First things first, there is A LOT of hype and speculation that exists amongst the travelling community about obtaining a Turkmenistan visa.
It’s true that independent travellers can only be granted a five day transit visa but from our experience at any rate, obtaining a visa really isn’t as hard as people might think. We met countless travellers who hadn’t even bothered applying because they couldn’t deal with ‘the hassle’ but almost everyone we met who had applied in both Bishkek and Dushanbe had been granted one in the end, even if they had to wait a few weeks. We have no experience of applying in cities on the other side but met lots of people who had successfully crossed from Iran.
Here’s what we learnt about applying in Dushanbe
All the people that we met that applied for it here in Dushanbe got it! Both motorcyclists and cyclists.
You don’t need to mention your mode of transport in your application
The visa mentions the port of entry and exit and apparently you can get into trouble for diverting off your transit journey but we haven’t heard of anyone getting into trouble for this…
We heard that most people who apply for the shortest route, from turkmenabad to Sarahks got the visa, while people who opted for the route through the desert towards Ashgabat got denied more often. We also heard that the Ashgabat border is currently (Sept 2016) closed to foreigners which might be why people got refused!! We took the shortest route but friends of ours took the Ashgabat crossing and also got the visa…
You need COLOUR COPIES of your passport picture, Iran visa and the Uzbek visa.
The application form is at the embassy and you can only fill it out when you are there.
When you are at the embassy you need to write a letter stating that you want a transit visa of 5 days from border x to border y (they have an example there for you to copy). We applied together on one letter.
You can keep your passport while you wait.
Go early and have your name put on a list by the guard
Letter of Invitation by email
When we applied for the visa we were told to wait for 5 working days and come back. Our visa was not ready after this week long period and we were told to come back the next day. After waiting another two days we gave an email address to the consulate and they told us they would send us an email with a letter of invitation if our visa was accepted. With that email we would be able to get the visa at other embassies or even just go to the border.
We were sceptical… BUT 2 weeks later we received the email!! We printed it off in Bukhara (must do this) and took it to the border. It all worked very well and there was no problems. A friend applied in Dushanbe and picked up in Tashkent. That also worked.
Contradicting what people might think, the Turkmenistan border system is pretty high tech so even though your emailed LOI might say ‘valid until x date’ we were told you must cross the border on the dates you specified on your original visa application.
Fees and Possible Corruption Scams
We were charged $50 dollars at the border for our visa and also had to pay two $3 fees (one for a ‘medical checkup’) and a $10 administration fee. $66 in total.
When we exited at Saraghs we were asked for these slips and were then told we hadn’t paid enough at the previous border crossing. The story was that the Uzbek/Turkmen border guards had made a mistake and charged us the wrong amount. Paddy (Irish passport) had to pay an extra $5 and I (UK passport) had to pay an extra $35!!!
It’s a feasible story so we’d be interested to know what other people paid and if they had the same issue… but we’re inclined to think that it was a well thought out scam… And if we did it again we wouldn’t have handed over our receipt slips so quickly. We tried every trick in the book to get off from paying it (including me turning on the waterworks) but they didn’t budge… It would have been interesting to see what they would have done if we’d refused to pay and just sat it out… Unfortunately we needed to get across Iranian customs that day too…
Please let us know your own experiences too and good luck!