Halfway around the world and back in a Landcruiser

03A – Overland Travel Tips

GENERAL

COSTS.
– I was recommended to budget for £40 per day once on the road (exclusive of preparation costs) and this was pretty much spot-on.
But it can be done cheaper! – http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article2240497.ece
Also this thread
http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/4wd-overland-travel/total-cost-ownership-expedition-vehicles-36093

And fuel costs – these might help – http://www.gtz.de/en/themen/29957.htm and http://www.racv.com.au/wps/wcm/connect/Internet/Primary/travel/driving+overseas/worldwide+fuel+prices

My Landcruiser averaged 19-20 mpg. Worst ever was 18, and best (ironically, because it was the cheapest in the world) was on Iranian diesel when it rose to the dizzying heights of 23!!

FLAG STICKERS.

– Get stickers made up with the flag and name of each country you travel through and put them on your vehicle. I hadn’t had any knowledge or experience of this till I noticed the line of flags on the side of Rose and Dave’s vehicle Nessie (of http://www.nessiesadventures.com) in Vientiane, but they found it had been one of the best things they’d done in terms of getting talking to people, easing the language barrier by making a simple sweeping gesture towards the line of flags when people showed curiosity, having a talking point and so on. So when I returned to Thailand after Laos, I duly got my own stickers made. Having done so, I can duly vouch for Rose and Dave’s experiences – not only have I been able to make that sweeping gesture quite often and elicit an “ahh – OK” when people have wanted to know where I’ve been, but sometimes I have even parked the car and then come back to it to find a group of people standing and pointing to the flags whilst discussing them with each other. They weren’t doing that for my benefit.

INJECTOR CLEANER – frequently put a tin of diesel fuel injector cleaner through the tank. Diesel is dirtier in poorer countries, so injectors etc get furred up and the efficiency of the engine goes down more quickly. This probably also applies to petrol engines.

HIGH ALTTUDE AND DIESELS. They run hotter at high altitude eg the KKH or the Manali-Leh highway. My 80 did have a High Altitude Compensator, although it seemed to smoke a bit and wasn’t very fast at that altitude. But it’s academic, for you wouldn’t want to go fast anyway – both for safety and scenery reasons. My advice – go slowly and enjoy the stupendous views.

MAINTENANCE Every 5000 kms, oil & filter change, greased the UJs, rotated the tyres and blew out/replaced the air filter.

BOOKS – there are 2 that I used. First is ‘Sahara Overland’, by Chris Scott (he of horizonsunlimited fame – he started the site; now it’s taken on a life of its own) – http://www.sahara-overland.com/edition2/index.htm and the second is Vehicle Dependent Expeditions – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Vehicle-dependent-Expedition-Guide-Field-Manual/dp/0953232417 – this is not Sahara-oriented as with the Chris Scott one, but is a more vehicle-specific guide to overlanding. If Chris Scott is primarily about the Sahara, with a bit of vehicle stuff chucked in, this one is primarily about vehicles, with nothing about any specific location thrown in – apart from gruelling desert conditions in general. But to be honest, it is hard to imagine that Tom Sheppard is aiming his book at people travelling at many places other than the Sahara.

CARNETS – Maybe this is more of a topic that should go in ‘Preparation’. The RAC, which administers British Carnets, will charge you an arm and a leg. I used the ADAC – http://www.adac.de/ReiseService/tourset_reisefuehrer/tipps/Carnet_de_Passage/Carnet_e.asp?ComponentID=79913&SourcePageID=79838 – but double check, as I have also heard recently that it has now become impossible for non-German residents/citizens to get one on a non-German car. Have a look at the Trip Paperwork section of the HUBB for further discussion. There are various other options available, like getting temporary German registration to qualify for an ADAC Carnet, or there is the French ATA Carnet, but not sure whether this works for non-French vehicles. In 2008 I met some French people who were able to get a French ATA carnet DHL’d out to them in Bangkok. Not sure of the procedure they followed, but I know it involved the French Embassy.

Interestingly, you can actually get into Pakistan without one (despite Pak being one of the 4 countries with the highest Carnet entry requirements) but have to pay some sort of deposit on entry and get escorted all the way through. But you will DEFINITELY be stuffed if you try and enter India without one, as evidenced by the impounded foreign vehicles at Wagah Customs.

Amusingly, when leaving Egypt through Nuweiba in May 2007, I happened across a Swiss chap in a Kenyan registered Peugeot 504. He had been working on some sort of VSO-like medical project in Kenya and was driving back to Switzerland at the end. He’d crossed Sudan and had been stopped at the Egyptian border because – wait for it – his Kenyan Carnet didn’t cover Egypt. After 10 or so days in bureaucratic limbo, he eventually managed to negotiate with Egyptian Customs that, if he was able to get a letter of no objection from the Kenyan AA, they would let him in. A quick hunt on the internet turned up the logo and address of the Kenyan AA. He then constructed a fake letter of no objection from the Kenyan AA, complete with their letterhead, and emailed it to his girlfriend, who was luckily still in Kenya. She printed it out and faxed it to the Egyptians at the Sudan border, who could see that it came from a Kenyan number. It worked!

