Mongol Rally: The Visa Ordeal

Mongol Rally: The Visa Ordeal

I can breathe normally again…  phew!

I told you how our planning process had become sort of a drama roller coaster in the past month, but the drama that topped the cherry was the visa process.

You see, since I was staying in Milan for a month, I thought I had plenty of time to mail my passport to The Visa Machine for them to process my Russian and Kazakhstan visas, and mail my passport back.

Pretty simple, right? Well, in theory, it is, but sometimes the universe doesn’t work that way.

Visa and pasport
Image by

To make sure there was plenty time to spare, I requested the express service for the Russian Visa, and the normal one for Kazakhstan, since they had no other options; in addition to mailing my passport with a next day service. According to The Visa Machine, the entire process would take two weeks. That sounded perfect to me.

I mailed my passport on the 6th of May, so in theory, it all should have been done by the 21st or so, leaving plenty of time before my departure to the USA on the 5th of June.

One week passed by, and I saw no progress in my Visa Machine account.   Hmm… I assumed it must have been the Kazakhstan visa taking its time.  By the end of the second week, I finally saw on my Visa Machine page that there was some progress being done with my Kazakhstan visa.

It now showed a little hourglass icon (like, waiting) instead of nothing.  The Russian one was still showing nothing.

I got curious about it and called The Visa Machine.

“Hi, does this little hour glass on my account means that the Kazakhstan Visa has been processed?”

“No, it has JUST been submitted to the embassy.”, they said.

“WHAT?!!!  What did you do with my passport for TWO WHOLE WEEKS?!”

This was their explanation….

Exactly at the time I mailed my passport, there was a Russian holiday, so no work at the Russian embassy.  And, just after the holidays, Russia changed its rules for visa applications where you can now ONLY apply within two months of your entry into the country. My entry was set for the 25th of July, so that meant that the closest I could apply now was the 25th of May.

Russian Holiday
What the Russians were probably doing while my passport sat patiently on a desk. Photo from

Well, ok, why didn’t they start the Kazakhstan visa before?!  As it turns out, when you apply for a double-entry to Kazakhstan, you can only apply for it AFTER you’ve been approved a Russian visa (or from another bordering country) because they want proof that you will leave (uhh, sounds stupid to me since it is the same thing as just entering once… but anyway…).

Luckily, the Visa Machine did their work and managed to get my Kazakhstan visa to get processed before the Russian one.  I just wished they had informed me before.

Now, everything had to go PERFECTLY, or else, I ran the chance to not get my passport back before my flight to the US (which obviously wouldn’t happen without a passport).

They didn’t go perfectly, of course.

On the 30th of May, both of my visas were ready and should have been mailed to me IMMEDIATELY.  But no, my passport was picked too late from the embassy to have it mailed.  One day less.

On Friday the 31st, it was finally mailed.  My passport would have arrived on Monday the 3rd of June, and I would depart on Wednesday the 5th.

A note on Italian addresses: WHO THE HELL had the idea to NOT number apartments in Italy? Everything is mailed based on the tenant’s name.  So, to make sure I would get my passport, I put a small paper with my name on my apartment’s buzzer and asked to have a “delivery note” on my package to get a call before delivery.

Apparently, the delivery guy didn’t read English and failed to find my name (seriously?), so the package wasn’t delivered that day.

Package delivery
Sooo, the fabulous delivery guy failed to read the note on the package too?!

I waited impatiently all day, refreshing my internet browser as I followed with my tracking number.  At about 6 pm I got the bad news of the failure of delivery and that the package would stay on hold at their main hub with no other delivery attempts.  WHAT?!!

I had my friend call, so the call would go smoothly (in Italian) and nothing would get lost in translation, and he was informed that I would have to pick it up the next day.  What was the catch?  Their hub was outside the city.  Damn it!

Park in Milan
Part of my long walk… See, not bad!

So, the next day I took the metro, followed by the bus to the airport, and followed by a 1.5 hours walk…  Not a bad walk, but totally unnecessary.  And of course, I spent most of the time cursing the idiotic delivery guy.  Finally I got there and FINALLY, I got my passport safe and sound in my hands!

The oh-so-glorious moment of having my passport back in my hand!

Not cool to get your passport back a mere 19 hours before your international flight.

Phew… but, that only means one thing… Mongol Rally, here I come!

Read the next post about our Mongol Rally experience!


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18 thoughts on “Mongol Rally: The Visa Ordeal”

  1. Visas are definitely NOT the fun part of this adventure. I’m so glad I have my passport safely returned me, although now I have this completely irrational fear that its going to disappear from my bedroom with those beautiful visas attached inside and I check on it regularly. (So far, it hasn’t grown legs, thank goodness.) Hope we have a chance to meet in London! Can’t WAIT for this thing to start!

  2. Wish we will soon get rid of visas, passports, and countries. They are all such nonsense and exist only to slave us.

  3. Ahh, visa conundrums. I had to apply for a Kazakhstan visa by sending my passport to London from Australia! That’s because the Kazakh ambassador loved Australia so much, that he went AWOL when he was asked to go back. Hence, head office didn’t want to have representation in Australia any more!

    1. Yikes!!! And I was complaining I had to send mine to London from Milan! Well, I hope it was worth it for you and that you enjoyed Kazakhstan! I was totally worth it for me!

  4. Hey Norbert-

    Your last post Mongol Rally: The Visa Ordeal was freaking awesome. I have gone ahead
    and added your stuff to my Feedly account. Please keep me updated if you post anywhere
    Keep rocking –


  5. Wooooow. That is a seriously close call. I remember when my husband and I were leaving for our honeymoon, after many times ensuring me that he had his passport, and briefly flashing it at me to confirm, he handed it to me on the morning of our departure. Well guess what? Two hole punches on the front page, obviously instantly alerting me to the fact that that was his OLD EXPIRED passport. Needless to say there was a little bit of a rush before our plane…

  6. Hi, great article!
    I’m part of a team doing the Mongol Rally this year. I’m originally from the UK but I’m living in China until June, and I don’t know whether to apply for visas at the embassies in Shanghai or to post my visa to the Visa Machine in the UK.
    I was wondering how long the Visa Machine normally take to process things, and if you have any other advice?

    1. Thanks, Dave! Well, the timing on the Visa Machine depends on which visas you need and how long each one takes. All they do is go through the application process for you, so it won’t necessarily be faster (and definitely not cheaper). They are helpful, though, to get visas that are hard to get on your own because you need an invitation letter or can’t apply outside your country.

      I posted my passport to the Visa Machine because I was in Italy at the moment and I couldn’t apply in person to either Russia or Kazakhstan’s visa. For me, it was just necessary. I think it took them about a month, total, to get both of my visas due to the change in rules at the Russian Embassy.

      My recommendation is to you is to check which visas you need and the average time it takes to get each one of them. Add that up and add a bit more time (like a week) for mailing and processing. I’d say that you should at least do everything 2 months ahead of the rally. At least, if you’re getting a Russian visa, that’s the application timeframe, anyways.

      I’d also recommend calling them and discussing what you’re interested in getting. They are always available by phone, so I’m sure they could help you get more details.


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