So you want to do the Trans Siberian Railroad…
So you want to do the Trans Siberian Railroad? Let me tell you all about it…
In October-November of 2011 I did the Trans Mongolian route – one of three routes – of the Trans Siberian Railroad. The Trans Mongolian is probably the most interesting and certainly the most popular for tourists – taking you through three countries worth of food, culture, and sights. But it’s also three countries worth of potential headaches when it comes to getting visas.
Pictured above is the Chinese Visa. Luckily we have a Chinese Embassy here in Chicago so all I had to do was go there in person. With same day processing, you just fill out a form, submit your passport, then pick it up later in the day.
The Russian Visa is a bit more involved. It’s not difficult, but it is inconvenient and expensive (just like many things in Russia). Obtaining a Russian Visa is a three step process: invitation, application, and registration. The invitation involves obtaining a letter from either a hotel or travel agency inviting you to the country. It all comes down to money. Pay the $20 fee, get the letter. Anyone can get an invitation letter to Russia.
The application process involved physically submitting your passport and obtaining the visa. There is no Russian Embassy in Chicago so I had to mail my passport to an agency. The minimum turnaround time is 5 business days, and with overnight shipping it works out to about a week without a passport. That is a lot of time and $, but for me it was worth it.
Registration is an ongoing process while in Russia. You need to register your visa with the hotel or Embassy in every city you visit for more than a certain time limit. The requirement basically amounts to an additional fee you pay upon check in to the hotel (most hotels provide visa registration.)
If you’re seeing a trend here, you’re right: Russia is not a cheap travel destination.
The Mongolian Visa can be just as involved unless you happen to be an American. For whatever reason, Mongolia lets us walk right on in with minimal hassle. Just about the entire rest of the world needs a visa.
All said and done, the Russian Visa was $350 and the Chinese Visa was $180. Lots of cash for a couple of stamps in your passport!