INSURANCE
– Green Card. There’s lots of threads about this on the HUBB. Briefly – you no longer get a physical green card – the green card scheme means that your UK 3rd party cover operates in any green card scheme member state (the EU plus a number of bordering countries eg Turkey, European Russia and (somewhat surprisingly) Iran). Also bear in mind that, if you want comprehensive cover for your own vehicle in any Green Card country, you will need to speak to your UK insurance co and they may or may not give it to you, and will charge if they do. Comprehensive insurance isn’t required by law, only 3rd party. In theory, EU law says you should be able to get EU Green Card insurance anywhere in the EU, regardless of where the car is registered. There was some debate about this in my case (whether I could or couldn’t buy it at the Russia/Latvia border with a UK-registered car) but I fronted up to the border and was sold it no problem – http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/4wd-overland-travel/european-car-insurance-36357

– 3rd Party. Outside the Green Card area, you will need to buy 3rd party insurance on entry. Buy at the border of most countries or, if the country isn’t organised enough to have a booth selling it where you actually need it to start ie at the border eg India/Iran, you will have to take a chance and drive uninsured to the nearest town and buy it there. Or sit at the border crossing for 1 hour waiting for the insurance broker to come from the nearest town having been summoned to the border by the officials to sell you insurance before letting you in (Turkey/Thailand).

– Comprehensive Insurance for UK vehicles travelling outside the Green Card area – try Campbell Irvine – http://www.campbellirvine.com/ – Mike Berry is extremely helpful. But you will still need 3rd party insurance (usually bought at the border) for each individual country.

– Travel insurance (for you, not your vehicle). DON’T leave home without travel insurance –

– Check to be sure your travel insurance covers you for places blacklisted by the Foreign Office (FCO) if you plan to go to them. Many such policies contain a clause which renders ALL cover inoperative if the policyholder goes to a place that the FCO advises against travel to. I didn’t think this was totally fair. If we were shot/kidnapped/caught in a bomb blast in Kashmir, for eg, then fair enough – but I couldn’t see the logic in having a claim turned down if we had had food poisoning or a road accident there – something that could have happened anywhere. So, having done some research, I found again that Campbell Irvine was prepared to cover for FCO-blacklisted places, provided that policyholders advised in advance of their intention to go there and that any claim did not arise from the reason the place was blacklisted. I am told that the blanket exclusion is because of concerns about what would happen if the insurance company had to send people to the blacklisted place to medivac the policyholder. And NO insurance company will cover for Iraq or Afghanistan – period.

– Registration. There is a perennial problem of what to do with a UK-registered vehicle ie what happens if you take it overseas and the MOT and tax expire, and you can’t get it renewed because you’re not in the UK? Most overlanders tend to SORN the vehicle online once outside the EU, but this may technically be illegal. But what else to do, when you are travelling and don’t have a permanent home?
http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/europe/crossing-eu-no-mot-road-32649

– Passports. A second British one is not impossible to get (although they don’t half make you jump through some hoops!) You have to establish that you are traveling for the purposes of work and will be visiting ‘incompatible countries’. In Passport Agency-speak this means Israel and Arab countries ie countries that won’t let you in if they see an offending stamp on your passport from one of the other ones.

If you get one, be careful how you use it, if you’re looking to leave one country on one and enter another with the other. Some countries (or maybe it’s just the thick border guards) are very difficult about letting you in when you don’t have an exit stamp in the same passport from the country you’ve just left.

Example – I had a bit of a problem when I put my NEW passport (with a Thai entry stamp) into the Bangkok Russian Embassy to get my Russian visas processed, then tried to go to Cambodia for a week or so in the meantime with the old passport that didn’t have the Thai entry stamp. The ability to leave a passport at an embassy to get onward visas sorted out, whilst being able to continue taking side-trips in the meantime, was, after all, one of the reasons for my wanting 2 passports in the first place. When being sent back to Bangkok to retrieve the new passport from the Russians (that had the relevant Thai entry stamp), I was told that Thai law demands the presence of an exit stamp from the country you’ve just come from in the same passport that you’re trying to use getting into Thailand. However, not sure how true this is….if you were to get onto a plane from any EU country and fly to Thailand on an EU passport, it is unlikely these days that you’d get an exit stamp but the Thais wouldn’t turn you away at Bangkok airport because of that. I was told, after it was too late, that if I had used the services of the ‘visa run’ fixer people who make a living hanging around Thailand’s land borders with neighbouring countries, rather than trying to sort it out face-to-face with the Thai immigration people, the whole thing could have been resolved with a bit of baksheesh. They won’t bend the rules with people they don’t know, only with those they trust.
Then I had another, similar, issue getting back into Thailand when I’d got an exit stamp from Cambodia in one passport, but tried to use the other one getting into Thailand. It may also be that the border officials simply didn’t know how to deal with the concept of someone travelling on 2 passports; as is the wont of petty bureaucrats the world over – ‘if we haven’t come across it before, it’s easier just to say no and claim it’s illegal’. Or in UK-speak – ‘can’t do it – Healf ‘an Safety’.

Suggest anyone in the UK with other citizenship might want to consider seeing if they can get a passport for that country. For eg, Dave (of Rose and Dave) told me he had been able to get an Irish passport because of his ancestry – am sure there are plenty of people in the UK with Irish parents or grandparents!

