Across the Russian/Kazakhstan Border
June 17, 2014
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Tuesday, June 7, 2014

After stopping at Coffee Art for a very nice latte we set off for the short 37 km drive to the border. We arrived at 10:32am to find 6 cars waiting in front of the border checkpoint and in front of us. So we joined the line. It looked like only 3-4 cars were allowed through the checkpoint at any one time, presumably to prevent over-crowding at the actual border post. There was some initial confusion on our part before we actually entered the Russian checkpoint: someone also in line pointed to what looked like a shop and wade at us to go in. We didn’t get much wiser after checking it out; there was a lady there trying to do ‘something’ with our passports. After a few confused minutes we gave up and walked back out to our car. Turned out we didn’t miss anything and later thought they were maybe the equivalent of the final immigration check on entering Russia. But we will never know.

The rest of the crossing process was very painless. We even picked up some third-party insurance valid in Kazakhstan. In less than 2 hours we were driving slowly towards Semey, our destination for the evening. We found out later that we should’ve paid more attention to what the ‘helpful’ security guard had written on our arrival/departure cards……

Buying insurance at a shack just past the border.

We drive slowly as the Kazakhstan traffic police are apparently notorious. But we successfully evaded them.

We checked into Hotel Semey in Semey, relaxed a bit and then went for a walk. First stop: the immigration police to register. There’s this soviet style thing about having to register when you stay more than 5 days in the country (actually it’s a bit more complicated than that, but regardless we have to register or face a fine). We waited in line, only to be given a form that had to be stamped by our hotel before we could do this registration thing. So back to the hotel we went, got the stamp, and then back to the immigration police before they closed for the day. The (friendly and English speaking) officer took our passports (and the forms), and then said that on a ‘transit visa’ one doesn’t need to register as transit is valid for 5 days only. ‘No’, we said, we have ‘tourist visas’. Turned out that the helpful security guard mentioned above wrote ‘transit’ (in cyrillic this looks like “транзит”) instead of ‘tourist’ on our arrival cards and now we were faced with a bit of a problem. It is just about impossible to change ‘visa class’ in KZ (no matter what the actual visa in our passports says, it’s that arrival/departure card that counts). So we were now looking at gunning it in 2 days to Almaty to see whether we can get this changed there, and if not, leave the country on day 5……..

Not what we’d hoped for.