Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Visas: Iran

As a British passport holder, this has to be one of the hardest/confusing visas to get. The Iranian Embassy in London has been closed since 2011. There was a glimmer of hope that diplomatic relations would improve significantly, however, this hasn't extended to the consular section of the embassy. That leaves us Brits with a quandary, how do we get a visa?

The general process for obtaining an Iranian visa goes as follows:
  1. Apply (and be approved) for a visa authorisation number using an agency who go through the MFA in Tehran.
  2. Go to the Iranian embassy with you authorisation number and all necessary paperwork.

Sounds simple, right?

Red Tape 1: Well unfortunately in order for a Brit to get an authorisation number they need to be part of a guided tour in Iran. This isn't necessarily a problem, more a financial burden. There are plenty of companies that can offer custom guide services, and if you have enough people in your group then the costs come down a lot per person. You will have to think up an itinerary so that does remove some of the sense of adventure, and you have to have accommodation booked for each night (usually through the guide).

Red Tape 2: Once you get your authorisation number you have 30 days to pick up your stamp. Once you have your stamp it is only valid for 90 days. So timings are important!!

Red Tape 3: The visa stamp needs to be collected in person. Now the definition of 'in person' seems to be quite loose. The Iranian Embassy in Frankfurt accepts the application from any person, just not through the post. This means if you have a friend who lives there, they can do it for you. If you're not lucky enough to know someone who lives in 'Mainhattan', then you can use a variety of courier services.

Where are we at? Well we've arranged a convoy, we're in contact with a tour guide, and we're just about to apply for the whole authorisation number malarky. As ever updates will come thick and fast!

Update: we arranged a convoy of 10 cars, all through the internet. Word of warning here, you will need to pay for the guide in cash at the border, make sure everybody in your convoy knows this so that you're not coming up short (even better get them to transfer you the money to avoid dropouts, it happens). Once you have your convoy organised you will need to send copies of passport identity pages and filled out visa forms to the tour guide company. They will arrange for the authorisation code to be generated (for British passport holders this takes a while, in our case two months). On receipt of the authorisation code you need to go to an Iranian embassy, we chose Frankfurt as we were not sure if the code would come in on time, and at least we were passing through Frankfurt. It will take the embassy a couple of days to process the visa, and you need to deliver and pick it up in person. If you are organised then get one person in your convoy to do a visa run (to cut down costs, assuming the person doing the visa run doesn't rack up a big bill, but that's another story).

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Communication: Satellite Based Tracking

Something all teams will be mulling over is how do you communicate when you're in the middle of nowhere? We looked at all manner of options, particularly looking at international SIM cards, trying to find the cheapest. All the time, we were quietly contemplating GPS tracking. If only there was a device that could combine GPS tracking and some form of communication? Luckily there are a few emerging technologies that satisfy this need.

I narrowed down all the options to either a SPOT Gen3 or a DeLorme inReach SE. The SPOT is a well established device that offers frequent tracking and the ability to send pre-composed text messages. The inReach offers the ability to track and send custom messages, but here's the great part, you can receive text messages as well! Below is a table of comparison between four different GPS trackers.

As you can see the inReach SE performs favourably (the Explorer is the more expensive model). Therefore, my mind was made up, get an inReach SE! So over the last few months I've been (almost daily) searching on eBay for a second hand unit (I tried reaching out to DeLorme for sponsorship, but no luck there). Finally a unit came up at a reasonable price, and I didn't even hesitate to purchase. The device is fantastic, robustly built, smart design. I'll update with our live tracking map once that is all set up.

Note: a word on subscription plans. Like all satellite based communication you will need to pay a fair bit to actually use your device. The SPOT device offers year long contracts from around 130 USD. The inReach is more expensive (due to the messaging capabilities) but offers monthly contracts (perfect for short trips). If there are a few people in your team then it is worth going for the DeLorme expedition plan (approx 65 USD a month). This plan offers unlimited text messaging, meaning you can keep your blog updated daily and in detail. You can also message mobile phones and email addresses to let loved ones know you are safe and well, and receive unlimited responses.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Making the news!

Here's a scan from the Nottingham Post, published 17th April 2015. A really well written article that will hopefully give us some much needed publicity! The article can also be found online here.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Visas: Kazakhstan (The Decision)

The Kazakhstan government passed a bill last year that allowed British passport holders to enter without requiring a visa. This was part of a trial scheme that unfortunately ends in July 2015. However, if the scheme is deemed successful then the trial will be extended. As of writing we still do not know if it will be extended or not. So that leaves us with two options:

Option 1

Pay for a tourist visa. At 35 GBP it's one of the cheaper ones to apply for. You do not need an LOI, or a hotel booking, and the visa will last for 30 days from your stated start date.

