This is a guest post by Nick and Dariece, the couple behind Goats On The Road, a website designed to inspire others to live a financially sustainable, location independent lifestyle. Masters at making money abroad and turning their travels into a way of life, they’ve been on the road since 2008 and have explored some of the least visited places on Earth, finding adventure wherever they go.
Planning a trip to one of the least visited regions on Earth can be a daunting experience, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. For the most part, traveling Central Asia comes with a lot of paperwork; i.e. permits, letters of invitation and visa applications, but finding the right information is often the biggest hurdle you’ll face.
Within it, the Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan form one of the last great travel frontiers and a trip here is a truly epic experience that doesn’t need to be discouraged by bureaucracy. Below we cover how to obtain a visa for these countries for most nationalities.
Why Central Asia?
Central Asia’s group of 5 former Soviet Republics, also known as “The Stan Countries,” were once a blank spot on the map south of Russia and north of Pakistan. More travelers are finally starting to realize that Central Asia nations are a prime backpacking and adventure travel destinations because they blend rugged accessibility with inviting exchange rates. We spent 4 months in 2013 traveling through this region trekking mountains, exploring ancient cities, road tripping and flying in helicopters, only to crave even more!
Visa Basis: What You’ll Need
Generally you will need to hand in the following at the consulate:
- A copy of the visa application form (usually available at the consulate where you apply or online)
- 1-3 passport photos (save some money by printing your own)
- The visa fee in the appropriate currency
- Your passport (valid for at least 6 months from date of entry)
- A photocopy of the portrait page of your passport
- Letter of Invitation
We also recommend you bring pens plus two extra copies of passport pages and photos to the consulate in case they’re spontaneously requested (which isn’t unheard of).
BTW, What’s A Letter Of Invitation (LOI)?
A LOI is an extra bit of paperwork Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan require before you can apply for a travel visa (the stamp in your passport that allows you to enter a country). A LOI on the other hand basically what it sounds like – a formal invitation from a registered travel agent or tour operator in the country for which you are applying.
You will be asked for the LOI to be submitted with your visa application at the consulate. They cost between $30-150 US dollars (USD) and can be obtained from a reputable company like StanTours, which we recommend.
Visa Policies For Each Central Asian Country From Easiest To Turkmenistan
Below you will find everything you need to know about the visa policy for different nationalities traveling through Central Asia.
- No visa needed for visits up to 60 days for these nationalities; no LOI required for most nationalities.
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan is a great place to stock up on other visas for onward travel as well. You can spend a week or so in the capital applying at embassies and you’ll save yourself some time and hassle as most embassies in Bishkek are easy to deal with. For more on traveling here, check out our Ultimate Guide To Backpacking Kyrgyzstan.
- Visa free travel for these 10 nationalities, including American, German, and Japanese, for up to 15 days.
If you’re traveling through Central Asia heading east, apply for this visa in Ankara, Turkey – good consulate reports and little hassle. Processing time is around 4 days; while you’re waiting, read up on Kazakh culture and customs.
- A tourist visa can be obtained upon arrival for citizens of over 52 nations at Dushanbe Airport for around $50-100 USD, but beware this may not be the case if you are not flying in from your home country. In those cases you will need to apply for a visa at the nearest Tajik embassy, which requires a LOI. Plan accordingly. Also, if you want to travel the Pamir Highway (highly recommended) you will need to additionally apply for a GBAO Permit.
If Bishkek is on your Central Asian travel itinerary we recommend applying for a Tajik travel visa there if possible, since you can get a free GBAO permit on request. If you’re heading east through Central Asia and turning Ankara into a tourist town, you won’t be able to get your GBAO there. Alternatively you can apply for a GBAO permit after arriving in Dushanbe. For more on traveling here, check out our Ultimate Guide To Backpacking Tajikistan.
- The travel visa is required for most nationalities, good for visits up to 30 days. Average cost is $75 ($120 for Americans, free for Japanese). A LOI is required.
Citizens of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Malaysia, Spain, Switzerland, UK and USA do not need a letter of invitation to apply for a Uzbekistan tourist visa. Everyone else, you can can obtain an Uzbek Letter of Invitation here. Heading east you can apply for your Uzbek visa in Ankara which has good consulate reports from other travelers. Heading west we recommend applying for your visa in Beijing, China or Bishkek, which have an average turnaround time of 2 days, enough time for your to prepare for your trip to Uzbekistan.