– Visas – If you are forced into a tight timeframe by visa constraints ie you are entering a country that you can’t spend as much time in as you would like because you can’t get a visa for that long, bear in mind that there is usually nothing to stop you arriving late in the day at the border of the country you are leaving (but check if the crossing closes at night and, if so, what time!) and then starting the paperwork to enter the new country just after midnight.

Example – when we left Jordan quite late on the last day of our stay, we rocked up to the Syrian side of the border crossing straight after finishing our Jordanian paperwork. The Syrians immediately started work on our papers and, before we realised what was happening, had signed us into Syria before midnight on that same day, thus we lost a day of our Syrian visas as soon as they were granted. When all we could get was a 14 day transit visa for Syria, that extra day would have come in useful, to say nothing of the US$100 per week diesel car tax issue ie you have to pay this every 7 days, and if you stay in Syria after the 7th day, you have to pay for the next 7 days.

Another eg was leaving Russia (the first time) and entering Kazakhstan – this was on 23 April 2008, the last day of my first Russian visa, and the Kazakh visa I had just picked up from Omsk earlier that day was also dated to start on 23 April. But, having finished my Russian exit border crossing paperwork at about 9PM that night, it wouldn’t have done any harm at all if I had asked at the Kazakh consulate for a visa to start on the 24th, then waited around in the no-mans-land between the borders till 00.01 on the 24th and approached Kazakh immigration at that point – there were enough transit truck drivers hanging around there.

So in essence, timing your visas back-to-back, rather than overlapping, may be a useful tip.

– Be VERY careful if you have a passport/driving licence/registration document/carnet which don’t all have the same names on them – http://www.exfoleyation.co.uk/diary_logs/log5.htm
This applies to Egypt and not Libya, but it could happen anywhere. These people had a terrible time getting into Egypt at the border. I spoke to them and it happened because they were taking a Landrover to South Africa for a customer – hence the name on the registration document/carnet wasn’t the same as that on their passport/driving licence. Thus the customs people stopped them getting the vehicle in. They had to travel all the way to Cairo, get the Egyptian RAC/AA to overtype the carnet with their name and not that of the vehicle’s owner, get a stamp to prove this was OK and then traipse all the way back to Umm Saad.

– Footloose 4×4 – http://www.footloose4x4.com – this is a company run by Paul Marsh from South Africa, which specialises in preparing 4x4s for overland trips. I used Footloose for advice when I was getting ready for my trip. Paul was a mine of information and dealt very well with my shock absorbers problem.

– If you want advice on Toyota Landcruisers, try a couple of other websites – http://www.tlocuk.co.uk (British) and http://www.ih8mud.com (American) – both mines of info on ‘what do I do if I have a sticking widget?’-type questions. There are doubtless 10x as many similar websites for those with Landrovers!

– This is the website for Rose and Dave, a British couple I met in Laos – http://www.nessiesadventures.com

– And another, for Martin Pitwood, from – http://www.overland-underwater.com

– Yet another, for a Cornish couple I have met who started their travels in April 09, but who seem to be 10x better prepared than I was – http://www.jollyfollies.com

http://www.africa-overland.net – a ‘directory’ of overlanders’ websites.

– These are some companies I spoke to, but never dealt with – nothing put me off doing so, just a case of timing and/or cost. But I can’t vouch for them.
http://www.trailmasters.com/index.php
http://www.enlroc.co.uk – dont do tours themselves, but post a message on the forum
http://www.highandwild.co.uk – dont do guided tours in customers’ vehicles, but am sure they can recommend
http://www.wildcat4x4.com/About-us.htm
http://www.tunisiafirst.co.uk/discovery_tours/
http://www.offroadholidays.co.uk/ – mine of information
Peter Girling – adventures@atlasoverland.com
frank@saharatravel.co.uk
Hugh Martin – http://www.saharanexploration.com
There is also a very informative chap I spoke to on the phone who spends a lot of time travelling overseas in 4x4s – Martin Featherstone – martin.featherstone1@virgin.net

– International Drivers Licence (aka International Drivers Permit. It’s not difficult to get, doesn’t cost a vast amount of money, and it works (or is mandatory) in lots of countries anyway, so no harm in having it.

– Nationwide Bank Account – this is the only UK high street bank account which DOESN’T charge for overseas ATM withdrawals. It’s become a bit more restrictive recently, but is still a better bet than the competition.
http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/travel-hints-and-tips/nationwide-no-longer-fee-free-41376 The only places I wasn’t able to use this Nationwide ATM card (or any other) were Libya, Iran and Myanmar.

– For non-vehicle orientated travel advice eg ‘what are the highlights of Botswana – I only have 2 weeks before daddy cancels my credit card?’ – type questions, then try http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/index.jspa

– Give the vehicle a wash before going through a border crossing. Makes it look more respectable.

– When filling up with cheap(er) fuel prior to a border crossing between a country with cheap fuel and one with more expensive eg Syria to Turkey, Iran to anywhere or Russia to the EU, bear in mind that the country with the more expensive fuel will often have rules against bringing in fuel from the cheaper country in anything other than the fuel tank. So, if you’re not one of the fortunate owners of a long-range fuel tank but are using jerry-cans – keep 1 or 2 empty ones on the roof of the car as decoys for the Customs people to check, while burying the full ones deep inside.

