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Declaring all cash in the stans & other Turkmen questions...
We're currently in Turkey and in the next few weeks will be looking to head towards Georgia, Azerbaijan and then the Stans.
I'm just thinking about how much cash (US$) we'll need to be carrying to cover the caspian crossing and the never ending taxes in Turkmenistan and of course our crossing of the country and other than the obvious how much should we carry, 2 questions have come to mind:
1: when declaring our route in Turkmenistan (we're on transit visas) what is the 'shortest' route we can put between Turkmenbashi & Konye-Urgench? We plan to go via Ashgabat.
2: Should we declare all our money at the borders (particularly Turkmen) or keep quiet?
Any light that anyone can shed would be appreciated.
I don't think you can declare a route yourself. You tell them which country you are going to exit into (and possibly which border crossing you intend to use) and then they give you the route based on that information. Maybe you can negotiate a detour via Ashgabat, but they usually set the route as far as I know.
I'm not sure on how much money to take, especially with regards to the ferry (I came though Iran), but the Turkmenis aren't that tight with declaring cash (they weren't on me, so don't hold me to my word). But the Uzbeks are for sure! Double check to declare all currency and electronics, or you might get an unpleasant surprise next time you are trying to leave the place. Uzbekistan is pretty much a cash only place, with better exchange rates in shops than in banks. Kyrgyzstan has ATMs (even with US$ if you like), Turkmenistan I'm not sure. I wasn't there for long (transit visa ...) so didn't bother looking much. I don't quite recall how much the Turkmen border formalities cost, but it was under, but close to US$ 100 I think, maybe around 80. That was 1 person, 1 bike, with the route Ashgabat - Nukus (Uzbekistan). Some of that is insurance, some random fees (vehicle desinfection, which never happened), and a large chunk petrol tax. Fuel in the country is dirt cheap though.
Also make sure to hang on to all the paper work they give you (a lot in Turkmenistan, only the customs thing in Uzbekistan), they will want to see that when you exit! And in case of Turkmenistan, they may want to see the paper with the route on it at the various road check points.
One more thing: in Uzbekistan you need to register with the police in every place you stay. If you stay in hotels, they will do it for you and give you a receipt which you need to hang on to. If you camp/stay with people you ought to register, but it's a pain and takes forever. They sometimes check when you exit the country, especially at the airport in Tashkent. Smaller land borders often don't check, but try to have at least some registration receipt for some of the days, just in case ...
I'd say just declare a suitable amount of cash, say a few hundred dollars and have that amount somewhere secure on your person, whack the rest in your sleeping bag. Don't change money in banks in TM, there are places you can get cash from a card. To change dollars into Manat go to the market in Ashgabat and find a black market dealer, the rate when I was there was 8000 to the dollar in a bank and 24,000 to the dollar at the market. The taxes in TM seem like a farce because they just keep on coming, but when you take into account the cheap fuel (amazingly cheap) it's not too bad for what I thought was an amazing country.
I had a disaster at the UZ border. The embassy had matched my passport to someone else's LOI and given me his visa dates so I couldn't get in, and TM had stamped me out and didn't want to let me back in. It got sorted though so the system can be bent slightly if required. Look out for the former KGB officers in border towns, not a problem in Ashgabat.
The Uzbeks, if crossing overland from Tajikistan, are very very strict. They went to town on me and got everything out of its bag and locker of the vehicle, meticulous search. Sniffer dogs, prob paranoid about opium. They found a secret stash of usd on the vehicle, very very unhappy. I urge caution if crossing at this border and play your currency declaration carefuly.....they will take it off you if you havent declared it! It may have changed but boy they were strict there. If hiding it, do a whodini style job, they look at everything.
1) There is only one road between Turkmenbashi and Konye Urgench, and it goes visa Asghabat. Your transit document has a nice little road map of the country on, and they will highlight your route on it. If you start drawing hypothetical lines across the desert they won't be impressed. In my experience the guys at the border have been pretty cool and let you choose your exit border. I'm not sure if you could persuade them to add a detour though. That said, TM is not a country with a big road network. I have to say that I've always found Turkmen border guards to be a good bunch.
2) Unless you have a VERY good hiding place, declare all your cash. If they want to count it, count it out in front of them clearly. If they want to grab it themselves, they are up to no good, and you should make it clear you don't want their light fingers anywhere near it.
