Border Crossing

Information on our experience with border crossing, including insurance requirements. 

Russia

Estonia (Narva) to Russia (Ivangorod) - (June 2016)

Border crossing process

This is the big one. Our first proper border crossing. We planned to cross the border from Narva, Estonia to Ivangorod, Russia. We arrived in Tallinn on the 16 June and worked out that we needed to cross the border by 18 June in order to visit St Petersburg, Murmansk and Moscow before heading down to the Caucasus region for Haydon to attempt the summit of Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe. 

We did read about the electronic queueing system operating at the border (more information can be found at https://www.estonianborder.eu/). However, we didn’t appreciate that we needed to book a few days in advance. When we logged on to the website, the next available pre-booked slot was the 18 June at 23.00. Some expletives followed. This was definitely too late for our border crossing. 

Our other option was to join the live queue. At this point, the system was telling us that the average waiting time was 15 hours! We worked out that if we joined the queue online at some point during the night on the 16th, we would then be able to cross in the afternoon on the 17th. That could work. Armed with this knowledge, we went to bed and set the alarm for 01.00. I got up, booked us a place in the queue and was informed that we should be called to the border in 13 hours which meant that we should cross the border at 14.00. 

Before we set off from Tallinn at 07.00, we checked for the update on the queue. Still 13 hours! This means that we won’t cross until 20.00 that night. We set off anyway just in case the waiting time improved somehow. 

We arrived at the waiting area by the border at 10.00, went to check in at a little hut at the far end marked with a number 2. The helpful man who spok English told us that we have been registered in the queue and that the waiting time is now 10 hours! Hooray, the time is coming down! We had also opted in to SMS notification so we would be told when we were going to be called to the border. We went into the town to find some wifi and stock up on food. 

This is when the fun began, we waited and waited but the waiting time didn’t seem to go down at all. We went to the cinema, went bowling and visited a few shopping centres. At 2300, the waiting time was still 4 hours. We decided to deploy the roof tent and went to sleep. I set the alarm for 0200 and checked the queue time again. We are down to 0 hours! 15 minutes later, I received a text to tell us there are less than 60 vehicle in the queue in front of us. We started packing up and getting ready for the border. Another 1.5 hours went by before we were finally called to the border. We went to the hut number 2 again and collected a ticket and was told to proceed to the border. 

We followed the map on the website and arrived at Estonian customs checkpoint. There were a number of lanes, which had a traffic light system. One customs officer let us through and immediately told us that we were supposed to wait at a set of lights on our way to the border until we were called so we effectively we ran the red lights (oops!). All we could do was apologise, show the officer around our car and handed our passports over to be checked. We were told to proceed in less than 10 minutes. 

We left Estonia and joined another queue on the Friendship Bridge. We then handed over our passports to be inspected again by a Russian official and were given 2 migration forms and 2 custom forms (in Russian). We proceeded to the Russian custom check point where you are able to ask for the English version of the custom forms. Our passports and the completed migration forms were checked and stamped and our car was briefly inspected. The migration form needed to be kept for our exit from Russia. At the second customs hut, there is an example of how the customs form should be completed in English which was very helpful. 

We handed the custom forms, V5C, International Certificate of Motor Vehicle (ICMV) and Haydon’s driving licence over to the customs officer. There was some delay as the office couldn’t find the Russian equivalent of “Great Britain” on the system. We are still unclear what the correct Russian term is for the UK . Eventually, we were handed back the stamped customs document and were allowed to proceed. It was 0600 on 18 June. 

Overall, it took us 24 hours from arriving at the border to getting the 3rd party insurance in Russia. We definitely did it the hard way. For the easier (and quicker) way of crossing the border, you should read the blog by Amy Canon of Caesar’s Roam. We have definitely learned our lesson and hoping for a smoother crossing to Kazakhstan.