– Make friends with border officials, especially Customs people. Makes them deal with you better and less zealous when inspecting your car. Another remark I read somewhere on the internet mentioned not wearing sunglasses when dealing with police or any other officials and I would probably agree with that too.

– In most European/North African/CIS countries which drive on the right, an oncoming car putting its headlights on when you’re about to turn across its path doesn’t mean it’s giving way to you, but that it’s warning you it’s not going to stop. This is generally a long flash, rather than the quick flash to say ‘I have right of way, but I’m being nice and letting you turn across my path’ you get in the UK.

– If you have a roof tent, take a picture of it up with your digital camera so you can show people what you mean when you’re asking whether you can park overnight. Outside of Africa and Australia, people aren’t used to them. Every time I put my tent up, people would gather round for a good look.

– At some point in your trip, you may well want to ship your vehicle. Some of my trip was living confirmation of the PPPPPP adage (Perfect Planning Prevents P1ss Poor Performance) – like the shipping from Calcutta. Suggestion – arrange any shipments well in advance. It was not the fault of any shippers in Calcutta that I did not think to arrange shipping before I actually got there. Contrast this with how I arranged a subsequent shipment from Bangkok at least a month (or was it 2?) in advance of me arriving there, resulting in the whole thing running like clockwork. There is a queuing system with shipping, and it is just as important to take your ticket from the dispenser and wait for your number to be called as it is if you are looking to buy some Gorgonzola at the deli counter of your local Waitrose.

– Check whether there are any public holidays due in the destination country at or around the date your shipment is due to arrive and, if so, change the date to keep well clear of them. Example – my car was due to arrive in vladivostok on 23 April, but arrived a week late. When it did finally arrive, Russia was just about to shut down for 4 days for its end-of-WW2 comemorations, meaning that 1 week’s delay suddenly became 2. That cost some valuable time when I was on an unalterable tourist visa.

– Be prepared to network, and to alter routes/plans as circumstances throw up obstacles or possibilities. For me, an example of this would have been the joining up with people to go into China. Provided you post/search on the internet well in advance and hook up with people on the way, you may well find it’s not as impossible as it appears. Even we found people who were going into China who we could have hooked up with but chose not to as as they were going too early for our plans. Also bear in mind that, although getting into China costs, if the result of you doing so means you get from 1 country bordering China to another, that could well mean a saving on shipping costs.

– Try and avoid, if you can, being in too much of a hurry and/or doing things within a set time limit. To say nothing of all the places I could have seen if I had had enough time, there were also other doors that were superficially shut when I knocked, but in fact might well have opened if I had had time to set things in motion, then sit around and wait while they worked their way out. Egs – getting the car into Myanmar or the visit to the Ambassador factory in Calcutta.

COUNTRY-SPECIFIC

TUNISIA. I took the ferry from Genoa to Tunis. I’d booked through a British company (can’t remember the name) but it cost me GBP 340 with no bed on a SNCM ferry. However, someone else managed to get HIS Landcruiser from Italy to Tunis for EUR 340 including bed with Grimaldi Lines – worth checking out
http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/4wd-overland-travel/cheapest-ferry-to-tunisia-4×4-32590

– Diesel is cheap in Tunisia, but Libyan diesel is dirt-cheap. You can afford to let your tank run low if crossing the border from Tun-Lib. If going the other way, fill up.

LIBYA – if going just along the north coast of Libya, you do NOT need a guide! However, take a look at the current visa situation, as it can change! As at Dec 08, apparently you had to be in a group of 5, then it was dropped. And then there was the subsequent hassle and consequent diplomatic fallout re one of Gadaffi’s sons being arrested in Switzerland:-
http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/sahara-travel-forum/muammar-gheddafi-strikes-again-no-48467

If you venture south and pass through the interior of Libya, be very careful about your choice of guide company. Don’t for GOD’S sake use Arkno Tours – here’s what happened to us:- http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/sahara-travel-forum/problems-with-arkno-tours-libya-27032

– You will also need USD hard currency as no international bank has any links to ATMs in Libya. This may change now that Col Gadaffi is the New Best Friend of the west – check the current state of play. And also look at this – http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/sahara-travel-forum/libya-money-50684

EGYPT – Getting in is an absolute bugger. http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/sahara-travel-forum/border-crossings-libya-into-egypt-22360

We took just 2 1/4 hours to clear Egyptian customs with the vehicle and we only had to go to 10 windows. They could certainly use a bit of Business Process Re-Engineering, but I was a bit disappointed after seeing this – Egypt is notorious:- http://www.overland-underwater.com/photo/video/fav_vid.htm

– A word of advice – when leaving by ferry through Nuweiba (or any other port/border), get to the port EARLY to allow time for all the paperwork to be processed. It takes as long getting out of Egypt as it does getting in!

Diesel is not as cheap here as Libya, but fill up prior to entering Jordan. When travelling through Egypt in convoy country, make your travel plans very clear if you wish to stop anywhere or take any detours. They should accommodate you and if they don’t, you’ve got more ammunition to argue with. Suggest speaking to the local chief of police a day or prior to the journey. But since this was written, it now appears that the convoy system has been abolished in Egypt in any case – see http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/travel/news/article5294939.ece

JORDAN – Be careful with visa and customs clearance for car if entering Jordan through Aqaba. It’s a customs free zone, so visas are free BUT don’t last very long and neither does the customs clearance. You will get fined at the point of leaving Jordan for overstaying, although it isn’t that much. You can afford to let your fuel tank get low before entering Syria, where it’s a lot cheaper than Jordan.

