As I'm sure you can imagine, we did a lot of research in order to plan for all the different aspects of this trip. For anybody who's interested in some of the details of what we did, or even if you're planning your own trip, here's some points of interest, useful links, things to watch out for, etc. Please contact us at www.facebook.com/4guysinacar or by emailing email@example.com if we can help you with any other information. We'd love the chance to pass on some of the things that we learnt on our trip!
This information is for Australians applying from Australia and will vary depending on the country or city. Obviously this type of information changes over time as well, sometimes not much or not for a long time, but sometimes quite drastically and quickly. We got our Indian, Nepalese, Chinese and Pakistani visas in Melbourne at the start of 2012.
Fill in the form online, print, and take it to the visa office with your passport and other documents (an itinerary and cover letter explaining why we didn't have flight tickets was all we needed).
Print off the form from this link, fill it in and take it to the consulate with your passport. This was a really easy visa to obtain - took about five minutes for all four of us. There were no supporting documents at all necessary.
Print off the form from this link and take it to the visa office with your passport. I was given an exception, I'm not sure why - perhaps the lady was in a good mood - but you have to attach a copy of any previous Chinese visas with your application. More information.
There are very specific requirements for driving foreign vehicles in China. See below for more details on this.
Print off the form and fill it in (or fill it in on the computer and then print it off). Then, together with a detailed itinerary (we included an overview of our entire trip, and details about India, Bangladesh and Iran in ours), copies of every car document we could get our hands on, copies of pages from our Carnet de Passage, personal information about each of us, a cover letter, an addressed envelope for them to send our visas back to us in, a money order (cash/cheque not accepted), and of course our passports, we mailed it in an express post, registered envelope to the Pakistani High Commission in Canberra. We were quoted a seven day wait, but in fact we sent it on Friday and it arrived back on Monday.
The Pakistani visa was valid for 6 months and our original itinerary had us arriving in Pakistan 5 months after leaving Melbourne. Obviously this didn't leave much lee-way with timing, but something important to remember about Pakistan and to keep an eye out when applying for any visa, is that it was mandatory for the application to be made and processed in the country of residence of the applicant. So there was no option of leaving it until later. We didn't end up going to Pakistan anyway because of the closure of Tibet (Day 75, Day 87, Day 93, Day 94), but we met many people along the way who had missed this vital factor and were unable to get visas for Pakistan without going home. More information.
Letters of Invitation and Visa Support Requirements
To drive a foreign vehicle through China it is compulsory to have a Chinese tour guide in your car at all times, organised through an approved tour company. They'll also have to organise temporary Chinese registration for your car, drivers' licences and permits for the areas you're travelling through. I contacted several different companies and made a spreadsheet of what each one was offering for various prices. After much consideration, we decided to go with NAVO. Although slightly more expensive than the others, NAVO was reputable and considering how much money is involved and how important China was to our trip (if we couldn't go through China we couldn't progress to the rest of our trip), we thought (and certainly hoped) it would be worth it. Unfortunately, as soon as we met our guide we realised we’d made a mistake. Not only was he very bad at his job and barely spoke English, but he didn't have our itinerary, he couldn't help us with basic driving queries such as directions, parking signs and speed limits and our complaints to NAVO were met with disdainful patronising that made us very uncomfortable. It wasn’t until Tracy (the correspondent from NAVO that I had been speaking with for over a year) got us involved with a very dodgy conman that we realised just how serious the mistake that we’d made was. Between NAVO and this "friend" we were threatened denial of our Kazakh visas unless we paid a US$1,000 bribe. If I was to drive through China again I would not even consider using NAVO given the trouble got us in.
More detail on what happened to us in China:
Day 117 - The incompetency of NAVO: Part 1 - Kazakhstan visa troubles.
Day 118 - The incompetency of NAVO: Part 2 - Our sub-par tour guide.
Other tour companies (in order of who we considered booking through):
www.chinaexploration.com contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
www.chinaoverland.org contact: email@example.com
When applying for your Chinese visa, you will need the letter of invitation and itinerary that your tour organiser will draw up for you (which needless to say NAVO didn't manage properly), along with your passport, application form and passport photos.
