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Visa hassle in Tehran: In order to enter a different country some travelers need a permit. This can be a simple stamp given at the port of entry. It can also be a bit more of a hassle. Some countries give visas for a few days only, others up to an entire year (Georgia). Others do not allow people with a special citizenship to enter the country at all. The visa procedure involves a lot of paperwork, time, stress and money. The Visa marathon was not our favorite activity in Tehran, but it is worth it. Travel is the best way to strengthen the global social empathy. But in order to travel visas are needed. So we happily invested some time and money for the opportunity to visit a new country. Travelling Central Asia you cannot jump from one country to the other spontaneously. Especially for the so-called “Stans” (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) German and Mexican citizens need to apply for a visa and even tell the exact dates to enter and leave the country. The visa can be applied for at the Embassy of the country in your home country or another country. We applied for our visas in the Iranian capital Tehran, because they are valid only for a specified period of time.
Day 1 – Uzbekistan LOI: Two weeks before arriving in Tehran we applied for a letter of invitation (LOI) for Uzbekistan with Stantours. This requires: – Work Confirmation Letter (English-written letter from the employer indicating that you are his / her employee) – Copy of passport or photo of passport – Completed application letter – Screenshot of the bank transfer or photo of the remittance slip for Stantours fee. The contact with Stantours was nice, the documents can be sent by mail. Some German could also apply for a visa without LOI, but depending on the whim of the officials it seems to be necessary some times to have it. I rather got a LOI two weeks beforehand than being rejected on the spot afterwards. After less than two weeks the invitation was sent to me via E-Mail. Web address: www.stantours.com (English) Cost: U.S. $ 40 each (U.S. $ 80 total)
Day 2 – Kyrgyzstan / China / Pakistan / India Visa Support Letters: In order to apply some embassies ask for a Visa Support Letter. This is basically a paper written by the Embassy of the origin country saying that the requesting person is the owner of the specified passport and that he / she wants to go to a particular country. Some embassies (Mexico for Example) give this service for free. Others (Germany for example) ask for a fee. Ask at your own embassy for further Information. If your country does not have its own Embassy, you may ask at a neighboring friend’s Embassy. Cost: Roberto: free, Annika: 20 € (20 € total) Day 3 – Uzbekistan visa: Equipped with passports, 2 passport copies, 2 passport photos (with or without headscarves) 2 copies of the completed application letter (sent by Stan Tours in our case) and 2 prints of the LOIs we arrived in the morning to the embassy. It is a good idea to be there as early as possible, as all visitors have to register in a list and get inside in that order. The Embassy closes at 11.00 clock, no matter if everybody was served or not. After a while we were allowed to enter from the street into the stairwell. Of course we were asked to wait there again. In the first floor there is a door (don’t you dare to knock! They may get angry with your impatience.) and a little window. While the window was closed, the people waiting for their turn sat on the steps chatting. But every time it opened, there was utter chaos. Ten hands stretched paper, envelopes, money and photos in the direction of the window. After a while we decided that our only choice was to do the same and soon it was our turn. We gave in our papers and after another half hour we got our visas. Without LOI it would have taken up to two weeks. Payment was in U.S. dollars, bills must be clean and unwritten. Address: At the end of 4th Alley Park, Movahed Danesh Road Bousdan (Boosdan) Street, Pasdaran Street (from smallest to largest street). Closest Metro: Tajrish. Taxi or bus to the Pasdaran Street, rest walking. Phone: +98 21 2299 780 Opening times: Monday – Thursday 9.00 – 11.00 am Cost: U.S. $ 75 per person (total: U.S. $ 150) Visa: 30 days tourist visa, single entry, date precisely Duration: In normal processing time with LOI a few hours, without LOI up to two weeks
Day 4 – Turkmen Embassy Part 1: The Turkmen Embassy is known for its rude staff. We put on our cleanest clothes and kept smiling politely, but to our surprise, a friendly man’s face smiled to us from the little window and asked: “How can I help you?”. We asked for an application form that we filled out at the spot. We applied for a 7-day transit visa, because a for a tourist visa we would have needed a booked tour. We brought all the necessary papers, but because we wanted to pick up our visas in Tehran and not in Mashhad, we just needed a passport copy (2x), copies of the Uzbekistan visa (x2) and two passport photos. We were allowed to keep our passport in the waiting time (one week). Address: Barati Street, Vatan Poor road, or Doctor Lavasani street, Bolvar-e Andarzgu road. Subway: Tajrish or Qeytariyeh. Taxi to where the Lavasani crosses Vatan Poor, rest walking. Phone: +98 21 2542 178 or +98 21 2548 686 Opening times: Monday – Thursday: 9.00 – 11.00 am, Sunday: 9.30 – 11.00 am.