ISRAEL – you can leave Jordan at the Allenby Bridge crossing and ask them to put the exit stamp in a separate piece of paper. You can then ask the Israelis to do the same with the entry stamp (although they ummed and ahhed a bit with us) then repeat the process in reverse when you return to Jordan. We left the car in Jordan while we did this.

– After leaving Israel, make sure you get rid of any Israeli coins, ATM slips, museum tickets, sweet wrappers etc etc though. Can’t think why on earth Arab countries get so upset about this anyway. Foreign diplomats/government officials are freely allowed to travel to both Israel and Arab countries, and governments bear a lot more responsibility for the Middle East’s problems than tourists do.

SYRIA – Try and convince Syrian border crossings your car is petrol if it’s diesel, to avoid getting hit for $100 PW ‘diesel car tax’. Easier said than done with older smoky vehicles, but you may get away with it with a modern HDi-particulate-filter-something-or-other. Diesel is dirt cheap here – fill up prior to entering Turkey, where it’s UK prices. How DO the locals afford it?

Syria visas. We had had a fright when checking re visas with the Syrian Embassy in Cairo when passing through on our way to Jordan and then Syria, as we were told we wouldn’t be able to get a visa at the border and that we should have applied for one in London. This, as you can imagine, worried us a lot – so much so that, when we entered Jordan, we drove straight to the Syrian border to ask about getting a visa for Syria; our reasoning being that, if they did refuse us, we then had 2 weeks to get back to the UK and apply from the Syrian Embassy in London. We didn’t need to worry. They sent a fax off to Damascus, then 20 mins later the answer came back that when we chose to enter Syria, we could have a 15 day transit visa – which isn’t much different to a tourist one from what we could work out. 2 weeks later we duly entered Syria and it was all OK. But just in case, maybe a good idea to check the HUBB / Thorn Tree first – these things can change.

TURKEY – check your change carefully when buying insurance at the border crossing!

IRAN – getting an Iranian visa isn’t as straightforward as with other countries as there is an additional step at the beginning. You must first use an agency to approach the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on your behalf and get an application reference number. THEN you go to an Iranian embassy or consulate and apply in the normal way, but quoting this reference no. We went via the consulate at Erzerum, in Turkey. We used http://www.iranianvisa.com – no complaints as such, although we did ask for a double entry one and didn’t get it (and didn’t need it in the end) and there have been a few unkind things said about them on the HUBB since we passed through Iran. Suggestion – check on which visa agency is currently in favour on the HUBB before applying. Also, if applying from the UK, a UK-based co like Magic Carpet Travel isn’t cheap – it’s about £120, compared to the EUR 30 or so you pay to Iranian Visa. And the London consulate charges an £80 visa fee on top – I can’t remember exactly how much we paid in Erzerum, but it was a lot less than £80.

– Diesel in Iran is the cheapest in the world, but because it is so cheap there is a smuggling problem anywhere within 200 or so km of Iran’s international borders. So do not make the mistake we did, which was to cross the border from Turkey with the low fuel light showing and then get to Orumieh before finding out we couldn’t get fuel until Tabriz. Getting petrol in Iran for a foreign-registered vehicle is another challenge of its own – check out the current petrol rationing situation. If heading towards Pakistan, do your best to fill up with diesel in Kerman, but even Kerman is close enough to Pakistan for it to be a problem.

– We applied for, and got, our Pakistan visas from Tehran. There is also a consulate in Zahedan, but we had heard it had stopped issuing visas and didn’t fancy getting there and being told to turn around and go all the way back to Tehran. The Pak Embassy in Tehran required a Letter Of Introduction – a letter from the British Embassy confirming that the person who is applying for the Pak visa is the genuine holder of the British passport. It’s what the UK does to Pakistanis, so they do it to our people as a sort of diplomatic ‘tit for tat’. In the Tehran British Embassy, try asking for Sandra Sianaki – she dealt with us when we got our letter in Aug 07 and was very helpful. Also bear in mind that if there is 2 or more of you traveling together, you can put both names on the same letter so there is no need to pay double. Finally bear in mind the ‘Gazetted Public Holidays’ issue – see below. NB – Since early 2010, we have read on the HUBB, unfortunately confirmed by Sandra S, that the Pak Embassy in Tehran has stopped issuing visas to certainly Brits, and maybe also to other nationals. They must apply from their own countries – more diplomatic ‘tit for tat’. Not sure how this works if, like us, you plan to take more than 6 months travelling between the UK and Pakistan ie your visa will have expired between leaving the UK and reaching Pakistan. Suggest you look/post on the HUBB for the best way to deal with it.

– If you are non-white, bear in mind the Iranians might not always treat you as hospitably as they do white people. Not sorry to write this, as I am merely speaking as I found.

– You will also need USD hard currency as no international bank has any links to ATMs in Iran.

– Taftan/Mirjaveh border crossing from Iran to Pakistan. Bear in mind the traffic flow switches sides; it isn’t signposted.

