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Turkmenistan

Posted on 24 Nov 2013 | 0 comments

Our route in Turkmenistan

This is the route we drove in Turkmenistan. If you are interested, you can click on this image below and it will take you to the actual Google Map online. You can then zoom in (or out) to have a more detailed look.

our route in Turkmenistan - click on this image for the interactive Google map

our route in Turkmenistan – click on this image for the interactive Google map

Border crossing from Uzbekistan into Turkemistan (Nukus / Konye-Urgench)

As we approached the border on the Uzbekistan side we were a little confused. First we encountered a ‘no entry’ sign (the classic round red sign with a white stripe through it) attached to a pole on the right. But as we could not see another road to the gate at the border we decided to ignore it. Then there were some roadworks, a big digger truck was making a great mess of what once was a road. We could drive through it, but as we were doing this a guard came out from the gate house and started frantically waving at us that we needed to stop. So we did.

He walked towards us so we waited, and sure enough he indicated we needed to get a bit closer to him, so we did. He wanted to see our passports. I guess they don’t want any cars driving there unless they are actually crossing the border. There aren’t any. A few foot passengers crossed, but no cars.

After seeing our passports he allowed us to drive through and indicated we could park in the undercover area and then enter the building on our right. Jon was locking the pods and Jude walked to the building. The left door has and ‘exit’ sign on it so she was walking towards the door on the right with ‘entrance’ on it, when the guard indicated we should enter at the exit.

The area seemed deserted, until right at the end we found somebody behind a desk. We handed over passports and they gave us a new declaration form to fill in. They had forms in English and we could pretty much copy the ones we had with us from entering Uzbekistan. The only thing different was the amount of dollars we had used.

Once we had filled in our declaration form we handed it in together with the other one (from entering). They also wanted to see our temporary import paper. They also kept that. There was a bit of a discussion about a stamp from Tashkent (we hadn’t been there), but that was soon sorted when we showed them the map with our route. They were very interested in the map and we spent a bit of time showing them the route through central Asia whilst we waited for our passports to return. As Jude has her Turkmenistan visa in her other passport, they also wanted to see that one and then disappeared with all 3.

Not long after Jude received her passports back with an exit stamp, Jon’s was handed to another person and had to wait another few minutes before also he had the required stamp in his passport.

We then went outside where they had a glance inside the car. They didn’t look at the camera or any other photos, nor did they look inside all drawers. Within a few minutes we were sent on our way to no-men’s land. To get there we had to drive through a gate that was closed and had a sheep dip in front of it. We looked back to see what we needed to do and were told to drive around it. Somebody then walked over to open the gate for us and off we went.

Turkmenistan’s gate was closed and when we got out to show our passports to the young security guards they surprised us by speaking English. After practicing the English he knew, a button was pressed and the gate went up.

Again there was an undercover area, this time with an inspection trench running in it. Before we arrived somebody was already waving where they wanted us to park, very organised.

There is a large building on the right and that’s where everything is done. It’s a whole process, but the Turkmenistan border guards were very friendly and helpful. Some even spoke some English and we went through the towns, football clubs, flowers and animals of each country (Holland and Australia). They still know names like Gullit, van der Sar, van Basten and of course Johan Cruijff.

Immediately on the left after entering the building we entered an office where they gave us a declaration form each, luckily they were in English. We filled them in, they checked them and helped filling them in, but they didn’t give us any stamps. They insisted we list ‘clothes’ as our only valuables on the back of the form, one bag. They didn’t care about laptops or phones and told us to select ‘no’ everywhere.

Next was immigration. We handed over our passports and were told to wait, it appears they want to check our visas. We sat down, got a book out ready for a long wait, but 5 minutes later they called us back. We could proceed to window number 2 (Pulhana), the bank. We had to pay $12 each, sign 2 separate documents.of which they kept a copy and we were given one and then we returned to the immigration window. He had already processed our passports as we didn’t have to wait, but were given our passports straight away. This is something we noticed here at the border at other places too: they had already filled in some of the details on the forms that were standard so they didn’t have to complete the whole thing. Very organised.

