Sorting out all of our visa business a few months ago was a big pain, but I’m happy to say that all of our visa applications are now being processed!
The route we chose for the Mongol Rally has us going through seventeen countries — seven of which require visas for American passport holders. We knew going in that the European Union wouldn’t require any visas. We were surprised to find out that Georgia and Mongolia do not require visas for Americans either. Turkey sells visas on the border for about $20, so that’s an easy one as well.
For every other country on our route, we need visas in advance.
We had to apply for five visas directly (Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan), and request special invites for three countries (Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Russia).
Luckily for us The Adventurists have put together something called The Visa Machine — a visa service based in London’s embassy row which can get Mongol Rally participants nearly every visa they require for a very reasonable fee! Trying to acquire all of these visas and invitations on our own would have been a nightmare (and nigh impossible), so we’re really glad we have the option to let the pros do it.
The Adventurists have also lined up folks in countries requiring an invitation to personally invite each and every rallier via a letter of invitation… This is especially important for certain countries. Turkmenistan, for example, is very selective about who is allowed to enter, and Mongol Ralliers have received special permission. (Turkmenistan is also probably the weirdest country we’ll be going through, so we’re glad that we’ll get the chance to go there.)
Even with the Visa Machine folks doing legwork of physically taking our passports to each embassy, we still had a whole ton of paperwork to fill out. Consulates are notoriously picky about visa applications and can reject you for any random reason. People have been rejected because their staples were the wrong direction or because they used the wrong kind of glue on their passport photo. Doing all of this paperwork exactly to the letter is very important. We had to do a lot of research on border crossings, the cities we would visit along the way, and even listing off specific hotels where we were “planning to stay” (so basically, we needed to list some random hotel that sounded legit, since nobody checks on it once you’re in the country).
Now that we have sent in our applications, it will take several months for all of the visas to go through. Even after they’re granted — if they’re granted — we will still have to get our Azerbaijan visa on our own, since the Visa Machine can’t get that one for us.
At the moment, our visas have been processing for a month. Below is current status of my visas from the Adventurists website. Only one of my visas has come through so far — Russia.
For now, it’s a waiting game.
We’ll keep you posted on when the rest of our visas go through.