A Simple Guide to Central Asia Visas
Updated November 2023, The Central Asia Visas Guide was originally written in January 2019
The red tape is finally losing its adherence and the bureaucracy is finally loosening (mostly). Getting visas to Central Asia is only getting easier by the day (cough, cough… except for you, Turkmenistan), with relaxed policies and the requirement of LOI’s (letter of invitation) fading away.
This guide includes simplified information on how to get most Central Asia visas. As visa policies in this part of the world are constantly changing I will do the best to keep this as up-to-date as possible, however, you should fully research the visa requirements for your nationality in each of these countries.
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Kazakhstan is now visa-free for 14-90 days for 83 nationalities making a visit to Kazakhstan easier than ever. All nationalities requiring a visa will need an LOI from a tour operator to be granted a visa (with the exception of Oman and Saudi Arabia passport holders as long as they are applying at an embassy). Don’t forget to pick up a Kazakhstan guidebook to help you plan.
Start your Kazakhstan planning: The Kazakhstan Travel Guide
Kyrgyzstan has opened its doors to tourists and allows visa-free entry to 62 nationalities for 30-90 days. All other countries are eligible for either visa on arrival or e-visas. Pick up a copy of Bradt Kyrgyzstan to help you plan out your visit.
Start here: Kyrgyzstan Travel Guide
Starting January 1, 2022, Tajikistan is changing up its visa scheme and now allows 52 nationalities to enter visa-free for up to 30 days. It’s worth noting that if you plan to go to the Pamir you will need a GBAO permit which will require a visit to the OVIR office in Dushanbe (more on this below) whereas the e-visa comes with the option of getting the GBAO permit with it.
As of June 2016, the vast majority of nationalities (121 countries) are eligible for an e-visa to Tajikistan, making visits much easier than before. An e-visa will cost $50 USD (plus $20 USD for those applying for a GBAO permit, more about those in the next paragraph).
You can get e-visas for single entry and double entry for a stay no longer than 60 days. Those needing multiple entries (more than two), or needing to stay a duration longer than 60 days will still need to get a visa here, or at an embassy. Typically a letter from the tour organizer and a copy of the tour operator’s license is required if applying for a multi-entry type visa.
GBAO permit: If you are planning to travel the Pamir Highway or anywhere in the GBAO (Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast), you will need to obtain a GBAO permit. If you will be getting an e-visa then simply check the box on your e-visa application and pay the additional $20 fee for it. If you will be entering Tajikistan using the visa-free scheme or just plain did not get the GBAO permit at all then you will need to pay a visit to the OVIR office in Dushanbe at 5 Mirzo Turzunzade Street, turn around time is usually 20 minutes to 2 hours.
Other permits: Other areas that require permits are Tajik National Park, Lake Sarez, and Zorkul. Tajikistan NP and Zorkul are possible to get from the PECTA office in Khorog inside the Central Park. Lake Sarez requires applying to the Ministry of Emergency Situations in Dushanbe and usually takes over a month to get, making the Lake Sarez permit best done through a local agency.
Get a copy of the Tajikistan guidebook to help you kickstart your planning for your Tajikistan adventure.
Start here: The Ultimate Tajikistan Travel Guide
Turkmenistan will be the most difficult Central Asia visa to get. Turkmenistan is still the giant pain in the arse on the block with no signs of simplification in the future– a true bureaucratic nightmare.
All nationalities are required to obtain a visa. You have two options for travel in Turkmenistan, the full-blown tourist visa, or the 3-7 day transit visa. Please note that transit visas aren’t yet available as of May 2023 but tourist visas have resumed.
Tourist visas will only be issued to those booked on organized tours and must be accompanied by a licensed guide at all (most) of the time. Even with an organized tour you still won’t be guaranteed a visa (one man in my group was denied a visa for, I kid you not– looking like a terrorist according to one embassy. He was Greek.
A letter of invitation is needed from the tour operator in order to be granted a visa. It is possible to be issued a visa on arrival valid for 10 days (and extendable for 10 more days) at Turkmenistan’s land borders and at Ashgabat Airport, so long as your LOI has been approved by the Turkmen Ministry of Foreign Affairs prior to your arrival.
Transit visas are issued for 3-7 days (7 days being extremely rare these days) to tourists that will be entering from one country and departing to a different country from Turkmenistan. Transit visas do mean you can travel the country sans guide, that is if you even get one. There are claims online that the denial rate for Turkmen transit visas is over 50% right now, and there is no rhyme or reason behind why some are denied and others are approved.
A Visual Guide: Turkmenistan In Photos
In 2018 Uzbekistan made major changes to its visa policy and effectively making it much easier and cheaper for (most) nationalities to visit Uzbekistan.
As of 2019, there are 76 countries whose passport holders may apply for a single entry 30 day e-visa. The new Uzbek e-visa will cost $20 USD. 19 nationalities are now eligible for 30-90 days visa-free in Uzbekistan.
Those that still must get a full on visa will need to apply through an embassy and may need a LOI to apply. If you are one of the unlucky few that do need an LOI you can apply for one here for $65 USD. Read up more and plan your visit with the Bradt Uzbekistan guidebook.
Start here: The Uzbekistan Travel Guide
Xinjiang (China) Visa
Xinjiang, on the western fringes of China, is largely considered to be a part of Central Asia, for those confused as to why it’s being included here. Most nationalities do need a visa to enter China, however, 17 countries can enter for 15-90 days visa-free. It is difficult to get a Chinese visa outside of your home country, so it is recommended to apply prior to departing on your Central Asia adventure.
For US citizens, note that you cannot mail in your passport for a Chinese visa. You will either need to apply in person or hire an expeditor to apply for you. Learn more about applying for a Chinese visa as a US citizen here. Visa fees can range from $30 USD to $140 USD.
Note that China may deny visas to those who state on their visa application that they plan to visit locations in Xinjiang. For simplicity’s sake, it is easiest just to enter typical destinations in China on your application to make sure that your application isn’t denied. You are not limited to visiting the places you listed you list on your visa application, so saying you plan to visit Beijing but go somewhere else in China (bar Tibet that is) you will have no problems.
Covid travel restrictions: As of June 2023 it is once again possible to enter China but a rapid Covid test is required.
Check out more: All My Posts From Xinjiang & China
All nationalities will need to get an Afghan Visa to enter the country. Getting an Afghan visa is getting increasingly difficult.
Obtaining an Afghan visa in Central Asia has more recently become difficult with the exception of the Afghan Consulate in Khorog, Tajikistan. Many embassies in countries outside Central Asia are becoming increasingly more reluctant to give them out as well.
I have personally applied via the Khorog consulate (in person) and the Washington DC consulate (three times by mail) and had no issues obtaining the visa.
As of 2018, reports in Khorog you are now being asked to sign a statement saying that you will only visit the Wakhan and Badakhshan areas (however there is nothing on your visa stating this). Visas for most nationalities will cost $100-150 USD, while Americans will pay around $200 USD.
All nationalities are required to obtain a visa prior to traveling to Afghanistan. Learn more about how to get an Afghan visa here.
Most nationalities require a visa to enter Pakistan. Several countries are now eligible for an e-visa which you can apply for here.
E-visas can cost between $35 and $70 depending on the number of entries and length. Some countries will still need to apply for a full-blown visa at an embassy.
Many Pakistani embassies will also require a LOI and a copy of your tour operator’s license. Several areas of Pakistan do require a NOC to visit (non objection certificate).
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