Central Asia ("The Stans")
Our main problem with Central Asia was that we couldn't actually apply for any visas, obtain Letters of Invitation or book anything that needed to be booked until much nearer the time. Things would have been much easier if we could have had everything sorted out before leaving Melbourne, but according to our original itinerary which took us through Tibet, Nepal, India and Pakistan, that would have been nine or so months in advance, and inconveniently everything we needed would only be valid for one or two or three months. exact dates
Because of our route change due to the closure of Tibet (Day 75, Day 87, Day 93, Day 94) we actually did reach Central Asia much earlier than expected, but it still wouldn't have been early enough for us to organise it all while we were still in Melbourne.
Supposedly it would have been possible to obtain a Turkmen tourist visa on arrival at the border, but only at the Bajgiran-Gaudan crossing (which is the main one on the Iranian border near Ashgabat) and only with a Letter of Invitation already issued. Because we didn't end up entering at that border I can't confirm or deny whether this really is the case, and having experienced what we did on this trip, I certainly wouldn't take this at face value without having somebody really reliable to confirm it. To be honest I would just secure the visa before arrival regardless. (At the airport it's possible to get the visa on arrival, this is just information for land border crossings.)
The LOI can only be applied for less than two months before arrival and will take 1-2 weeks to issue, with slight variations depending on the issuing company. In order to receive a Letter of Invitation and a tourist visa, all foreigners must have a tour guide throughout the duration of their time in the country.
The process for getting a transit visa is much simpler in many ways and doesn't require you to have a tour guide or LOI, but will only be valid for upto 5 days, sometimes as few as 2. It must be applied for in the country you're in directly before visiting Turkmenistan (call this Country 1), and you have to be able to prove you are "transiting" by showing the visa for the country you are "transiting" through Turkmenistan to (call this Country 2). Country 2 can't share a border with Country 1 since that would then render the notion of "transiting" redundant. So for example our Country 1 was Uzbekistan, therefore our Country 2 couldn't be Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan or Afghanistan as they all share borders with Uzbekistan. Our Country 2 was Iran, so we had to have our Iranian visas before we could get our Turkmen transit visas.
Click here and here to read about how exactly we got our Turkmen visas.
Uzbekistan has really opened up its borders to tourists in the last couple of years, and as we speak they are busy building up the tourism industry across the country, so visa requirements are becoming simpler as we speak.
Each embassy has slightly different requirements, but a fairly standard procedure, and what we did for applying in Almaty, Kazakhstan was to get Letters of Invitations which will probably take about 1-2 weeks (for which we used StanTours), fill in the form online and print it out and then the visa was issued on the spot at the embassy.
Click here and here to read about how exactly we got our Uzbek visas.
We did need visas for Kazakhstan, but the 44 richest countries (of which Australia is not surprisingly one) didn't need a Letter of Invitation. Like with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan though the Kazakh borders are opening up and becoming much more accessible now and we've heard that it is now possible to get a visa on arrival at any land border. I can't confirm that though, so a lot of research would have to be done to be sure of that. Often new regulations will be put in place but it might take a while for this information to filter through to the men actually on the ground, so sometimes the situation you are in fact met with in real life isn't what the official website told you it would be.
We got our visas in Urumqi, China. The process itself was very simple and only took a couple of days to process. Unfortunately we had a few complicating factors, but it wasn't because of the visa application itself.
Click here to read about exactly what we went through to get our Kazakh visas.
We got Kyrgyz visas issued in Almaty, Kazakhstan. It was really simple and we didn't need any supporting documents. Two days later we learnt that Kyrgyzstan had become visa free for those 44 richest countries. So now it is possible to arrive at any Kyrgyz border without having previously gotten a visa.
