Border Crossings

Our experience, country by country

Crossing the border into a new country is an exciting, daunting and sometimes nerve racking process. The following information is of our own experience of non-EU border crossings, including buying car insurance after crossing each border.

Contents:

  • Romania – Ukraine
  • Ukraine – Russia
  • Russia – Kazakhstan
  • Kazakhstan – Uzbekistan
  • Uzbekistan – Kyrgyzstan
  • Kyrgyzstan – China
  • China – Pakistan
  • Pakistan – India

Romania – Ukraine

Date: May 2019
Location: North of Siret (Romania), south of Terebleche (Ukraine)
Coordinates: 47.9877805, 26.0612980
Total time taken: 1 hour 20 minutes

We also wrote a bit about this border crossing in ‘A Night in the Zoo’ blog post.

Romania side: Very straightforward, passport control followed by customs.

Ukraine side: On arrival we were given an A6 white form on which they wrote our number plate. We joined a queue and the guards came to us in the car for everything rather than us going to them. The first man checked inside the car and then stamped the white form. Then we had someone collect our passports, the white form and the V5. When they were given back to us the form had a second stamp on it. After this, the inside of the car was checked again, and once again the passports, white form and V5 were taken to be checked. On their return the form had a third (and final stamp) on it, and we were able to leave. At the last barrier before leaving we had to give back the white form with three stamps on it.

Car insurance: There were several huts to buy car insurance and change money after the border. They only accepted cash. There were two ATMs (and wifi) at the petrol station across the road from the huts, however the ATMs did not work. As we did not have enough cash, we ended up leaving without car insurance to find somewhere to camp for the night, and then went to an ATM the next day and returned to buy the car insurance. The man’s English skills were not great, but we think that it was possible to buy insurance for 15/30 days, or 2/6/12 months. We paid 150 UAH (approx £4.50) for 15 days insurance. They were willing to accept payment in Euros, but wanted €10, so it was much cheaper to buy it in UAH.

Ukraine – Russia

Date: May 2019
Location: East of Bachivs’k (Ukraine), west of Troyebortnoye (Russia)
Coordinates: 51.8756371, 34.3255960
Total time taken: 5 hours 30 minutes (1 hour Ukraine side, 1 hour 15 minutes queuing in no mans land, 3 hours 15 minutes Russian side)

A lot of the details for this crossing can be found in ‘The Mother and The Monks’ blog post.

Ukraine side: Nothing out of the ordinary, just a lot of queuing as it was quite busy. One of the friendly border guards collected coins and wanted to see some British coins which unfortunately we didn’t have any to show him. Once we left the Ukraine side there was a huge queue of traffic in no mans land waiting to get into the Russian side, it was stand still traffic most of the time we waited there.

Russian side: On arrival we were each given a white form to complete. It was split in half, both sides were the same and both needed to be completed. It was mostly translated in English. You had to put the name of the company that provided you with a letter of invitation, and the city of the company. Our company was Hotels Pro – initially we just put that but they asked where it was. Hotels Pro is based in Moscow, so we wrote Moscow even though we weren’t going to Moscow ourselves. At passport control they checked the white form and gave you one half to keep – this has to be returned when leaving Russia, so don’t lose it!

Most of our time here was spent at customs. After the guard searched our car (including getting us to take the cover off of the roof tent), he directed us to a wall with the customs information on it. This had a list in English of the items that you need to declare, and a form that needs to be completed that was only in Russian. We asked a guard about the form and about 10 minutes later he gave us an English copy. There are two different forms to complete. Two identical copies must be made for the ‘passenger customs declaration’. These forms are to be completed by the owner of the vehicle. After incorrectly completing it the first time, we were told to put “no” in section 3.1, the chassis number in section 3.3 (which says ‘body no. or identification number’, and leave the section that says ‘chassis no.’ blank. Once we completed the forms we asked the guard again what to do and we just had to wait for someone to take the forms (and Chris’ passport) into the office, and then wait until they bought them back again (over an hour later). Once this was done, we could leave.

Car insurance: Immediately after the border there were several huts from which you could buy car insurance. We went into a couple to get prices, they were all taking the prices off of the same sheet (in Russian), but different huts pointed to different prices on the sheet, some cheaper than others. Their English was very limited and we didn’t know what the different options on the sheet were, so went for the cheapest. Minimum cover was for 15 days. For 15 days we paid 2777 RUB (approx £33). All of the booths were cash only and there were no ATMs nearby (we went to one a 15 minute drive away, coordinates: 51.897917, 34.508372). There was also a hut that exchanged Ukranian Hryvnia for Rubles.

