The blackberry buzzes with Bob Marley’s “Get Up Stand Up” acting as my morning alarm, reminding me that in order to “stand up for my rights” I need to get out of bed. I turn off the alarm and unplug the phone in one practiced move. Bleary eyed and barely conscious, I scroll through the emails and see all of those who have wanted to communicate with me in the middle of the night. There is an email from The Adventurists, something about The Visa Machine and Turkmenistan letter of invite for a transit visa on arrival…..I scroll on, mentally making a note that I should talk about this with Pamela and DJ.
This is really where the Turkmenistan visa woe all started.
I remember a follow up conversation with Pamela, a conversation where we are excited at the thought of a transit visa on arrival but entirely missing the part where our name needs to be on a list somewhere in order for this to happen. It all sounds easy enough, we’ve all applied to a ton of visas and a transit visa on arrival is perfect for what we need. A regular 5-day transit visa is date specific and we can’t really time our route that well. A transit visa on arrival would give us a lot of more flexibility. The conversation moved on to the twenty million different things that needed our attention at the time, the exact time line to submit our name to this list or the fact that The Visa Machine is the only service who is will to make this magical list happen escaped us.
Time moved on. We need visas. We started to apply for our visas through other visa processing agencies.
I eventually rounded back onto this magical list that I had read about many months ago when I was barely awake and emailed The Visa Machine. Oops! It was too late to get our name on this list, they have already submitted it onward to the powers that be.
Ok, the transit visa process is not that difficult, so lets just submit the transit visa application through Travisa (the visa processing agency I had selected to use).
Rejected. My application for a standard 5-day transit visa for Turkmenistan was rejected by the Turkmenistan Embassy in DC.
[sample conversation with Travisa]
Why was my application rejected?
Uhm…because 5 days is too long for a transit visa.
Ok, I am driving through the country, I think it will only take 3 days but I know that the Turkmenistan embassy customarily issue a 5-day transit visa. What do you suggest I do?
We suggest you re-submit for a 24 hour transit visa.
Do you understand that it is physically impossible to drive across the country in 24 hours?
Then we suggest you apply for a regular tourist visa.
But I can’t get a letter of invitation with out us spending an additional $400 each on a tour package.
We are experts at applying for visas and my supervisor thinks that you should re-submit your application for a shorter duration.
Time to google. Thorn Tree posts, Lonely Planet guides, call and email three different Turkmenistan embassies around the world, email The Visa Machine to see if there is ANYTHING at all they can help us with.
Without a Turkmenistan visa, we will be forced to take the ferry from Baku to Aqtau, Kazakhstan, instead of Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan. The ferry crossing the Caspian Sea is unreliable. Some travelers have no trouble at all while others have nothing but horror stories to tell. The Mongol Rally is one giant set of unpredictable problems and I would like to reserve as many back up options as possible. There are very few options available to us if we cannot gain entry through Turkmenistan.
All research show that I have all the necessary onward visas and paper work for a standard 5-day transit visa or a transit visa on arrival. I call the Turkmenistan Embassy in DC one more time today for insight. I will be dammed! A live person!
A very lovely and helpful woman told me that the DC embassy does not process transit visas. I would need to apply in either Istanbul or Baku, somewhere closer to my port of exit.
I call Travisa to confirm this new piece of information.
[another conversation with Travisa]
Are you aware that the Turkmenistan Embassy in DC does not issue Transit visas?
No. I am not.
I just got off the phone with someone at the embassy and that is what they said.
I am unaware of this information.
Have you ever successfully obtained a transit visa for Turkmenistan?
Yes we have.
Ok, so then I need you to help me secure a transit visa for Turkmenistan.
Well…my supervisors suspect that your application got rejected because 5-days is not considered transit.
Why would they regularly issue 5-day transit visas if that is not considered transit but tourism?
and round and round the circle we go….
We are 40 days from kick off, I am 12 days away from flying out of NYC and I still do not have a Turkmenistan visa.
We have not exhausted all of our options. We can still try for visa in Istanbul and Baku. I am not giving up. The Mongol Rally is taking my persistence and problem solving skills to a whole new level.
If you have any experience with the Turkmenistan visa, speak Turkish or live in Baku and can call the embassy for me for some information, I will be eternally grateful!
*note to self, do not attempt to read and process complicated information such as visa application requirements before coffee or a cold shower.
*note on Travsia. I’ve used their services for India and had a great experience. However, this time around, processing my Russian, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan visas have been an exercise in the ridiculous. Every time I call, I get a different answer. Every time I have a question, they redirect me to their website for answers. Every time they say they will call me back with more information, they do not. I’ve heard both compliments and complaints about VisaHQ, The Visa Machine and A Briggs. Which means it would be unfair to recommend against Travisa point blank. Everyone has a different experience depending on which visa they need. I guess pick your poison and may the travel gods be with you.
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