When you’ve visited over 150 countries, getting visas just doesn’t get any easier, believe me. Normally it’s the countries we visit later on that are the harder ones to secure visas for and with me, I’ve been through a load of visa applications the last few weeks while being temporarily based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Gradually when you travel, you become more and more experienced at visa applications, but they’re still tough. Here are some of my previous visa articles, yes I’ve spent countless (ridiculous) hours of my life in embassies!:
- How to get a North Korea visa
- How to get a Bahrain visa at Muharraq Island
- How to get a Suriname visa in Venezuela
- How to get a Suriname visa in French Guyana
- How to get an Ethiopia visa at Addis Ababa Airport
- How to get an Iraq visa at Erbil Airport
- How to get an East Timor visa at Dili Airport
- How to get a Jordan visa at Amman International Airport
- How to get a Kuwait visa at Kuwait International Airport
- How to get an Iran visa in Trabzon, Turkey
- How to get a Kaliningrad Visa While Based in Gdansk, Poland
- How to get an authorisation code for an Iran visa
- How to get a China visa in Hong Kong
- How to get a China visa at Beijing Airport
- How to get a Myanmar visa in Hong Kong
- How to get a Vietnam visa in Hong Kong
- How to get a Bangladesh visa in Hong Kong
- How to get an Azerbaijan visa in Georgia
- How to get a visa for Nagorno Karabakh
- How to get a Qatar visa at Doha Airport
- How to get an Indonesia visa at Denpasar Airport
- How to get an Indonesia visa at Jakarta Airport
- How to get a Hong Kong Working Holiday Visa
- How to get a Hong Kong Working Visa
- How to Get an Australian Working Holiday Visa
- How to Get a Second Australian Working Holiday Visa
- How to get a Visa for Gorno Badakhshan in Bishkek
- How to get a Visa for Tajikistan in Bishkek
- How to get a Tanzania visa on arrival in Kilimanjaro
- How to get a Sri Lanka visa online
- How to get a Letter of Invitation for Uzbekistan
- How to get an Uzbekistan Visa in Bishkek
- How to get a Mongolia Visa in Warsaw
- How to Get a Kaliningrad Visa in Gdansk
- (Old post – not necessarily true any more – How to get a Turkish visa on arrival at Istanbul airport)
- How to get an Antarctica visa (tongue firmly in cheek)
I decided I’d try and visit a few more of “The Stans” while I’m over in this part of the world and as you know, I prefer the less touristic places and of the Stans, Podjistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan are the two with least amount of tourists. I also plan to visit Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (permit granted!) and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan first and foremost. Of these, Afghanistan fascinated me the most, so I made it a priority to secure my visa for it here in Bishkek.
Who Needs a Visa For Afghanistan?
Almost every country in the world requires a visa for Afghanistan, including Northern Irish people, so my two passports (Irish and British) both need a visa in advance. Israeli citizens are not allowed to visit Afghanistan, it’s the only country in the world with this sanction on it. Also please ensure you don’t have any visa stamps from Israel or the bordering nations (Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt etc.), check my post on the Israel to Jordan and Jordan to Israel borders if you want to avoid your stamps. Check requirements in advance of course, but for the purposes of my visit, I was going as a tourist and therefore only needed a tourist visa.
Where is the Afghanistan Embassy in Bishkek?
Maps and online information are not really very accurate, so get to Bishkek and suss it out for yourself. As of January 2016, the address of the Afghanistan Embassy in Bishkek is:
J. Pudovkin 24/1, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Phone: (+996) (312) 54 38 02. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org As I learned while staying in Bishkek though, addresses of Embassies and even street names change all the time. Try Googling the India Embassy in the Kek to see what I mean. You’ll get a hat-trick of locations – guess which one it really is!
In terms of getting to the Afghanistan Embassy, I recommend walking it. Just head onto Jukeev Pudovkin Street and it’s a half hour walk south from Victory Square or the Junction where Chui Avenue meets Jukeev Pudovkin Street. You’ll see the Blonder Pub on your right just after the flyover for the train line. It’s quite a nice walk too – through some raw streets and an unusual part of Bishkek!
If you’re rushed for time, a taxi from the city centre should cost you no more than 100 Som (just over $1 US) maximum. I went there 6 times, so I taxi-ed it once – from my hostel, Apple Hostel at the West Bus Station, a taxi was 140 Som (just under $2 USD). There are Marshrutkas that go down that way as well, for 10 Som, but make sure you know where to get off. If you walk it first time, then you know where it is. It sits on the corner of Jukeev Pudovkin (of Zhukeev Pudovkin) Street and Karasaev Street. In fact for this visa mission, locating the embassy is actually 50% of your job done!