Registration in Russia: We did not register whilst in Russia. We wild camped every night except one and read that it can be a lengthy and difficult process to self register. On our second night we stayed in a hostel hoping they would register us but they refused to do it. We also read that registration is not needed for visits 7 working days or less (which applied to us). For visits more than 7 days – our research said that the police aren’t really bothered about registration any more, so it may be possible to get away without doing it. Whilst we were in Russia we were stopped by the police twice – both times, and at both borders, registration documents were not asked for.

Russia – Kazakhstan

Date: May 2019
Location: East of Saratov (Russia), west of Uralsk (Kazakhstan)
Coordinates: 59.199853, 49.909798
Total time taken: 1 hour 10 minutes (45 minutes Russian side, 25 minutes Kazakhstan side)

A lot of the details for this crossing can be found in ‘The Road to Kazakhstan’ blog post.

Russian side: On arrival at the first barrier the guard scanned through our passports and noticed we had visas for Pakistan, so asked about our onward journey. We were given a laminated number 2 (we presume for 2 people) and drove through to the main section where car by car people got out and went to the window one at a time to hand over their passports. When it was our turn at the window I gave my passport and the half of the white form that we had been given on arrival into Russia. They asked for the “car passport” so I gave the V5 to them as well. My passport was returned and one of the guards searched the car whilst Chris’ passport was checked.

They looked inside the car, the boot, under the bonnet and in the glove box. They asked if we had any guns/drugs. Once Chris’ passport had been returned, the guard who spoke a bit of English walked us (driving) over to the X-ray building. We waited outside the building for a couple of minutes until the door was opened and we were beckoned in. We parked the car, got out and were taken into a room. The man took the V5 and Chris’ passport – he asked a couple of questions about where we had been and where we were going. His English wasn’t great and he gave up asking us questions fairly quickly. A few minutes later the x-ray was done and we went to the final barrier, gave back the laminated number 2, had our passports looked at one more time and left.

Kazakhstan side: Again our passports were checked at the first barrier. We had to get out of the car and take our passports to the man in a little hut. I gave him the V5 too but he didn’t want it. He gave us both a white form to complete and talked us through it (it was also translated in English). He asked us where we were going and whether we were there as tourists – we said we were tourists and that we were driving to Uzbekistan, and he told us to write “Transit” in the “purpose of visit” section. There was a section below this not translated in English which we left blank. We had to complete the forms in the car, and he didn’t let us go through the barrier until we had filled them in. Once through we were directed to park the car and walk up to another window to have our passports and V5 checked. We gave the white form over. Our passports where stamped and the white form was stamped twice, before both the passport and form was returned.

Once we had our passports and paperwork back they did a very quick scan of the car and we were done. The guards here were all remarkably friendly and even gave us a beaming smile and big “welcome to Kazakhstan!” when returning our passports.

Registration in Kazakhstan: UK citizens (and EU citizens) can enter ‘visa free’ which technically means that they do not need to register on arrival. From the research I did, the police don’t always seem to know about this, and have been known to fine people from visa free countries for not registering. What you want is two stamps on the white form – if you only get one stamp then it may be more likely that you are fined for not registering (even though technically you don’t have to). The advice we read was that if you are from a visa free country then try to make sure that they give you two stamps at the border. You may need to push a bit for this. For us they did it automatically.

Car Insurance: Again, see ‘The Road to Kazakhstan’ for details on this. We were able to get insurance immediately after leaving the border. We did not have any Tenge and paid in Rubles. Minimum cover was for 15 days. We bought 30 days of insurance for 2700 RUB (negotiated down from 2900) – approx £32. We weren’t sure if it was legit as it was just a piece of plain A4 paper with no special holograms or anything, but later on when it was checked by the police they did not say that there was a problem with it.

When we left the border area, we only saw one little car and trailer with ‘car insurance’ (страхование автомобиля) on it between the border and Uralsk. There was a place in Uralsk called Nomad Insurance (coordinates: 51.20631, 51.36305) from which you could buy both Kazakhstan and Russian insurance.

The car insurance man also offered to exchange Rubles to Tenge for us but didn’t give us a great best rate, so we refused. When we got to Uralsk we changed them at a bank and got a much better rate.

Kazakhstan – Uzbekistan

Date: June 2019
Location: Kaplanbek Tamozhnya
Coordinates: 41.4566050, 69.2066712
Total time taken: 1 hour 30 minutes (30 minutes Kazakhstan side, 1 hour Uzbekistan side)

Kazakhstan side: This was our strangest border crossing to date. It is located in slap bang in the middle of a town, marked only by huge metal gates that were locked. There was a market next to it and cars were parked up all over the place. Next to the gates was a little office with a man sat in it, and just as I was about to ask whether we were in the right place, another man opened the gates to let two cars in. We followed and asked if this was the way to Uzbekistan. The man didn’t really answer us, just ushered us forwards, so we drove on, hoping that we hadn’t driven ourselves into some kind of military zone that we would never return from.