Option 2

Play the waiting game. If the trial is extended then you win, you do not need to do anything and you can just show up at the border and get a 15 day visa. If the trial does not get extended then you will have to pay for the tourist visa. Luckily reports suggest that the embassy turnaround time is pretty good (approximately five days), so you can afford to wait.

Our Verdict

If you need longer than 15 days in Kazakhstan then definitely apply for the tourist visa. If you anticipated spending less than 15 days then we would suggest waiting. There are plenty of other visa you can apply for in the meantime.

Update: we applied for our Kazakhstan visa mid-way through May. We couldn't wait any longer, and due to needing to do other visa applications we sent off for a 30 day visa. Full guide can be found here [link coming soon].

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Visas: Russia

NOTE: British passport holders need to apply in person, in order for their fingerprints to be taken. You will also need a double entry visa, regardless of route, or even multiple entry business visa (pricey).

We are planning on applying for this one during mid May. The reason being that we will luckily be in Edinburgh, and therefore able to apply in person at the centre there. Until that time, here's a general overview of the process:

  1. Apply for an LOI through any seller you choose.
  2. Complete the online application form through VFS Global.
  3. Take your printed out form, LOI, passport, passport photo (35 mm x 45 mm), and a photocopy of passport with you to the VFS Global centre in either London or Edinburgh.
  4. Take a queue token, wait in the 'holding area', have your documents processed, and your fingerprints taken. Then it's the waiting at home game.
  5. VFS Global process the documentation and send it to the Russian Embassy for approval (or not), the turn around time is typically 5 day. Once processed you can either collect your passport in person (from the VFS centre) or have it securely posted back to you (at a cost of around £10).
This process is different to how I have previously applied for a Russian visa, but there should be plenty of similarities. We will most likely apply for the LOI and fill in the application form by the end of April, so expect an update then.

Update: having read, re-read, re-re-read, and slept on it, I've decided that the best course of action for us is to get a 90 day double entry business visa. This means we will be able to spend up to 30 days in a 90 day window in Russia. One of the reasons behind this is that we can not be fully certain of entry/exit dates. Furthermore, the business visa allows for a flexible 'itinerary-less' journey.

The actually cost of applying for the visa is still the same (VFS costs of £104), it is just the LOI that costs more, roughly 30 pounds. We also have various timings to keep to, and we don't have the flexibility in time off work to have our fingerprints taken whenever. Other factors include LOI processing time, and the fact that LOIs won't be issued so many months in advance (unless you pay more).

Some facts about what we are doing:

  • Double Entry Business Visa
  • LOI support through Real Russia (£57.50)
  • Anticipated fingerprinting date: 25th May
  • LOI application on 1st May (12 working days processing)
  • Russian visa start date: 4th August
  • Russian visa end date: 1st November
I appreciate this a rambling update, really only specific to our situation. I'll break down the facts soon.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Car: Mandatory Safety Equipment

It seems the British (and Dutch) governments have very little concern for our motoring safety, at least judging by all various pieces of driving safety equipment that are not mandatory! For all other countries you will need a variety of different pieces of equipment. As a general rule, don't think you can get away with not having it. You don't want to give over zealous cops another opportunity to fine you. Regardless of whether it is mandatory or not, it makes sense to have a lot of the items, just in case. Here's a quick list of the stuff you'll most likely need:

 Fluorescent Jacket

If you get broken down at the side of a motorway, it is well worth sticking on a high-vis vest. When you're stuck on the steppe of Mongolia, then probably not so much. In some countries it is compulsory for it to be within the reach of the driver, i.e. not buried in the back of the boot. In other countries it is necessary to have high-vis jackets for all passengers. Our recommendation is to have a couple of high-vis jackets stuffed under the driver's seat. That way they're nice and easy to reach.
  • Countries required in: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia.

 Warning Triangle

Much like the fluorescent jackets, this an ideal piece of kit for breaking down on busy roads. Make sure you place it a hundred or so metres down the road, there's no point warning people you're broken down two feet away from your bumper! In some countries it is compulsory to have two triangles, we've indicated that in the list below.
  • Countries required in: Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Georgia (x2), Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey (x2).