Useful links for Central Asia
When it came time for us to get the LOI's and visas that we needed we ended up using StanTours for everything. Before departing Melbourne I researched a lot of companies for each of the things that we needed, and StanTours had been consistently informative and helpful, with a breadth of expertise and knowledge that they were able to share with me about Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan. David from StanTours was an absolutely invaluable source of information even though we only ended up getting Uzbek and Iranian LOI's from him, he provided us with so much advice on various embassies, specifics of visas and details about individual border crossings. Everything he told us was correct and he saved us a lot of money with some of his suggestions. I would highly recommend for anyone visiting any of these countries to speak to get in touch with StanTours. Contact them on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another source that I found to be useful was Advantour. We actually stumbled across their offices a few times when we were in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and asked them for directions and maps and such like. We considered using them for some of the LOI’s that we needed but didn’t in the end, so I can’t personally recommend them, but from all reports they provide very satisfactory service. Contact them on email@example.com.
Below is the table I drew up before leaving to help get my head around some of the visa options for Central Asia. There was quite a lot more detail that I had on various other tables, but this might give you an idea of what we were looking at:
In reality though, as long as you have a photo, most embassies really don’t care. We got square 2” x 2” photos with light blue backgrounds and that was fine for China, India and Pakistan. All the others were fine with the Australian standard size. One thing to note was that I had to have my head covered in the photo I submitted with my Iranian visa application.
There are a few places in Melbourne where you can get different sizes of photos taken, but post offices will only do the Australian size. During office hours there are photo booths that dispense 2” x 2” (51mm x 51mm). We used a photo shop at 246 Swanston Street which was open on weekends and evenings, and one on Glenferrie Road in Malvern which was also open past office hours.
Not sure how many of these photos we’d actually end up using we each got a couple of 51 x 51mm and a couple of 45 x 35mm and copied them onto photo paper ourselves to save money. In total we spent $15 between us and left with 100 photos each. That was a bit ridiculous in hindsight – we used about a dozen each – but never the less, we went prepared.
Please bear with us, I am currently working on updating this page and in the mean time there are a few links and bits of information missing and not arranged properly. I hope to have this page completed very soon. (August 2013). If there's something that isn't on here that you think should be please send me a message at www.facebook.com/4guysinacar or an email to firstname.lastname@example.org . Thanks for your patience.
Although we like to think we're pretty unique and outrageous, the truth is there are plenty of other people that have made somewhat similar journeys as what we are intending. Here's a few of the ones that we have found blogs for and have used as inspiration and reference.
People we met on the road
A Swiss couple we met in Penang National Park, waiting to catch the boat out to the incredibly creepy Monkey Beach.
One of those people who you meet on your travels who you just have the utmost respect for, and very fond memories of. Alex made our time in Chiang Mai, Thailand an absolute joy and we love to keep up with what he's upto on his travels.
We only got to spend one afternoon on a sinking boat and an evening in a bar with no lights on with this cool bloke and his travel companions, but that was enough to solidify our interest in each other's travels. A self-proclaimed surf instructor/travel writer and photogropher, Chris is a very interesting guy to check out.
Ben and Brendan lived in Shanghai for two years and are now cycling from there to Dublin to raise awareness for hemachromatosis. Our paths crossed while we were all waiting to be granted entry to the Uzbek Embassy in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
We thought we were safe to assume we'd be the only Victorian licence plates in Uzbekistan, but lo an behold we rocked up at a B&B in Samarqand and found a Victorian motorbike. We spent the evening chatting to Andy Chan, the rider of the bike, who happens to live in North Balwyn, about 1km from my house!
We met Keeley and Robin, an English couple at the guesthouse we stayed at in Bishkek. At the time they were about four months into a two or three year motorbike trip around the whole world and we took a lot of advice from them about Central Asia.
Laura and Ashley were staying at Bahodir B&B in Samarqand, Uzbekistan at the same time as us. We've met so many overland cyclists in this part of the world, but these ones are unique because of two main factors: 1. They're fellow Australians. 2. They're on a tandem bicycle! And they have a very interesting blog:
http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Moonlight-Rock-Resort-Beach-Bar/233323310050287 www.hyrologichealth.com .