Day 5 – Kyrgyzstan Embassy Part 1: The Kyrgyzstan Embassy does not have clear opening times. We arrived at some time in the late morning. There are three bells outside, the first one worked out. Since there were no other customers the very nice lady took a lot of time only for us. We were even allowed to enter the building, a whole new experience. She handed us each two application forms that we filled out at the spot. We had two Visa Support Letters as copies, two passport photos and two copies of passports and were asked deposit to U.S. $ 55 at a Melli Bank. Nearby, there is a Melli Bank in the Pasdaran street, but they cannot handle dollar transactions. We had to go down the entire street Pasdaran (shared taxi) to the intersection with the road Ja’fari. When we were back it was already 1 pm. Anyway the lady was still at work. We were asked to leave our passports for the entire processing time there, but though we needed them to apply for the Chinese Visa we were allowed to bring them after a week. Address: 5th Naranjestan Alley 12, Pasdaran Street. Subway: Tajrish, taxi to the Pasdaran Street, rest walking. Phone: +98 21 2283 0354 Opening times: none. Between 9.00 am and 1.00 pm we were allowed to enter. Most Embassies are closed on Fridays and Saturdays, we assume that it is the same for Kyrgyzstan. Cost: U.S. $ 55 for each (total: U.S. $ 110)
Day 6 – Chinese Embassy Part 1: The Chinese visa was the one that we were most worried about. Internet forums are overflowing with questions about the application process, how a travel plan should look like, if there are flight tickets needed etc. We arrived early on and were asked inside after a short waiting time. After our bags were checked, the cell phone was switched off and the beeper was passed, we found ourselves in a waiting room with chairs and three counters. The two counters on the left are for applications, the one on the right to pick up the visa. We brought the completed six-page application, as required by machine-written and in capital letters. The application form was very specific, they even asked for our sibling’s professions and all countries we had visited during the last 12 months, including the date and more detailed information. That took quite a while and we were proud of our perfect job. When it was finally our turn, we were immediately sent back. “You need to print that out double-sided” the annoyed guard told us. My brain stormed for a quick solution. “No, you cannot glue the pages!” I did not want to put the guard to a worse humor than he had already, so we turned around and searched for a copy shop. Just a bit down the Bousdan (Boosdan) road on the right (right next to the Swedish Embassy) we found one. There we also got some glue to stick a photo on the application form and a paper clip to attach to the other picture on the passport. Back at the embassy we waited a while again and then were allowed to leave our applications. They asked for the visa application, the supplement, the Visa Support Letter in original plus copy, two copies of each passport, two passport photos and the passports in original. The young Iranian woman at the counter was very friendly and helpful, unlike the security guard who immediately yelled at those poor creatures who dared to get up from their seats without his permission. In four days, we were asked to come back to pick up our visa. Until then we had time to deposit the fee of U.S. $ 40. There was a bank just on the other side of the street where we could change our money into two pieces of paper. Address: Movahed Danesh Ave. 73, Pasdaran Street. Subway: Tajrish, bus or taxi to the Pasdaran Lavasani junction, rest walking. Phone: +98 21 2611 8905 Web address: http://ir.chineseembassy.org/eng/lsfw Opening times: Monday, Tuesday and Thursday: 8.45 am – 12.15 pm and 2.30 – 4.30 pm (afternoon is less busy) Cost: U.S. $ 40 each (total: U.S. $ 80)
Day 7 – Turkmen Embassy Part 2: After a week we were back. In front of us a Thai couple squeezed on the little step in front of the tiny window. Still they had to watch up to talk to the man inside. We queued behind them in the hard sun while some other people (some of their faces were already familiar to us from the other embassies) waited sitting in the shade. Suddenly the window opened and all the men who were waiting came running towards it, using their elbows to kick us down the stairs. What had we been queuing for in the sun? I silently cursed the impolite men in German and flashed my eyes at them. Quickly the window closed again and we sat down next to the others in the shade. There is no reason for queuing anyway. One of the men was finished, packed his passport in a plastic bag and drove away on his motorbike. One less to fight with. I kept complaining to Roberto of that rude man until we heard the motorbike again. The man was back – and he brought ice cream and water for all the people waiting – for us as well. I was puzzled and felt ashamed for my bad talk about the man I had never met. As