How to Win The Great Visa Game of Southern Africa & Central...

How to Win The Great Visa Game of Southern Africa & Central Asia

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

Road Tibet Bunch of Backpackers
Road to Everest Base Camp in Tibet. ©Bunch of Backpackers.

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)
Northern desert in Kenya. ©Bunch of Backpackers.
Northern desert in Kenya. ©Bunch of Backpackers.

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)
Manouk. ©Bunch of Backpackers
Mongolia. ©Bunch of Backpackers.

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 :)

IMG_4682
Bali, Indonesia. ©Bunch of Backpackers.

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?

17 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Manouk,

    Oooh, the crazy visa game!! We’re getting ready for it too :)
    We just figured out that we can’t go to Iran independently (my partner has a Canadian visa so he HAS to be part of a tour group) and that’s not what we want. So, plan B. We’ve been looking into a detour to get from Turkey to India. Most countries seem to be ok and even free visa, except indeed Turkmenistan, Afganistan,… It will be interesting on how to get those visas without having to be part of a group or running to many embassies ! Thanks for giving such a good summary about the visas!
    Good luck with the game :) I will follow you with interest and maybe we’ll bump into each other.

    Happy travel preparations!

    • He Cynthia! Wow, that sounds like an ambitious detour indeed!! Would be fun to bump into each other. I was already following you guys on FB, so let’s stay in touch!

      Good luck to you too!! Hope you’ll win ;)!

      Manouk

  2. Pffff this is not the sort of game that I like ;-) I hope all goes well for you! I can imagine it must be a bit stressful applying for visas as you go, not knowing if they will be issued or not. We’re currently in Belgrade, playing the ‘try to get a Schengen visa for the Cuban boyfriend’-game and this is also not my favorite. So many papers, so much waiting, so many times of just seeing who you are up against that day and hope for the best… Fingers crossed!

  3. Oh my, that is a challenge indeed! For my China visa, I booked some hotels via booking.com (with free cancellation), added the confirmations together with my “travel schedule” and cancelled everything when I received my visa.

    Good luck on everything! Great post :)

  4. Heads up dude – You will need to get your Uzbek visa BEFORE applying for a Turkmen visa. You need to show proof of the next country you are entering before they will consider giving you the transit visa. The Turkmen visa is also date and entry/exit point specific.

    And don’t count on being able to get your Uzbek visa in Ashgabat if you are on a group tour. Chances are there will not be enough time in your schedule to get this. Pick it up in Tehran.

    When I was in the region Chinese visas were getting randomly denied in Bishkek. Keep the option of applying in Almaty in the back of your mind ;)

    • Haha thanks dude ;)! It’s even more complicated than I initially thought :(! Especially the ‘applying for the Turkmen visa AFTER getting my Uzbek visa is a good one! I also got another tip via FB: applying for your Uzbek visa online (with a LOI). Will have to look into that a bit more, but it might save me one embassy visit! Yes, I think I will get the transit visa and travel around on my own, but still not sure yet. Visiting Darwaza seems possible, but it’s a bit tricky. Will keep Almaty in mind for China! Hope it’s not necessary though. Thanks Jazza!!

  5. Hi, I just want to correct you about Indonesia visa :)
    There are 2 different types of visas (yeah, there are many more other visas to enter Indonesia :D)
    – “visa-free-entry” – it’s your mentioned in post, that for some countries allow to enter Indonesia for 30 days, but you need to enter through exact points like Jakarta, Denpasar and etc. Here is the list (of countries and points) http://lifeinbigtent.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Free_visa_countries_list_10_2015.pdf. And you can’t extend this visa.
    – “visa-on-arrival” – (that you used name but not with this one you enter) it’s visa for 30 days, that you can extend 1 more time and it’s given in any enter point and cost (now) 35 USD :)

  6. Hi Manouk, the zim zam combi visa for 50 usd truely exists. Need to purchase it on entry of zimbabwe. I found it worthwhile. The falls in zim are more lovely and the viewing area is larger, but the zam side is more rugged and you can see the bottom of the falls better. Liked both. Another thing. When I was there forsome reason we couldn’t fly from vic falls but had to fly out from livingstone which is 12 km into zambia.

    Don’t know if this still applies though.

    Greetings,

    De Wandelgek

  7. Pfff, Central Asia is the most difficult part in your game, but I hope everything will work out for you! You’re gonna have an amazing adventure :) You should check out the website of Henk van Dillen, he just finished a cycling trip from Holland to Singapore and also did the visa for Central Asia on the road. ;-)

  8. My goodness, talk about an itinerary! That trip is going to be amazing, i got goosebumps (of jealousy :D) just reading the countries your going to visit. Will definitely be subscribing to see how it goes!

  9. Sadly, I have passport of Pakistan, so i need Visa for every other country, in advance. I have to apply at embassy along with supporting documents, such as bank statements, bookings and flight itinerary.
    I wanted to travel to States, i had to give 30 minutes interview at embassy in order to get visit visa. But this wont stop me from travelling :)

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