You know, when you do something and you think "now that was money well spent..." .? Now I don't feel like that at all, about paying for a visa to enter a country. It's like an invisible tax they can hit you with or else you will not be granted permission to enter...
Seems like money for jam to me! There's a lot of talk as to some countries wanting to abolish the need for it eg Kyrgystan has 30 days free - most have not! To be honest why would they? Although it is off putting to a tourist, to fork out a lot of dosh for a stamp in your passport!
I spent heaps of time on the Internet, researching the how and why, working out a logical timeline for applying. So far this is what we have - and yes add up that cost - Ouch!
A Chinese visa can be applied for up to 90 days before departure. You need a completed application form with a full itinerary (preferably with a tour company but it is possible without - we did) a passport photo, a letter of invitation from a sponsor in the country and the fee of $140.00 per person. European passports are cheaper so we paid $340.00 for the 3 of us. Your passport has to be valid for up to 6 months afterward - most countries have this. It takes 5 days to process with 2-3 visits to the embassy. They only issue so many tickets per day so if you're a bit late, tough luck. Luckily they have an office in Auckland, although it is confronting seeing all those Tibetan protesters doing Tai Chi in front of the building... THE most peaceful protest ever!
Next is the Mongolian visa.. This was probably the easiest - the lady even phoned me to check on our plans but she was kind of laughing which both worried me and made me wonder if it wasn't Catherine, my sister having a laugh. The completed application form, passport photos, printed itinerary (and as the lady asked me "is this accurate? Some people go missing and we never know...") and an address of a sponsor. I've booked a two week trip horse riding in Western Mongolia so I used the guide's address. These visas cost $190 because the EU passport didn't need one.
I had to skip forward to get a Kazakhstan visa next, as the Russian visa required proof of forward planning. The Kazakh visa required a written introductory letter as I don't have a tour booked. Complete application form with photos, hotel addresses (I booked with Booking.com as you can easily cancel if you change your plans) copies of your insurance cover, onward flights and or train tickets. We needed a double entry visa here as we fly out of Almaty to Amsterdam eventually. All up these visas cost $240.00 plus a courier fee of $50 to send the passports to Singapore for the two weeks it took to process. Let's not forget the $70 to pay a courier to pick them up and ship them home again.
All this processing time left very little time for the Russian visa, which normally takes 10 working days. I had to do it urgently over 3 days. $450 plus pay for a Russian tourist company to write a letter stating where will travel - I think about $80 for three of us. Passports had to be couriered to Wellington (same for Mongolian) and we're awaiting their return....
After all that.... Do you see my point? BUT yes now we are ready to roll, without spending a wasted day dealing with a non-English speaking embassy....until Kazakhstan that is