Next was the most interesting and unusual part: filling in of the transit / entry permit which includes the map with your route. We had read they could only draw in the route for their own region, and that we would need to complete the map elsewhere, but luckily that proved wrong. They drew the map through the entire country and were happy for us to make a side trip to the underground lake before crossing the border near Ashgabat. On the entry form they list all the costs as well (see paperwork below to calculate your total cost). We had a total of $103:

  • Entry permit fee                                                              $
  • Fuel compensation (nearly 800km for us)                $
  • Liability insurance                                                          $
  • Document processing fee                                              $

For this exercise we had to go to the other side of the building, crossing straight through their offices to the other side. They also wrote our details into another journal and added another stamp to the entry form before we were told to pay our entry form fee back at the bank (next to immigration where we came in). There you pay $105 as you also pay for his time or so it seems, an extra $2. He also adds more stamps to the entry document and when we went back to the guy who drew the map he was happy and send us on our way to customs (we think).

He is located in the central area of the offices where he got out another big book. Added our details to it and added his stamp to the entry form. He also added a stamp to our declaration form and wrote our temporary import form (more stamps were added there too). He told us to hand in our declaration form, but we indicated we wanted a copy for our exit border. A discussion amongst the officers took place, the opinion of a senior officer was sought and apparently they agreed with us: we needed to fill in another form so they could keep one and we could keep one. They stamped our second declaration form (3 different people had to stamp and scribble something on the forms!) and gave us our copy.

Once this was done another officer in the central area also write down our details in another book. By this time we had no idea anymore who performed which role and we were just following the friendly instructions of the officers: go here, go there. They made it very easy for us.

We were finished with the paperwork, all that is left now is customs needs to check our car.

A small crowd of people came out for this. One disappeared underneath the car in the inspection trench, one started on the driver’s side and showed quite a bit of interest in the library. He even flicked through most books to check if we didn’t have any pictures they didn’t like in our books. Whilst Jude was ‘helping’ him another guy went on the roof with Jon to look inside the roof box. Even the zipper of our tent had to be opened and he peered around the matrass. Looking for hidden people?

They were more thorough then any other border control, but still didn’t want to see everything. They were also very good in putting things back after looking at them. Not long after they seemed satisfied and told us we could go. Welcome to Turkmenistan we heard. Nice.

There were 2 more gates to clear before we were really in Turkmenistan, at both they wanted to see our passports, but after the second gate opened we drove freely into Turkmenistan.

Both borders had taken us only 2.5 hours. Probably 45 minutes on the Uzbekistan side, the rest at the Turkmenistan border. We were pleased with that.

Paperwork at the Turkmenistan border and costs

There is a whole range of paperwork and steps to be completed at the Turkmenistan border. To make it easier below is an overview of everything you can expect, including the cost for everything. As they charge differently for motorbikes, 4WD, buses, petrol or diesel, we have listed all prices in tables so you can find the cost applicable to you. These were valid as of October 2013 and can of course change.

Paperwork you will receive related to your car (you also fill in 2 copies of a personal declaration form, you will keep one that you hand in on exiting Turkmenistan):

  1. Entry permit (with map and list of all costs)
  2. Conditional certificate (= temporary import paper)
  3. Liability insurance policy
  4. Blank liability insurance form

You will need to keep these vehicle documents with you until departing from Turkmenistan. You will also receive receipts for all the costs made (you pay everything at the bank in the border office and once you show the receipt you get the completed paperwork.