Total border crossing time: 24 hours

Insurance

Next up was insurance. We were told that we would be able to obtain a 3rd party insurance policy at a petrol station close to the border. When we got there, we were told that they only sell insurance for Russian cars or would register  green card insurance (which covers most of Europe and Russia). We tried a few other petrol stations without success. We didn’t want to chance it and leave the border without the insurance so we drove back towards the border and found a building with the word страхование (“insurance”). However, as it was a Saturday, the office was close. We drove around the small road of shops again and found a building that looked like a bank that may sell insurance. The office wouldn’t open for another hour so we waited. 

A lovely lady called Viktoria was in the office. She didn’t speak a word of English. So with the help of Google Translate, I managed to communicate that we wanted a 3rd party insurance policy. She inputed some information into the computer to get us a quote. Again, there was a problem with finding “Great Britain” on the system. She asked us for a lot of information but, eventually (2.5 hours later!), we were given the insurance certificate. It was a little bit more expensive than we expected (5,450 rubles) but we were just grateful to have the certificate and could get on our way to St Petersburg. 


Kazakhstan (Semey) to Russia (Rubtsovsk) - (August 2016)

​After a two-day drive from Astana, we arrived at the border at 16.30 on a Monday. There was a queue of about 15 cars and they were moving quite slowly. 

I got out of the car and walked to the guard box and handed over our passports, migration cards and ICMV. The guard inspected the documents and and gave us a small piece of paper with our registration number. 

We waited another 45 minutes before we were let through the barrier. The guard checked the number of people in the car before letting you through to passport control which is in the building on the right hand side (go through the right hand door). The car was briefly inspected before we were told to lock up and proceeded to passport control. Both drivers and passengers go to the same passport control. The driver went first and handed over the car documents for inspection. The small piece of paper was stamped. We then went back to the car and proceed to the barrier where the small piece of paper was handed in to the guard. We had now left Kazakhstan. 

More queueing in no man's land. There didn't seem to be any system and the back log meant that there was more than one queue going on and people were pushing through. Once we were through the barrier, we drove and parked up as indicated by the guard. We proceeded to passport control, again the driver went first. We handed over our passports and the officer inputed the information on the computer system and gave us back the migration card with had been completed. 

The car was briefly searched and we were let through the barrier. We kept our original customs form from our first entry into Russia. 


Total border crossing time: 2.5 hours

Insurance 

The insurance we bought on our first entry covered us for 3 months so we didn't have to get another one but if you need insurance for Russia, you will be able to get this just before the border on the Kazakhstan side. Look for 
страхование (strakhovaniye).

Kazakhstan

Russia (Astrakhan) to Kazakhstan (Atyrau) - July 2016

Border crossing

After Haydon's successful summit of Mount Elbrus, we said goodbye to the RMH team, the generous hostel owner Vit and the Caucasus region and headed for the Kazakh border. 

We arrived in Astrakhan, the Russian border town around 3pm on Sunday and thought that we would attempt the border the next day. 

After a night camping by the Volga river, we drove around 60km to a village called Karaozek (караозек in Russian) to arrive at the border. On the way, we crossed a very rickety pontoon bridge. The toll for the bridge was 120 Rubles. 

We arrived at the border around 08.30 and there was no queue. The guard at the barrier gave us a small piece of paper with our car registration number and the number of people in the car. 

We then proceeded to a little hut on the right for passport control. The driver was told to go first. Interestingly, they didn't need the registration card which we had to do within 10 days of arriving in Russia. Our passports were stamped out of Russia. Our little piece of paper was also stamped. 

The car was briefly inspected inside and out. We were asked to open the bonnet and asked weather we had any weapons or drugs. One of the guards who spoke English pointed at our medicine bag and asked "drugs?". Haydon replied "medicine". We think they were just having a bit of banter. After the inspection, we drove forward and another guard inspected the little piece of paper and let us through. We were out of Russia. 

We then drove through about 7km of no man's land to arrive at a bridge where a guard collect the little piece of stamped paper from us. Then on the other side of the bridge, we were asked to show our passports and were given another small piece of paper with our registration number on and 2 immigration forms, one for each person. 

