Published: June 17th 2012June 17th 2012
A Trans-Siberian trip does require a lot of forward planning - mostly to support the various Visas we need to make the journey. Many of these visa applications required the exact location we will be in on certain dates otherwise they would not be granted. Just to keep things interesting each country has slightly different requirements and application procedures - fortunately it was possible to do each via the post rather than travelling to London to visit embassies. The only exception to this was China which I could apply for in Manchester - John however applied visa the post. For this trip we require 4 visas:
• Belarus Visa (Transit)
• Russian Visa (standard toursit)
• Mongolian Visa (standard tourist)
• Chinese Visa (dual entry tourist - as we're leaving for Japan after Beijing) Belarus
This was probably the most simple visa application as it was only a transit visa - we will not be leaving the train in Belarus. I think it's overkill to require a visa just to transit a country but I believe the UK imposes the same restrictions on Belarusians, so I suppose it's tit for tat.
Although this is the first visa we will
use it was actually the second I applied for - the reason for this is the embassy requires the Russian tourist visa to be granted before a transit visa can be issued. It was a simple case of filling out the application form, requesting a postal order from the post offfice and posting my passport to the embassy.
By far the most simple visa applied for - as well as the cheapest as it is the only country that did not require us to go via a third party processing company - we applied directly to the embassy. To receive my passport back securely it was necessary to supply a Royal Mail Special Delivery prepaid envelope.
Cost: £50 (also prepaid return envelope) as postal order
Application type: Via post directly to embassy
Passport return: Include prepaid self addressed Special Delivery envelope
The Russian visa application process was probably the most work. A throwback to the Soviet days is that visitors from Western countries still require an invite from a travel local agency or hotel and a tourist voucher. As we have booked the Trans-siberian part of our trip through a UK
agency with a Russian partner agency these were supplied for us. The process has moved somewhat into the modern era, even if the concept seems antiquated, as it was possible to supply a replacement invite letter with a correct mistake to the processing company via email... (The Russian side of the invite letter stated I was female, even though the English translation said male!)
The application form is filled out online, then printed out and posted to the Visa Processing company - it is not possible to apply directly to the embassy either in person or via the mail. The processing company also charges a fee on top on he visa fee. The only accepted payment method is Banker's Draft - and my bank charged another £10 for this!
This visa application had the most question on it, asking not only for my details but details of my parents, partner and also every country I've visited in the last 10 years - though I'm not sure how the Russians are supposed to verify this!
• Cost: £83.80 (£50 visa fee, £26.40 processing fee, £7.40 secure postal fee) by Bankers Draft only
• Application type: Post to official processing company
• Passport return: £7.40 fee for return by DX Secure Post
Mongolia visas have the annoying restriction is that you can only apply directly to the embassy in person - should you want to apply by post then you have to use a third party agency. This annoyed me more than Russia and China because it's not even a company the embassy have outsourced the process to but a travel company not associated with the embassy. Fortunately going through "RealRussia.co.uk" was probably the most pleasant visa application process (even if it was the most expensive...)
Real Russia allowed me to pay online with a debit card, and emailed me at each stage of the process so I'd never felt like my passport had disappeared into a black hole - but for this they charged my a total of £101.08 when the Visa fee at the embassy is just £40. So even though the process seemed smoother than the others I'd still have done it myself if I'd had the option to save £60!
Anyway the process is to apply on the Real Russia website, fill in the application form and submit your itinerary (from a tour agency) along with your passport. Real Russia then submit this to the embassy and return it to via Royal Mail Secure Delivery.
• Cost: £101.08 (£94 visa + processing fees, £7.08 delivery)
• Application type: Post to travel agency
• Passport return: Returned by Roal Mail Special Delivery
China is the only visa I applied for in person as there is a visa office in Manchester. It used to be possible to apply for the visa directly at the consultate in Rusholme but throughout the world the Chinese government has made it mandatory to apply via China Visa Services - along with a processing fee. Perhaps this really is just a money making scheme...
This was the speediest visa process, possibly because no posting was involved at any points, but I did have to supply more documentation than for any other visa. After filling in the online application form (by far the best online form, no manual corrections were needed) and booking an appointment I prepared the required documentation for my double entry visa:
• Copy of hotel reservations for each night in China (just the printouts out the online bookings were aceptable but it was necessary to have the name of each guests)
• Copy of our travel itenerary while in China (I created this myself with the dates we would be in each city, it's not a stated requirement but added clarity to the other documents)
• Flight details for leaving the country
• Also listed was flight details into the country however we were arriving by train. The embassy suggested sending copies of the train tickets however we will not receive our actual tickets for the jounrey to Beijing until Mongolia. In the end they settled for our Trans-Siberian itenerary printed on the official notepaper of the travel company
I took all these documents to the visa centre on the day of my appointment, got given a ticket at the reception (rather like a deli counter at the supermarket) and waited for 20 minutes for my number to be called. The person at the window checked all my documents and my passport and gave me collection ticket - handing in my application on a Monday my visa was ready for collection on Thursday.
No appointment is necessary to collect the visa and it is on collection that I paid with a debit card. No postage fees means this felt cheap although the processing fee seemed excessive.
• Cost: £81 (£45 for double entry visa, £36 processing fee)
• Application type: in person
• Passport return: collected in person
All in all the visas took about 6 weeks end to end to organise and the best part of £300 - by far the biggest hassle of the trip planning!