Its not so difficult to get a Mongolian tourist visa allowing 30 days to visit the country, and its extendable without hassle in Ulan Bator. Easy right? But while researching cycling routes we caught wind of another visa, so unreported that even the official embassy websites don’t list it as an option. With spectacular cycling to be had in Russia’s Altay mountain region which borders the western road into Mongolia, we decided to give the fabled 90 day Mongolian tourist visa a shot.
Through the website of a couple who cycled in Mongolia in 2009, I located a Mongolia based travel agency, Idre’s Guesthouse who knew how to get what we wanted. They explained they would apply through the Mongolian Immigration Office who need to provide permission for us to apply for the longer visa. The cost was USD$35 per person.
As soon as we had the Russian visas in our passports I arranged a Western Union money transfer to Idre’s Guesthouse and provided them with some basic details so they could apply on our behalf. This process was meant to take 10 days but over a month later confirmation still hadn’t materialised and we were due to leave Istanbul. We rang Idre and he confirmed that the letter was on its way. Sure enough, the first time I checked into my email along the Black Sea coast, a scanned copy of the letter had arrived. We then needed to provide a date and Consulate location where we would apply for the visas.
Embassies and Consulates, Moscow
We wanted to get this very important process underway first thing in the morning, but after taking a 30 km ride across half of Moscow to locate our Warmshowers host’s apartment, we were already on the back foot as we headed into Moscow at 11:30am with a guessed GPS coordinate taken from an old Lonely Planet map reference as our only guide.
Just one hour of ‘Guess the country flag’ later we had located the Mongolian Embassy. The problem being we needed the Mongolian Consulate. We played a very helpful game of charades with the on duty guard, asked him to write the name of the street down and got confused over his directions before racing onwards.
Forty minutes later we were out of the Embassy zone and without any clue as to where the consulate might be. Moscow citizens didn’t seem to know either. We gave up showing people our hard earned address after we were directed onto a metro bus by one kind-hearted deli worker. Ignoring her directions completely, Justin switched on our GPS and scanned its unsearchable Cyrillic characters – somehow we had navigated to within a block of our target street.
We talked to an English speaking receptionist on the ground floor of the building. Consulate staff were on lunch. We returned an hour later and waited to be allowed up into the second floor with the largest gathering of Mongolian citizens (about seven) I had ever seen in one place before. While we waited we tried to ignore the signs stating that visa applications must be handed in during the morning hours.
After finally being granted access to the second floor we lined up at the only window with pen and paper in hand to counter our lack of Russian. Much back and forth scribbling later we held our hands up in defeat. The official man behind the window hadn’t received the fax from the Mongolian Immigration office and without it wouldn’t consider a 90 day visa.
We hadn’t managed to print out a copy of the letter, and wondered as we walk away if this would help our case. Downstairs we asked the receptionist if she knew a nearby internet cafe, and in disbelief we quickly found ourselves using her computer and office printer.
We’re not sure what exactly the letter said but the consulate official was satisfied. We filled in basic forms, provided a passport photo and copy of our passports. We were told that visas would cost $100 per person and will be processed in two days.
We paid a cashier who asked us to wait but we weren’t sure what for. Ten minutes later Justin was called to the window. He was asked to sign a receipt, then handed his passport with a Mongolian visa pasted in it.
We were both granted a 90 day visa with a 90 day window in which this needs to start. Success!