Monday, 30 March 2015

Visas: Turkmenistan LOI

Update: I realised I never gave any details about our TVM saga, I will write it up fully soon, but the general jist:
- security breach by releasing passports numbers for everybody (big issue)
- incorrect routes
- a lot of money for no benefit as there are other options

What should you do? Apparently Real Russia can do the LOI for thirty quid, get in touch with them and find out!

Original article:

The on going saga of the Turkmenistan letter of invitation (LOI). At least that's how it feels at the moment. Turkmenistan is a tricky one. A tourist visa requires you to have a guide at all times (far from ideal), but there is a nice little loop hole. The transit visa allows for five days travel within Turkmenistan, all without the need for a guide. Cool, so you might think let's just pop down to the embassy and get that sorted? Well possibly, but then how will you know what dates to put this far in the future, will the embassy be easy to deal with, what if they say no?

This is where The Visa Machine (TVM) step in. Now I've avoided them wherever possible, mainly because I resent paying twice as much for nothing extra in return, but with this one TVM are a necessity. According to the TVM you can get a transit visa (through them) without being date specific. The general process is that you pay TVM some money, they give a list of all the Mongol Ralliers and their entry/exit points to the Turkmenistan embassy, who in return provide a LOI. You take your LOI with you on the rally and when you reach the land border (the one you put on your appication form) there will be all the necessary documentation waiting for you (you will still need to pay for the visa at the border). If you are taking the Caspian Sea ferry then you can collect your visa stamp at the embassy in Baku.

Some quick facts about the LOI:
  • Cost: £51 per person (TVM fee) plus card handling fee (2.3 % + 20 pence)
  • Visa Duration: 5 days
  • Number of Entries: Single
  • LOI Processing Time: still waiting
  • Place of Application and Nationalities: TVM London and UK Citizens

So how did we do it, and what did we need?
  • Passport Photo 35 mm x 45 mm (x1)
  • Printed Application Form (x1)
  • Colour photocopy of passport main page (x1)
  • Digital scan of your passport main page (x1)

Step 1 - The Visa Machine Website

Head on over to the TVM website and buy your Turkmenistan 5 day transit visa. You can only buy this as part of the Mongol Rally, so you need to navigate through to the rally specific page, found here. Select the transit visa and pay your money.

You'll then get directed to a page where you need to input your personal details and trip details. You will also need to upload a scan of your passport main page.

The dates of entry and exit are flexible for the trip details section, so put a rough set of dates in, but bear in mind that the total duration should not exceed five days. You do not need to book the hotel, so choose a random place to stay, a hotel in Ashgabat is always a good shout. The one we chose was the Ak Altyn Hotel, but there are many others.

Step 2 - The Visa Machine Paperwork

Once you have filled in all the online bits, there will be a link to download the paper copy of the application form. Now be careful here. There are two different forms for a Turkmenistan visa, one for a tourist visa, and one for a transit visa. Several ralliers were sent the incorrect form (it was four pages long and requiring lots of details). The correct form is only one sheet of A4, and it is titled 'QUESTIONER', you can download the correct form here.

Above is a copy of my filled out application form (with personal stuff removed). Fix a passport photo to the form with a paper clip, attach a colour photocopy of your passport main page and post it down to the Visa Machine in London. If this is the only visa/LOI that you are doing through TVM then you do not need to post your passport.

Step 3 - Sit Back and Wait

The Visa Machine will keep you updated on the application process by text/email or you can check on the website. Don't expect to receive your copy of the LOI until after the 1st of April deadline. I'll update this post once we receive this.

Step 4 - What Happens at the Border?

We're really not too sure on this one. At least expect to pay money for your visa, internet sleuthing has suggested 55 USD. You will also need to pay a registration fee of 12 USD for a document that you must not lose. Expect beaurocrary, various fees, etc etc, and that's not including the hassle for bringing in your own car! An important point: as you are travelling on a transit visa you do not need to register with the migration police during your stay.

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