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09 Trip Stage 1 – red tape rules!

October 1, 2008

Having read the LP guide on Central Asia that deals with the ‘stans’, I am – confused. Confused about which stan needs what visa, for what purpose, for how long and how much. Sorting out visas in these developing destinations is like assembling the Birds Nest stadium in Beijing. ON a much much smaller scale. But with similar headaches. If the pieces don’t fit, expect the plan to fall apart. If I don’t get the right visa for the right purpose, the trip can run into problems, not only fall apart but end up costing more.

Let me talk about Turkmenistan, the last stan to open up after the death of its dictator in 06. I have two choices for visas here:

Option one) transit visa – gives me three days to travel in the country, its cheap and I don’t need a guide. But it doesn’t allow for extra time if my onward transport is delayed.

Option two) tourist visa – (wait you haven’t read the rules), this visa gives me between two to three weeks depending on the embassy I got it from. BUT I have to apply for a ‘letter of invitation’ to a travel agent designated by the Turkmenistan government, who will then provide me with the visa, letter and a mandatory guide for $30 -$50 US a day. I will also have to cover guide meals and accommodation costs. Plus additional expenses such as a driver. And car. And probably some bad sounding off key taped music, one, that I will have to listen to endlessly for two weeks. No doubt they will be smokers too. Plus cigarettes for bribing.

When does the fine line between sane and insane get crossed? It all sounds insane to some people and they would cry “why bother, why waste your time. Take a trip to Fiji!!!!” As much red tape irks me, I still find the overall experience challenging. There is something to be said about that feeling you get when you are finally handed back you passport with a shiny new visa. Its like winning gold. A kind of Visa Olympics. Only wish I could put it down as an achievement on my resume.

Next to check-in counters and passport control cues, obtaining visas is the bane of my travel life. In these situations I unknowingly (ahem) transform from a sweet, kind, friendly lady, to a ruthless aggressive pull no punches, “get out of my way you nasty immigration person” – hunter. I probably need to see an anger management councillor on this one. It gets worse if I haven’t had my daily toss of caffeine. Some of you can relate to what I’m on about here.

Red tape – shouldn’t it be relabelled as fly tape. We the innocent traveller get stuck in this tape and no matter how much we fight to be released, we end up sticking further until some bureaucrat with a kind of heart either releases us or swots us -dead.

In an ideal world a software developer would have come up with a “Global Visa” programme where you, the tourist and user, enters the travel destinations of choice and required personal information, then hit the enter key and voila! On screen would be listed, for your convenience, the visa requirements next to the specific country with – a paypal option. Once you’ve paid you can then print out your visa stamp; and put it into your own passport. Of course each visa would be valid for up to 12 months, multiple entries, no fingerprints needed or disgusting unkind passport shots. No waiting around for bureaucrats. In an ideal world!

Back to the real world and LP guide. Your thoughts on this post are very welcome. If there is a global visa programme that I don’t know about- please let me into the club.

Caffeinated Traveller

One Comment
  1. October 4, 2008 10:58 am

    We took the opposite route last year, from Georgia eastwards to China, and picked up all the visas on the road. I don’t know if you have that type of flexibility in time, but that might help in keeping some flexibility in your travels (i.e., you don’t need to commit to dates you want to be in country until the country or two before). We wrote extensively about our ‘stan visa issues – the bureaucracy certainly can turn sane people into irrational ones.

    Regarding Turkmenistan, I’d recommend upping your budget for a few days in order to get the tour required for the tourist visa and going for at least 7 days. Going through the country in three days is really too short. We also know people who went through in 5, and everything was a blur. We used Stantours for our visa support and tour – they are used to independent travelers forced to take a tour because of the government’s regulations. We normally stay away from tours like the plague, but were happy with this one. If you have flexibility, see if you can join someone else’s tour; you share the cost of the guide/driver. Accommodation is included in the price of the tour. Turkmenistan is still one of the highlights of our 5 months in the region.

    Sounds like a fascinating trip – don’t let the visa stuff at the beginning get you too frustrated!

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