Its only Uzbekistan that is super strict on declarations
Declare EVERY cent and every electrical item (mobile phones, cameras, gpss, ipods etc) at the Uzbek border.
A traveller lost 5000 USD leaving Uzbekistan earlier this year after not declaring it - they thoroughly searched him at exit and found it.
If you dont declare it on entry, and they find it when you leave, then you lose it ... all of it. Think of your customs declaration as your licence to take whatever it is you declare out of Uzbekistan. So DO remember to put anything you want to take out of the country on the declaration form that you take with you.
I drove last month from Atyrau to here through uz on a TransAlp.
Border kz / uz after Beyneu :
I unintentionally forgot to declare some of the cash I was carrying, but still declared cash in 3 currencies, EUR, USD, KZT on the custom form. The custom guy carefully circled the paragraph with the said amounts before stamping the form. Did not bother to declare the camera nor the computer nor the 2 phones. Did not declare either the travellers cheques I was carrying.
Border uz / kz at Yalmazar :
(The main one on the M39 north of Tashkent supposedly closed to non uz or kz passport holders or because of construction depending on sources )
Nobody bothered to verify either the cash situation declared on the exit form or the type of electronic gear I was carrying or the registration papers I had collected during my stay in B&B.
BUT the police road block before the actual border was a pain as I had to deal with a cop looking for some cash. He pretended I was driving under influence with the famous test of making your exhale in a rolled piece of paper and then sniffing the result. I was totally sober, so I stood my ground and did not blink at the “ threat “ of a blood test in an hospital. As papers for me and the bike where of course in order he finally let me go to the actual border few meters down the road. Strangely enough I had a quite extensive search of my bags by one of the custom guys, supposedly looking for illegal drugs and weapons. A first during this trip.
Border kz / ru between Semi and Barnaul :
Friendly and efficient officials on both sides. Went very smoothly.
Cash in uz
Changed money openly on the black market in Nukus and Samarkand, both time in the bazar where money changers will spot you from miles. Paid in hard currency some of my lodging in Xiva and Buchara. Left uz with some sums.
turkmenbasi entry: not very difficukt, but very time consuming. Boat landed 2 pm, on the road 7:30. This was with the help of the guide and this included the "medical inspection" on the boat. Cost was definately higher then $80, but I not recall exactly, more like $120 - $150. Currency declarion was not an issue, I don't remember being asked. The only did a perfunctary search of the panniers.
Route identical to yours, no issue. we had a regular visa, hence the guide
Exit / entry at Konye: we had no problem with the customs guys. Turkmenistan took a bit of time. Hopefully by the time you arrive the new building is in ops (one like in Turkmenbasi), so you can go from one office to the next in a nice air conditioned building. Uzbekistan: We declared everything scrupuously. He was mostly interested in our first aid kit and what kind of medications were in it. They were checked against a list they had. Looking for illegal drugs or illegal meds. Did not check currency or elctronics in our case. Ask lots of question about this or that on the form to show you take it very serious. I had a very detailed inventory list of what was on the bike and asked him what he wanted on the list. Did a only a quick search of the bags. Friendly and helpfull people. But read cautions of others. We most likeley were lucky, or maybe things are getting a little less extreme at times. YMMV.
You can go to the National Bank in Urgench and get dollars or local currency against your VISA (debit) card. Took about 45 minutes. Mastercard possibly as well, don't know from personal experience. Mastercard seemed to be the more popular card. I saw 2 ATM's in the hotel , but neither of them worked. National Bank is 500 meters away from the Korazm Palace Hotel in Urgench. BTW, really nice place if you need a break for a night, 30 euro's single, 80 euro's for 3, secured parking, they have internet but it is expensive, go to the internet cafe around the corner.
Leaving the country I had no issues (at the airport). They are mostly concerned it seems that you leave with less foreign currency then with what you came in with. If you get $$'s from the National bank keep your receipts. Never searched my bags at exit. Keep your hotel registrations, make sure you get them at your hotel for every night you stay.
Not to discount experiences by others, just what I ran into. It is possible to enter and exit without a hassle.
It seems I got lucky in TM from other peoples stories! I was also on a normal Visa but my guide didn't show up at Turkmenbashi so they just let me in. Admittedly by the time I got the mechanical issues and visa problems sorted I had been through some of the checkpoints 4 or 5 times and was on first-name terms with some of the soldiers so they were bound to become friendlier.
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