Opening Hours of the Afghanistan Embassy in Bishkek
To put it bluntly, they are only open 6 hours per week for the actual visa applications and it’s on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The embassy is completely closed on Saturdays and Sundays and holidays. Monday to Friday, the Embassy functions but for visas, Tuesday and Thursdays are the only days you can submit or collect your visa. So remember this, and don’t question it. The Afghanistan Staff that work here are incredibly friendly and welcoming, including the security guards.
Visa Submission times are:
Tuesday and Thursday 9.30 am – 12. 30 pm.
Those are the times for visa submissions. Any other time, you cannot submit a visa application. Because of this, I recommend staying at least 2 weeks in Bishkek (a cool city anyway) to sort out this visa, and some others.
Visa collections times are also quite short and strict:
Tuesday and Thursday 14.00 – 15.30 pm.
Those are the time for visa collections. Any other time, you cannot collect your visa, except in special cases. Because of this, I recommend staying at least 2 weeks in Bishkek (a cool city anyway) to sort out this visa, and some others.
What do you need to get an Afghanistan Visa in Bishkek?
Things always change with visa applications, and they also vary from city to city. So as of January 2016 when I submitted my application in Bishkek, for the visa I needed:
- a valid passport with empty pages and six months to run (a given)
- payment in US Dollars only ($85 US for an Irish passport in January 2016)
- two passport sized photos (always carry these)
- one completed visa application form, handwritten in black ink (they give you the application form)
- details of your itinerary and plans for travelling in Afghanistan (for this, I did some research and came up with a 7 day tourist plan which I handed to the Consul, he was happy with it – I mentioned that I would visit Balkh, Masar e Sharif, Bactria, Samangan and Tashkurgan)
- a receipt from the National Bank of Pakistan to say you have paid the fee for the visa (you simply go to the bank and pay – simple as that)
- an A4 photocopy of your passport’s photo page
- an A4 photocopy of your passport’s entry stamp for Kyrgyzstan
- a letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan for visa and road pass (they didn’t strictly enforce this)
So, you do not need a Letter of Invitation, or a contact in Afghanistan, however on the application form, you must write the name of the hotel you will be staying in and details of where you will go sightseeing to. You also do not need proof of a flight booked in or out. If they really ask you for this, tell them you are overlanding through Tajikistan or Uzbekistan. And if worst case scenario, they ask for visas for those countries, then go and get those visas first and come back. The Tajikistan visa takes a day, the Uzbekistan takes a bit longer (say 2 weeks including the one week wait for the LOI). The most important aspect of the visa application for me is knowledge of Afghanistan, writing down the places where you will go and the hotel. Once the Consul knows you understand a bit about the country, you should be fine. There was no interview needed nor did I need the letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan for visa and road pass, which was handy as I was worried about that one. At all times, the Consul who dealt with me was superb. He was friendly, precise and a credit to his country and his name is Alisher.
- Please note that if you have been to Israel or any proof of a visit to Israel you will not be able to get an Afghanistan Visa. If you really have to go to Israel (or the border crossings to Jordan, Syria, Palestine, Egypt or Lebanon), make sure you don’t the stamps in your actual passport. You can get them on a separate page of course. Just ask the border officials.
Paying for the Afghanistan Visa
Like a few other visas I have got, you can’t actually pay for the visa at the Embassy – it’s done through the bank. There is no Afghanistan Bank in Bishkek, so they turned to their friends in Pakistan to sort this. You go to pay at the National Bank of Pakistan on the corner of Sovietskaya/Moskovskaya. From the Embassy it is about a 20 – 25 minute walk.
You can grab a taxi or a marshrutka if you need, but I didn’t bother. The bank is open from Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. The bank was not busy during my visits.
I used an Irish passport and my visa cost me $85 US in cash, US Dollars. You’ll have read that I always carry US Dollars everywhere I go, so make sure you have your dollars. They give change – I had a century note! You simply take the small slip that the Afghanistan Consul gave you and lodge the money into that account. By the way, this procedure is easy and straight forward, but as you can read at the bottom in my more personal story of my 6 visits, there was a slight complication with my application. Just to add to the chaos and give me an extra visit to the Bank and Embassy.
Filling in the Application Form for the Afghanistan Visa
In terms of filling in the form for the Afghanistan Visa, if you are used to filling in visa applications, this one is easy. It shouldn’t take you more than 15-20 minutes.
In the Hotel section, I put the name of a Hotel in Masar e Sharif, where I planned to stay. No booking is needed, it’s just for paperwork and reference purposes.