PAKISTAN – when crossing Baluchistan (the 600km part of Pakistan between Quetta and the Taftan border with Iran), make sure you find the hotel in Dalbandin (the half-way place) and check in BEFORE approaching the local police to let them know you’re there. If you don’t, you may find you and your vehicle cooped up in the police station compound for the night – with half the overflow from the local prison for company! Also see this and my contribution – http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/travellers-advisories-safety-security-road/iranian-pakistan-border-40686

– Travellers in foreign vehicles anywhere in Baluchistan are entitled to a police escort, although in some districts this is interpreted as ‘not allowed to travel anywhere without one’. This is organised by going to the local chief of police/state government office. There is something quite entertaining about being escorted by a police vehicle with sirens and lights and a machine gun-toting soldier on the roof waving traffic out of the way.

– If you are travelling with a LandCruiser – Pakistan is heaven for getting work done on it (so is Cambodia and Vladivostok). And from what I could see, if you need anything else made of metal, Pakistan is also good. I was mightily impressed with a pair of cylinder head protectors I saw, which a Spanish chap had had made up for his BMW in Quetta – for 20 or 30 Euros!

– We got our Indian visas in Islamabad and also got introduced to the delights of the shuttle bus system for anyone who wants to apply for a visa, or visit an embassy for any other reason, in Islamabad. Not knowing about this, we simply assumed we had to arrive between 10 AM and 12 noon and collect between 3 and 4 PM with 5 working days in between for the visa to come through. But because of this ridiculous shuttle bus system for the Diplomatic Enclave we found out the hard way that it’s necessary to arrive at least an hour before closing time. You have to go to the car park, leave your vehicle and buy a ticket for the bus and then wait till the scheduled departure time for the bus, which goes about every half an hour. When we applied for our Indian visas, we did come across a Swiss couple in a camper van who’d driven it right into the Enclave to collect their Indian visas by telling the gate people they had an appointment at the Swiss Embassy…..when we came back 10 days later to collect OUR Indian visas we tried telling the guards we had an appointment at the British High Commission and it worked, so we didn’t have to mess about with the shuttle bus – they didn’t even check the vehicle! However, you shouldn’t bet on that ruse working.

– Another thing we were caught out by not only here but also when we collected our visas for Pakistan from Tehran was the issue of ‘Gazetted Public Holidays’. Embassies all over the world close for public holidays in their own countries that bear no relation to holidays in their host countries, and Ind/Pak ones seem to be closed for this reason rather often! Suggestion – check beforehand, either by phone or internet, that the embassy will be open on the day you plan to visit it.

– Visa extensions in Pakistan. The Teheran Embassy in Aug 07 only gave us 3 weeks (?) despite us asking for 2 months, and when we queried this, they said we could get an extension no problem once in Pakistan. This proved to be absolutely true in Islamabad – in fact it was so easy (and free) that we ended up wondering why they didn’t just give us the 2 months to start with. The distinct impression given was that an extension (at least the first one) was something all tourists could get as a matter of course.

– Another suggestion for applying for visas for either India in Pakistan, or Pakistan in India is to check the current state of play. Issuing may be affected if India and Pakistan have recently thrown their toys out of the cot before you get there. We had originally planned to apply for our Indian visas from Tehran, but we had been told it wasn’t possible to apply from Tehran due to Indo-Pak tensions; a phone call to the Indian Embassy in Tehran confirmed this was the case, but that it was OK to apply from Islamabad (!)

– If you go to Karachi, the 4×4 club there is http://www.offroadpakistan.com/ – Khalid Omar is the chair – never met him, but had some very long and interesting chats with him on the phone. Definitely someone I’d have hooked up with had we made it to Karachi.

– Islamabad 4×4 club – http://ijc.com.pk/ – try Ehsan Kiani and Fahad Ali.

– Pakistan diesel and petrol is cheaper than India.

– Be careful when turning right in the Indian Subcontinent. For traffic following you, indicating right is considered to mean “I am pulling over to the left and you may pass on my right” – dicky-opposite to the same signal in the UK. This was an especial problem when I was doing u-turns on narrow roads with a vehicle with a large turning circle, for I had to move over to the left before turning right. Going by a near-miss I had when turning left in Tunisia, this may also apply there but I am not 100% sure, given that in that situation I had indicated left and had very clearly moved to the centre of the road as I approached the junction, but the Tunisian driver had put his lights on and tried to overtake me on the left as I turned, which we all know is a complete no-no. Suspect that one was simply the Tunisian driver acting like a c**t, and it never happened any other time there or anywhere else.

Crossing from Pakistan into China at Kunjerab Pass – bear in mind the traffic flow switches sides – it isn’t signposted.

– Border crossings between India and Pakistan. Unless you are a Kashmiri militant, there are just 3. One of these (for the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service) is not open to foreigners at all, while the one between Sind and Rajasthan can be used by foreigners, but ONLY if they are travelling by train. Otherwise it’s just Wagah/Attari (between Lahore and Amritsar). Make sure you get there at the right time to see the border-closing ceremony!

