Blue – Schengen
Yellow – No visa required for entry, but time restricted
[30 days free (Kazakhstan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia)]
[60 days free (Kyrgyzstan)]
[90 days free (Serbia, Bulgaria)]
[Unlimited for six months (Canada)]
[Unlimited up to one year (Georgia)]
Red – 90 day visa (Turkey, China, Australia)
Orange – 30 day visa (Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Cambodia)
Green – 45 day visa (Tajikistan)
Purple – Electronic Travel Authorization (USA, Canada if entering by air)
But what does this all mean!?!?
(Remember: This information is for British Passport holders only and correct as of March 2017).
Well for a start it means our journey is going to be substantially more straightforward than others’ before us, at least as far as visas are concerned.
When we started looking at all of this, there wasn’t really one resource that collated all the information we needed. What’s more, visa rules do change fairly regularly and sometimes unpredictably (lookin’ at you, Donnie T), so we couldn't be sure many websites were accurate. Of course, all this means that our website will soon be out of date but hey ho, this is how we’ll make our way round.
It’s going to be a boring read if I just list all the countries and their visa rules, so I won’t, but we do get a lot of questions about the non-western countries so I’ll try and focus on those.
We’re cycling through a lot of Schengen area countries to begin with and to end with, and that’s the blue, nothing to do, areas on Helen’s map. Unsurprisingly the eastern European countries near the Schengen area have very relaxed visa rules for UK citizens, so we can make it to the border with Turkey without spending a bean on rubber stamps. Turkey is a simple e-visa for £10 that we can apply for on the road and next stop, Georgia, we can enter for a year, visa-less.
Finding the rules online is tough going. You could ride up to Tbilisi or Batumi, apply for the Azeri visa, wait and collect. Without pre-application online it would cost a lot more to apply in person, and we would need to provide an itinerary. Previously e-visas were also only valid for 90 days after they were issued, and then for 30 days once you've entered. HOWEVER, as of January 2017 an e-visa will be processed in 3 days through a State service and it will be valid for the date you specify for entry AND you only need to print it. Previously you had to have them sent to an address in the UK. Your date of entry can be up to a year in the future. Not only does this make it immensely cheaper ($23) but it also makes it easier to enter as part of a huge trip like this. We couldn't believe our luck when we read of this change. Azerbaijan, we can't wait to meet you. https://evisa.gov.az/en/
Easy, no visa needed for UK citizens for 30 days. We’ll only have about 700 miles to travel here, so we’ll slip in and out.
*The rules have changed since writing this blog originally. Uzbekistan should no longer be yellow on the map, it should be orange*
Back in 2016, Uzbekistan announced it would grant some countries 30 days visa free entry as of April 2017. Unfortunately, in January 2017 they withdrew from this until at least 2021. As British citizens, we don't need a letter of invitation BUT having one expedites the granting of a visa to just one day rather than about 10 days. This means we can apply for a letter of invitation online when we're in Georgia, wait for that to process whilst we're cycling, then pick the visa up in Baku in one day (having printed off the LOI and all our application forms before we head to the Embassy to submit and collect). Of course, if you don't have the funds or the inclination to get an LOI (and you don't need one) then you can apply for the visa in one consulate/Embassy and pick it up in another (e.g. apply in Istanbul and pick it up in Baku or Tehran). The length of stay can vary, but we'll be applying for 30 days as this seems to be the longest you can get.
Now, with the exception of Turkmenistan, this is the most difficult visa in central Asia. But, again, things are changing and we will be able to submit an e-visa application which can just be printed once approved. We will need to make an additional application for our jaunt through the Pamir region, which is actually most of the country, but that shouldn't cause a problem. You will also need to make sure you get an immigration card when you enter as you'll need to show this when you leave.
In. Out. No visa to worry about. We would like to spend a bit of time here, but we might need to be pushing on into China before the autumn really sets in so, as we’ve planned just to cycle from the Tajik border to a small town called Sary Tash. Once there we turn east and head for the Irkeshtam pass into China. That’s a bit of a strange border crossing. The Kyrgyz and Chinese border points are a long way apart and we will need to arrange for motorized transport between them.
Our Chinese visa application caused us the most consternation. It is a big country with lots for us to think about. We’re entering into the Xinjiang semi-autonomous region and were concerned that our route might harm our chances of visa approval. We were also concerned about having to register with the authorites on a nightly basis once inside China.
This needed more research, so we got in touch with Annie and Paddy of [2londoners1bike]. They recently rode this part of our route more or less in reverse and did a good job of reassuring us that it would be OK, and they gave us some tips on how to tailor our application for best chances of success. To be sure though, we used a visa agency in Edinburgh to actually make the submission for us. That bumped up the price a little and the total cost including postage came to £380 (for two) for our Chinese visas. We were glad to get them though so do see the agency as money well spent.
On a final note, it’s worth pointing out that as of 1 January 2016, the Chinese and UK governments entered into a reciprocal visa arrangement. So, if you are a UK citizen, you should apply for your Chinese visa at one of the UK visa centres before you leave. They are authorised to issue visas that are valid for two years from the date of entry. These allow you four entries of up to 90 days at a time (no more than 180 days a year, though). Much better than getting a 30 day visa then worrying about extending it while in the country.
This one is a bit of a guddle. Until 30 June 2017 UK passport holders can enter for 15 days without a visa. We’ll definitely get to Vietnam after that though. With any luck the visa waiver program will have been renewed by then though (apparently last year it happened right on the 11th hour, so it’s anyone’s guess really).
So we will apply for a visa, and not just because we’re unsure what the rules will be but because 14 days will be quite tight for us to cycle to Cambodia. We could apply for a 30 day e-visa, but that will restrict our land border crossing choices in and out of the country. In all likelihood we will stop in the Chinese city of Kunming and apply for our Vietnamese visa in person. The extra border crossing flexibility might come in handy and apparently the process is quite easy (apart from actually finding the embassy).
A fairly straightforward one to get. We can get a visa on arrival in Cambodia from Vietnam at most border crossings. Bavet, Kaam Samnor and Phnom Den crossings are open to foreign travellers and issue Cambodian visas. The visa lasts 30 days so will give us plenty of time to see some sights on our way through.
If you're arriving by air and have a British passport, you will get a 30 day visa exemption. There have been a few changes recently to the rules for entry by land. At one point, you were limited to 15 days if you were entering over a land border. "As of 31st December 2016 Thailand limit visa exempt entries at land border to TWO per calendar year, but all countries under visa exempt get 30 days, no more 15 days". Other sources corroborate this, though remember this is only for British passport holders.
All 30 days with no visa. Plenty of time!
And that’s it! That’s all of the visa hassle, and there isn’t that much of it. Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada are all very straightforward. The USA gets a black mark though for its recent behavior. Bad the Donald. Also, we were planning on visiting Iran but apparently that would mean we wouldn't be able to apply for the USA’s ESTA program. The TSA apparently even held the former Norwegian prime minister for extra questioning because he went to Iran three years earlier. God only knows what they would make of two scruffy cyclists with Iranian and Central Asian visas in their passports…
So we’ll go to the USA first then head to Iran on our next adventure. They seem a lot more reasonable anyway.