Visas and Permits
Visas are required for travel to Tajikistan; in addition a special permit is required for travel to the Pamirs (Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast - GBAO) and other border areas. Additional permits are required for travel to Lake Sarez (and probably to Zorkul in the Great Pamir, although this is subject to confirmation locally) The visa with GBAO permit is the easy part - with patience and determination you can do the rest yourself- or you may prefer to use a Tajik tour operator.
N.B. Please consult the relevant websites of the Tajikistan Foreign Ministry (www.mfa.tj) and of Tajik Consulates. The websites (www.pamirs.org) and (www.caravanistan.com) are updated regularly to provide current information on visas and permits.
Mixed messages are currently being sent by various government departments on the question of visas. The de facto Minister of Tourism announced not long ago that tourist visas would cost only US$25, that no "invitation letter" from a Tajik tourism agency or Visa support letter" from the Foreign Ministry was necessary and that tourists staying less than 30 days would no longer have to comply with the Soviet requirement to register with the internal security department (OVIR).
This announcement must, however, be treated with caution. Firstly, consular pricing practices differ and it is worth checking with various consulates to find the best price - some consulates will process visas from outside their formal geographical zone of competence. Secondly, most consulates insist that tourist visas are only issued on the basis of an endorsement from a Tajik tourism agency. Thirdly, tourist visas are sometimes only given to tourist groups - individual travellers may find themselves unwittingly in possession of a "private" or "business" visa. This can have very unfortunate consequences, as holders of these visas are indeed required to register with OVIR within three days of arrival in the country. Failure to register can result in a fine on departure.
It is very important that you check your visa immediately on getting your passport back from the consulate to be sure that it is indeed a tourist visa: a tourist visa is indicated by the category "T" (or "САЙЁХИ " or "ТУРИСТИ" - "tourist" in Tajik and Russian respectively).
N.B. If you plan to travel to Afghanistan (or another neighbouring country and return to Tajikistan) you will need a double or multiple entry visa.
Theoretically, nationals of Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand and most European countries as well as many Asian and other countries can obtain a visa on arrival at Dushanbe and Khujand airport - see the list on the Tajik Foreign Ministry website mentioned above. However, if you plan to travel on to the Pamirs or another border area (e.g. the southern border of Khatlon with Afghanistan), a special permit (for the Pamirs it is called a GBAO permit) is required, which is not issued at the airport: you can lose precious time in Dushanbe obtaining it (at the Dushanbe Office of Visas and Registration - OVIR - at Mirzo Turzunzade Street 5, Tel/Fax 227 67 22 (only Russian and Tajik spoken), 8am-5pm, this formality costs 15 somoni and should be completed in one day - the only advantage is that you can also register there). It is simpler to request the special permit for border areas at the same time as your visa from the respective consulate - you will be required to state all the border areas you intend to visit (apart from the Pamirs - see below - these may include: Shurobod, Hamadoni, Farkhor, Pyandzh, Kumsangir, Dzhilikul, Kabodion, Shahr- i tuz and Nosiri Khusraw).
N.B. In the latter regions, despite possession of the permit, the borderguards may unexpectedly close off a part of the area - e.g. Takhti Sangin - to tourists.
Unless you have a Tourist visa, you are required to register with OVIR (Department of Visas and Regulation of Foreign Citizens) within 72 hours of arriving in Tajikistan. If you do not register, you may have to pay a fine on departure. There are OVIR offices in Dushanbe, Khujand, Khorog and Murghab. The Dushanbe office is at 67-69 Karabaev Street. Take Ismoil Somoni Street from the Presidential Palace, after 2km turn left at the roundabout by the Circus, along Karabaev Street. The OVIR office is on the left, set back about 50m at the junction with Shestapalova Street. Open Mon-Fri 0800-1200, 1300-1700, Sat 0900-1300.
You need to provide your passport, one passport photograph, US$22 registration fee and your address in Tajikistan. It is required that a local person or a representative based in Tajikistan registers you at a specific address; this can be your hotel. Lots of people mill around, staff are unhelpful and do not speak English. So to avoid hassle, we recommend that you arrange for a local tour company or your hotel to register you.
Taxes and permits
The GBAO permit can cover all areas of the Tajik Pamirs, but this must be specifically requested in the application - to cover all possibilities, put the following on the form:
Khorog, Murghab, Darvaz, Ishkashim, Vanch, Rushan. Once you are in possession of the complete GBAO permit, you can travel freely (except for Sarez and perhaps Zorkul - see below); any attempt by over-zealous or greedy officials should be resisted - sell-confident bluff is a good weapon.
Apart from the GBAO permit, special permission is required for travel only for Sarez. All other areas should be covered by the GBAO permit, although it is prudent to check with the Tajik border guards or local travel agent in Khorog before travelling to Zorkul.
The Sarez permit can be obtained free of charge at the Committee for Emergency Situations at Lohuti Street in Dushanbe, opposite the Tajik Sodirot Bank. There is no fee (N.B. any tourist company will charge a fee if you use their services).
IMPORTANT NOTE: In early 2011, the Committee for Emergency Situations closed all roads and trails to Sarez due to dangerous conditions and present inability to help trekkers and travellers in emergencies. The closure is expected to be in effect for at least the next two years. Officially, the only way to get to Sarez at the moment would be to request a Tour Operator for a helicopter. However, as in so many cases in Central Asia, prohibitions are subject to negotiation and it may be worth asking for permission anyway or at least try to trek to the lake from the south coming from Bulunkul or Bachor.