  1. Transit/Entry permit: transit with a private vehicle up to a maximum of 15 days.
Type of vehicle Entry permit cost (USD)
Motorbike 15
Car (incl 4×4) 30
Pick up/car with trailer 50
Minibus (up to 12 seats) 25
Bus (13-30 seats) 50
Bus (>30 seats) 60

On the map of Turkmenistan the travel route is indicated (mapping only using main roads; no off-road routes/short-cuts are possible). This document is very important (do not loose!). It shows entry/departure points, dates, amount for payment. In our case a total of 103 USD. This amount includes:

(1) Vehicle disinfection – 1 USD

(2) Entry permit fee  – 15 USD

(3) Fuel compensation cost – 48 USD (for our diesel 4WD, at the specified route Konye-Urgench to Ashgabat with a side trip to the underground lake) this is the biggest variable, depending on distance and vehicle)

(4) Liability insurance – 35 USD (see overview below to determine your cost)

(5) Processing of documents – 5 USD

Route map drawing: initially border officials will draw on a formal map the portion of the complete journey that this particular border service is authorised to calculate the distance for. Usually this includes the detailed route inside the particular border region, and the main route through the rest of the country using main roads. When reaching the regional capital of a new region (or the national capital Ashgabat), the drawing is extended by the relevant traffic officers to include the detailed journey in this region. Prior to departing from Turkmenistan this map will include the complete route and all points of visit made inside Turkmenistan, with all planned detours off the most direct route from border to border.

Usually your trip entails two or three regions, and the main routes that you will use as a rule include passing by the regional capital of these regions. Ensure that you build in some time in your itinerary for a visit to the relevant traffic officers. The Ashgabat Transport Inspection can draw/complete your entire road map, so the best option is to use this opportunity, while you spend a minimum of one day in Ashgabat anyway.

Note: We had our complete map drawn at the border and didn’t need to go to any traffic police to complete the map. Not sure if this is now the norm.

Fuel compensation cost: The purpose of this exercise is to calculate the estimated number of kilometers (to be) driven in Turkmenistan. Based on this estimated number of kilometers you will drive in Turkmenistan you pay the fuel compensation cost. The calculation for the fuel compensation cost is based on the total kilometers (as estimated on your route map), fuel type used (petrol or diesel) and the size of the vehicle.

The price you pay per kilometer is a reflection of the differences between international fuel prices and Turkmen fuel prices. So, you will still need to pay (local Turkmen fuel prices) for fuel when filling your tank at a Turkmen fuel station. The cost of a liter of fuel approximately equals approximately 0.25 USD (0.62 TM for 1 liter of petrol and 0.58 TM for 1 liter of diesel at a rate of 2.85 TM to 1 USD; October 2013).

In our case, our estimated number of kilometers were 791, we have a 4×4 that runs on diesel so we paid:

791 x 0.04 = $32

Believe us, you’ll still be ahead when filling up compared to most other countries.

Type of vehicle

Petrol (USD per km)

Diesel (USD per km)

Motorbike

0,04

Car (incl 4×4)

0,06

0,04

Pick up/car with trailer

0,12

0,09

Minibus (up to 12 seats)

0,06

0,04

Bus (13-30 seats)

0,12

0,09

Sanitary inspection: the inspection of the vehicle upon entering Turkmenistan. Cost: 1 USD (motorbike and car), 3 USD (pickup-bus).

Quarantine inspection: check of food items, animals on board. Cost: 1 USD (motorbike and car), 3 USD (pickup-bus).

Administrative fees: the cost of the procedures and issue of various documentation is 5 USD per vehicle, irrespective of the type. This includes the issue of the Conditional Certificate.

 

  1. Conditional certificate: this document reflects the owner’s commitment that the vehicle will be exported on the exact date and location indicated in this paper. We would simply call it the ‘temporary import paper’.
  1. Liability insurance policy: these are obligatory and issued for 5 or for 15 days. Currently, costs are as follows:
Type of vehicle

5 days (USD)

15 days (USD)

Motorbike

15

20

Car (incl 4×4)

35

50

Pick up/car with trailer

50

70

Minibus (up to 12 seats)

45

60

Bus (13-30 seats)

45

60

The cost for the liability insurance is listed on your entry permit. When you draw your route map you will also be given your policy certificate.

  1. Blank liability insurance form: This orm would be used when insurance is needed (in other words when you have an accident). We didn’t get one and didn’t bother asking for one.