- This is by far the most annoying tourist visa to obtain. You must have an expensive LOI for any stay longer than 5 days and even with one, you may be denied a visa. We recommend the 5 day transit visa which is what most travelers end up getting. A transit visa costs $55 ($155 for Russians), allowing you to travel in Turkmenistan for up to 5 days, no LOI needed.
Another reason that this visa is so difficult to apply for is that you will need to indicate specific dates of entry and exit on your visa application, have hotels previously booked, as well as state the exact land border crossings that you plan to enter and exit Turkmenistan through. Once you’ve written down the borders and dates there is NO changing them, so make sure of your plans beforehand.
If you’re traveling to Turkmenistan heading east through Central Asia, you can apply for your Turkmen visa in Ankara; heading west you can pick it up in Beijing. Additionally, a consulate is set to open in Bishkek in the near future.
Flight In And Over Paperwork
There are a number of airlines flying into major Central Asian capital cities (particularly to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and Dushanbe, Tajikistan) where there are deals to be found, especially from Europe and east Asia. Not only do these routes save you money on flights, they are great because arriving at these airports lets you to get visas on arrival.
For example, upon arrival in Bishkek, you’ll get a free 60 day stamp where you can then apply for any of the other four Central Asian nations in capital.
You Know What You Need, Now It’s Time To Go!
Central Asia is, without a doubt, one of the most stunning, friendly and rewarding destinations we’ve traveled to. In our 4 months traveling in Central Asia, we horse trekked over mountain passes, swam in crystal clear alpine lakes, soaked in natural hot springs, flew a helicopter over the Pamir Mountains, slept in yurts and so much more! This is a place where adventure and culture collide to create a memorable travel experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.
Thank you again Nick and Dariece for taking the time to compile this detailed guide on obtaining travel visas to all five Central Asian nations. You can keep up with Dariece and Nick on Goats On The Road, a website designed to inspire others to live a financially sustainable, location independent lifestyle. Don’t forget you can also follow Nick and Dariece on Twitter, Facebook, Google+
That helicopter flight looks great! It seems like you got tickets the same place as the regular Tajik air flights?
You’re right that a number of nationalities don’t need a LOI for an Uzbek visa, but that 2-day turnaround is usually only for those that have one. Without it, people often end up waiting around for a week or more before the visa is approved.
Also worth keeping in mind is that the visa on arrival in Dushanbe is usually issued for only 30 days, whereas a visa issued at a consulate abroad can be for up to 45. If you’re trying to slow travel through the Pamirs, those extra two weeks can come in handy!
Good point, that’s the “official” number which was a small addition of mine in the content. Thanks for the elaboration and way to 15 extra days for the Pamirs 🙂
Thanks for commenting and adding some more information Stephen 🙂 We too had a LOI for our Uzbek visa and it was a very quick turn around time.
The helicopter ride was epic! We were meant to get on the plane, but they weren’t flying out that day. We randomly met up with the owner of Tajik Air who was going to be flying one of his choppers back to Dushanbe and offered us a ride! So cool.
Happy travels 🙂
Good time on post as I’m looking to hear to Central Asia sometime next year.
Perfect! Let us know if you have any questions. We have loads of info on this part of the world. Central Asia is epic and exciting! Have a great trip 🙂
Wonderful information – thanks so much for this.
Glad to help Barbara 🙂
This surely is a very helpful article! Looking forward to seeing these places as well in the near future. 🙂
So helpful, thanks! Saving this for later
Baku, Azerbaijan is also a good place to stock up on visas. I got Tajikistan there in just 2 days and Uzbekistan in 4 days. The Uzbek embassy let me leave a copy of my passport for them to process while I was getting the Tajik visa at the same time. Conceivably could’ve gotten Kazakhstan there too but I couldn’t find the embassy!
I wouldn’t risk trying to fly into Tajikistan without a visa – a friend tried to go last summer, flying through Moscow, and even though she had an LOI, the airline wouldn’t let her board because she didn’t already have her visa. They told her the rules had just changed to no longer allow visas on arrival.
I did the tourist visa for Turkmenistan so I could stay for 11 days and my guide just met me at the border and got everything processed there, which made it pretty easy. But yeah, I couldn’t alter my itinerary at all once I got it.