One of the prime objectives of our visit to Tehran was to get the next round of visas that we needed. So far, in Istanbul, we had successfully obtained visas for Iran and Uzbekistan. Here we hoped to add Turkmenistan (a transit visa), Tajikistan, China and maybe Kyrgyzstan to the list. We thought we would share our experiences and some practical details of getting these visas for the benefit of future travellers.
All the embassies are in the very north of Tehran (mostly in Pasdaran), the easiest way to get there and around is by taxi; we paid around $8 for a one way trip to the area from Imam Khomeini Sq (a journey of 30-45 mins). We highly recommend getting the addresses written out in farsi for the benefit of the taxi drivers, many of whom cannot read English.
Firstly, China. This was the visa that ended up creating huge difficulties for us.
– The embassy is at No.13, Narenjestan 7th, Pasdaran Avenue, Tehran. Phone 0098 21 22291240. http://www.chinaembassy.ir.
– It is open for visa applications from 9-12 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays (and from 2pm on the same days for picking up visas).
– They offer a same day express service (although this did not seem to be available when we went), a 2 day service ($65) or a 4 day service ($40). Note these are working days, but include the day you apply i.e., we applied on a Tuesday and picked up on a Sunday using the 4-day service. They keep your passport during this time.
– It gets very busy so get there early – an hour before if you can. Sometimes there is a list that circulates that is meant to dictate an order of queueing depending on when you arrive, but in reality nobody seemed to pay any attention to the list. Be as friendly as you can to everybody in the queue and to the security guard, and Iranian hospitality will no doubt prevail; we were invariably shunted to the front of the queue just because we were foreigners.
– To apply you need a copy of your passport, 2 passport photos, a letter of recommendation from your embassy (for Brits at least, although other nationalities we espoke to needed the same. The British Embassy on Ferdosi St is tremendously helpful and issues the required letter in 15 mins or so, for a cost of $75. Multiple people can go on one letter, reducing the cost.). The strangest requirement is that the application form for the visa needs to be filled in using a computer i.e., you cannot handwrite it. This is easy enough though, you just need to go to an office about 50m down the street where they are all set up to fill in and print the forms for you; the cost is around $2. Just ask the security guard or one of the many agents milling around and they will direct you.
– There is a section on the form that asks about your contact in China; we in fact know somebody in China so were able to put a name and phone number, but od nother people we know just left that section blank and got their visa fine. The woman behind the desk when we applied asked if we had plane tickets or a hotel reservation, but it seemed to be fine when we said no we didn’t.
– The fee needs to be paid at a branch of Bank Melli about 2 minutes walk away; from the embassy turn left, walk to the junction, turn left again and the bank is downhill on the right hand side. Take your pink slip that the embassy gives you when you submit your application and wave it at them, they know what to do. We were able to pay in rials. Keep the receipt; you need it to prove to the embassy that you have paid. If, as happened to us, your application is rejected (see below), you can sell this receipt to the agents at the embassy, so you get your money back at least.
– The big problem that we had that we alluded to above is that our visa application was rejected because they said that Pete’s passport was not in a good enough condition; the front embossing was worn off and the edges of some the pages were a little crimped due to sweat getting to them while the passport was being carried in a moneybelt. We were able to talk to the consul directly to plead our case but he wouldn’t budge; either a new passport or no visa. Christine’s application was also rejected because we applied togeether. We wonder whether the reason given for the rejection was real or political; we handed our applications in on the same day as 4 other Brits, and the person behind the desk actually commented that she hoped it would be ok for so many Brits to apply on the same day. Clearly it wasn’t! The other 4 Brits did get their visas ok though. The lesson here is to make sure your travel documents are in pristine condition during your travels. We went to the British Embassy to see if they could do anything, they agreed the passport was fine and telephoned the Chinese consul to tell him so but he wouldn’t back down.
– Here we got lucky. The British Embassy kindly issued Pete with a new passports in just over 24 hours. I say kindly because it turns out they stopped issuing passports 2 weeks beforehand; the process has been centralised and now all applications have to go through Dusseldorf, which takes up to a month! Thankfully the embassy still had a handful of passports left over and they agreed to give us one of those, using the old procedure. Phew! Hopefully we will now be able to get our Chinese visas ok!
– Like everybody else, we concluded that a transit visoa is the only sensible one to go for. 5 days is the most you will get, although rather strangely on our visas it says valid for 5 days, from the 3-8th Aug (which is 6 days). Someone else we know had the same; 5 days from the 5-10 Aug. We have yet to find out why this is so or whether staying 6 days would be a problem; we assume that if we stick to the dates on the visa we will be fine.
– The embassy appears to have moved recently and we could not find the correct address anywhere online, although it is correct in Lonely Planet. This is the correct address: 5 Bavati St, Off Vatanpour St, Off Lavasani St, Farmanieh. We only worked this out after an hour in a taxi driving round asking people for the Turkmenistan embassy!
– It is open from 9-12 Sunday to Friday. It was never too busy when we went.
– To apply you just need 2 copies of your passport and of your visa for Uzbekistan (you must have this before you apply). Write ‘service visa’ on the bottom of the photocopies. They offer either an ‘express’ service which takes 5 days (they don’t take your passport, you return after 5 days and they issue the visa on the same day) and costs $85 (for Brits), or a normal service which we think takes 2 weeks (and we think they keep your passport for the second week).
– It is no problem to apply in Tehran and pick it up in Mashhad 5 days (or whenever is convenient) later, but unless you specify clearly that you want an express service you will have to wait 5 days in Mashhad; with the express service the wait is one day.
– You pay and give them a completed application form and passport photos when you return to collect your visa.
– You have to specify the dates; you cannot say, for example, 5 days sometime between the 1st and 30th August.
– The embassy is at Niyovaron Square, Shakhid Zinali Avenue 3, Flat 10. Phone 0098 21 22299584
– It is open 9-12 Sun-Fri. The guy on the gate is very friendly and speaks good English.
– They are unable to issue GBAO permits here, but they assured us we could get one easily in Dushanbe.
– We had been told quite definitively beforehand by sources including Stantours that we wouldn’t need a letter of recommendation or invitation, and that it would only take a day or so to get the visa. In fact we most definitely did need a letter of recommendation, and it took a week to get the visa (this may have been longer than usual because the consul was away, but we are not sure because somebody else approved our visa applications instead of the consul, we are not clear if it would be quicker if the consul did it himself). They did not keep the passport during this time; just for a few hours on the day that we returned to get the visa.
– When you apply you need 2 passport photos, a completed application form, a copy of your passport, and your letter of recommendation.
– Building 12, 4th Naren Jastan Ali, Pasdaran, Tehran. 0098 21 22830354
– Open 9-12 Sun-Fri, but the consul apparently likes to sleep in so in reality he is unlikely to be there before 9.30! He is very friendly though and speaks excellent English.
– They offer 30 day, 15 day or 5 day transit visas, and the application for all of them takes either 1 working day (express; $115, $90 or $60 respectively, if we remember right) or 5 days, which is somewhat cheaper. They keep your passport during this time, however. No letter of recommendation is needed for any type of visa.
– In the end we decided to wait until Dushanbe to get this visa. We only expect to be in Kyrgyzstan for 3 days or less, but we do not know exactly when, and all the types of visa require that you specify exact dates. To get them now would really require going for a one month visa to give us plenty of leeway; by the time we get to Dushanbe we should know the dates with more certainty and be comfortable getting a 15 day or even a 5 day visa. The guy seemed to think they would be cheaper there too, and issued in the same amount of time.