This post is about the government documentation we needed and obtained to bring our car and ourselves into Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan in General
Getting our car into Uzbekistan was easy. Getting the visa for ourselves was not difficult, but did require a little bit of planning and some US dollars for the visa agency as well as the embassy. We used an agency to assist with the process mainly to avoid wasting time waiting on the Uzbekistan embassy.
Before the Border
About six weeks before our planned entry date we started the process to apply for our Uzbekistan visas. Our travel companions in China, Kim and Vaughan, had used StanTours to assist them with their Letter of Invitation (LOI) and visa application. Additionally Craig from Bermunda Rover and Lonely Planet also recommended StanTours. So we fired off an email to them and started the process. It was not long before we got a response which resulted in us answering a series of questions and providing electronic photocopies of our passport.
The only painful part of the LOI application process was making the payment. StanTours does not accept Visa, Amex, MasterCard, Paypal or other typical online payment methods. We ended up wire transferring the money and paying USD $50 in bank charges. The bank charges are very annoying. StanTours charged us USD $70 each for the LOI.
We have read that citizens of the United Kingdom, Belgium and some other countries do not actually need a Letter of Invitation. However, without an LOI the visa application process at an embassy takes at least 10 days to complete, and we did not want to waste time hanging around Bishkek for 10 days waiting our visa application to be processed. Applying for and obtaining the LOI in advance meant the visa would be issued on the spot once we were in Bishkek. And this is why we had StanTours assist us.
While in Almaty we visited David at StanTours to settle payment with him and get some general travel and border crossing advice. StanTours office is located at Zharokova 282, 3rd Floor, Office 34 or N43.206505, E76.903063.
While travelling around Issyk-köl we got an email letting us know our LOI had been issued and attached a copy for us. We had our guesthouse ring the embassy in Bishkek to make an appointment for us. The number to ring was +996-312-66-30-78. Turns out the lady at the other end of the phone speaks good English, so having a Russian speaker was not necessary. Two days later at the Uzbekistan embassy we got our visas issued on the spot. While this all sounds very easy, there is a bit of a convoluted and confusing procedure at the embassy. The “ice-lady” appears at 10am and reads off a list of names indicating the order in which people will be processed. She does not make it easy by adding a number to each name. So, we had to remember who raised their hand before us. For those not on the list, she encouraged you in stern language to ring after 3pm so you can be added to the list for another day. Not entirely friendly. There were many people present who were not on the list and hoping to be seen anyway. We have no idea if they were successful or not. Best bet is to make an advance appointment. We were sixth on the list and ended up waiting 1 hour and 20 minutes before it was our turn. Once inside we had the visa added to our passports within 5 minutes and did not have to answer any questions. The fee for the visa was USD $75 each and was paid on the spot. We suspect other currencies are not accepted, but this was not clear.
We were delighted to get our visa and glad the LOI, advance appointment and embassy visit procedure all worked out as planned. This saved us considerable time.
We crossed from the border town of Osh in Kyrgyzstan into Uzbekistan. The A373 road basically continues straight through the border checkpoint and into Uzbekistan. For those who like lat/long coordinates, the Uzbekistan checkpoint we used is located at N43.025026° and E74.703548°.
It took us 1 hour and 40 minutes to be processed through the Uzbek border checkpoint. Everyone was very correct, but things move slowly and there are many steps to be competed, so it all takes a little time. There was also a new form which we did not know about, and it was not in English, but with a little help form others, we worked it out. The steps involved in the crossing:-
- Step 1: After driving 100m or so from the Kyrgyzstan perimeter we reached the perimeter security fence of the checkpoint. In front of us was one very large truck parked in front of the vehicle entrance and a long line of people waiting to enter at the side entrance. We joined the line expecting to be waiting for a while. But the guy in front of us told us to go to the front of the line and tell the guard to open the gate for us (as we had a car). We felt a little uncomfortable jumping the queue like this, so rejoined the people line. On our return the guy decided we needed a little extra help and went with us to the front of the queue, shouted something in a language we did not understand. Some heavily armed guards emerged out of a guard box. After checking our passports and consulting with someone on the other end of his radio, he promptly opened the gate and let the truck and us in. We drove through a “sheep dip” of some bug killing chemicals and then were directed to the inspection area which was guarded by two very hungry looking dogs.