We followed the track to the customs area and drove towards the inspection pit, but the guard there told us we should go back and needed a stamp. We drove back a few metres and he walked us into the building in which passport control was located. Here we handed over our passport, V5 and white form (that we got when entering Kazakhstan). They also asked us for a customs declaration form, but we weren’t given one when we arrived, so had nothing to give. After a few minutes they handed back our passports (which had been stamped) and said confidently “Welcome to Kazakhstan!”.

We then returned back to the car, showed them the stamp and the car was inspected. We were directed to go around the masses of trucks parked up both in the Kazakhstan side of the border and in no man’s land, until we got to Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan side: Once in, we were told to park the car. There were multiple windows to go to. We went to the one that said ‘Passport Control’ and queued there for a few minutes until we were ushered to the window that had a sign that said ‘Veterinary’ on it. Here we were given a thin strip of paper with a stamp on it. After this we had to go back to the ‘Passport Control’ window, followed by the ‘Customs’ window. After this we drove over the inspection pit and two guards searched the car. This was probably the most thorough search we have had – they opened drawers, and looked in our glasses/camera cases. We had read that they can be strict on medications, especially painkillers and prescription medications. One of the guards did look at our first aid kit, but got distracted before she had the chance to look in our box of tablets, so this was not questioned. We also read that it is important to declare every penny of any currency you have – at no point were we asked to do this. At each stage, our little slip of paper got a signature written on it, and as we left we had to hand it to the guard at the final barrier.

Registration in Uzbekistan: Registration within 3 days of arriving in a city is required in Uzbekistan (at least it definitely is for EU citizens). All of the hostels we stayed at did this for us. We checked they did it before we stayed there, and then when we left we were given a little white form with the dates that we had stayed. By the end of our trip we had quite a collection of forms which we kept for the border guards to check when we left the country. As we were mostly visiting cities, we stayed in more hostels compared to other countries, but we did have a couple of wild camping nights. When wild camping, or staying somewhere that does not do registration, it is possible to register online, however we did not do this. We just ensured that we had enough forms for at least one every 3 days to cover the “within 3 day” rule. When we left we were asked for our white forms, however they only really scanned through them quickly and did not check that we had a form for every single night of our stay. The Caravanistan website has fairly up to date information on registering in Uzbekistan, and it looks like they are getting less strict around these little white forms than they have been previously.

Car Insurance: As the border was only a few miles from Tashkent, we decided not to get car insurance on the border, but when we got to Tashkent. We went to a place on iOverlander near to our hostel (41.33547, 69.27032). They spoke English and it was very straight forward. They initially quoted us for 1 year insurance, and said that 2 months was not possible. After a bit of questioning we managed to get a price for 2 months which was not that much cheaper than the cost for 6 months. There was the option just to get specific drivers insured, which was cheaper than having any driver insured. As Chris’ parents will be coming to visit us whilst we are in Uzbekistan, and we did not have their driving licences with us, we opted for the slightly more expensive ‘any driver’ option. This cost us 141,000 UZS (about £13). The previous visitors on iOverlander were only charged $3 (USD), we showed the man this and asked if it could be done for less, but were told it wasn’t possible.

Uzbeksitan – Kazakhstan

Date: July 2019
Location: Kaplanbek Tamozhnya
Coordinates: 41.4566050, 69.2066712
Total time taken: 1 hour

I forgot to write notes on my phone about this at the time, and now, several weeks later, I can’t remember the details of this border crossing. Our 30 day visa-free period in Uzbekistan was expiring, so we did a visa run – crossing from Uzbekistan to Kazakhstan one day, and back again the following day. We then crossed back into Kazakhstan for a final time a few weeks later (heading towards Kyrgyzstan). Nobody questioned the fact that we crossed back and forth consecutive days. Regardless of which direction we travelled in (KZ-UZ or UZ-KZ), on both sides of the border we had to go to the same desks – there wan’t separate sides/desks for each direction. As previously mentioned, when our passports were checked on the Uzbekistan side, they also took our white registration forms. They quickly scanned through them but did not look at them in any detail, or check that we had one for each night of our stay.

Kazakhstan – Kyrgyzstan

Date: June 2019
Location: East of Chaldovar (Kazakhstan), west of Chaldybar (Kyrgyzstan)
Coordinates: 42.82306, 73.51107
Total time taken: 40 minutes

Our speediest border crossing yet! This was extremely easy and straight forward. The only slightly out-of-the-ordinary aspect was that I (Charlie) had to cross as a pedestrian whilst Chris crossed with the car. Crossing as a pedestrian took less than 5 minutes, so I just sat and waited next to the border for Chris and Natalie to arrive – thankfully it didn’t take long! We both had to complete a small white form which was not translated into English, however random people that were also crossing the border helped to translate it for us.