Registration in Turkmenistan

If you are in Turkmenistan with a transit visa you do not need to register anywhere. If you have a tourist visa there are rules on registration. Your travel agent should be able to give you more detailed information.

Money

There is no longer a black market for cash in Turkmenistan. This means you can go to any bank and change dollars into Manat, and back when needed. In October 2013 one USD gave us 2.85 Manat. Each Manat is divided into 100 Tenge (like cents). You can even find some official money exchangers inside shopping centres, or the supermarket Yimpas in Ashgabat.

Fuel

Diesel and petrol are cheap and available. There are not many petrol stations when crossing the Karakum desert, so make sure you fill up before going across. In October 2013 diesel was 58 Tenge a liter, so even after paying the fuel compensation fee it’s still dirt-cheap.

Sim card

As we only have a 5-day transit visa we didn’t bother trying to buy a simcard. But if you do buy one, reception seems to cover large areas even in the desert. We had a visitor at the Darvaza gas crater and he received several text messages whilst he was there.

Visa

We applied for our visa in Almaty and were able to pick it up in Dushanbe. It takes approximately 10 working days, but as we were traveling through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (Pamir highway) before arriving in Dushanbe, we didn’t have to wait there.

Once we had obtained our Iranian visa we went to the Turkmenistan embassy in Almaty (Furmanova 137, on the corner of Kalinina and Furmanova. You’ll see the flag behind the high gate. Go inside and walk through the building and turn right. The door to the small office is on your right hand side). Unfortunately it was closed already (it was open from 10-13 when we were there in October 2013), but we were able to get the information about what we needed to bring the next day to apply. They gave us an application form and a questionnaire each. We also had to write a letter requesting our visa, this could be hand-written and one is enough for both visas. We were applying for transit visas as we can’t afford to pay for a guide. We were going to apply for 5 days and hope for the best (they also have 3 day transit visas, but told us they no longer give 7 day visas).

On the forms you also have to indicate your route and where you want to enter and exit the country. We wanted to enter from Nukus (Uzbekistan) so we could see Konye-Urgench, just across the border in Turkmenistan. Then travel south past the Darvaza gas craters on to Ashgabat. We wanted to go to the underground lakes and spent some time in Ashgabat too. That would easily fill our 5 days.

You need 2 passport photos each as one needs to be attached to the questionnaire, a colour copy of your passport (photo page) and a copy of your onward visa, in our case Iranian (this can be a black and white copy).

You have to apply for the exact entry and exit days. Five days means for example 22 Oct – 26 Oct, on the last day you must leave the country.

Once we had done this we waited an hour or so and were then given a blank bit of paper with a date and a number on it. That was it. You don’t pay here, but you pay on approval and pick up of your visa. Don’t forget to specifically mention you want to pick it up somewhere else.

A month or so later we arrived in Dushanbe and went straight to the Turkmenistan embassy (coordinates Turkmenistan embassy in Dushanbe: N38 36 32.9 E068 46 56.8). Although it says specifically on the sign they were open between 3 and 4, they tried to send us away saying it was closed. We persisted and were allowed inside. When you arrive you need to show your passport to the guard in the little guard house on the other side of the street. He registers you before you can go inside.

Inside we were told to come back the next day as the consul wasn’t there and no visas could be issued. We did manage to find out the process. In the morning we had to come in again, they would check if our visas were approved and if they were they would give us a slip of paper with details we would have to take to the National Bank of Pakistan (coordinates bank of Pakistan in Dushanbe: N38 33 45.2 E068 48 29.9), where they would take our money (55USD each). With the proof of this payment we would have to drive back to the embassy and hand over this slip of paper before 12 o’clock when they close. As we only had 3 hours the next day to do all this (they open at 9), we asked them for the address of the bank so we could at least find out where it was. The other end of town basically, so we were happy to have a car there.

The next day it happened the way it should and before 12 we were back in the office and were given our passports back (we gave them to the consul on our first visit that morning, you don’t need them to pay in the bank). They had new shiny transit visas glued inside them, valid for 5 days.

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