For BoB’s Epic Adventure (and for most other long-term trips), there is not that much preparation needed. The three most important things are:
- book your first flight – CHECK!
- have a backpack – CHECK!
- prepare yourself for the visa game.
With the first two boxes checked, there was only one important thing left that required my attention: preparing for the Great Visa Game.
Will it be a win or loss when I’m going the play the Great Visa Game?
At the moment it’s difficult to say, but there are definitely some challenges up ahead. For most short trips you can arrange your visas through an agency or through the embassy in your country. However, in my case I will need to arrange my visas as I go. This won’t be an easy task and to increase the chance on winning the Great Visa Game I decided to prepare an overview. The overview is specific (Dutch passport, 2015/2016), but I still wanted to share it here to give an impression of what’s up ahead!
Here we go!
Turn 1: Visa South Africa
Great start: Free visa upon arrival. Some websites report you need proof of plans to leave the country (e.g. plane ticket). As I will leave the country overland this may be a problem, but I expect proof won’t be necessary.
Turn 2: Visa Namibia
Should be easy: Free visa upon arrival
Turn 3: Visa Botswana
Another easy one: Free visa upon arrival.
Turn 4: Visa Zimbabwe
The option between a visa upon arrival (30 USD single entry, 45 USD double entry) or a visa for both Zimbabwe and Zambia at the Botswana-Zimbabwe border (50 USD). This way you can see the Victoria Falls from both sides :) If the latter truly exists, I’ll go for that one!
Turn 5: Visa Turkey
Off to another continent! No visa upon arrival this time, but a fancy E-visa in Turkey. This one is already in the pocket! Turkey has a special E-visa website. Fill out the application (5 minutes), pay 24,50 euro and that’s it!
Turn 6: Visa Iran
This turn will be the first real challenge! For my Iranian visa I need a Letter of Invitation (LOI). A number of travel companies offer an LOI, but require you to book a hotel or tour with them. With the LOI, I will get a LOI visa authorization code. With this visa authorization code you can go to an Iranian embassy. Because the visa is only valid for 3 months after the application, it wasn’t possible to apply prior to my RTW trip in the Netherlands. Instead I will have to take my LOI visa authorization code to the Iranian embassy in Istanbul, Erzurum or Ankara. According to reports this should only take about 1-3 days if you have an authorization code.
The good thing about the Iran visa, is that you don’t need to enter on a specific date! After receiving the visa, it’s valid for 3 months for entering Iran! After entering you can stay 30 days.
P.s. There are also some reports you don’t need an LOI as a Dutch citizen at all! To be on the safe side and especially because I apply in Turkey, I will get an LOI.
- Apply and pick-up in Istanbul (I’ll probably go for the ‘express’ option for 75 euro)
Turn 7: Visa Turkmenistan
Another challenge! As I’m still not sure how I will travel through Turkmenistan, this part is quite uncertain. If I decide to go independently, I will get the cheaper transit visa. However, it is not possible to get this visa on arrival. If I decide to go with a tour company (easier to visit Darwaza gas crater) I will probably get/need a tourist visa with LOI. A tourist visa should be possible on arrival. Unfortunately, Turkmenistan tours are crazy expensive (100+ euro’s per day).
- Apply in Tehran and pick-up 7 days later in Mashad OR visa on arrival with LOI
Turn 8: Visa Uzbekistan
Unfortunately, again a visa on arrival is not possible when arriving overland. Therefore, I will have to go the the Tehran embassy with an LOI.
- Apply in Tehran and pick-up in Tehran (if it doesn’t work out in Tehran, I will go to Ashgabat)
Turn 9: Visa Tajikstan
Finally a country with no need for LOI’s! However, this time I will need a Letter of No Objections from my own embassy (meaning that they support me going to Tajikstan). Next day pick-up should be possible.
- Apply in Tehran and pick-up in Tehran. P.s. Yes, this means I may have to visit three embassies in Tehran. It also means I may have to stay in Tehran for a week or so.
Turn 10: Visa Kyrgyzstan
Yay! Visa free travel! Since 2012, 60-day visa free travel is allowed for 44 countries including the Netherlands.
Turn 11: Visa China
I’ve already been to China three times and every time it’s a little bit harder to get one. The Chinese visa will be the most difficult one and embassy reports in Central Asia are not very positive. To get a Chinese visa, I will need several things: E.g. proof of my flight into China and out of China (you could consider to make a fake plane ticket by simply altering an old plane ticket in Adobe Pro), a proof of my hotel bookings, travel schedule and proof of income. I hope to be able to get one in Bishek.
- Apply in Bishek and pick-up after a few days.
Turn 12: Visa Indonesia
The final turn is is an easy one, which is good, because I reckon I will be close to a visa burn-out. Indonesia issues a free visa for 30 days on arrival :)
All in all, it won’t be an easy task and it will take loads of valuable travel time! This is one of the ‘disadvantages’ of independent travel.
Summary of the tricky points:
- Mixed embassy reports (it can be a yes or a no)
- Opening times are limited (some embassies only open a few hours per weeks)
- It may take 1 to 10 days
- You often need an LOI
- You often need other proof (e.g. bookings, travel schedule, income)
- It involves loads of paperwork
- I will have to arrange my visas as as I go, with a small risk it won’t be issued.
I hope it all works out! Most of the above info is based on the embassy reports of fellow travelers in the handy Caravanistan forum. These reports are mixed: e.g. sometimes it take 3 days to get a visa, sometimes 7 days, sometimes the visa is rejected without clear reasons etc. It’s clear that winning the Great Visa Game of Southern Africa and Central Asia won’t be an easy task, but…
Let’s go for it!
This post will be updated after BoB’s Epic Adventure with my experiences and tips! There is one tip I can already give you: preparation is the key to success ;)
What was the ‘most difficult’ visa during your travels?
Wat was jouw ‘lastigste’ visum?