Central Asia is a region of the world which continues to be less explored than the countries that surround it. India, China, Russia – they’ve been backpacked to the hilt and they continue to be. But spare a thought for the magnificent Stan nations. There are lots of them, and while touring this region, my aim is not to visit them all, but to at least visit a good chunk of them. After touring southern Kazakhstan (Almaty and Ile Alatau), I crossed the border into Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan. It was here in Bishkek that I set about securing visas for a few countries nearby. I’ve already been to Podjistan and Kurdistan (Iraqi and Iranian part) so it was the Central Asian Stans on the menu next.
You might have read my guide to getting a Tajikistan Visa in Bishkek, or indeed the Gorno Badakhshan permit and I managed to secure my Afghanistan Visa in Kyrgyzstan too. There were a few trickier beasts though, namely those two military dictatorships we hear less about – Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. But bide your time, have all the documents you need, get the money ready and wait your turn – you might just secure those visas, I was on a 5 country mission by this stage so I skipped Turkmenistan out due to the extortionate visa/tour fees (yes even for a professional travel blogger, be prepared to pay over $700 US for 5 days!!). Be patient and you’ll grab the lot – and base yourself in the Kek for the duration – it’s a gorgeous city, its magnetic charms sucking in anything even remotely metallic. Which incidentally includes Northern Irish culture struck tourists…
As for Uzbekistan, getting a visa can be hit or miss and there are not many places left in the world where I can secure a visa for Uzbekistan on my own without some kind of Letter of Invitation, Hotel Booking or help from a tour company. While based in Bishkek, I sought the help of Silk Road Explore to help with my Uzbekistan visa application. Silk Road Explore also organise cool tours – I hiked in Ala Archa with them so I really recommend them and if you follow my articles on the process and their procedures, you will get your Uzbekistan visa.
Contacting Silk Road Explore in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
So the first step is to E-mail Silk Road Explore.com – firstname.lastname@example.org and tell them you need a Letter of Invitation for visiting Uzbekistan as a tourist. The company are based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, so another reason I recommend staying here in Bishkek. Their address is: 28 Minbulakskiy Lane, 720042, Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic. You can tell them you have no flights or hotels for Uzbekistan booked yet. You don’t need any of that melarkey early doors to secure the Letter of Invitation, and lots of backpackers overland it, but you will need to follow their exact guidelines meticulously. Don’t forget that Uzbekistan is a military dictatorship and visits are monitored and approved/denied stringently by their tourist board and government. It’s the way it is – don’t ask questions, do as you’re told.
What you Need for the Letter of Invitation
So Silk Road Explore can deal with the situation for you on e-mail. Each individual application may be completely different depending on your nationality, time of visit, special requests etc. I recommend researching in advance the places you want to go and the way you want to do it. I travel with an Irish and a British passport and I decided to use my Irish passport for this one. I also wanted the option of going in and out of the country twice, so a triple entry. To me, it’s better to ask for more to start with, and then settle for less. I also wanted to ensure I had enough time inside Uzbekistan to visit Tashkent, Bukhara, Samarkand and Termiz, with a possibility of squeezing in time for Khiva or Chilpyk. That’s a lot of backpacking for sure, but the Don’t Stop Living mentality is always about maximising your time on this planet. For all you know, you might not get tomorrow.
But you need to know the exact dates of your trip to Uzbekistan, the number of entries and the length of stay. I originally wanted a triple entry visa valid for one month, but this is extremely hard to get. In the end I settled for a double entry visa valid for 11 days. I was happy enough with the double entry as it makes my passage into Afghanistan and Tajikistan smoother and should still give me enough time to backpack the key sights I wanted to see.
Here is exactly what I needed to e-mail to Silk Road Explore to get my Letter of Invitation, please remember this may vary for you:
1. A good quality colour scan or photograph of your passport.
2. Visa application form filled out (Silk Road Explore will attach this for you).
3. An employment letter from your place of work showing the name of the company and your position held in the company. (Use your common sense and don’t say you work in a bar or as a journalist. As well as being a travel blogger, I teach English).
4.Payment of $25 USD. (Please note that PayPal and all foreign credit cards/debit cards are banned in Uzbekistan, so bank transfer and payment in cash become your only options – the company will let you know how to pay).
5.Let them know which embassy you want to collect the Uzbekistan Visa from. In my case, and I recommend the Uzbekistan Embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Once these documents have been sent by e-mail to Silk Road Explore, they are then submitted officially to the Uzbekistan MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to get the LOI.
How Long Does It Take to get the LOI for Uzbekistan?
Normally the procedure takes 7 days, so please be ready for a slight wait and make plenty of use of your time in Bishkek or wherever you may be. I toured Ruh Ordo and the Petroglyphs at Cholpon Ata while I waited for the LOI to come through. I decided to stay based in Bishkek for around a month anyway as I loved it here, even had a local pub and restaurant where the staff knew me!
Getting your Uzbekistan Letter of Invitation
So in around 7 days time, you will receive an e-mail from Silk Road Explore and this will hopefully have your Uzbekistan Letter of Invitation attached. Simply download it and print it and bingo – this is your Letter of Invitation. For the record, the Uzbekistan based company that acted as my LOI are Marco Polo, who are based in Tashkent, the capital city. It cost me 1.5 US cents to print my LOI in my local internet cafe in Bishkek, by the way.
How to you Get Your Uzbekistan Visa Once You Have the LOI?
Once you have the Letter of Invitation, you will need to visit an Uzbekistan Embassy Abroad and make an appointment and of course give them everything you need. Again, this can be strenuous, time consuming and stressful. I made a total of five visits to the Uzbekistan Embassy in Bishkek before I had my visa in my hand, admittedly the first two visits were over Christmas and New Year and the staff were not processing visas at that time. It was worth it though, of course. I will cover the actual visa process in a separate article, but for now, you have your Letter of Invitation and are one step closer to the promised land of Uzbekistan!
Where is the Uzbekistan Embassy in Bishkek?
As of January 2016, the Uzbekistan Embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan is fairly central and certainly the easiest of all the embassies I visited to find in this city. You can check out their official website, Uzbekistan Embassy Bishkek.
From Apple Hostel Bishkek, a Marshrutka number 113 takes you to Moscow Street (Moskovska) and if you get out at the Turkish Embassy just before the junction for Tynystanov Street. The Uzbekistan Embassy is just a few blocks up on the right hand side, next door to the Belgian Embassy. This was true as of January 2016 of course.
Uzbekistan Embassy, Tynystanov St, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Look out for my follow up article how to get an Uzbekistan Visa in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and of course my travel blog chronicles from my visit to this country.