27 February 2011

The Departing. Leaving London, Shipping, Visa's etc.

In the last few weeks I have gained some specific knowledge, so I thought I might share before I forget everything. I'm writing this as a New Zealander living in/leaving London.

Item One: International Shipping

Even though I have tried quite hard to reduce the amount of crap I accumulate, things never quite go as planned. Therefore I have had to ship a couple of boxes home. The complication for me comes in that I will not be home when the boxes arrive. Even on a slow boat, they will arrive in about three months. I'll be home in around eight! No major though, when I phoned up the forwarders to get quotes I mentioned this. Some were willing to help, others weren't.

I would suggest contacting as many freight forwarders as possible. And phone them. Do not use their online quote system - sometimes it is easy, other times it is extremely confusing. Also, when you have someone on the phone you can often get a better price than the website. The other thing is that there are often hidden costs. While it is easy to hide these deep in the T's and C's, it is harder to lie to a direct question, i.e. is this all I am going to need to pay? By calling as many as possible you can play them off against each other for price. Or find the company you want to go with, and ask them to match the lowest quote you have.

When it comes to shipping, New Zealand and Australia have some pretty hard core restrictions - so read up if there is anything out of the ordinary you want to send. Example - my shisha pipe I bought in Egypt is not allowed because it can be used to smoke canibis. Not sure if they realise that you can smoke canibis out of almost anything you like...

I ended up going with Seven Seas. They were the most helpful and one of the cheapest. I was recomended them by a friend, and I read several good reviews on the net. My next choice was All Freight who were also really good. I found PSS rude and unhelpful. And Anglo Pacific is just crazy expensive. I think I got quotes from a few more but cant quite remember.

Item Two: Visas

While I can only help with the few I have gained, as a general rule - read and ask questions. Sometimes the forms are confusing and you may have special circumstances. Try and search on the net to find information, or contact the visa application center. I contacted both the Russian and Chinese visa centers with questions and found them very helpful. My other advice is to do it yourself! There are hundreds of companies out there that will submit on your behalf, but they are actually doing almost nothing. You still have to provide all the necessary information. They are just a middleman which slows the whole process down and costs you money.

The Russian visa is a pain in the ass. You need a invitation and a hotel booking. You also cannot apply prior to 90 days before entering the country... if that makes sense? Turnaround is 5 working days, or 1 day for the urgent service.

What I found out during the application process? Half of the documentation is not needed. I had proof of my address, proof that I had been working since I arrived here, proof of funds... All that is not required. All they want to see is that you have insurance, and your passport with the UK visa inside.

For the invitation I went through these guys: http://www.waytorussia.net. Totally recommend them. Extremely fast and I had no problems using their documentation with my application. They give you both the invitation and the hotel booking, but the booking is not real. Sounds dodgy, but seems to work. Costs about US$20-30 from memory. And that site also has a huge amount of useful information about the application process and Russia itself. Check it!

Oh, and they seem to be quite lax about the application timing. I am not entering Russia for four months, which means if I applied in London it would be one month early. OK, no problem, I will just apply in a Russian Embassy somewhere along the way. Wrong. You have to apply in the country which you have resided in for the past three months. So I was going to have to send my passport back to the UK once in Europe and have someone apply on my behalf. What a pain in the ass! As well as being totally against the rules, but apparently it's do-able.... Anyway, I called the visa application centre, let them know my story, and they told me to just submit it anyway. I did, and success!

Other questions I had which I eventually found answers to:
- Who can be my representitve - i.e. apply on my behalf? : Anyone
- Can I have my passport posted overseas by the Visa Application Center? Or apply from overseas through the London application center : No
- Is a copy invitation/hotel booking (not the original) acceptable? : Yes

The China visa was easier in terms of requirements, but much more confusing. They have one application form for all kinds of visa - business, tourist, long stay etc. So as a tourist there are whole sections of the application form which are not used. Specifically the 'inviter' or contact in China - not required. Accommodation bookings and dates - not required.

For this you will need to tell them about where you are working, and show them your current UK visa. Pretty straight forward. Except in my situation my visa had just expired! And I was no longer working. Luckily I had a new passport, and had travelled to the Netherlands recently. So I simply said that I was a tourist and was only staying here for a couple of months. In that case you do not need to provide anything - because I am legally allowed to be here as a tourist for up to three months without a visa.

China also have the stupid three month rule, and are more strict about it. Your visa is only valid for three months after a successful application. I got around this by getting a dual-entry visa which is valid for six months. Smart eh?

You need to book an appointment online to apply - they just do a quick check over your application, then 4 working days later (3 for urgent service) you go and pick it up. Cost me £60 for the dual entry.

Here is the website with all the information, including the application form and appointment booking: http://www.visaforchina.org.uk/

As I am doing the Trans-Mongolian rail I also need a Mongolian visa. I hear this is the easiest of the three, and therefore have left it until when I am travelling. I have found some useful information, though -

Single entry-exit (Valid for three months from the date of issuing with duration of stay in Mongolia for 30 days)

For Tourist visa for 30 day or less it is required to submit in person following documentation:

1. Passport with a validity date at least six months beyond the end of the applications intended period of stay in Mongolia
2. Completed visa Application Form for non-tourists with one passport size photo
3. Completed visa Application Form for Tourists with one passport size photo
4. Visa fees must be paid in British pounds by money order or cashiers check made payable to "The Embassy of Mongolia". Cash is acceptable.
6. Transit visa processing requires visa for next destination, copy of onward ticket

For Mongolia you have to complete the application online: http://www.consuls.net/

There are three other places I am visiting that require a visa: Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine. Although I do not need to go through these countries, I would like to visit, as going around means going places I have already been. I intend to apply for these three along the way somewhere. After some research it seems that all three are quite strict - requiring invitations etc. I will probably update this post with the requirements as I apply...

Want to check out where I am going? Take a look here.


  1. Man alive. And here I'm worried about having money in Canada and getting confused while driving. HA! ;) Miss you friend!

  2. Oh my hat! I didn't realise you were going home! This looks like an incredible trip and I wish you the best time ever. How much would you say the entire 8 months is going to cost you?


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