Arriving at the customs inspection area, passengers will have to get out of the car and go to the passport control in the building on the right. I handed over my passport and the filled in immigration form and received and entry stamp. They also take a photo of you. Smile, you are almost in! 

Haydon and the car turned left after the barrier for passport control and car inspection. Show all the documents (ICMV, V5, driving licence etc). The car was inspected briefly and they kept the little piece of paper. Then you are allowed to proceed to the next barrier.  The guard checked the passports and the immigration cards and you are let through. You are in Kazakhstan. 

Overall, we were through with insurance in just over an hour. Smoothest crossing yet. 

Total border crossing time: 1 hour

Insurance

Once you are through, there will be a swarm of people trying to sell you Tenge (local currency) and insurance. The next big town where you might be able to get cash is Atyrau which is 350km from the border so you may want to change some money if you need fuel before then. You will definitely need insurance and we got a third party policy for 5000 roubles which was valid for 30 days. This was more than we had seen other travellers pay but prices depends on the make, model and age of the car so that may be why ours was more expensive. We later found out that the minimum insurance period is 10 days and the price was roughly the same per day. So, it may have been cheaper to get 2 separate policies if you are leaving Kazakhstan and re-enter again later. 

Kyrgyzstan (Bishkek) to Kazakhstan (Korday) - (August 2016)

Border crossing

The border was only a short drive away from Bishkek. We were told to avoid weekends, arrive early and expect queues. So we headed for the border on a Monday and arrived around 0900. Just as we were about to reach the barrier, we were pulled over by the police. Apparently, we ignored a stop sign just before the border. We were fined 2,020 Soms (20:20, rather appropriately). So, do pay special attention to the signs. 

With the fine paid, we proceeded through the barrier. Only a few cars were let through at the time. I had to enter on foot and proceeded to passport control and get an exit stamp from Kyrgyzstan. I exited Kyrgyzstan on foot. 

Haydon drove to the covered area outside, presented the documents. The car was briefly inspected and was let through. 

Entering on foot, I picked up the migration form to the left of the entrance of the passport control hall for Kazakhstan. I completed the form then proceeded to passport control. The double entry visa was stamped and the migration form was stamped twice (see pics). I then proceeded to the scanner on the right before the exit where your bags will be scanned. I was cleared to enter Kazakhstan. 

Haydon and Mary took a little longer. At a small hut, we were given a small piece of paper to complete your registration number. This is also where you would get a migration card and passport control. After the car was inspected, the small piece of paper will be stamped. After the car was searched, Haydon was directed to a separate hanger for another search more thoroughly. They didn't like the look of out machete but we were allowed to keep it. After a while we were allowed to go. Overall, we were through in about an hour. 

Total border crossing time: 1 hour

Insurance 

We didn't see anywhere obvious to buy insurance on the Kazakh side of the border but we didn't look very hard. However, when we had to extend our policy, there seemed to be an insurance office in most town we went past. Look for страхование (strakhovaniye) as with Russian. 

Kyrgyzstan

Kazakhstan (Taraz) to Kyrgyzstan (Talas) - (July 2016)

Border crossing

We arrived in the border town of Taraz at 10.00 on a Friday after a lovely few days at the Aksu-Zhalbagley Nature Reserve. About 10km before we arrived at the border, we were stopped by the police who wanted to see our documents. A nearby local came over to talk to us and was asking whether we were asked for bribes. We weren't sure if we were free to go but after waiting in the car for 5 minutes, we decided to leave. 

When we arrived at the border, there was a queue of about 4 cars. A few cars were let through at a time. When we arrived at the barrier, the guard gave us 2 small pieces of paper, one for the driver and one for the passenger. It was all in Kazakh and we weren't really sure what we were suppose to do with them. 

After the barrier, we had to go to passport control on foot. We received the exit stamps from Kazakhstan. The small piece of paper was stamped and returned to us with the passport but they kept the migration card. Haydon had to show the car documents but we didn't have to hand over the customs form as we weren't given one when we entered Kazakhstan. 