- Step 2: We got split us, which seems the normal process here in Central Asia. Caroline went right and directly to the immigration office and Stephen went left to the customs office to sort out the paperwork for the car. The customs official handed Stephen 4 blank forms, 2 customs declaration forms which we are famaliar with and 2 new forms the purpose of which was completely unclear. The official spoke limited English and Stephen was having a little confusion understanding him and the required process. It took a while, but Stephen worked out that the customs official wanted all 4 forms filled out and a copies of drivers passport and car documentation, and then and only then would he proceed with whatever he had to do. In hindsight this is all very obvious, but at the time it was a little confusing. The next steps explain what happened in a little more detail.
- Step 3: There is a small office to the left of the customs office with the word Bank (in Russian) above it. This is where you can get copies of your passport and car documentation if needed. We already had copies so we skipped over this step.
- Step 4: Filling out the forms took quite a bit of effort. All of the forms were all in Russian, but fortunately we had prepared by previously downloading an english version of the customs declaration form on the laptop. Even with the laptop assistance, it was still a little difficult to complete the form. Stephen finally gave up trying to work out what to do with the other two forms and headed over to the immigration building to get some assistance. And in the process he accidentally got stamped into Uzbekistan by immigration. I am sure that step was meant to happen later. Oh well. In the immigration office they had english versions of the customs declaration forms and signs in english on how to compete them. Having the english forms would have made life a little easier. But we still had the other two forms to complete. So Stephen shouted out to a long line of people, “does anyone speak english?”. Some Belgians responded, but as they didn’t read Russia, there assistance was not very helpful. After asking around, Stephen found a guy who claimed not to speak english, but clearly he did as he was speaking english to us. Although he was a little nervous about something, he ended up providing a very excellent translation service. One form requested details of the vehicle and the other details of the importer. With the strangers assistance the forms were quickly competed.
- Step 5: Stephen returned to the customs office and handed in the completed forms and photocopies. The official was curious how Stephen managed to compete the forms and asked if Caroline had assisted. I told him a Russian man helped (although I think he might have been from Uzbekistan). The custom official checked over the customs declaration forms, stamped, signed and returned them. He sent Stephen back to the immigration office with the Custom Declaration forms to be processed.
- Step 6: Once back in the immigration office Stephen sailed through immigration and passport control as he had already entered. We joined two separate lines as we soon worked out that there was one line for men and the other line for women. It was not long before the customs guys was back, as he wanted to know what port we plan to exit the country from. Our mutual lack of each others language was getting in the way of this conversation, so with the help of the map application on the iphone we quickly worked out the exit port. He was happy, in fact he waved us to the front of the queue to be processed. We jumped the queue again. This didn’t seem fair, but we did as we were told. The queue was moving slowly as there was only one working computer and the details of everyones custom declaration forms had to be entered into that computer. Stephen declared our currency and the car while Caroline declared our computer, cameras, iPhones, e-readers and the like. This all seems little bit of a waste of time, but we had heard that the Uzbek authorities are very serious about currency control so filled the forms in with details.
- Step 7: After the forms were processed we walked through a metal detector and had our bags searched. As all of our bags were in the car, this meant Caroline had her purse searched and Stephen had the contents of his iPhone examined. They we interested in finding the following three things 1) religious texts, 2) medicines and 3) pornography. We had none of these things. It was a little weird showing the officials our pictures and videos on the iPhone but we complied.
- Step 8: While we were getting ourselves processed in the immigration office, the customs official was processing the car. Now we understood why he needed all of those forms! Stephen had to sign a few computer generated forms and was given one to retain, presumably for our exit.
- Step 9: Back to the car for the examination of our car and contents. This was the most through vehicle search we have had. Bags were opened and the contents of the bags examined. Again, a little weird having someone go through our clothing and personal stuff. They took an interest in some of our herbal medicine and guide books to make sure they weren’t religious texts. We also got a quick lesson in Uzbekistan law about what is prohibited. Although being searched like this is a little weird, it was conducted in a very professional manner. They were merely enforcing their laws. In other checkpoints it sometimes felt like the officials were trying to find something wrong so they could extract a bribe. This was not the case here so we were comfortable with it. The whole thing probably took 10 minutes.
