Visas for the Middle East

A trip to the Middle East? Of course, that requires a little preparation and luck. Some of these countries don’t want everyone to come as a tourist. If you have an Israeli stamp in your passport, for example, you don’t even have to think about Syria or Iran.

The Syrian embassy kept us waiting for a while, so long that everything got pretty stressful: “You have put August down as the date of entry. We thought there was still time”. But later it became really stressful for another reason…. Unfortunately, they only allowed us 2 weeks, but at least they overlooked the problem that we had to apply for the visa “much too early”.

Azerbaijan was more helpful, we got 30 days, we don’t want to stay that long. In this case, the fault lies with us: we had changed our planned route in the meantime and now the wrong entry date is written on it…

Countries like Georgia and Jordan also issue visas at the border. But with Iran, for example, it’s a completely different story. If you simply apply for a visa at the consulate, you need a lot of time and probably a lot of luck. A visa service wants €150, but it’s cheaper to get a reference number from an Iranian travel agency in Tehran. That costs €50 for a start, without visa fees, but it makes everything quick and easy. Theoretically. It’s not guaranteed that you’ll get the reference number, but in an emergency you’ll at least get half your money back. But then they want a detailed itinerary of what you want to do on which day, which is not easy for backpackers like us. But the difficulties became even more massive: the travel agency didn’t apply for the reference number for months because it was still too early, and in the end it was too late. By the time the passports including the number were finally at the Consulate General in Frankfurt, it was less than a week until our departure. A few days later we called and were told that the passports had not yet arrived at the visa section. Now it’s really getting tight! A few phone calls later, the passports have turned up somewhere and can be processed the same day – on the condition that we pay another 35€ each for urgent processing and fax the receipt. We organise someone else to pick up the passports for us, so we have to write and sign a power of attorney and scan and email it to them, etc. The bottom line is that we didn’t get away much cheaper than a visa service would have cost. But after all the stress, all will be well, in fact we get the call the next morning that the passports are there and that we have a visa for 4 weeks. Whew. So now we can start.

And what is the plan? We fly to Istanbul, from where we make our way through Anatolia. After a detour to Iran, we will travel via the Caucasus and Turkey to Syria and on to Jordan…

Backpacking trip Middle East and Caucasus 2008