Moroccan paperwork

Next step on our trip preparation – arranging the import forms for our motorbikes.

I have been told that there are long queues and general chaos at the border crossing in Melilla, and it is possible to expedite the process by having the temporary import forms for the vehicles you are travelling with ready beforehand. That way you save the hassle of finding the right window to obtain the forms, filling them in, dealing with local ‘helpers’, etc.

It is possible to fill in the temporary import form online and print out a copy to hand in directly at the crossing on this website.

Fill in all the information and print a copy. You get three copies of the same form in one A4 page, sign each of them in the ‘signature du déclarant’ section and they will fill the remaining information at the border (date and number). Customs keep the bottom form (Entrée), the second one (Apurement) will have to be handed when you leave the country and the third one (Exemplaire déclarant) is for you to keep.

If you do not speak French and need some help to fill in the online form, there is a translation/explanation in Tim Cullis’ Morocco Knowledge Base.

Good news from Madrid

My sister has just picked up my kazakh visa from the consulate in Madrid, and there have been no problems despite not having included any addresses for my stay in the country nor a letter of invitation from a travel agency. It seems that the simplified visa application process for Spanish citizens really does work.

This Friday the great Jenson Button will hand me the passport, since he is paying a visit to Barcelona this weekend to see his love.

p.s. Ok, not Jenson Button himself, but a friend from Madrid who looks very much like him…

Kazakh visa latest news

Today my sister has finally managed to hand in my application forms to the Kazakh consulate in Madrid. After having been told that it was closed because it was a Kazakh national holiday, then a holiday in the city of Madrid (one of the maaaany they seem to have), then that they are not open on Wednesdays, she finally found it open today.

She said that the guy there was surprised someone would want to go to his country as a tourist, and even more surprised that I was then moving on to Russia.

It seems that the visa will be ready next Thursday, let’s hope it all works out in time for a friend of mine who is coming to Barcelona this Friday to bring it to me.

Heidenau K60 Scout and Kazakh visa

Just a short post to tell you that the tires I ordered are here. It’s a set of Heidenau K60 Scouts, and I am now going to spend the weekend figuring out how to carry them on the bike all the way to Volgograd, where I will have them fit while the bike is being serviced in preparation for Kazakhstan.

I decided to take this ones because I have had good references from other riders, they seem to be a good compromise – not to radical on the road, grippy enough off road, and they seem to last much longer than other knobbly tires, important since I expect them to last all the way back to Europe.

I will also be taking a puncture repair kit and a compressor but I have my doubts about taking tire irons. I have never tried to replace a tubeless tire, and it seems to be very hard to do on the roadside, especially breaking the bead. Can anyone advise me on that?

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I was hoping to carry them lying flat on the passenger seat and the back rack, but I also have to carry a rather big Ortlieb Rack Bag (I did not want to have too many little bags attached to the bike, they might easily get stolen in short stops to get supplies), so I am not very sure how to position them. I will experiment this weekend.

On a side note, this week I gave my sister (who lives in Madrid) the application forms and paperwork to get a Kazak visa. I do not have a hotel reservation or an invitation letter, but it seems that there is a simplified application process for Spanish citizens. Let’s see if we get lucky.

Got the Russian visa!

The most difficult one is done! In fact, it has been much easier than expected – money obviously helps… This one was supposed to be complicated, as I needed a multi-entry business visa, which meant I had to be invited by a Russian company, but I just paid for an invitation letter and to have all my paperwork done through Central de Visados Rusos, in Barcelona, and they sorted out everything with no fuss at all. In ten days I had my visa! Now I can enter and leave Russia as many times as I want from July to December.

Since I had got my passport back and still had an hour before going to work, I decided to start the process of getting my Mongol visa. The Mongol Consulate in Barcelona is not far from the offices where I got the Russian visa, so I took the bike and went down there.

They are located at the end of Rocafort street, near Paral·lel, and their premises could not be more different from the mansion in Pearson Avenue.

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2013-04-23 10.24.49You walk through a dark and damp entrance hall on the ground floor of a typical Eixample building to an inner court where there are a few small houses, among which is the consulate.

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The girl there was much, much nicer than the staff at the Russian consulate and after going through the paperwork she told me that there would be no problem to issue a tourist visa, but that it was still too early, as I will not be reaching the border until late July or early August, so she advised me to get any other visas I needed and then go back.

So, on the the Kazakh visa, then!

Russian Visa and the Russian consulate

I have read a lot about Russian bureocracy in all the adventure travel discussion forums I have visited, so when I started looking for information on the kind of visa I would need to enter Russia multiple times on a motorbike, without exact dates of entry or exit, hotel reservations or letters of invitation, I already expected a certain degree of difficulty.

After reading about different types of visas, requierments and companies that do all the paperwork for you, I decided to try and do it myself in order to save a few euros, so I went to the Russian consulate on Barcelona.

