I’m almost in Beijing already, from there I’m gonna jump on the train to Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, and my trans Siberian train adventure will have finally started.
It took quite a lot of work, and a fair chunk of cash, to get all my papers in order to take the train so I thought I’d just share with you the visas you need to get in advance before you embark on a similar journey.
Visas you NEED before you take the Trans Siberian train:
China: Getting a Chinese visa is a constantly changing environment and the difficulty level is directly correlated to the current political situation within the country (read: Tibet). That being said, I got my Chinese visa in Bangkok a couple of months ago without too much stress however I hear the rules have changed again.
Currently you can get a Chinese visa in almost every foreign country, whether you’re a resident there or not. You need a print out of a flight into China and an onward ticket showing you leaving China. You also need 3 days hostels booked when you arrive.
If you have all this, a single entry 30 day Chinese visa costs around $40 for most nationalities. Citizens of the US half to pay around $120.
You can pay more for express visas (same day or next day), normal time frame is 4 working days.
Mongolia: Not difficult at all. You can apply in any foreign country, all you need is your passport, an application form and a passport photo. Visa costs around $40 and, if you’re nice, is available the same day. Failing that, 3 working days.
Russia: An absolute nightmare! Strictly speaking you must apply in your country of residence which means you may have to post/fed-ex your passport home. I had to do that, back to Ireland, then process the visa, then fed-ex it back here. My American friend had to do the same. There are rumours that it can be applied for, as a tourist, in Hong Kong and Jakarta, Indonesia but it’s a gamble.
Depending on your nationality you need a letter of invitation, a sponsor letter, medical insurance, 3 months recent bank statements, a passport photo and confirmed dates. You can get a 30 day single or double entry.
With all my fed-ex charges, and the actual visa fee ($140), I spent almost $300 and took 20 days to get my Russian visa – hard work, but certainly worth it.
Visas you might want to add in to make the trip even more awesome:
After all the hard work for the Russian visa, I got a double-entry, allowing me to visit another country so I thought I’d pop into Kazakhstan. The visa take 5 working days, costs $40 and requires a passport photo, a written letter explaining your intentions, and an application form.
You can apply in any foreign country, I got my Kazakhstani visa in Bangkok no stress at all.
If you’re going from Beijing to Moscow then Belarus would be a great country to visit at the far end. One of the only countries in the continent that require a visa, if you want a look at how the former Soviet Union looked, then this is your chance. And because of the visa, you’re likely to be one of only a handful of tourists.
The visa isn’t difficult to get, but it is difficult to find a country with a Belarusian embassy, certainly in Asia and South America. Make your way there and apply next door, in Lithuania. $40 USD.
3 visas minimum, 5 if you want to make your trip different from most others. It takes the best part of a month to organize all these visas so base yourself somewhere awesome while you organize it (I did mine from Bangkok, Thailand although doing from home would be easiest). It’s not cheap, and it’s not easy but the trip that it allows you to do is a once in a lifetime chance. Happy travels!