Car insurance: This is the first country where we did not buy car insurance – largely down to the fact that we initially forgot, and then when we asked other overlanders about it, nobody else seemed to have it either. We were pulled over by the police once, and they questioned our front number plate (which is a sticker on the bonnet). They told us that in Kyrgyzstan cars should have metal number plates on the front, we told them that in the UK people have sticker number plates on the bonnet, and they let us go without asking to see any documentation.

China – Kyrgyzstan

We crossed from Kyrgyzstan to China via the Torugart Pass, and from China to Pakistan via the Khunjerab Pass (July 2019). This was a five day extravaganza of border crossings, customs houses, immigration, passport checks and more – far too much to outline in a few paragraphs. I have written three blog posts about our whole China experience – the one specifically relating to the China-Kyrgyzstan crossing can be found here.

China – Pakistan

Date: August 2019
Location: Khunjerab Pass (immigration) & Sost (customs)

This section will solely focus on the Pakistan side of the border, as I have written lots about the China border crossings, and our whole China tour experience in three blog posts. The one specifically relating to the China-Pakistan crossing can be found here.

Khunjerab Pass: Entering Pakistan was an absolute pleasure. Our passports and visas were checked at the car window, and the border crossing was done. You drive through a huge gate and are immediately surrounded by Pakistani tourists all wanting to take photos with you and the car(s).

Sost: The customs house is in Sost. We firstly went through immigration – they checked our passports, visas, and we had to complete a health form (had we had a cold in the last 7 days etc). The health form said that our temperature was to be taken, however this did not happen. We exchanged US dollars to Pakistan Rupees at a pretty good rate. They also exchanged Chinese Yuan too. After this, we (still in our China group of 3 vehicles and 4 people) were taken into an office for the Carnet du Passage to be stamped. Here we were offered tea, cold drinks, biscuits, and the man in charge chatted us on one side of the room whilst another man sat with each vehicle owner and went through the Carnet paperwork on the other side of the room. It took about half an hour to stamp all three Carnets. They were lovely and we truly felt welcomed to the country. Before we left they “searched” the vehicles (two cars and a motorbike). They opened the passenger door of our car, had a quick look inside and asked if we had any alcohol. When we said no they smiled and the search of all three vehicles was over.

Pakistan – India

Date: August 2019
Location: Whaga border
Coordinates: 31.604684, 74.574029
Total time taken: 2 hours 10 minutes

Pakistan side: Just before we got to the border there is a toll road that charges about 35 rupees. We had spent all of our money on fuel when we left Lahore, so didn’t have anything for the toll. They did not accept card. We explained we had spent all of our money because we were going to India and they let us through for free.

We arrived at 11:30 in the morning, after advice to get there early as the border can take a long time and closes at 6pm. Within six minutes of arriving at the border, our passports were checked by three different people all about 10 metres away from each other. The customs and immigration building is easy to miss (we missed it) on the left side of the road. Its a large border area and there aren’t any signs showing which way to go, however we quickly learned that people shout when you go the wrong way. This was another straightforward process, we had our passports, visas and Carnet checked/stamped, followed by a search of the car. Before leaving we changed US dollars into Indian rupees at an extremely good rate (the latest rate we’d seen was 71.74 and they changed it at 72 for us).

India side: The India side comprised of two main sections – the first involved driving through the middle of whether the border closing ceremony takes place each evening. Our passports, visas, and Carnet were checked, but the Carnet was not stamped here. Then we drove to a building for immigration and customs. Both were very straightforward, but customs took a lot longer than immigration. At immigration we had to complete an English form, tell them what hotel we planned to stay at, and where we intended to go in India. At customs we were asked if we had any baggage, to which we said no. After completing another form, Chris went with the guards for the search of the car, whilst I stayed in the building and watched the baggage search of some Pakistanis who were crossing the border on foot. The search involved taking out every single item in the bags, carelessly (and quiet aggressively) ripping open any sealed packages, and throwing absolutely everything onto the floor. They had absolutely zero respect for these people’s belongings and it was not nice to watch. Whether or not they would have completed a search on our baggage in the same way I do not know, but as I watched, I was very glad that we had told them we didn’t have any baggage. Once the search of the car was completed, they stamped the Carnet and we left.

A little after the border is a toll road that charges 40 Indian rupees. We had changed some money so were able to pay this. We read on iOverlander than some people previously did not have any Indian rupees and were sent back to the border to change money so they could pay for the toll.

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