What Visas You Need to Get in Advance to Take the Trans Siberian Railway

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.

The Great Wall of China

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.

trekking in mongolia 

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.

The Kremlin snow

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:

 

Kazakhstan:

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.

 kazakhstan_zenkov_cathedral

Belarus:

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.

Mir Castle Belarus

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!

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5 thoughts on “What Visas You Need to Get in Advance to Take the Trans Siberian Railway

  1. Irina

    Oh wow, I’m reading this and not believing… I’m Russian and I’ve always wanted to do the Trans-Siberian but decided to postpone because of the visa costs. I’ve calculated that we would need to spend over $1000 between my husband and I on just visas… I obviously don’t need a Russian visa, but my husband is Canadian, so he does. When we travel to visit my family we always get him a tourist visa through an agency for $260. I’m willing to pay this much just so I don’t have to deal with annoying Russian consulate in Toronto and come up with fake letters of invitation.

    Then I’ve read about all these requirements for a Mongolian visa – they also require an invitation from a local hosting company, accommodations booked in advance, etc. – and decided that it would be better to go through an agency again = $200/person. Finally, Chinese consulate is gotta be as bad as Russian in terms of bureaucracy and long lines, so I would go through an agency again = another $200/person.

    I am reading your post and wondering if I can do these visas by myself for cheap as you describe.. I will have to do better research now, but I really hope so.

    Reply
  2. Erica

    Wow! That sounds like an absolute nightmare, but I’m sure it’ll be completely worth it.
    I am super excited to read about your upcoming adventures! As in, I got the same bit of excited butterflies that I get when I book a flight somewhere new. :)

    Reply

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