 First Aid Kit

An item that quite frankly you should have anyway. I know the Mongol Rally is a tongue in cheek middle finger up to health and safety, but seriously if you have an accident then you'll want to be prepared.
  • Countries required in: Albania, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Slovakia, Russia, Turkey.

 Tow Rope

You're almost certainly going to need this at some point. Even if it is used to hitch up to a tractor to get towed across a swollen river in the middle of nowhere. Also a useful bit of kit to have to help out fellow ralliers whose car has gone kaput. Or even your own car in the worst case scenario.
  • Countries required in: Croatia, Macedonia.

 Fire Extinguisher

You're driving a crap car, through a baking hot desert, you're running low on water, what are you going to do in the event of a fire? If you have an electrical fire you most certainly don't want to be throwing water on it, hence the need for a powder extinguisher. If you never have to use it then you you can save it for the finish line, for the obligatory photo op of you spraying it in the air. 
  • Countries required in: Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey.

 Spare Bulbs

A necessity for certain countries. Also makes sense to have a few spares as you don't want to be driving along the Pamirs late at night with only one driving beam. It's also recommended (but not compulsory) to have a few spare fuses. 
  • Countries required in: Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Russia.


There are a lot of misconceptions floating around about this one. Quite simply the law in France makes it mandatory to carry a breathalyser. However,  if you are in a foreign (non-French) registered vehicle then the fine for not having one is zero euros. So you are technically breaking the law by not having one, but you won't be punished. Our decision: don't take one.
  • Countries required in: France.

Visas: General Guide

It seems sensible to give you an overview of visas, requirements, deadlines etc, especially as we write more and more 'how to guides'.

Below is a list that will summarise different visas for the rally, costs, and other details. We can't complete this for all the countries that you may encounter, so at the moment this is just for our route. We've listed them in order of when we will encounter that country, and have started with those outside of the European Union.

Note: these brief guides are all written from the viewpoint of a British passport holder living in the UK.


For British passport holders this visa can be applied for online, up to one day before entry to the country. It cannot be applied for any early than 3 months before travel. Payment and application is online, and costs 20 USD (watch out for your own bank charges for currency conversion). You get an email with a confirmation that you should print out and present at the border, in return for a stamp in your passport. Key points: super easy, 20 USD (~16 GBP), online.


No visa required for UK and EU citizens. Show up at the border and get let in. You can spend up to 90 days (in a 180 day window) in Georgia as a tourist without having to fill out any paperwork.


No visa required for UK  and EU citizens. Show up at the border and get let in. You can spend up to 90 days (in a 180 day window) in Armenia as a tourist.


This one is complicated. Very complicated. UK/USA/Canadian visitors need a guide. UK citizens will need to pick up their visa stamp from a different country as the London Iranian Embassy is closed for consular services. Full and detailed explanation about how to do it is coming soon. 


Expect lots of beaurocracy. Easiest (ish) thing to do is get the LOI through the Visa Machine, then get your visa at the border control (by presenting the LOI). At the border, or embassy in Baku, you will need to pay 55 USD (based on research) for the visa stamp. There is also a 12 USD tourist fee at the border. One piece of good news is that on a transit visa you do not need to register with the migration police during your stay. Key points: Visa Machine LOI deadline of 1st April. Full explanation found here.
Update: a variety of people had incorrect LOIs from the Visa Machine. If you are going through Iran and know your Turkmenistan entry date then it is possible to get a free LOI from the embassy in London, I'm not up to date on all the details, but definitely research it.


Easy peasy for British passport holders. Do this one yourself, apply up to 6 months before entry, should possibly be the first one you should do. Doesn't require any booked hotels, or even definitive entry/exit dates. The only really important point seems to be to make sure you register at a hotel once up to three days into your arrival. Key points: easy, ~70 GBP, by post. A full guide explaining how to apply can be found here


Another relatively easy one, definitely do this one yourself as you can apply up to 6 months before entry. If you are planning on taking the Pamir Highway then you need to specifically mention this in your application so that you can obtain a GBAO permit. Requires at least one hotel booking, but dates can be flexible, just explain your situation in your cover letter. Key points: easy, ~77 GBP, by post. A full guide explaining how to apply can be found here


The kind people of Kyrgyzstan have introduced a visa waiver scheme for British passport holders. You can spend up to 60 days as a tourist in their country and not have to fill out any paperwork or pay any money!


