Many travellers stop in Bishkek to obtain onward visas. We gathered the following information in June 2008. It is far from complete but will give you some tips for various embassies, based on our experience and those of other travellers in Bishkek around the same time. If you can add something to this information, please help other people and contact us so we can put your tips and advice on this page.
Kazakh Embassy – It’s almost certain you will get the visa but plan on one week and 4 trips to the embassy. If at all possible, get a Kazakh visa in Tashkent where it’s miles easier and consider picking up a double-entry visa if your route isn’t set in stone. Anything to avoid the chaos in Bishkek is worth it.
Sometimes you can get lucky and arrive on a day when there aren’t many people but this is the exception to the rule. For your first trip, when you just have to drop off photocopies, it may be worth going later in the morning, after the initial rush is over.
People try to establish a queue before the doors open but this is not respected once processing starts. Pushing and elbowing is the accepted way to get to the front. Sit on the steps in front of the doors so you can be nearest the front when the scrum begins. Staff can be surly and a healthy sense of humour about the whole pointless process helps ease the stress.
All photocopies should be on a full sheet of A4 paper. Don’t squeeze two things on one sheet or the copies may not be accepted. For transit visas, bring both a copy of the ticket and the original. There are four steps to getting a visa. There is no express service.
- Leave a copy of your passport to be approved to continue with your application. You will receive an an application form and be told to come back in 1-2 days.
- Return with your completed application form, one photo attached to the form, a photocopy of your Kyrgyz visa, a photocopy of the photo page of your passport and, if getting a transit visa, a photocopy of your ticket as well as the original. They will examine everything and give you a bank slip to pay the fee: $20 U.S. for a transit visa or $30 U.S. for a tourist visa.
- Rush to the bank on the SW corner of Sovietskaya and Bokonbayev Streets. If you do this quickly you can return with your payment before the doors close for the day. A private taxi costs about 100 Som each way. On a bicycle, pushing hard, it took us 10 minutes going there and 15 minutes coming back uphill.
- Submit all your paperwork. Papers should be handed to the embassy staff inside your passport or they’ll just throw them back at you. For tourist visas, you may be asked to write a short letter explaining why you want to visit Kazakhstan. Count on 4 days for processing. We submitted our application on a Monday and were told to come back on Friday. They do try to work faster if you have a flight looming and may even do transit visas on the same day if absolutely necessary but this is at their discretion.
Kazakh Embassy, 95 Mira Avenue (Straight up Manas Street, a few kilometers beyond the railway tracks). Open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday from 9am to 12 noon.
Iranian Embassy – This embassy appears friendly on the surface but it’s easy to get stuck waiting if you’re not careful. On the surface they are kind but don’t trust them. The accepted procedure for getting an Iranian visa generally is to apply online for a code number and only turn up at the embassy once through this pre-approval process. In Bishkek, embassy staff will tell you there’s no need for a code and promise a result in 10 days but the required papers rarely seem to arrive on the irregular plane from Tehran.
“Definitely go for the code number. They say 10 days but I haven’t got the visa after 15 days. They always say ‘after tomorrow’,” said Greg, one cyclist left in limbo in Bishkek while waiting for his Iranian visa.
Since you pay to apply with no guarantee of success, it’s best to just fork out the $30-45 U.S. dollars in advance for the code number. Getting your visa should be a breeze with this code, usually within a day. The visa fees are between 55-90 euros, depending on your nationality. See more general information on getting an Iranian visa.
Iranian Embassy, 36 Razzakov Street. Open 8:30 until 5:30pm, lunch break from 12-2.
Tajik Embassy – This embassy is, by all accounts, the easiest place in Central Asia to get your Tajik visa and G.B.A.O. permit for the Pamir Highway. You don’t need an invitation letter, unlike in Tashkent, and processing is quick. It can be tricky to find and the landmarks mentioned in the latest LP no longer exist. Ask around for directions.
Uzbek Embassy – You will probably need a letter of invitation for this one and it can take a while to process. Come to Bishkek, lodge your application and return 10-14 days later to pick it up. On the upside, there’s no surge of humanity crowding to get in the doors as at the Kazakh embassy. Everything is relatively organised. If the worst happens and you make a mistake with the dates on your visa, travellers have successfully made changes without an extra cost and in only a few minutes. Just ask nicely and take a Russian speaker to explain your problem.
Uzbek Embassy. Closed on Monday. Open other days at 10am.
Azerbaijan Embassy – Since December 2007 there is an Azerbaijani Embassy in Bishkek. Most countries need a letter of invitation from a travel agency for a tourist visa but the consul here is friendly and may waive this requirement. A 5-day transit visa is also available on arrival in Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani embassy is near the Tajik embassy.
Azerbaijan Embassy, 41 Shukurov Street (formerlly Kropotkina Street). Open Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 10am to 12 noon.
There is no Turkmen Embassy in Bishkek. You can apply in Tashkent. We heard rumours that transit visas were no longer being issued with Azerbaijan as an onward destination because of the unreliability of the ferry service.