I just want to go home. I'm tired of all this visa stuff.
— A distressed traveler at the Kazakh embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
So what does sex have to do with Central Asian visas? Simple, really. Thinking about, planning around, and procuring visas for Central Asian countries begins to dominate one’s time and mindspace — almost to the point of obsession. We'll leave it to you to do the rest of the comparison.
Update February 2018: Fortunately, many of the countries in Central Asia have eased up on their tourist visa requirements these last years. Some have visa-free regimes for many nationalities (looking at you Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan), while others have ventured into e-visas or visas upon arrival (Tajikistan and hopefully soon Uzbekistan). This means that most of the visa pain is gone, there's still a lingering bureaucracy and grind that remains.
Central Asian countries and their visa and letter of invitation regimes:
- Turkmenistan – Visas and Letters of Invitation (LOI)
- Uzbekistan – Visas and Letters of Invitation (LOI)
- Kazakhstan – Visas and Letters of Invitation (LOI)
- Kyrgyzstan – Visas
- Tajikistan – Visas and GBAO Permits
Visas and Bureaucracy War Stories
There's something universal about bureaucracy. Each of us has a war story or two to tell, from home and abroad. When all is said and done, however, a special place in the Bureaucracy Hall of Fame will be reserved for the former Soviet Union.
For those of you who plan to travel to Central Asia, the practical details are for you. For others interested in what life is like for citizens of these countries, consider that what we endured likely represents the tip of a formidable iceberg of lingering Soviet-style rules and regulations.
When you DIY (Do it Yourself) bureaucracy manage, you’ll receive the full thrust of the process and begin to appreciate the ability of these governments to make tourists – and often their own citizens – feel like unworthy insects.
As you read and plan, keep in mind that what may apply in one embassy may not apply at the same country’s embassy in another country. Consistency is unknown and embassy employees themselves are often unsure of the regulations.
With all warnings and caveats, you are now ready to throw logic out the window and put your best bureaucratic foot forward into Central Asia.