Also write clearly the parts of the country you want to visit. Do your research, get the form filled in and you are ready to go. I did some research and came up with a 7 day tourist plan which I handed to the Consul, he was happy with it – I mentioned that I would visit Balkh, Masar e Sharif, Bactria, Samangan and Tashkurgan. Once you have the form filled in and the receipt from the National Bank of Pakistan, head back to the Embassy and hand everything in! I did all this in the space of about an hour and a half, so if you get to the Embassy at 9.30 am, you should have the application in by 11 am.
The Waiting Game
You can pay extra to get the visa processed quicker if you are in a rush. I wasn’t in a rush with this one, so I was happy to wait. It’s normally 7 working days, so if you submit on a Tuesday you can pick it up the following Thursday. If you push them, maybe then can turn it around in a week, but like I say, I was happy with my wait. So I had to wait a nervous 9 days to wait to collect the visa. All during this time, the Afghanistan Embassy had my Irish passport, so I had to use photocopies when applying for my other visas during the same period. I really had no idea if I would be successful or not.
The waiting game was slow and patient, but I bided the time by writing some more of my book, touring Ala Archa, Ruh Ordo and Cholpon Ata. But I loved Bishkek – it’s a cool city to be based in hence why I was OK about the wait.
Things to do in the Area
There isn’t too much in the way of sightseeing or backpacking top 8s in this area, so I would basically spend my time online in WiFi cafes while waiting on these visas. If you are looking for somewhere to eat and drink while you wait, there are loads of cool cheap restaurants and WiFi coffee shops nearby. Of those that have English names, Cave Coffee, Sierra Coffee and Cup and Cake were my favourites. All three of them are on Gorky Street.
Collecting the Afghanistan Visa
So on the ninth day, Wednesday 13th January 2016, I headed back to the Afghanistan Embassy to collect my passport and visa. And success!! Yes, I got the visa and I was so so happy! It was worth the wait and the staff were so friendly to me throughout the application – thanks guys!
My Personal Afghanistan Visa Story
In case you are wondering how I was able to submit my application on a Monday and collect it on a Wednesday, this was a special case for me as I made two visits before that and they were closed for Christmas and New Year so they relaxed the times just for me. There were no other tourists getting an Afghanistan Visa in Bishkek in late December or early January – it was just me.
Visit 1 – December 28th 2015
I visited to check the opening times and see if I could get an application form. I was informed that the Afghanistan Embassy in Bishkek only opens for visa applications on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, from 9.30 am – 12.30 pm. This means it is only open for 6 hours a week for visa applications. I was already booked on a tour for the Tuesday, so I decided to come back on the Thursday of that week.
Visit 2 – Thursday December 31st 2015
I visited it on the Thursday at 9.30 am sharp. I was met there by the Consul, who informed me that it was closed for applications today and would re-open the following week. This meant waiting until Tuesday 5th January 2016. But I asked if I could get the application form or submit my application on Monday 4th January 2016. The Consul agreed to allow me to submit my application on Monday 4th January 2016, which was a special case for me as he knew my previous two visits, it was closed.
Visit 3 – Monday 4th January 2016
I arrived at 9.30 am sharp and was greeted by Alisher around 9.45 am. I had all my documents in place except for the application form. He checked the photocopy of my passport, the original, my photograph and my itinerary for my trip. He handed me a one page application form and a small piece of paper with the details for lodging the $80 US Dollar payment at the Bank of Pakistan. I left at 10 am to complete these two tasks.
Visit 4 – Monday 4th January 2016
After filling in the application form and lodging the money at the bank, I returned to the Afghanistan Embassy and handing everything to Alisher. He gave me a piece of paper saying to call back on Wednesday 13th January 2016 to collect the visa at 15.00 pm.
Visit 5 – Wednesday 13th January 2016
I arrived at 3 pm sharp and was made to wait for about 25 minutes. Then Alisher informed me that there was “a problem”. I feared the worst but the problem was on their side – I should have paid $85 US for the Visa instead of $80, as the price is 80 Euros, equivalent to $80 USD. They do not accept cash at the Embassy so I had to dash back to the Bank of Pakistan just to pay an extra $5 USD!
Visit 6 – Wednesday 13th January 2016
As time was running out, I got a taxi from the Bank of Pakistan directly to the Afghanistan Embassy. I arrived at 3.55 pm and they close at 4 pm, phew! Alisher came out around 4.10 pm, took my receipt of the extra $5 US payment and handed me my Irish passport complete with my Afghanistan Visa in it! Happy happy days and well worth the six visits and the patience!
On every visit I made to the Afghanistan Embassy I was the only tourist there. I met two other people in Kyrgyzstan who went to Afghanistan (Stephen and Nate) but they got their visas elsewhere.I’m exciting to be heading to Afghanistan and can’t wait to share my articles on backpacking in Afghanistan with you!