In order to continue our adventure towards Central Asia, we had to travel through Turkmenistan. Problem: this country, rather closed, is known to regularly refuse visa applications, without any valid reason… We still tried our luck by making a request for a transit visa transit for Turkmenistan in Tehran, Iran. And we got it!
Prepare your application
Before running to get your transit visa for Turkmenistan, take the time to prepare your arrival at the embassy:
- Locate the Turkmenistan Embassy on a map of Tehran (see below “find the Embassy”) and schedule your travel time accordingly – about 40 minutes by metro from Emam Khomeini station in the city centre, then 30 minutes on foot. Beware of rush hour in the morning: allow a small margin window, so that you don’t get stuck at the arrival!
- Prepare all your documents in advance, as it will be difficult to make photocopies and photos in the vicinity of the Embassy… And the restricted opening hours will not allow you to make the round trip in the same day!
- Write down some useful information which will be requested in the 2 forms to be filled in: address of your employer/university (if you are a student or pretend to be one), turkmen cities you plan to cross, names of the borders posts to be crossed etc.
Embassy of Turkmenistan
Address: Dr.Lavasani Ave, Téhéran (metro Gheytarieh then 25 minutes walk)
Open hours (to be confirmed): from 9a.m to 12p.m from monday to thursday, from 9.30a.m to 12p.m on sunday (closed on fridays and saturdays)
Counter located on the right-hand side, two steps up.
Transit visa application for Turkmenistan
When we arrived at the Embassy, we went directly to the visa application desk, to the right side of the main entrance. We knocked at the counter and waited patiently for the visa officer to take our application. We were asked towrite an application letter (see below) and to fill in two forms on the spot: all is done outdoors, without a table – but it is quite possible to write on the wide window sills or sit on the bench.
After 30 minutes of filling, we gave all the required documents to the officer. In some cases, the “personal information” form is to be returned when you pick up the visa – don’t worry if the officer does not ask you for it on the day of the application. We then had to wait 10 calendar days to know the result!
No need to write down your letter in advance: take a pen and a A$ blank paper sheet with you, and follow the instructions posted next to the visa counter. There is no need to write long sentences or polite phrases: we had simply listed the points required (names, passport numbers, points and dates of entry/exit, signatures). A single letter is necessary per travelers group.
If you plan to go to Kazakhstan, you can write down in your letter, if applicable, that you are visa-free in this country according to the decree #838 of December 23, 2016
The entry and exit points of Turkmenistan are: Bajgiran-Howdan from/to Iran, Garabogaz-Altynasyr from/to Kazakhstan, Farap-Sarahs or Urgench-Konye from/to Uzbekistan. Entry/exit points may vary if your visa application is accepted, so check carefully which border points you need to cross!
Pick up your transit visa
When we applied for a transit visa for Turkmenistan, the officer confirmed that it was possible to pick up our visas either in Tehran or Mashhad. In reality, as there was no way of knowing whether we had it, we preferred to play it safe by returning to the Turkmenistan Embassy in Tehran 10 days later. If you wish to pick it up in Mashhad, please check the opening hours of the visa section office there (open only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays according to our information).
Despite the fact that it was a Sunday and the visa office was supposed to be open, the officer was away all day… We waited 6 hours with other tourists and Iranians, without success. So we came back the next day: after a long (and unbearable!) wait, the counter finally opened. The officer asked again for our passports and our entry/exit dates before closing the counter. After another hour of waiting, hurra: visas were well stuck on our passports! We paid the 110 US$ asked amount, before leaving Tehran for good to reach the Bajgiran-Howdan border 900km away.
In hindsight, we still don’t know if we were lucky or if Turkmenistan seems to open its borders a little more to tourists. We were indeed allowed to cross Turkmenistan to reach Kazakhstan, despite the unfavorable opinion of the Lonely planet guide, 2014 edition. Another glimmer of hope: according to Caravanistan website, since the beginning of 2018, a majority of transit visa applications for Turkmenistan have been accepted.
The border at Bajgiran
Luckily, when we came to pick up our transit visa for Turkmenistan, we met German travelers in a van. They took us with them in their “four-wheel house” to the Turkmen capital Ashgabat where our paths separated.
The border is located at the end of the militarized village of Bajgiran. It can only be crossed during opening hours, from 9am to 6pm.. First, you have to cross a dilapidated road between several old military buildings, before you reach a more decent road. At the new Iranian border crossing, located two kilometres further up the hill, the exit is rather easy – after having reassured Iranian customs officers that we were satisfied with our stay in Iran. Change of scenery and atmosphere with the Turkmen border post located just after: the officers, cold faces and not very cordial, have put us through a thorough check (X-ray scan of our bags, full search, questionnaire, fingerprint and photo). You will again have to pay 14 US$/person – 25 US$ for a couple – as an entrance fee. If you travel with a van/car, Turkmen police will install a GPS tracker on board, which you will have to return when you leave the country. According to some travelers, it seems that the device is also equipped with a microphone. : respect the given itinerary!
Finally, after all the formalities, you will have to wait in a room for the bus/taxi that will drop you off in Ashgabat, less than an hour away – or in our case, the van of our German friends. According to our sources, the bus would cost 10 manats and taxi between 10 and 15 US$… If you are a hitchhiker, the police will certainly prevent you from getting on the road. Moreover, it will be difficult for you to find a vehicle: in 3 hours of waiting, we didn’t see any car crossing the border… It is better to stop a driver (or better, tourists in transit!) before the border and meet your driver in the waiting room.
PERSONAL NOTE: it would be possible to cross the border after the planned entry day put on the visa (we met a traveler in this case), as it would be possible to leave the country sooner than planned. In any case, it is strongly advised not to leave the country after the transit visa has expired… Under penalty of a huge fine and a travel ban!
To save time, it is preferable to arrive the evening before in Bajgiran (Iran). At the entrance of the city, some shelters are installed with a water tank at disposal: an ideal place to camp while waiting for the day of entry!