Obtaining visas for the Trans Siberian train
Obtaining our visas: final planning hurdle accomplished!
Our ideal plan is to just follow our stomachs through Asia. Then, if the budget allows it, to work our way through to Australia and New Zealand.
We will be entering Asia via the Trans Siberian railway through Russia, Mongolia and China (spending at least a month in each). After China we want to visit Nepal then etc. The “etc” part is yet to be fleshed out and we have no intention of doing so until we get there. But we have had to plan in quite some detail this first leg of our trip for the sake of getting the visas, in particularly for China.
Mongolia Visa: easy
Obtaining visas for countries like Mongolia is relatively straightforward. Mongolia does not (yet) offer Visa on Arrival for us (France/UK) and you have to apply beforehand for the visa at the Embassy.
The application process is standard and simple enough. You go to the Embassy with your passport and mug shot, fill out a form and after four days, voila:
Russian Visa: medium hard
The Russian visa application requires the standard application form/photo. But on top of this, the Russians want you to provide an invitation letter (or “tourist voucher”). In practice this involved paying an authorised agency like Real Russia a nominal fee of around £15 and a piece of paper with lots of cyrillic writing is emailed to you.
Unfortunately if you are French, you also need to produce:
- insurance policy
- utility bill (no more than x3 months old)
- x3 recent bank statements (certified by the bank as they were printed online)
- flight details of a round trip to and from UK
This is where we started to get to grips with refundable flights. Providing details of a round trip back to the UK is obviously impossible. Therefore, booking temporary refundable but expensive flights was the only way to get around this.
We found the best airline for refundable flights for Russia to be Air Baltic.
We have since discovered an excellent tour company who for a nominal fee can help you book a valid flight reservation.
Chinese Visa: hard
The Chinese Visa was the hardest because along with the usual application form, they also want you to provide:
- details of a round trip to and from the UK
- a detailed itinerary showing what you are doing every day you are there, with full details and confirmations of where you are staying each night and details of internal travel.
We found Lufthansa the best option for refundable flights because they refund the full amount and don’t deduct an admin fee or impose other charges as other airlines do for their refundable flights.