As you would expect from such a country, the consulate is not an office on the second floor of a building in the center, but an impressive mansion in the high part of the city. Their web site clearly states that it is impossible to visit it without an appointment, so I logged in and filled in the necessary information to get one. The system turned out to be rigidly Russian: the only option available on the list of reasons to visit the consulate is ‘visas’. I guess you need to be somebody and know the right people to visit the consulate for any other business. I got an appointment for a Thursday morning, and when the day came, I went there hoping to get first hand information on exactly what kind of visa I needed for such a trip, and if whoever was there was nice enough, maybe some information on border crossings, state of the roads, etc. How wrong I was!

The entrance to the front court of the building consisted of a two-door cage system, with security cameras, an intercom and a burly security guard who was letting somebody out and quickly closed the door behind her as he saw me approaching. When I reached the first door he blurted out something in Russian and I told him I had an appointment (in Spanish, of course, my Russian is non-existent and if the guy is stationed in the Consulate in Barcelona, I expected him to understand the local language…) and he said ‘name?’ I gave him my name and ID number and he proceeded to check a printout he had on a folder. He nodded and pressed a button that let me through the first door and into the cage. I had to wait for the first door to close and then somebody opened the second one from somewhere else. He pointed at the main entrance to the mansion and said ‘left’.

The arched door opened into a roomy entarnce hall, where some people were sitting, apparently waiting to be called. The door leading from the hall into the building was open, and I caught a glimpse of some people on desks and guys in suits walking around. I was wondering whether they also had had to make an appointment through the web site and how they had managed to get some other option than ‘visas’ on the menu when the voice of the security guy saying ‘left’ again brought me back to real life. He was behind me, pointing at a smaller door to the left of the hall. I walked in and found a small room with a couple of tables to fill in forms on and a tiny window to the right. It was obvious that the rest of the mansion was not accessible to mere mortals.

There was nobody queuing at the window, so I walked to it. Behind bullet-proof glass was a bored looking soviet civil servant stamping visas. He raised his sight, saw me and said ‘papers?’ I started explaining my story – travelling on a bike, entering several times into the country, no invitation, blah, blah, and I think he was overwhelmed by the sheer number of words I was wasting; everyone I had met so far in the building seemed to use only one word at a time. He said ‘they’ll inform you’ and pointed behind me. I turned around hoping to find a smiling young Russian girl sitting behind an information desk, but there was no one else in the room. I looked at him and he pointed again. This time I realised he was pointing at a notice board on the wall where there was a poster advertising a company called Central de Visados Rusos which arranged visas. I had seen other companies online, and several people had recommended using Real Russia, but I wanted to avoid paying a company to do the paperwork if I could do it myself. However, it was clear that was all the information I was going to get in the consulate, and the offices of the company were near my home, so I decided to go and see if they could shed some light on how to get the visa I needed.

There was no security guard on my way out, so I approached the first door and pressed the button on the intercom. Someone barked a few words in Russian and I replied ‘I want to get out.’ The first door buzzed opened and I walk into the cage. Once the first door had closed, the second one buzzed. I pushed it, but it would not open. I waited for them to unlock it again, but it refused to move. There was nobody in the front court and I was stuck in between doors. Great. I pressed the intercom button and asked to be let out again. The same voice yelled something in Russian and the door buzzed again, but it refused to open, no matter how hard I pushed. I was starting to feel a bit stupid trapped between doors when a woman walked up to the door from the street, said something in Russian to the intercom and the door buzzed one more time. She pulled it effortlessly from the outside and walked in, as I took the chance to leave that charming building.

I did find the smiling young Russian girl I was hoping for in the visa company. She listened to what I wanted to do and explained that the only multy entry visa for Russia is a business one, the tourist visa only allows people to enter the country twice in a period of one month, a business one allows multiple trips over a period of three months. She said that it did not matter that I was not going to go there on business, I only needed a letter of invitation from a Russian company in order to obtain a visa. When I asked her how I would get one without contacts, she smiled, handed me a form and said ‘we provide them for 50€’.

It was becoming clear that I was not going to be able to do the whole application process myself, and on top of that, they were the only company that the Russian consulate in Barcelona had officially approved to handle visa applications, and I still had to apply for the visas for Kazakhstan and Mongolia, so I decided to save time and use their services.

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After having my picture taken, taking out travel insurance in one of their approved companies, filling in a request for an invitation letter and the form downloaded from their website and making sure my passport didn’t expire in the next six months and had at least two consecutive blank pages, I finally handed in all the paperwork needed this week, and by Tuesday next week I should have a multy entry business visa for Russia.

Travel insurance

It’s now only three months to departure and this week I wanted to start sorting out the visas, since each application will take around 10 days and I want to make sure everything is ready on time.

I decided to start with the Russian one, the most difficult, as I need to get a business visa. Apparently, tourist visas only allow two entries to the country, and I need three over a period of three months, because I’ll be entering the country from Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

However, before I apply for any visa, I need to get travel insurance, since all consulates ask for a certificate to prove that I have travel insurance for the duration of the stay in their country. I checked out prices and coverage with different companies, and in the end settled for Europ Assistance because the price was fair, the coverage reasonable, it is on the list of insurance companies approved by the Russian consulate in Barcelona and last but not least, their offices are around the corner from my flat.

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So now that I have my insurance and three separate certificates (one for each visa), I can start the process. I have already completet and downloaded the application form fo the Russian one, so if I have time tomorrow morning, I’ll get started on it.