These days most Tajik embassies abroad will issue a 30-day tourist visa without a letter of invitation. There aren’t that many Tajik embassies abroad so you may have to post your passport to an embassy in a neighbouring country and arrange return postage and a method of payment (often in a foreign currency). Budget plenty of time for this. Visas from the embassy in the USA are particularly expensive. The Tajikistan embassy in Tashkent (Uzbekistan) has a reputation for being more difficult than others.
A useful new regulation in 2006 entitles tourists from most countries (including the EU, Australia and USA) to obtain a 30-day visa on arrival at the airport without the need for a letter of invitation (LOI).
Even if you require a LOI, it’s still possible to get the visa at the airport, as long as you have specified this with the travel agency issuing your LOI. Bring one photo and a photocopy of your passport. Visas at the airport costs US$30/40/50 for seven/14/30 days. Consular officials only reliably greet the Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul; if you come on another flight you may have to leave your passport at the airport and return to get your visa the next day. Visas are not issued at land borders.
Tourist visas longer than a month are often available at embassies in Europe, though they may request a LOI and many travel companies are unable to provide a LOI for longer than one month. Visas longer than one month are generally not available at the airport.
The visa specifies exact dates (you have to travel within those dates but not on those dates), but not the towns to be visited.
Bear in mind that by the time you’ve paid for an LOI, visa, registration and the GBAO permit, red tape will have taken up a significant portion of your daily budget.
If for some reason you need a LOI, Tajikintourservice charges US$30, Stan Tours charges US$40 and Great Game Travel charges US$65. See p362 for contact details of these and other travel companies. LOIs are generally issued within two weeks (GBAO permits take a similar amount of time).
All Tajik visa issues are dealt with at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (221 15 60; firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, www.mid.tj; Rudaki 42) which is the big pink building on Maydoni Azadi in Dushanbe. As you face the building, you need to take the small door on the far right of the façade where you’ll be given a pass to enter the building proper and told where to go.
Visa extensions are a pain. If you need an extension, Tajikintourservice or Vostok Trading Tour in Dushanbe is your best bet. Extensions cost around US$40/50/60 for seven/14/30 days and take about a week to process. If you extend your visa, you’ll also need to separately extend any existing registration (and possibly your GBAO permit).
Tajikistan has many internal checkpoints, particularly in Gorno-Badakhshan (GBAO), and the militsia in all towns are keen to check a foreigner’s papers, so make sure you have impeccable documents.
There is a theoretical trekking tax of US$50, or US$100 if over 6000m. Your tour company is supposed to collect this and if you are alone the only place you may encounter this is at Artush in the Fan Mountains. The only place you’ll come across the highly spurious ‘ecological fee’ of US$1 per day is in the eastern Pamirs (around Murgab) or if booking a tour through a Tajik travel agent.
A permit from the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Situations (224 30 33) in Dushanbe is currently required to visit Sarez Lake. You will need a travel agency to help to get this. The permit normally takes at least 10 days to issue.
To visit Zor-Kul (which is theoretically a nature reserve) you need a permit from the Ministry of Environment (Vazorati Tabiyat). Even then you’ll need permission from the local border guards. Great Game Travel and META can help with this.