Tag Archive: Visas


IranianVisa.com

While I can’t imagine that anyone’s particularly eager to plunge into the Middle East at the moment, if anyone is planning on heading to Iran, we would both recommend that you consider researching other companies than IranianVisa.com – they’ve had some good reviews, but our experience was pretty bad.

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From our experience If you need a visa for Iran, think twice before using iranianvisa.com.

We needed a visa and were already out of our home country. We’d heard mixed things about iranianvisa.com from the thorntree forum, but decided to use them anyway.

When we initially contacted them, they were very friendly and responded almost immediately. This encouraged us to use them. However, once we had made our payment, communication became very poor.

To start with, they charged us more than they state as their exchange rate from Euros to pounds isn’t at the current (at the time) rate, so we ended up paying almost an extra ten pounds between the two of us.

When we applied, we were told that we would receive our visa code (which you take to the embassy) within 15 working days. When 15 working days had passed, we got in contact with iranianvisa and they apologised, saying there had been “some difficulties” – of course, everything has been kicking off in the Middle East, so that’s understandable, but they hadn’t contacted us at all. They also told us that some people’s codes had been sent to them already and that it was looking good for us.

Another two weeks later, we still had not heard anything from them. So we emailed again, and this time we were told that “there must be a misunderstanding”, and that it is normal not to receive your visa code until 10 days before you intend to pick it up. That leaves you ten days to book transport into the country! Good luck getting anything cheap! We hadn’t been told this at the start, in fact we were told the opposite, as above.

We only heard back from them 2 days after we were meant to pick up our visa and we had been rejected, which isn’t their fault in the slightest but we should have heard back long before then.

While this may be totally out of the ordinary due to the political situation in Iran, it suggests to us that it would be worth investigating other companies.

 

Tips for travelling in Nepal

1. If you are planning on going to India after Nepal, get your Indian visa in England or anywhere but Kathmandu.

2. Again, if you are planning on heading to India, wait until you get to Kathmandu to get your Rabies vaccine. The CIWEC clinic, which is on the same road as the Indian visa place (the one you should avoid) and the British embassy, is probably cleaner than Western clinics, and waiting time is much shorter. Most importantly, the price of each shot is a fraction of the cost in the UK, costing around 22pounds. Since you will need 3 shots, you can choose between just under 70 pounds for all 3 or 50 each in the UK…

3. ALWAYS haggle. Bus fares, hotel prices, or anything else you have to pay for (other than vaccines). Places may even tell you the price is fixed and then put their price down, when you walk out without buying anything.

4a. Some useful equipment to bring: earplugs, plastic sandals (for wearing in less than clean bathrooms), a torch (for during the daily “load-shedding”, also known as power cuts), a bum-bag, a water bottle (you can get these in every other shop in Kathmandu and Pokhara).

4b. Padlocks are handy – good to attach bags to luggage racks and for your hotel door.

5a. If trekking the Annapurna Sanctuary, you don’t need a guide (there is basically one path the whole way, and when there isn’t you can ask a local) or a porter (unless you have special requirements).

5b. Go trekking in early December. The weather is  fine, it doesn’t get too cold in the evenings, it is not busy as peak season has just ended, and stuff is often cheaper.

6. You can stay in monasteries. It is often cheaper than hotels, and meals are included.

7. The best parts of Kathmandu are not in Kathmandu. Day trip like a wild thing.

8. If you are inclined to give stuff to begging children don’t. If you still feel the need, still don’t give to glue sniffers in Thamel (a part of Kathmandu) as they will even sell food to buy glue. Giving school pens and paper are really the best option.

9. Antibiotics and water sanitiser can be bought in Nepal for a fraction of the cost of them in the UK. Expect to be ill at least once at some point – this can be alleviated by antibiotics. Tap water isn’t safe, so you have a choice betwen bottled water or water sanitiser in a water bottle. The latter is cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

10. You can get by very easily with English, though it is nice to make an effort to speak Nepali.

11. “Dhanyabad” (thank-you) doesn’t really get said, only when someone goes out of their way for you. If someone gives you a clementine on a bus, thank them, but it sounds weird to Nepali waiters etc to hear “thank-you” all the time.

12. Be prepared for grulling bus rides. Plastic bags (the only thing in the medicine box) are always available for the travel sick, of which there will always be at least one. This is not an excuse however to fly anywhere!