Haydon returned to the car after passport control for the car to be inspected. They looked inside and in the roof tent, asked a few questions and we were free to go. 

We then proceeded to the next barrier where the guard inspected our passports and the small pieces of paper and then let us through. He kept the stamped pieces of paper. 

We then approached the barrier to enter Kyrgyzstan. The guard checked our passports and I was told to enter on foot. I then went to the building on the left where passport control was and got an entry stamp (60 days visa free for UK passport holders). 

There was a separate passport control hut outside for the driver. Again, Haydon handed over all the documents and received an entry stamp. The car was not checked after this and we were free to go. We approached the exit barrier, the guard checked our passports and we were in Kyrgyzstan. 

Total border crossing time: < 1 hour

Insurance

According to our research on caravanistan.com, car insurance became mandatory in January 2016 in Kyrgyzstan. But the advice was that we didn't need to get insurance as it was the first year and it will be difficult as there are not that many brokers around. So we didn't get an insurance policy. We were stopped by the police 3 times that day in Kyrgyzstan and wasn't once asked for insurance certificate.

Mongolia

Russia (Ulan Ude) to Mongolia (Ulaanbaatar) - (August 2016)

Border crossing

It was a drizzling and we made our way from our last camp spot in Siberia to the border between Russia and Mongolia. We set off early hoping that the border would be quiet. We were stopped by military personnel 10km before the border and asked for our passports and they entered some details on a computer. We asked them whether it would normally rain this much this time of the year and they told us that winter was only 2 days away! I guess our timing was pretty good for leaving Russia. 

We arrived at the border at 9.30. At the barrier, the guard confirmed the number of passenger and checked our passports.

We then parked up for customs inspection. This was the most thorough search of the car we have had to date. There were 3 custom officers and a dog looking around the car. They asked if we had anything to declare and if we had any prohibited items and proceeded to look into every box and opening. The 2 officers searching the car seemed to be in a hurry to get on and started opening boxes themselves. We had to be quite vigilant to make sure that nothing could be taken. It could be quite confusing so do be careful. 

Inspection completed, one custom officer led me to the customs office where our passports were inspected and the customs form stamped. They asked about where we are going etc. 

Back in the car, we then joined the queue for passport control. This took a little while. We were stamped out of Russia. Again, our registration document wasn't really checked or was it retained. The guard at the exit barrier checked our passports and confirmed the number of passengers again and we were let out of Russia. 

On the Mongolian side, we drove through the gate and parked up in front of the building which is on the right as you entered. We weren't really sure what to do when a woman approached us with a piece of paper and asked for 100 Rubles. We hadn't been asked to pay anything at the border before so we asked what it was for. She couldn't really tell us. So Haydon said that we need to pay by card and she backed off. We didn't think this was legitimate. 

Haydon then went into the building to get 2 pieces of paper, one with our car registration on it. We then drove forward to a covered area for an inspection. Again the officer looked in every box and opening. He then stamped the little piece of paper and told us to go to passport control. Inside the building, we filled in an entry form and handed our passports and car documents over. After we received our entry stamps into Mongolia, we returned to the car for another customs inspection. This was very brief and we were given a customs form and the little piece of paper was stamped again. 

At the exit barrier, we handed the little pieces of paper over and the guard let us through. We were stopped soon after by a lady selling road tax for 10,000 Turug. It didnt seem legitimate so we didn't bother.

People spoke pretty good English at the border and some signs were even in English. 


Total border crossing time: 3 hours

Insurance 

Just before the second exit barrier, there is a hut on the left which sells insurance. We got a 30-day policy for 62,400 turug and the lady let us pay in US dollars ($31). The exchange rate was pretty fair. 

Just on the other side of the barrier, there were loads of people with massive wads of turug in their hands ready to exchange your roubles. Apparently the rate was pretty good. We opted to go to the ATM in the border town instead.