Disclaimer: this is what happened with/for us, at the time that we made our visa application. Everything and anything could have changed between when this happened, and when you are reading this. Shortly after we applied for our visa, Pakistan introduced the e-visa system, so the process is now completely different.
During the initial visa research, we decided to apply for the visa that would take the longest first, and shortest last. This meant that last on our application list was Pakistan, which, so the internet told us, would take 4 working days to process. Low and behold, when it came to starting our application (a week or so before we wanted to leave) the ‘4 working day’ statement had disappeared from the face of the internet, and instead a 1-6 week processing time was in its place.
Prior to applying, we had a few questions – e.g. did we both need to go in person to make the application, how long would it actually take. We did our application through Gerry’s. The phone number on the Gerry’s website was 9999 – so we thought it would be best to try emailing them instead. This sent us around in circles, and after a few days we did get an email back, but it told us that we had emailed the wrong people (despite it being the email address on the website) and directed us to the same website to find the correct email address. We found another phone number, but this was permanently engaged, and after 50 or so calls, we gave up. Luckily, the Chinese visa application centre was not too far from the Pakistan centre, so when Chris went to collect our passports after the Chinese visa had been approved, he popped in and asked the questions that we had.
The visa application did not require bio-metrics, meaning that we both did not have to apply in person, and after pushing them a bit, they reluctantly told Chris that the average application takes between 2 and 2 1/2 weeks.
Despite our initial struggle to get this information, the application as a whole was probably the most straight forward of the three. This website included a handy checklist which made the process very smooth. The application form had to be printed out and completed in pen – with similar questions to the previous applications, it was fairly quick to fill out. As with the Chinese visa, a letter of invitation (LOI) was required. We did a bit of research around this, and there were a few ways/places that we could have got this through. In the end, we went with Karakoram Bikers who sent over a LOI (for a fee) when we booked a tour with them. We also booked ourselves a couple of nights in their home-stay in Gilgit. The LOI took a couple of days to come through, they charged us about £58 per letter (paid in Australian dollars) – one letter per address was needed (e.g. two+ people living at the same address only needed one letter).
Writing this after having visited Pakistan, our experience with Karakoram Bikers was mixed. The home-stay in Gilgit wasn’t quite what we expected, the rooms were pretty dirty, and it was quite run down. We ended up not staying there, but instead staying at their home-stay in Lahore. This was much nicer, but quite expensive compared to other accommodation during our trip. The staff were all lovely and responded to any questions/queries/concerns we had before we arrived, and Hashaam (who lived below the home-stay in Lahore) was friendly, really interesting, and great to chat to. Our food tour was great, and to our greatest surprise, did not make us ill (see our blog post for more on this). The biggest downside was the cost – £166 on one LOI and a 3 hour tour around Lahore is unimaginably expensive for two people on a £16 a day budget. There are definitely cheaper ways to get an LOI, and now I have hindsight on my side, I would recommend to do them instead.
Back to the visa – Chris went to the application centre in London to hand in both of our applications. Despite taking everything that was on the checklist, some of the documents needed more than one copy. There was a photocopy machine at the centre, but you had to pay for it, so its advisable to either take lots of copies of everything, or take some change for the machine. Other than this slight hiccup, it was a very easy submission process.
After less than a week, we got a text to say that our visa was ready for collection. Chris could have collected both of our applications as long as he had a signed letter from me saying that I gave him permission to collect it. In the end, we both went. It was a less than five minute process of handing over our receipt and being given our passport. As usual we checked the details were correct – this time they were in English so this was easy, and we were good to go!