13. Keep hold of your small change. People won’t want to give it to you, but you should always have some for fruit sellers and people who you wouldn’t expect to have much change. You often get people who say they don’t have change, but do really, such as taxi drivers and bus conductors. But at the same time, use some common-sense and don’t expect a taxi driver to be able to change 1000Rs when the fare costs 50Rs. You can change big notes for smaller denominations in money changers if you ask nicely.

Browsing facebook you might stumble across a group called ‘The Kathmandu Indian Visa Line Club’. While it only has 26 members, all of them are united in having experienced the embassy from hell.

After returning from our trip to Dhulikhel we hoped to pick up our Indian visas. Retrospectively, this seems a rather silly thought, especially given our initial encounter with the embassy.

We arrived at the embassy at just before 8.30am – our first mistake – and took the obligatory ticket. We were A16. This didn’t seem too bad, given we thought there must only be 15 people ahead of us since there were about that many other people also waiting. However, 4 hours later we had discovered that the system is not that logical. As are also randomly interspersed with Fs, and Cs.

Eventually, at just before 1pm, we joined another mini-queue in front of the ONLY counter (by this point there were at least 60 people in the waiting room!). We paid our 300rs to Telex our forms to England and left, being told to return in 5 working days.

6 working days later, returning from our blissful trip, we hoped for a relatively hassle-free pick-up. We arrived earlier this time – around 7.45am – and were almost at the front of the queue. We again took our ticket, this time being C13, which seemed very unreasonable given that there were only 5 people ahead of us, and, already clued up about this process, went to go and get drinks and investigate jabs. We returned an hour and a half later, checked the number on the board and left again for half an hour.

When we were finally seen, we were told that the Indian Embassy in London had not confirmed that we aren’t mad terrorists (or whatever it is that they do) and so we could only get a 3 month visa. After a little dispute, we filled in the Telex form again (not having to pay this time) and were told to come back 2 working days later.

So we did, having called the embassy in London ourselves to make sure they would reply. This in itself was not as easy as expected as I had to explain to the man on the other end of the phone that I wasn’t “in the pool” as he thought, but “in Nepal”. Luckily, we’d found a mind-bogglingly cheap phone. We went through the whole morning rigmarole (see above), this time being told we had been granted a 6 month visa. Brilliant. Of course we then had to join another queue in order to pay.

One would think that an embassy taking tens of thousands of rupees each day, would have the fore-thought to have some change. No. The annoying man told me to go away (this being after queuing for a total of over 10hours) and get change. I think it was not unreasonable to try and rip his head off…it worked. Well his face certainly changed shape and colour, and I left with change and a smile.

The smile withered in the next queuing process we had to endure. After being told to return at 5pm, we started queuing at about 4.30pm. 5pm came and went. 5.15, 5.30, 5.45…the end of the queue in the mean time was almost out of sight. After asking what the problem was, we were told that the passports had not arrived yet! Eventually, once it was dark, an old man in a wooly jumper took two suitcases out of the embassy and around the corner. It was after 6pm before we were even let into the insane asylum. However, the arbitrary ticket system was this time not even in use, so the 2 and a half hour, carefully collected queue dissolved as people took their seats.

It was another 20mins until the old man (who happily hadn’t been mugged) returned and Lucie fought her way back to the front of the “queue” where we had begun. Finally, finally, we picked up our visas, never again to return.

Lesson of this story: If it is possible, get your Indian visa anywhere other than the Kathmandu Indian Embassy!

So we figured that we’ve already accumulated some wisdom from the amount of preparation we have already done, so here are a few hints and tips if you’re planning a similar trip.

*Visas*
Obviously you need lots of these to go through as many countries as we intend to.

Getting a Russian visa was the most nightmare-ish of any of our experiences (well, for Josh it was, I got off pretty lightly as I’m still a student, or was when I filled in my visa… Not that I’m encouraging visa fraud in ANY sense, obviously *STANDARD DISCLAIMER* but they didn’t check my status as a student, although my life with Oxford University officially ended a few weeks later). They don’t tell you this until you try to give them your application, but if you are unemployed or self-employed, you officially have to bring in stamped bank statements for the past three months which demonstrate that you have £100 for every day you are in Russia. I suggest that you tap some rich friend just for the occasion – get them to lend it to you for the period of visa processing. In some Kafka-esque ‘horror of bureaucracy’ scenario, it turns out that you don’t need that money when you actually get there, just for when you apply for your visa!

Also, a tourist visa is up to 30 days. If you actually WANT 30 days, you need an invitation for that entire time. Our invitations were for the 10 days we planned to visit St. Petersburg and Moscow for, so we had to change our plans and leave a week earlier as the Trans-Siberian takes an extra five days in Russian territory after it sets off from Moscow. So don’t get an invitation from your hostel, get one from http://www.realrussia.co.uk, particularly because it’ll probably cost you less!

None of the others were really that much hassle – Nepal is by far the easiest, and you can top-up that visa whenever you like. The Chinese system isn’t nearly as complicated as you might expect! We are yet to try to get visas for Iran, we’re going to try this from India, we’ll keep you updated on that.

*Vaccines*
Some GPs are nicer than others and offer lots for free – we bummed Hep A, typhoid, diphtheria and tetanus. Basically, go to the nurse at your GP and ask for a travel clinic to discuss where and when you’re going – they’ll talk you through it all. Make sure you leave about three months before you have to leave when you do this – some treatments take at least 28 days to administer.

As we were paying for some of our vaccines at NOMADs in Russel Square, a woman informed us that Superdrug are doing an offer with 25% off all vaccines after your first one. However, allegedly Superdrug are involved in funding oppression in Burma, and they’re implicated in Tar Sands (http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/FreeBuyersGuides/traveltransport/Petrol.aspx) so you’d need to decide what’s more important there…

*Money*
Check which European countries haven’t joined the Euro. Just in case you weren’t aware, Poland and Lithuania still have their own currencies, although both are intending to switch to the Euro soon.

Dollars are useful in a lot of countries, not just the USA.

*Trains*
http://www.seat61.com rocks my socks. The website is jam-packed with information, and the man – Mark Smith – has been really helpful, replying to various questions we’ve had. He does often point out that the information we’re looking for is hidden somewhere on his website though, so have a good look before you ask him!

If you want to book the Trans-Siberian before you leave the UK, do some price comparisons, but according to our research your best bet is with Svezhy Veter (www.sv-agency.udm.ru), though RealRussia are a more reputable company who are UK-based rather than SV who are Russia-based.

Thomas Cook European and Overseas timetables are amazing – they include every train, most buses and most ferries for the countries involved. With both these books you can work out how to get from London to Indonesia if you want! It shows when your trains are, how long they’ll take and where you need to change. Prices fluctuate, so they’re not included, but other than that it’s basically an all-inclusive guide!

*Hitch-hiking*
If trains aren’t your thing and you fancy hitching some or all of the way (we’re hitching to Lithuania most probably), if someone tells you that ‘no-one hitches any more, you won’t get picked up’, ask them when they last tried to hitch! Our experience has been that every time you get picked up people tell you that, but they’ve just picked you up, proving themselves wrong!

http://www.hitchwiki.org is a brilliant resource, mapping good and bad hitch spots out of all the big cities in Europe and probably worldwide (I haven’t checked that).

Once we got really stuck for hours and hours in the arse-end of nowhere (in the Midlands), and the veteran hitcher who eventually picked us up said to always go by service stations. This has been a revelation – people can check you out, decide you don’t look like a mad axe murderer and then offer you a lift if you wait by the petrol pumps. That’s much more thinking time than is offered to someone who zooms past at however many miles per hour.

Take road maps of the countries you are going through. AA ones are good as they have service stations marked on them. Michelin ones (at least for Germany and Poland) are a bit crap as they don’t have these little ‘S’ diamonds.

*Boats*
We’re currently investigating how to get by sea away from India, to various potential destinations, with Turkey as our nearest European destination. We’ve just found this website which seems pretty useful – http://www.freightertrips.com/bookings/index.html
You fill in a form and they send your details to booking agents to see if anyone can deal with your requests. We’ll keep y’all updated on how this works out.

*CouchSurfing*
This is obviously a much cheaper way to travel than from hostel to hostel, although you do not get to meet as many people this way as you might in a hostel bar. Join the community! http://www.couchsurfing.org/

Right, I’m wisdom-ed out for the moment…