I write this blog post live from the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh. Nagorno Karabakh is a country which is basically recognised by no-one but itself, and Armenia. As far as backpacking goes, you will need to get a visa to visit Nagorno Karabakh. It is classed separately to Armenia, and the country itself sits on land claimed by Azerbaijan. History lessons can wait, as a tourist you just want your visa sorted. Here’s a guide on how to get a Nagorno Karabakh Visa in Stepanakert. On Don’t Stop Living I will be referring to the country as Nagorno Karabakh, but the locals know it as Artsakh, and both names will appear on your visa. Azerbaijan obviously don’t recognise the legitimacy of it as a country.
Where is Nagorno Karabakh?
Nagorno Karabakh sits like a blob in the middle of Azerbaijan land (not in the middle exactly, to the west and near the Armenia border). It’s a country within a country, in a similar way to how landlocked Lesotho and San Marino sit within South Africa and Italy respectively. It’s a self governed and recognised separate republic with its own parliament, flag, symbols and ways of life.
What is Nagorno Karabakh?
It’s a self governed republic. The people that live there are Armenian, but it’s argued they occupy land owned by Azerbaijan. It’s somewhat of an enigma, and a travel gem if truth be told. This is what the term “off the beaten track” was invented for. Not many tourists go here. Nagorno Karabakh celebrated it’s 25 year Republic Anniversary in 2013 – dating back to 1988, before the fall of communism. The early years of the republic had widespread violence and war. At the time the people were mostly Armenian (over 70%) and Azerbaijan wanted the land and didn’t recongise it as a republic. Sadly this led to a war, a lot of bloodshed and well, from 1994 there’s been a ceasefire line and a huge military presence in this mini republic. The capital city is Stepanakert and the country houses 150,000 people.
Getting to Nagorno Karabakh
The border to Azerbaijan is understandably closed and at the time of writing, the international airport in Nagorno Karabakh, Mayraberd remains closed due to the risk of attack. This means your only route is through the mountains of Armenia, on roads that are apparently in Azerbaijan and that lead into Nagorno Karabakh. You will most likely arrive by bus or car, on the road from Goris to Berdazor. I’ve covered that separately on my world borders series: how to get to Nagorno Karabakh.
Where can you get a Nagorno Karabakh Visa?
You basically have three options on where to get a Nagorno Karabakh Visa:
Get it in Yerevan before you travel there
Get it on the border at Berdadzor
Get it from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Stepanakert on arrival
Those are the main three options, it may be possible to obtain a permit in your home country, if there is a representative of Armenia or Nagorno Karabakh working there, but cut out the crap and get it on arrival. Yes, I recommend option three and here’s why:
If you choose option 1 and get your visa in advance, you might still need to call into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on arrival in Stepanakert anyway to register it and get your registration card. If you choose option 2, you’ll also still have to do this and you will hold your driver or the bus up at the border. So just wait until you are in Stepanakert and get your visa sorted there.
What Happens on Arrival at the Nagorno Karabakh border if you don’t have a visa?
Nothing – they will just check your passport, write the details in their log book and let you in and tell you to head to the ministry of foreign affairs in Stepanakert on arrival in the capital city. You will be given a small piece of paper like this with full details on it:
When can you get your Nagorno Karabakh visa in Stepanakert?
OK so the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in central Stepanakert is where you need to go. It will be open “normal working hours”, i.e. Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm. We arrived after 6pm, so had to wait until the next morning. This is perfectly fine and a lot of people also do this. As long as you get it within 24 hours of your arrival in the country.
Where can you get your Nagorno Karabakh Visa in Stepanakert?
Head to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the main street in downtown Stepanakert. It’s a quiet capital city and finding your way around shouldn’t be too tricky. Head to Azatamartikneri Street which leads from Victory Square down to Shahumian Hraparak, a National Roundabout near the President’s Building.
Here’s the address:
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Consular Office Stepanakert, 28 Azatamartikneri Street, Stepanakert, Nagorno Karabakh.
Phone: 94-14-18, 95-07-68
The building is easy to spot, it sits on the other side of the road from the Bus Station, and just down from the Hotel Europe.
What do you need to get your Nagorno Karabakh Visa in Stepanakert
You need to fill in a one page, single sided form, hand in your passport and the money, so in short:
A fully completed and signed application form
Your passport (usually with 6 months still to run on it)
The money (usually 3,000 Dram)
Filling in the Nagorno Karabakh Application form
I consider myself to be quite fast at doing these types of things nowadays having travelled a fair bit, but this one is really easy! You fill in your name, address, date and place of birth, passport number, places in Nagorno Karabakh you will visit, intended dates of stay, where you will stay at night and then you sign it! That’s pretty much it – it’s very straight forward. Just a few notes:
Do not mention that you will visit Agdam or any of the cities/towns near the front line. These parts are off limits to travellers. If you want to go to these places (like I did), just don’t tell them, do it quietly. On places we are visiting I wrote, Shushi, Stepanakert, Gandzasar and Vank.
Do not say anything about Azerbaijan. You can still get the visa with an Azerbaijan visa in your passport, but it’s best not to mention it.
Don’t make stuff up. It’s still a country with a huge military presence so you want to stay on the right side of them – they are nice people.
How much does a Nagorno Karabakh Visa cost?
For a 21 day tourist visa, it’s 3,000 Armenian Dram. It is payable only in cash on arrival at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Other currencies are simply not acceptable – there are a few money changers in the city centre if you get stuck. Also try to have exact change for them – they don’t really have change.
What will you get once you’ve done the application?
You will be given three things:
1. Your Visa for Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (either a sticker, or stuck into your passport depending on your wishes)
2. A cash receipt to confirm you paid 3,000 Dram for the visa
3. A registration card which confirms you got the visa and have the right to visit certain parts of the country, with the exception of the Front Line.
Do I have to get the Nagorno-Karabakh Visa in my passport?
Absolutely not, in a similar way to Jordan/ Israel you can ask for the visa on a sticker instead. This means you won’t have any entry or exit stamp for Nagorno Karabakh in your passport, nor a visa. When someone looks at it, they won’t know you’ve been there at all.
Can you get into Azerbaijan with a Nagorno-Karabakh Visa in your passport?
NO. You will be refused entry, maybe even blacklisted and banned from Azerbaijan for life. So take my advice and either:
Go to Azerbaijan first then Nagorno Karabakh
Get your visa on a sticker rather than in your passport
Can the Nagorno Karabakh Visa be extended?
Yes, but in all honesty the 21 days they give you should be easily enough to see the country. Most tourists come and go in less than a week – we did 4 days there. To extend it, just pop back to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and pay a fee to get it extended. Incidentally longer visas can simply just be issued at the start to save the hassle. The photo below explains the different prices. The longer the stay, the more you pay, obviously.
What limits does the Nagorno Karabakh Visa have?
OK you cannot legally visit Agdam and any village or town on the front line. Of course, you could go to these places, but it’s officially not allowed, so tread carefully. I did visit the Front Line at Agdam as I was interested in seeing it. But it’s up to you if you want to risk it or not. Most tourists just stick to the sightseeing stuff.
What are the top sights of Nagorno Karabakh?
I’ll be writing a load more about this, but Vank, Shushi, Stepanakert, Azokh, Tigranakert, Dadivank and Gandzasar are the most popular sights. Agdam and Varanda and all Front Line/ Border villages are off limits, though I did manage to visit Agdam.