To wait, or not to wait? Kazakhstan currently has a visa waiver scheme for British passport holders. Unfortunately the trial of this scheme expires on the 15th July 2015. It is still uncertain as to whether this will be extended or not. Therefore, there are two options: wait and see, or apply for a tourist visa. We are currently in the 'wait and see' category. Reports suggest that the turn around time for processing a tourist visa is very quick (roughly five days), so we can afford to wait a bit longer (we'll make a decision around the start of June).
Update: they extended the visa free regime, so you can just show up at the border and get let in.


Another bureaucratic nation? In the past the Russian visa was tricky for UK citizens, but doable. Therefore, just to make things interesting, the Russians change the rules so that from December 2014 visa applicants are required to have their fingerprints scanned at one of their centres in London or Edinburgh. There are also several different options for this visa, but one thing is for certain, you will need at least a double entry visa. In order to do this you will need a LOI (with itinerary) that can be obtained relatively easily through a number of online merchants. I'll be applying for the Russian visa by the end of April, so expect a full guide then, for the moment you can find an overview here.


The country we've all been waiting for. Another kindly country, a visa waiver scheme was introduced for British passport holders recently, with the scheme running until 31st December 2015. Simply show up at the border and get let in.

*If this guide has been helpful (and saved you some time and worry), and you would like to say thank you then feel free to donate a couple of quid to our charity, Anthony Nolan, through our Just Giving link.

Documents: IDP (International Driving Permit)

What is the International Driving Permit (IDP)? It is a document born out of a series of treaties between different countries. It essentially allows you to not have to take a driving test in each country, with your home licence being sufficient, but needing a special new document to declare that. Increasingly there are less countries that require you to have one, but the moment you leave the European Union it is an essential piece of paperwork. This guide will help you through the process.

Firstly, there are two ways to apply for the IDP. They follow much the same system, one is done in person, the other is done by post. In order to do this in person you need to find your nearest post office branch that offers this service, because not all branches do it. Use the handy little branch finder on the post office website (link). Enter your postcode or town, on the 'Products and Services' drop down menu, scroll to the 'Driving' section then hit the check box for 'International Driving Permits'. Alternatively, if you want to do this by post (and incur a few extra pounds cost), then head on over to the AA website and use their guide found here, or the RAC website here.

So before we begin, some quick points about the IDP.
  • Cost: £5.50 per IDP (in person), £8.50 (AA by post), £8 (RAC by post)
  • IDP Duration: 12 months from start date
  • IDP Processing Time: 10 minutes (in person), about 10 working days (by post)
  • Place of Application and Nationalities: Post Office/AA/RAC and UK Citizens
  • Application Date: you can apply up to 3 months in advance of the start date

So how did we do it? Firstly here is our little check list of things you will need per person:
  • Passport Photo 35 mm x 45 mm (x1)
  • Printed Application Form (x1)
  • Passport (if applying in person), or photocopy of passport main page (by post)
  • Driving Licence and Counterpart (in person), or photocopy (by post)

Step 1 - The Application Form and the IDP

Below is a scan of the application form that you can get at the Post Office. The online/by post form looks slightly different and can be found here (AA) or here (RAC).

Fill out all the details and select which type of permit your require (1926 versus 1949). For the Mongol Rally you will definitely need a 1949. However, if you're mad enough to want to go and visit Iraq (or Somalia, or Brazil) then you will need to apply for the 1926. For further information a list of countries and guidance can be found here.

Once you have filled in all the necessary details, show the person at the counter your driving licence and counterpart and your passport (another form of photo identification will do if your passport if off at an embassy somewhere). Give them your passport photo (signed on the back), it doesn't need to be attached (at least I didn't bother), and the application form. They'll go about their routine of hand writing details onto the permit, stamping it multiple times, and no doubt asking you a multitude of questions about your upcoming trip!

Finally once that is all done (it took about 10 minutes for me) you will have a nice pale brown looking piece of card that you probably could have made at home. A copy of the one I applied for last year is below:

If this guide has been helpful (and saved you some time and worry), and you would like to say thank you, then feel free to donate a couple of quid to our charity, Anthony Nolan, through our Just Giving link.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Decals: Team Gobiyond Stickers

A small challenge we are setting ourselves: how many other ralliers can we tag? We've been busy making custom vinyl stickers, ready to be slapped on the side of any nearby Mongol Rally team. These stickers are really easy to make, all you need is an inkjet printer, A4 sheets of sticky vinyl (available from ebay), and a bit of time. 

If you want to make your own custom stickers then our top tip is pick a simple design (we went for black and white to save ink) and also a simple shape (with hindsight we should have  gone for a square sticker, then cutting could have been done quickly with a guillotine).