This page is probably only going to be useful (and even then, possibly not even interesting) for those of you who are doing your own overland expedition. Here, we will explain all the paperwork and admin that we have done in order to prepare for the trip, including visas, carnets, insurance and other stuff that needs to happen but we wish it didn’t.
Paperwork for the trip:
Make sure it is valid for 6 months to a year the other side of your intended return date. Minimum – plans change; you don’t want to have to get a new passport abroad. Also, have a think about the number of pages you will need for visas. Some countries use a double page spread; others are quite happy to stamp anywhere. The cautious approach is probably safest here!
There are lots of companies that can help you get your visas. The most well known, and perhaps the best, is visamachine. All of them will make their money on the fees they charge, and if you pay them to get you every visa that you need on a multi-visa trip, then you could end up paying double. They will, however, take a lot of the stress out of it, and will save you a lot of form filling in, and a whole bunch of time. We didn’t use them. Well, at least we didn’t pay to use them. By creating an account, and by emailing them with a few questions about your upcoming trip, you can actually get a lot of information out of them. Their online trip planner will tell you exactly which countries you will need a visa for. It’s worth double checking them (use FCO foreign advise if you’re a British national), but in my experience they are pretty accurate. They are also great at replying to emails, or phone calls, with more specific questions.
For lots of countries it is now possible to get an e-visa. They work well, despite our initial worries of just having a slightly dodgy PDF print out, although are sometimes more expensive than doing it the old fashioned way. It also relies on you being able to upload a decent colour passport photo of yourself onto whichever computer you are using – easy in the UK, sometimes less easy when abroad.
The visas we have got on this trip are:
Turkey: E-visa – dead easy
Azerbaijan: E-visa – less easy and takes about a month to come through. Seriously, we nearly got caught out by this.
Uzbekistan: Got in London
Tajikistan: Including GBAO permit (Got in London), although we have since found out that it is possible to get the GBAO permit in Dushanbe very cheaply. It cost us £50 in London.
Russia: Here we got things a bit wrong. We were worried about getting visas ‘on-the-road’, and the delays that this might cause, so we tried to get as many of our visas as possible before we left, which meant guessing at validity dates. The upshot was that our Russian visa was going to expire before got there, so we had to get another in Kazakhstan, and so we ended up paying twice, a fact made particularly bad as Russia is an expensive one, and the online form is a real pain! It’s doable but lengthy and slightly intrusive (for the lefties amongst us), and I don’t even want to think about attempting it with poor wifi!
China: Got in Ulaanbaatar. Requires an ‘itinerary’, outlining everywhere you will be staying. We made it up, using hostelworld.com for addresses, and it was OK. You also need proof of transport both in, and out of, China. This is annoying if you are travelling, as the chances are that you don’t have a proof of transport in yet – and you almost certainly won’t have one for going out again! Fortunately, in UB there are some excellent travel agenies that will ‘reserve’ you some flights on the dates that you want, give you a nice colour print out with your name and passport number on, and not charge you a thing. You don’t even need to cancel the reservation. They know exactly what is going on here – and it wouldn’t surprise me if they start charging for the service soon, but when we were there (December 2015), they didn’t. We paid for express service – applied on Monday, and had our passports back on the Wednesday.
Vietnam: Applied for in Ulaanbaatar. Easy.
Myanmar: We did this a couple of different ways. The E-visa arrived in considerably less time than advertised but cost $50. Applying directly to the embassy in Hong Kong cost $15 and was a next day service.
Cambodia: We applied for one in Bangkok although it is possible to get a visa on arrival. We figured that with the Land Rover we would have enough trouble at the border anyway, so wanted to make it as simple as possible! It was easy – see the post for more detailed info: https://landroverambulance.wordpress.com/2016/02/01/cambodia-visa-in-bangkok/
I think the biggest lesson we learnt on this trip was to not think that getting a visa abroad is impossible. Sometimes it’s actually easier – and cheaper. In hindsight, we should have realised that the delays will happen anyway, and it is better to get a visa a bit closer to the time of entry, perhaps in a city where you want to stay for a few days anyway (or are perhaps, broken down…?), even if it means staying an extra day or two, rather than having to stay an extra week somewhere that isn’t a place of your choosing.
It is also worth carrying a number of passport photos with you, as many as you can be bothered with – it’s surprising how many you get through!
Letters of Invitation (LOI)
Check whether you need a letter of invitation from a country as part of your visa application process. We did for Russia, and used realrussia.com to get them. Their service was the cheapest, and was very efficient – the online PDF LOI arrived pretty much instantly by email. One word of warning – print this out in colour, and the best quality you can as some embassies insist on this being the ‘original’, and you might get away with it if it is a good print out. This need for an ‘original’, with the actual signature/stamp was to plague us slightly on our trip – both for visas (we needed to DHL our Russian LOIs out to Kazakhstan at last minute), and also to get ‘original’ signatures on some shipping paperwork. Again DHL, with the corresponding delays.
You need it – both personal, and in our case, for the vehicle. The only advice I would give for this is about ‘Green card’ cover for the vehicle, which is valid in some European countries. Make sure you get it, and have it clearly obvious on your policy, and when they ask for insurance at the border you can try that! We actually had it, but didn’t know (I know….!), so got charged a few times for extra insurance.
Carnet de Passage
I honestly don’t know where to start with this. Think of it as a cross between a car passport, and insurance, and to be honest, I get angry just thinking about it. The rules are often changing, and indeed changed for us whilst we were on the trip. When we left, we needed a CDP from the RAC for some of the SE Asian countries we were planning on visiting. It cost us a small fortune (over £1000, although we live in hope that some of that will be returned to us!). Whilst on the road, the rules changed, and it was no longer accepted for most of the countries we were going to. Even more annoyingly, for a British registered vehicle, you no longer needed to use the RAC to get the document, and so could use the German equivalent organisation, for about a tenth of the price. I think you can start to see the reasons for my anger! For up to date info, I would recommend joining the overland sphere facebook group and look at some of the info on there.
Vaccinations and anti-malarials
If you’re in the UK, check the NHS fit for travel website. It has everything you need for info, including about malaria. Different doctors surgeries will give you different vaccines for free (strange!), and different private clinics will charge you different amounts, and, funnily enough, be very persuasive in informing you that you need them all!! Asda were the cheapest source of anti-malaria tablets that we could find (as of June 2015), although you needed to give them a fair bit of notice.