As long as your papers are in order, entering Uzbekistan is relatively easy, long lines at the airport notwithstanding. It's important that you fill in two identical customs forms and declare every penny of foreign currency on them.
Uzbek visas are needed by almost all nationalities. They are relatively painless to obtain, and most nationalities no longer require a letter of invitation.
Visas for Uzbekistan
Uzbek visa rules depend on the state of Uzbekistan’s relations with your country’s government. At the time of writing, citizens of the following countries were exempt from letters of invitation (LOI): Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and the USA. Everybody else needs an LOI, as do (sometimes) citizens of the above countries who are applying for visas outside their country of citizenship.
Visa-free travel for 21 Western countries (including Australia but not New Zealand) is scheduled to be introduced in 2021. Travellers will be able to enter the country for 30 days after paying US$50 at the airport. The regulation was supposed to be introduced in 2017 but was delayed, so check whether it has actually been implemented.
If there is no Uzbek embassy in your country, you should be eligible for ‘visa on arrival’ at Tashkent International Airport if you arrange special LOI support for this several weeks in advance through a travel agency or inviting business.
Any Uzbek travel agency can arrange LOI support, but most demand that you also purchase a minimum level of services – usually hotel bookings for at least three nights. A few agencies and hotels still provide LOI support with no strings attached, including Arostr Tourism and Topchan Hostel. They charge US$40 to US$50 for a LOI for a single-entry 30-day tourist visa. Tack on another US$10 per entry for visa-on-arrival support. Allow five to 10 business days for LOI processing, or pay double for four- to five-day ‘rush’ processing.
The standard tourist visa is a 30-day, single-entry or multiple-entry visa. They cost US$60 to US$100 for most nationalities, and US$160 for US citizens. Additional entries cost US$10 per entry. Tourist visas lasting more than 30 days are very difficult to obtain; for a longer trip you are better off arranging a business visa. Three-day transit visas are possible without an LOI, but often cost as much as a tourist visa.
Most embassies can issue same-day visas when you present an LOI. Visa processing without an LOI usually takes three to 10 days, depending on the embassy. Be aware that when you apply for your visa in person at an Uzbek embassy, you must have filled in your application form and uploaded a photograph digitally beforehand – this can not be done at the Uzbek embassy. Application forms are available online at http://evisa.mfa.uz.
You may also need to provide a photocopy of every page in your passport, even the blank ones!
Extensions are not given to tourist visa holders so your only option in this case is to travel to neighbouring Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan to buy a new visa. Business visas are easier to extend.
Border permits are required for remote mountain areas near the Tajik and Kyrgyz borders, including most of Ugam-Chatkal National Park, the Zarafshon and Hissar Mountains, and Zaamin National Park. It's unlikely you'll be headed into these regions unless you are on an expedition-style trek. You'll need the help of a travel agency to get a border permit.
Registration rules are stricter in Uzbekistan than in most former Soviet countries. The law states clearly that you must register somewhere within three days of arriving in Uzbekistan.
Checking into a hotel licensed to take foreigners means automatic registration, so if you're staying in hotels for your entire trip there's nothing to worry about. Your hotel or B&B will give you a small slip of paper that you must keep until you have left the country.
If you are camping or staying in a private home, the rules get hazy.
If you spend a night in a private home you are supposed to register with the local Office of Visas & Registration (OVIR), but this can create more problems than it solves for you and your hosts. Asking the next hotel you stay at to supply missing registration slips is a possibility, but they may demand a fee for this service or refuse your request outright.
Officially you don’t need to register if you are staying in a given town for less than three nights. But like everything else in Uzbekistan, this rule is open to interpretation. If the authorities decide you need to be registered for shorter stays, well then you need to be registered. Failure to comply with the ‘law’ can result in anything from a small bribe being demanded, to a fine of up to a couple of thousand US dollars and deportation.
Such harsh fines are unlikely, but if you go several consecutive days without registering you are asking for trouble. Bottom line: the authorities like to see at least some registration slips in your passport. The more you have, the better, and the only way to be completely safe is to ensure that every night of your stay is accounted for by a registration slip or overnight train ticket.