soon as we began to chat with the group and enjoy our ice cream (it was Ramadan time and it was not easy to east ice cream in public during the day), the time passed a lot quicker. When it was our turn we submitted the completed application form that we had asked for the last time, and the passport. A LOI from our own embassies was not necessary. The longest transit visa possible lasts for seven days but I hardly know anybody who managed to get more than five days. Same with us. The man in the window looked down to us compassionately. “Sorry”, he said. Well at least we got those five days to force 470 kilometers of desert and headwinds. Cost: U.S. $ 55 for each (total U.S. $ 110) Visa: 5 days transit visa, single entry, date precisely. Duration: 7 days in normal processing time
Day 8 – Chinese Embassy Part 2: With the proof of payment I entered the embassy. After I waited for half an hour somebody explained that I had been queuing for the wrong window. We were lucky – the visas were ready as promised. I got my 30-days visa with 90 days time to enter the country. But for some reason Roberto only got 15 days with 30 days time. We went back and asked for a change, because we needed minimum 2 ½ months to cycle to China. The nice young lady felt sorry for us. “I gave you both the same visa, but the Ambassador changed it. Every Embassy has its own rules. I am very sorry, but I cannot help you.” In Mexico Roberto would have gotten even a 90-days double entry visa – but this was not Mexico and rules are different. Too bad. This visa was really a waste of money. We will try again in Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan. Visa: 30 days tourist visa, single entry, no exact entering date, 90 days time to enter the country for Annika (German passport), 15 days tourist visa, single entry, no exact entering date, 30 days time to enter the country for Roberto (Mexican passport). Duration: 4 days in normal processing time
Day 9 – Kyrgyz Embassy Part 2: After a week and a half we came back to the Kyrgyz Embassy to leave our passports. Instead of another four days processing time as should now again take 4 days, but we were asked to come back the very next opening day. Day 10 – Kyrgyz embassy Part 3: It was time. Our visas were ready. A few days after applying for my visa a new law was enforced. According to this law Germans and other 43 countries do not need a visa anymore for the entry of up to 60 days. I do not know whether the Embassy knew about these changes before or if they were surprised themselves, but I threw some money down the drain. Visa: 15 days Tourist visa, double entry, Fixed entry-date Duration: 12 days in normal processing time
Day 11 – Information about the Pakistani and Indian Visa: It had always been easy to enter Pakistan from China. Just bring some money and passport pictures and you’ll get your visa on Arrival in no time. Well things have changed since last fall. Now a visa must be requested before entering the country. No visa – no entry. The only possibility to apply for a Pakistan visa is in the home country. But some embassies are said to make exceptions. Unfortunately the embassy in Tehran does not. Anyway a Visa Support letter would be necessary as well as a LOI written from (depending on the embassy) a local friend or family member, a tour operator or an important person or business. My own embassy did not even give me the Visa Support letter even though I explained my exact travel route that did not touch any as dangerous considered areas. Roberto got his Visa Support Letter easily. For the India visa, a confirmed flight ticket must be presented. Some airlines do offer free cancelling of the tickets so it is possible to buy a ticket, print it out and cancel it again. But well without the Pakistan Visa we do not need the Indian visa either. Both visas are currently on hold. We will try again in Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan. Conclusion: We have spent almost € 450 for the two of us. Furthermore we paid some extra money for tickets for 24 subway rides, various taxi rides, prints and photographs. Now we are proud owners of four new stickers each allowing us a stay of in total 80 (Roberto 65) days in four countries. It only took us some good two weeks. So that was the preparation. I am sure that we have invested well every single penny (except for Roberto’s China visa and my Kyrgyzstan visa) and every single minute. Getting to know people, cultures and places elsewhere helps both: us as persons to develop our personalities and learn new things, as well as strengthening global social empathy. We empathize with the people elsewhere much stronger if we were in the country and have made friends there. After almost a year cycling trip we have 13 countries to cheer for in football, we can say “Thank you” in many languages and we have established countless friendships. An experience that lasts. So now we are curious on the Stans. I am sure the hard work and money were more than worth the effort.