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

Romania – Ukraine

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

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

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

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 signed that 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 UK & 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.

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