- Step 10: With the search compete we could proceed to perimeter security. After a check of our passports and a radio check by the guard, the locked gate was opened and we headed through and into Uzbekistan.
Although a longish process, it felt like we got through about as fast as we could.
After the Border
We had purchased third party insurance in Kazakhstan, which was supposedly valid for Uzbekistan, so need to worry about that.
Registration after the Border
At each hotel we collected little registration slips, one for each of us. These slips indicate the name and license number of the hotel we stayed at, the nights we stayed, our names and passport numbers and of course a stamp. Although we collected these registration slips, no one ever asked for them. Maybe some people at the exit border are equated to show, but we weren’t.
We departed Uzbekistan on the western border with Kazakhstan 85kms south east of the town of Beyneu. The border post is located in the middle of the desert at the point the E40 highway crosses international border at N44.89437° and E55.99965°.
Leaving Uzbekistan was professional and quite efficient, but it was also the most detailed and probing search of the car and our controls we have ever had. Even more through than our entry into Uzbekistan. We were not sure what exactly they were looking for, but they certainly took more interest in some things and less in others. For example, our Pelican case containing our cooking gear was completely brushed over. They searched our ipad and viewed many of our photos, and this was a little weird amd ackward. But we got through in an hour and five minutes making it still a pretty easy crossing. The steps in detail
- Step 1: As we approached the checkpoint we encountered a long line of trucks parked on the road, presumably waiting to be let into the checkpoint. The line probably stretched 200 to 300 meters. We continued past them in the hope that we could bypass them somehow, fully expecting to be driving back within a few minutes. But to our amazement, some truck drivers were waving us forward. Sure enough, once we reached the security gate, the border guard inspected our passports, opened the gate and let us in. The trucks continued to wait. We were directed to proceed directly to the customs inspection area and drove our car over an inspection pit. There were no other vehicles in the inspection area.
- Step 3: We waited 5 minutes before a small group of five officials turned up to complete the car and contents inspection. It was not long before all the bags were unloaded and everything we examined. They looked in places where we sometimes stash things, like under the seats. Fortunately we had moved the Sat Phone to the safe. And although they inspected the safe, it is not suspicious having a Sat Phone in there. Stephen was asked to unlock the iPad and they examined the photos clearly looking for pornography. They didn’t find any. After a while they got bored looking for porno, so satisified themselves with looking at our pictures of China. After a while Stephen question the need to view more photos and they quickly locked the iPad and we could put it away. They did a brief inspection of our roof-top tent and roof-top cargo box. Again they appeared to be looking for something in particular, but quickly discovered that whatever they were looking for was not there, so asked us to relock the cargo box and restow the tent. Hey opened some of our medicine packets and our first aid kit, which we felt was a little off. They also knocked on the back door to make sure it was hollow. They probably inspected a whole lot of other things while we were not looking as it was hard to keep up with them. The search lasted for 25 minutes and we were both glad when it was over. We were expecting an extensive search and had planned for it with some repacking, but it was still a little never racking. And there was no friendly chatter during the search which often happens.
- Step 4: With the contents all returned it was time to complete the paperwork. He wanted our car passport, which in our case is a single sheet of paper. He was not happy with this a demanded the car passport. Some other officials intervened and he decided our California registration would have to suffice. He wandered off with our paperwork folder and we waited. After 5 minutes he returned, gave back our paperwork and a token to exit.
- Step 5: Next was immigration. Our passports were handed through a small window at the end of the inspection area on the right side. The very friendly told us to wait. A few minutes later he returned with our passports stamped.
- Step 6: We were cleared to leave the inspection area. The last step was at perimeter security where our passports where checked and our exit token was retrieved. The gate was swung open and we drove out and into the very short no mans land before reaching the Kazakhstan checkpoint perimeter fence.
The very nice thing about this exit was that we could stay together during the entire process. Usually Caroline has to go through the checkpoint separately as a foot passenger and Stephen stays with the car to get it cleared. We really like Uzbekistan, but their border control is a little scary. So we were glad to be out without any issues.