What did we do in the end?
It is really beneficial to try and get your visas in advance, especially China – we met so many people who left it until they got to Bishkek to get their visa and they all ended up paying a premium to use agencies. Of course it means you have to know your dates but it will save time and costs.
Azerbaijan – STAN tours, $120 each for 20 days within a 30 day window. We made a reservation on agoda for our period of intended stay and then cancelled as soon as we got the visa. It is all online through STAN tours and they help you out with the forms etc. 3 weeks for the the visa to come through.
Kazakhstan – Luckily they extended the visa free window for UK citizens so we were able to stay for 14 days without a visa, plenty of time to get into Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan – This was the most tricky. We went to the Uzbek embassy in Istanbul, the guy told us we had to wait 10 days, as we were pushed for time we ended up paying $110 rather than usual $90 we could pick it up in 7. We would advise getting it in Istanbul rather than Baku as in Azerbaijan you will be very pushed for time, especially if you are planning to get the boat to Aktau as well. We met a guy on the ferry who had been trying to get it sorted, waited 10 days and never succeeded, the man at the embassy kept telling him to come back later.
Tajikistan – Got this in Baku. Very easy and lovely man at the embassy who was very helpful. We did not need a LOI. Went in on Monday and was able to pick up on Thursday. We got 45 days. It is date restrictive, i.e. must enter within the time frame you state on the form. Again the man at the embassy was very helpful, gave us a tourist leaflet to then chose a hotel address to write down! Cost was $25.
Tajik GBAO – We could not get this overseas at the time, and had to get it in Dushanbe. Went to the GBAO office and picked it up the next day.
China – New trick in the book! We got this in Tbilisi. US$20, cheapest Julia has ever got a China visa for and this was for 3 months! Normally single entry one month tourist is at least $25! We did use an LOI from a school saying we would be doing a cultural exchange for 3 months and therefore got an X2 visa not tourist and wrote on the form we were going to study. The dates on the LOI were brought forward from our real time of entry so that we could tell the embassy staff we were flying from Georgia (Not that they asked or wanted flight details). With China visas you then have 3 months from date of issue to enter the country. Perfect!
We have got most of our information regarding border crossings and visa applications from Carivanistan who also have a forum which is great.
Like many others we got in contact with David from STANtours – who is helping us out with LOI’s for Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Our planning table: