Just a quick post to fill in the void before I carry on cycling from Istanbul. I’ve just managed to get my Chinese visa in London which was one of my big reasons for coming back (preceded by my little jaunt to Somaliland in fortnight). Why couldn’t you just get the Chinese visa on the road in a Chinese embassy in a differant country you might ask?
I would if I could is the answer to that. Every country I am planning to ride through has a Chinese embassy (Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan) but each one has a set of circumstances preventing me from applying there.
Firstly Turkey. Turkey is one of those countries where if you were to ask people what city was the capital, and hence where all the embassies are, a fair few would get it wrong. Istanbul is not the capital, Ankara is, and it would be quite a detour from my route. There is a Chinese consul in Istanbul that issues visas, but, to apply at a Chinese embassy in a foreign country you need a letter from your home countries embassy in that same country introducing you (basically saying your passport is real and that you’re not a wrong’un). The British embassy is in Ankara which makes it possible to get the Chinese visa here but requires a big detour.
Next up is Iran. Most nationalities will have no problem getting a Chinese visa in Tehran. Except for the British. Why? We have no embassy as it was broken into in 2011. A very complex set of political circumstances revolve around this that I am nowhere near qualified to talk about so you can have a read here if you choose. The Swedish embassy in Tehran does in fact represent British citizens there but currently does not seem to issue Introduction Letters for us.
Now onto Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan is a very tough country to get into as a tourist in the first place, requiring you to be on a tour at all times. I’m avoiding this by racing across 550km of the country on a 5 day transit visa, obviously barely giving me enough time to cycle let alone get a visa.
Next is Uzbekistan which is a possible candidate. The only downside is that Uzbekistan requires tourists to stay in hotels every night you are there, registering your stay with the police, and most options are pretty pricey (4 nights would cost more than my return plane ticket from Istanbul to London). Hanging around for 7 days getting a Chinese visa would be a money pit.
Kyrgyzstan is the last country before China and is the most logical choice, however, from about July to November 2013 they stopped issuing visas to western tourists for no official reason. The assumed reason being you are going to cross into remote Western China from Kyrgyzstan, a muslim part of China that authorities aren’t too keen on tourists visiting. Right now they are issuing visas but they actually cost more than in London and there is the stress factor that they may decide to stop issuing them when I end up there sometime in April/May.
With all these factors considered you can see why I opted for London but even this wasn’t without a problem. In London a single entry Chinese visa is only valid for 3 months, not enough time for me to cycle there from Istanbul at a normal pace. A dual entry chinese visa, which costs more, is valid for 6 months so I had to opt for that even though I will only enter once. On top of that you need to provide proof of your transport into and out of China as well as hotel reservations which is quite a hassle for a bicycle tourist.
After dealing with all the above bureaucracy you can see why I am quite happy to have gotten my visa and to be “only” £81 down. Now onto whether my Iranian visa gets approved or not to see whether I have to change my route to Plan B (Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Caspian Sea, Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China).