Shipping out of India
This applies equally to Calcutta as well as to Chennai or to any other place you ship from. When shipping from Calcutta, I had a nightmare but would not expect that to happen to anyone who had the benefit of my experience. You MUST arrange any shipments well in advance – it was not the fault of any shippers in Calcutta that I did not think to arrange shipping before I actually got there. It was also apparent that LCL Shipping had a clearer idea of how to get around the Customs and other formalities after shipping my car than before. The situation did get a bit strained between me and LCL, but equally I was blaming them for delays caused by others eg congestion at the port. LCL could very easily have walked away from the whole dog’s breakfast and left me in the lurch – but they didn’t. I formed a good relationship in the end with Amit Bhaduri (the LCL person dealing with my shipment) and, provided you make contact with LCL well before you reach Calcutta and get yourself in the queue sooner than I did, you shouldn’t have anything like the same hassles I had. Amit and I joked about our friendship “forged in the heat of battle” and has talked favourably about me sending other overlanders his way more recently, so I don’t think the whole thing upset him unduly. Is it better to ship from Chennai? Probably yes, in retrospect. The shipping agents reckoned Chennai wasn’t any better for congestion, but 3 other overlanders I have spoken to SINCE this sorry affair took just 2 or 3 days to get their cars shipped from there. Chennai is a much bigger port and if a ship is delayed or cancelled, there are plenty more alternatives than there are in Calcutta.

BURMA – it’s apparently impossible to get your own vehicle in but I met French people who had done it and see my contribution to this thread
http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/southern-asia/burma-41012

– You will also need USD hard currency as no international bank has any links to ATMs in Myanmar. The notes must be in good condition.

MALAYSIA – Diesel is cheaper than Thailand.

Crossing between Thailand and any neighbouring country apart from Malaysia – bear in mind the traffic flow switches sides – it isn’t signposted.

THAILAND – avail yourself of the chance to get fake ISIC/NUS/Press etc cards made up at the stalls of Khao-san road. There were a few times when it was clear that a press card would have opened doors for me, and student IDs pay for themselves very quickly.

RUSSIA/OTHER CIS COUNTRIES.

– Consider a business, rather than tourist, visa for Russia. Tourist visas can’t be extended except in extreme circumstances eg sickness evidenced by a Dr’s note – see this – http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1600828&tstart=0

– Russia still requires a Letter of Invitation (LOI) for its visas. The LOI must be obtained before approaching any embassy/consulate for a visa – rather like the authorisation number with Iran. For a Russian tourist visa, a system-generated LOI can quickly and easily be bought over the internet. For Russian business visas, and I suspect some of the visas for the other ex-Soviet ‘stans, you will need a letter drawn up by a human being – StanTours should be able to advise. This caught me out with Kazakhstan – it doesn’t require a LOI for single entry visas for EU nationals any more, but it DOES if you want double-entry.

– Russian/other CIS visas – bear in mind different diplomatic missions operate to different rules. 1 may turn you down; another may not – see this http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/message.jspa?messageID=13982079.

– Make sure you don’t fall foul of the visa registration rules while you’re overlanding through Russia. These specify a) that you have to register your visa at the local PVU (OVIR) within 72 hours of arrival in Russia and b) that you then have to do the same thing again if stopping in any one place for more than 72 working hours. The police/PVU aren’t used to people sleeping in their own vehicles rather than staying in hotels, so they can take a bit of convincing. In practice this means keeping a paper trail of receipts (spravkas) from all shops, filling stations etc to prove that you haven’t stopped anywhere long enough to need your visa registered. And if you DO stop anywhere for 3 working days or longer, make sure you get your visa registered and keep the receipt for this as well.

On my first trip through Russia, I didn’t realize about this and so didn’t register or keep receipts, although it wasn’t a problem in the end. A month later, I re-entered Russia. This time I kept receipts right from the start AND registered my visa properly with a stamp on my immigation card. One day, I was near Red Square with a German when we both got stopped by the tourist police. I was able to prove with my wad of receipts that I hadn’t been in Moscow for long enough to need to register my visa there (or indeed any other part of Russia); the German didn’t have any proof and had to pay a 500 rouble bribe to avoid getting arrested. Finally, when I left Russia at the Latvian border, the Russian passport control people went through this wad of receipts with a fine tooth-comb, and even made a phone call to check my passport wasn’t forged.

Also see my contribution to this discussion thread – http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/4wd-overland-travel/caution-right-hand-drive-sign-41522

– Watch out for Russia (and maybe other CIS) vehicle customs clearance issues. The British Embassy in Moscow told they had come across cases of overlanders who had overstayed having to sell their vehicles in Russia to avoid having them confiscated by Customs. You overstay your customs clearance (Vehicle Temporary Import Document) – they take your car. Period. BUT – see my contribution to this discussion thread – http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/northern-asia/temporary-vehicle-permit-for-russia-36333#post197265

I had an issue with this when I arrived in Vladivostok on a 1 month double-entry tourist visa and planned to drive across Russia and into Mongolia for a short time, before re-entering Russia and exiting to Kazakhstan. The car was supposed to arrive on the day after the visa started and if it had turned up on time everything would have been OK. But it all went pear-shaped when I ended up getting the car nearly 2 weeks late. I did investigate getting my tourist visa extended (and was told an emphatic nyet, as with the temporary customs clearance which had the same end date as the tourist visa). Thus I had to forget about Mongolia and not only that drive 1800 kms in 27 hours at the end to get to Omsk in time to get my Kazakh visa and get out of Russia before the Russian visa/customs clearance expired.

