Iranian & Central Asian Visas for Cycle Tourists Riding East

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One of the things I get emailed about most frequently is how to get Iranian and Central Asian visas.

Bicycle adventurers heading east, no matter how spontaneous, inevitably have to think further ahead once Istanbul looms near.

Many touring cyclists have published strings of elaborate blog posts detailing their torment at the hands of these nations’ bureaucrats. But it’s really not such a big deal. Especially if you are one of the elite few on this Earth to hold a Western – British, American, Canadian, Australian, EU, etc – passport.

(If that’s you, please sit back for a few seconds, close your eyes, and give thanks to your deity or other object of worship that you are lucky enough to possess a nationality that allows you to saunter so casually around the globe. Most of the world can’t even get into the West. Getting out really isn’t that difficult.)

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What follows is the standard-issue Iran & Central Asia visa process for the intrepid cyclist, broken down into 10 remarkably easy steps:

Step 1: Know the maximum stay in each country. 3 months for Iran (no Yanks), 5 days for Turkmenistan (transit only), about 1 month for Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. May vary depending on nationality and which way the wind’s blowing.

Step 2: You need a visa agent to arrange ‘letters of invitation’. Email David at Stantours before Turkey. Say you’re cycling east and you need visas for Iran, Central Asia and China. He’s done this a thousand times and will hold your hand. His rates are also very reasonable. (No, I’m not on commission.)

Step 3: Cycle to Turkey. David is arranging your Iranian visa.

Step 4: Rock up at the Iranian Embassy/Consulate in Istanbul, Ankara, Erzerum, Trabzon, Tbilisi, Yerevan, etc. Fill in some forms, pay some money, get your visa. Celebrate with a glass of çay.

Step 5: Cycle to Iran. David is arranging your Central Asian visas.

Step 6: Rock up at the various Central Asian Embassies in Tehran. Fill in some forms, pay some money, get your visas. Celebrate with a glass of چای.

Step 7: Cycle to Central Asia. David is arranging your Chinese visa.

Step 8: Rock up at the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek, Dushanbe, Tashkent, etc. Fill in some forms, pay some money, get your visa. Celebrate with a glass of Чай.

Step 9: Cycle to China.

Step 10: Celebrate. With a glass of 茶.

Any questions? Consult the Thorn Tree, which is full of people who have just been there and are literally foaming at the mouth in their eagerness to help you out.

There! Not so difficult, now, was it?

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There are countless ways to get bogged down in the details of planning something big. Together they erode the chances that our projects will come to fruition.

Luckily, there are some simple and effective things we can do to to combat the stalling effect of spiralling complexity.

My preferred method is to dive in at the deep end and let necessity drive progress and problem-solving. After all, the best way to begin a long bike trip is to get on your bike and go.

A more pragmatic approach is to break down an obstacle like the Central Asian visa issue into a series of smaller steps. Make sure that each step is concrete and actionable, and that you know what it will take to achieve it.

Though overkill for the process of getting a bloody visa, I recently read a great quote from motivational author Zig Ziglar, who said that “people don’t tend to wander around and suddenly find themselves at the top of Mount Everest.”

He’s right, though. Laid out in front of us in a series of measured and realistic steps, any mountain suddenly seems eminently climbable.

What’s the biggest mountain standing between you and your own big adventure goal? Let’s see if we can break it down.

13 Responses to “Iranian & Central Asian Visas for Cycle Tourists Riding East”

  1. Alex

    For sheer scale of up to date information on borders, visas, embassy reports and a whole lot more the caravanistan.com website is utterly invaluable. It’s the best guide to central asian bureaucracy by a country mile.

    Reply
  2. Fraser

    Very useful Tom & Alex, I will be heading to Istanbul during the next month, on route to Iran. A perfectly timed post!

    Fraser

    Reply
  3. lou

    Will Americans ever be able to ride Iran? I see all these amazing blogs and am filled with envy

    Reply
    • Erik

      Me too! Anyone know if it’s possible to get a visa independent of a tour if you’re American? I can imagine a guided cycling would be pricey, and not exactly offer the independence cyclists enjoy.

      Reply
  4. Stuart

    I am afraid its all changed again for Iran. Since March 2014 if you are from the UK, USA or Canada you have to have an official guide so basically, forget it. I go there often as my wife is Iranian but I get away with it because we have an Islamic wedding certificate (we are not actually married).

    Wikipedia says…
    British, Canadian and United States nationals are required to be escorted by a government approved guide at all times. Independent travel for these citizens has been banned since March 2014.
    For the latest information I recommend Shiraz travel (no I am not on commission either). I am going there in April so if I get any more information I will update this post.

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Shame – but I suspect the rules can still be bent. I know of at least two Brits who got visas and travelled independently in Iran since March 2014. Like you, I have an Iranian marriage certificate, so the rules don’t apply to me anyway, but at least there’s still a (small) chance of other British citizens getting in.

      Reply
      • Nida

        Hi Tom, my other half an I are trying to get a visa to independently cycle through Iran in May 2016, travelling from Turkey. Would it be possible for you to put me in touch with the Brits who managed to get an Iranian visa, if you are still in contact that is?! We’re struggling! Otherwise do you happen to know any tour companies who would give us an LOI if we booked a very short guided trip but otherwise travelled independently? Any help would really be appreciated!
        Best,
        Nida and Dan

        Reply
        • Tom Allen

          No Brit has got an Iranian visa for independent travel since spring 2014. Sorry! It might change in the next few weeks, and when it does, the visa agencies (Stantours, The Visa Machine, etc) will be the first to know.

          Reply
        • Grey

          Hey Nida, Dan,

          Did you find a solution? David at Stantours has said the only option is a tour, so I’m looking for others who might want to club together, leaving from Turkey in mid-September-ish.

          Grey

          Reply
  5. jonnie

    Hi Tom.

    Im leaving to go on an eastern tour in a couple weeks heading north east through Europe into Russia and carrying on to Mongolia and china. is it possible to get the visa for Russia and Mongolia on route? do you kn of any agents that specialize in this part of the world rather than central asia?
    Any advice you can give me would be much appreciated.

    Jonnie Carmichael

    Reply

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