it is a guarantee that when you enter a country with your vehicle you will leave that country with the vehicle. Some countries require a higher premium making the Carnet a costly requirement, Iran and India for example are high-risk and so the Carnet for our initial route cost just over £3000. The premium is also calculated taking into consideration the value of your car.
Once the total is calculated and the premium paid it is vitally important that you don’t lose the Carnet document. On returning to the UK and returning your correctly processed Carnet (it must be stamped in and out of the country) you’ll get around 50% of the total paid back.
We made 4 full packs of copies of every bit of information we have. One hidden in the vehicle, one in an easy to reach folder in the vehicle, and another two sets with our respective parents. We also scanned the information so that we have copies of everything in an electronic format, we also have it saved on our email accounts.
After contacting over 40 insurance companies we (or rather their policy restrictions!) narrowed our list down to a few companies specialising in adventure travel. The biggest limiting factor in obtaining personal insurance is the long duration of our trip- most policies are for a maximum of 12 months and very few will allow you to extend this en-route. Driving removes the need for ticket cancellation, flight delays and lost baggage cover so a save there (if the company will remove that part of the policy!).
One major drawback is insuring possessions; they have to be locked in your room to be covered and not left in a car (ummm... that’s ALL our possessions if we’re overlanding!). The most important aspect of your cover is medical; you want to make sure that in a worst-case scenario you can be flown home for treatment. Make sure that you are covered for any optional ‘extras’; Bungee jumping and Parascending are obvious ones but we discovered that any kind of voluntary work also necessitates ‘adventure cover’. For the small additional cost it’s worth getting anyway as plans change and you never know when you may be faced with a spontaneous Bouldering or Gorge Swinging opportunity!
Eventually we chose True Traveller; they offered honest advice, were prompt at responding to all our random questions and gave us the basic cover we needed without unnecessary extras. Chris O’Hara and Tim Riley even went as far as reading our website to get a better idea of what our trip actually entailed.
Be warned though: our personal insurance can't be cancelled and refunded and when you return to the UK for more than 10 days it's automatically cancelled and you get no refund as we discovered the hard way!
EU countries are great, you can travel between them without visas and using your standard UK car policy. Outside of the EU things start to get a little more complicated. Our initial trip required three separate car insurance policies. Firstly the European leg required our standard domestic UK car policy; ours is fully comprehensive and is held with Sydney Charles. We deal with the über helpful Rob Priaulx who always strives to find the cheapest and most comprehensive price. Sydney Charles are based in Guernsey, Channel Islands so I’m not sure if they can cover vehicles registered in the UK, give them a call to find out.
Excluding Europe we needed a policy that covers the actual car and its contents worldwide (almost). We were recommended Campbell Irvine who specialize in overlanding insurance. Mrs Audrey Blake is our contact there; she is incredibly knowledgible, friendly and offered a huge amount of advice. 12 months cover (excluding USA/Canada; that’s another policy again) cost us £915.84.
On top of the vehicle/contents insurance we also required Third-party insurance cover, this policy obvious covers incidents involving other people. Some countries use the Green Card system set-up by the UN (for a full list click here). We required Green Card insurance for Russia amongst others. We were recommended Assurantiekantoor Alessie by Audrey at Campbell Irvine. Alessie specialize in Overlanding insurance and are based in the Netherlands. Our contact there is Mrs. Maria M. Alessie who helpfully speaks fluent English and responds to emails promptly.
Countries that don’t partake in the Green Card scheme (Mongolia for example) normally offer Third-party insurance cover that can be purchased at the border for the duration of your stay. It is recommended that you do as much research prior to leaving on this subject as you could run into problems at borders.
International Driving Permit
Many countries (for a full list of countries click here) request an International Driving Permit (IDP). Essentially a copy of your driving licence but with all the gubbins translated into many languages. An IDP is available in the UK through the AA at reasonable price (about £10).