Russia customs clearance may not be quite as hard and fast a rule as the Moscow British Embassy led me to believe, according to the HUBB. It sounds as if extension may be possible, but not beyond the currency of a (non-extendable) tourist visa. The correct answer may in fact be that if you have a business visa, with customs clearance that expires within its currency, the customs clearance may be extendible up to the end of the business visa. I also doubt that the Embassy was knowingly making up the info it gave me – it may have been that they did not understand about the tourist/business visa issue as described above, and/or because some customs posts are harsher than others, as with Russian visa places.

See this – http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/northern-asia/temporary-vehicle-permit-for-russia-36333

– Keep your headlights on all day in Russia and other CIS countries.

– Getting away with (frequent) traffic, and other, police irritations in Russia and other CIS countries is far easier if you can’t speak Russian.

– Keep all your vehicle documents in a plastic wallet ready for frequent dokumenty inspekty and offer it to the police as soon as you are stopped – this will happen a number of times every day. Speeds things up, and makes it look like you’ve nothing to hide. Expect to be ordered into the roadside station to give your passport details.

– Oncoming motorists flashing you in Russia and other CIS countries (not when you’re turning left as above) means a police speed trap ahead.

– Respect speed limits and no overtaking signs in Russia and other CIS countries. They are INFESTED with rapacious traffic police, seeking to extort money from drivers. Normally 60km/h inside city limits; 100 outside unless there are signs stating otherwise. I was caught speeding or overtaking 6 times and twice they just wanted to give me words of advice, but 4 times they wanted to bust me and couldn’t because I couldn’t speak Russian – HA! The Russian traffic police used to be called GAI (гАи), but bear in mind these days that the name has changed to DPS (дпс, if you keep an eye out for the signs). GAI is still in use in other CIS countries.

– Right Hand Drive. A number of countries prohibit the import of RHD cars these days (like Kazakhstan) but ‘import’ in this context means ‘permanently importing the car and registering it locally’, not passing through. Apparently the Russian government was talking about banning the import of RHD cars and even, in typical heavy-handed Russian style, about cancelling the registrations of all RHD cars already in Russia, but it had to back down in the face of protests(!) One contributor to the HUBB, from a RHD country but transiting through Kaz, said ‘Police sometimes stopped me to mention the RHD issue, I just told them I’d get it fixed at the next garage and smiled!’

– Check the ratchet on the diesel fuel pump nozzle (commonly used at pumps frequented by trucks) isn’t open before switching on the pump at filling stations.

– Check whether you have to pay for parking (styanka) when stopping overnight at roadside truck stops. Generally, you have to pay if you go into an enclosed area but not if you stop just in the car park at the front.

– Expect difficulty when trying to find a place to shower in Kazakhstan (!)

– Kazakh diesel is cheaper than Russian. However, it can be difficult to get hold of. When I was there, I had caught the tail end of a rationing issue that had caused shortages at quite a few places around Kazakhstan. If you have any problems, suggest doing what I did and make up a Russian translation of ‘I am a foreign traveller who cannot speak Russian. Please direct me to the nearest place where I can buy diesel’.

– Russian diesel is cheaper than EU.

– When shipping to Russia (esp. Vladivostok) – make damn sure the engine, chassis numbers and a full inventory of the contents are on the Bill of Lading and declare the contents of the vehicle upon arrival at the airport – see this – http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/northern-asia/vladivostok-customs-clearance-34381

5 Comments »

  1. Is this your first blog!? I’m pretty sure I remember you from a while back..used to read your old blog regularly. Not sure if I’m thinking of the same person though!

    Comment by Anderson Hurlock — 06/06/2010 @ 12:51 PM | Reply

  2. Are you a professional journalist? You write very well.

    Comment by Tydaypaky — 08/06/2010 @ 12:50 PM | Reply

  3. […] with a lot of helpful stuff. I should have read some parts of it, before we start our travels. Overland Travel Tips | Mark's trip halfway around the world and back in a Toyota Landcruiser We travel too with 2 Passports and often the Visa of the next country in the other passport. You […]

    Pingback by African carnet for vehicles - Horizons Unlimited - The HUBB — 18/10/2013 @ 1:48 PM | Reply

  4. Concerning the Green Card: The facts are slightly different. Every insurance can decide which countries on the green card they want to have included in their 3rd party scheme. You mentioned that the European Part of Russia is covered by the green card. Well, that’s only if the insurance is willing to include that. I know for a fact that many insurance won’t do that, which again is a reason that you can quit your insurance on the spot and take up another one (that’s the case in Germany and Switzerland). Also good to know is, that the Kosovo is not part of the overall insurance agreement, therefore no insurance will cover Kosovo. You will have to buy an insurance on the border to Kosovo. While trying to enter the Kosovo, the first thing they asked for was the green insurance card. They knew damn well why. They border guard pointed me directly to the insurance office next to their hut.
    In Switzerland the green card still comes for free every year with annual insurance bill.

    Greets Claudio

    Comment by Clantech — 18/10/2013 @ 2:40 PM | Reply

  5. Appreciating the time and energy you put into your website and detailed
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    Comment by casadalenterna.com — 25/10/2016 @ 2:29 AM | Reply


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