Tashkent hotels in particular can be a real pain in the backside about this – most will not register someone without a registration slip for every night of their stay, so have your paperwork in order!
If you plan to camp your way around Uzbekistan, resign yourself to staying in hotels at least every third night to accumulate some registration slips. If headed to Tashkent try to stay in a hotel the night before arriving so that you have a registration slip.
When you leave the country or take a domestic flight, border officials may thoroughly scrutinise your registration slips or they may not look at them at all. However, the main thing is to be able to produce a convincing bundle when asked. Authorities may also check your registration slips when you are in the country, so carry them with you alongside your passport at all times.
If you are missing only a few registration slips upon departure from the country, you should be in the clear – in theory. In practice, police sometimes hassle departing tourists over just one or two missing registration slips. If this happens, stand your ground and argue forcefully that you were in some towns for less than three nights, and were not required to register for those nights.
Travellers reports suggest that this is less of a problem when departing Uzbekistan overland, especially if you are clearly travelling by bicycle.
Visas for Onward Travel
The website Caravanistan (www.caravanistan.com) has excellent information on visas and letters of invitation (LOI) for onward travel. Most embassies require you to show an onward ticket if you are applying for a transit visa.
Most tourists can now get an e-visa online at www.evisa.gov.az. A 30-day tourist visa from the Azerbaijan embassy requires two passport photos, a copy of your passport and a LOI.
The Chinese embassy prefers you get your China visa in your home country and is generally reluctant to issue visas to tourists. If things change you’ll need a copy of your passport and Uzbek visa on a single page, plus copies of hotel bookings in China and an air ticket from Tashkent to China. Proof of employment or a LOI is also sometimes required. Bishkek is an easier place to get a China visa.
First you must apply for an authorisation through an Iranian agent. This costs around US$50 and takes one to two weeks to arrive, after which you can apply for a 30-day tourist visa (valid for entry within three months) at the Iranian embassy you elected for collection. The cost of visa processing in Tashkent varies from US$50 to US$100 and takes a week to process (though a same-day service is available for a fee).
Most nationalities no longer need a visa to visit Kazakhstan.
Visa-free travel to Kyrgyzstan for most nationalities means one less piece of Central Asian bureaucracy to worry about.
Begin by filling out a visa application form online at http://visa.kdmid.ru. You'll need to bring your original passport and a copy of its photo page, a passport photo, a travel voucher/LOI (original not copy) and proof of insurance to apply for a single- or double-entry 30-day tourist visa at the Russian embassy. Processing takes four days and you pay for the visa at the time of application. Prices vary depending on nationality, but figure on around US$50.
Tourist visas and permits for the Gorno Badakhshan region are easily available online without an invitation, so there's little reason to schlepp out to the embassy. If you do need to go, the consulate is actually across the road from the embassy proper.
The entrance to the visa section is behind the main embassy to the left. Come early (6am if you can face it) and add your name to the waiting list (you can then go for breakfast and return at 10am when the gates open). Whether you actually get a tourist visa is very hit-and-miss these days and authorisation seems quite random. Five-day transit visas cost around US$55, with tourists visas ranging from US$30 to US$115. Processing takes a week for transit visas and up to 10 days for tourist visas.
On arrival in Uzbekistan you will need to fill out two identical customs declarations forms, one to turn in and one to keep (which must be handed in upon departure, so don't lose it). Declare every cent of every type of money you bring in on your customs form, or face possible penalties. When entering overland the forms will likely be in Uzbek so you'll need some help filling them in.
You should also declare all your prescription medicines and preferably bring the prescriptions with you. Customs officials seems particularly interested in sleeping pills and painkillers, particularly anything with codeine or pseudoephedrine (eg Sudafed), so don't bring these unless you have to (and then bring a prescription). For a list of banned medications see www.advantour.com/uzbekistan/travel.htm.
Handicrafts over 50 years old cannot be taken out of Uzbekistan. If in doubt get a clear receipt from the vendor or get pre-clearance from the Culture Ministry Antiques Certification Office in Tashkent.
Arriving and leaving overland, overland customs officials will likely want to see your phone and check the photos for pornography or any other sensitive material.