Some countries require that you acquire a visa before rocking up to the border with your passport and phrasebook in hand. Others will issue a visa at the border, and still others require no visa. For most of the Americas, a holder of a US passport will be issued a visa on arrival, or no visa will be required. (Here is an excellent thread about borders in the Americas for US citizens.) Africa and Asia are a different story.

And not all visa applications are created equal. Some countries require a support letter from a company in that country, and/or proof of sufficient money to fund your stay, and/or proof of onward travel intentions (visa for the next country, onward/return air ticket, etc).

And lastly, rules change, governments come and go, and border officials may or may not be having a bad hair day. Nothing beats on-the-ground, realtime info from people crossing borders. The best for this, bar none, is Horizons Unlimited. A close second is the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum, although they rarely have reports from people who are also bringing vehicles across international borders.

Given my route, I needed to get my Russia and Kazakhstan visas ahead of time.

For Russia, I used, opting for both the support letter service and the visa service, 30-day, multi-entry visa. (Multi-entry because the only way out of Mongolia is back into Russia, unless you’re going to China.) I sent the app using USPS Express mail, and FedEx 2-day coming back, and the total time was three weeks.

For the Kazakhstan visa (60-day, double-entry), I downloaded & filled out the app from their embassy website, leaving the “Temporary address in Kazakhstan” field blank. I used USPS Express Mail, pre-paid USPS Priority Mail coming back, total time was 1 week. $60 fee, No LOI needed. (Double-entry for Kazakhstan because I want to visit Uzbekistan, but have to return to Kazakhstan to ferry across the Caspian to Azerbaijan.)

I intend to get an Uzbek visa in Kazakhstan, and the Azerbaijan visa in Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan. For both countries, I will arrange LOIs before I leave.

The other visa headaches looming are for Syria and Sudan.
Word has it that Syria requires that the visa be issued by the embassy in the applicant’s home country. And Syria visas are only good for 3 months from the date of issue. I don’t plan on being in Syria before the end of October, so unless the Syrian embassy in Turkey takes pity on me, I’ll have to courier my passport to the Syrian embassy in D.C. for the visa.

Sudan…some people report major headaches trying to get a Sudan visa in Cairo, others report same-day visas when applying in Aswan. I’ll just have to prepare myself for maximum frustration, with the chance that I’ll be pleasantly surprised if it all goes smoothly.

Visas further south in Africa I’ll get in preceding countries. At least that’s the plan. Ask me in a year how it all went.

International Driving Permit
With such an important-sounding name, I was looking forward to a document that would impress traffic cops on any continent. (And it may do that, it just didn’t impress me.) What you get is a piece of tri-folded cardboard with your photo pasted into it, and your driving qualifications translated into a bunch of languages. Meaning the traffic cops of Zaire will know that I am qualified to drive a car and a motorcycle, but not a bus (har har) or commercial vehicle. The overhead for these must be about 25 cents (if that), so at $15 a pop these must be money-makers for AAA.

OK, I’m done bitching. Yes, it is required by some countries if you want to drive on their roads. Yes, handing one of these to a traffic cop gives said cop less leverage than if I’d given him my original Arizona driver’s licence, should he try to strong-arm me by holding my ID hostage.
Looks like this on the outside:

I don’t want to spoil the suspense by showing the inside.

Shipping bike and self over large bodies of water
I intend to ship the bike from Vancouver, B.C. Canada to Incheon, S. Korea, using air freight.
I intend to ship myself from/to the same cities using Korea Airlines.

The quote for shipping came in at around CAD$1300, from Locher Evers International. This does not include crating, which they offer for a price per volume (I don’t have that figure handy). The quote states that the starting battery must be disconnected, and the fuel tank no more than 3/4 full. For that quote, the crate dimensions are 218 cm x 86 cm x 111 cm @ 210 kg.

That price is pretty reasonable (assuming I can scrunch my DR down to those dimensions), but I stilll need to figure out how to get the bike crated & to the cargo terminal, or crate it myself AT the terminal. Logistics…

My one-way, non-stop Korea Air flight from Vancouver to Incheon came in at around $750, promising 11 hours of seat time in econ class for practicing Korean and Russian phrases.

There is more transport ahead, for which I have no firm plans in place:

  • Aqaba, Jordan to Nuweiba, Egypt -OR- Yemen to Djibouti
  • S Africa to S America
  • Colombia to Panama

Carnets for US-based travelers are sold by the Canadian Automobile Association (now defunct). I haven’t purchased mine yet, since my itinerary is still up in the air for another week or so, and the cost of the carnet will change depending on my final route. In any case, as LR mentioned previously, the carnet is only good for a year, so at some point I will have to get a new carnet, and have the previous one discharged. Still have to work out the gory details.

Carnet Gory Details (added July 18 2010):
First note: It can take up to six weeks for the carnet application and issuance to be complete.

I am going to use the gurantee option rather than the indemnity bond to fund the carnet. My 2008 DR was valued at CAD$3600 by CAA. It doesn’t really matter, because the minimum guarantee that they will handle is CAD$5000. I’ll use my own funds, which will save bank fees & interest, and also force me to save that much for the Americas leg of the ride.

I asked CAA about discharging the carnet before returning to the US. This is possible, as long as the certificate of location (the last page of the carnet) is stamped & signed by customs in a non-carnet country. Since South Africa is the last country where a carnet is required, I should be able to discharge the carnet from my 1st country in S America and receive my CAD$5000.

But, all of that works only if I get out of S Africa (and into a non-carnet country) within a year. Otherwise I get to renew the carnet while on the road, which could be a hassle…the size of which I will find out & post.

More Carnet Gory Details or how I got my carnet in seven days

(Note: CAA’s International Documentation Dept is now only open on Wed, Thurs and Fridays from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm EST.)

I scanned all of my application documents (see link to CAA above) and e-mailed them to Suzanne on Wed the 14th. On Friday, I received my price quote for the guarantee and indemnity options, and used a wire transfer to send the funds to CAA’s bank, which cleared on Monday. Two days later, my carnet was issued and mailed via FedEx. Suzanne at CAA offered outstanding customer support.