Upon arriving in Baku, Azerbaijan, my first mission was seemingly simple: head to the embassies of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to apply for my visas to both countries. Easy, right?
Not so much.
Both embassies are located outside of the center of the city, off the Badamdar Highway. The addresses themselves were weird, with a variety of street names, alley names and house numbers. Without a map, I thought my mission would be hopeless, so I made my first stop the tourist office in central Baku.
This turned out to be a great call as the girl who helped me called the Tajkistan embassy to confirm their location (apparently they recently moved, she thought the address I had was wrong) and learned they wouldn’t be open for visa purposes until 3:00 p.m. She also told me I could take the #3 bus to Badamdar from outside the Ichari Shahar (Old City) Metro station. I was relieved to hear that as I was dreading having to dole out cash for multiple taxi rides there and back.
Fast forward to around 2:30 p.m. I got off the #3 bus when I saw a sign for the AEF Hotel, which I knew from previous Google map searches of the embassy address that brought up the hotel located nearby (yes, I do my research!). I knew I was close. I wandered around, not seeing any street signs or anything looking remotely like an embassy. I stopped at the AEF Hotel and the girl at the desk happened to speak some English. She pointed me the way but I missed the street on my first try. So I ended up far down another street where I showed the address to a man and asked in Russian if he knew it. He didn’t, but called out to his wife, who then got on her phone to call the embassy. She got directions, relayed them to their young son, who then walked me to the embassy which turned out to be one street over.
After a very short wait, a young man greeted me who spoke pretty good English. He informed me that the consul was currently in Dushanbe and that he was handling visa requests. He led me to a small conference room where he looked over my application and letter of invitation (which I don’t believe is technically required). Even with the LOI, I had to hand write a request to the ambassador for the visa, which the guy dictated to me. He told me everything should be ready the next afternoon. I asked to keep my passport and just left a copy with him so I could take it with me to the Uzbekistan embassy. He told me the fee would be $35 but I didn’t have to pay at that time.
While at the Tajikistan embassy, I ran into a Spanish guy who was picking up his Tajik visa. As we waited, I asked if he had also been to the Uzbek embassy. He had, and told me to go back out to the main road and then down about 500 meters. So once I was done, I followed his directions and soon ran into an old gold-toothed Azeri guy who started chatting me up and telling me how much he loves Americans. I asked him if he knew where the embassy was and he pulled me in the opposite direction from where I had been walking. Then he flagged down a bus and asked the bus driver where the embassy was, after which he tried to tell me to get on the bus. Based on what the Spanish guy said, that didn’t seem necessary, so instead I walked over to a couple guys outside a store and showed them the address, which I had written in Russian. Soon, a group had gathered, discussing where it was and telling me I needed to take a taxi.
I protested until one guy called over a taxi and actually paid the taxi driver to take me!
We headed down Badamdar Highway back toward the center of Baku at least 1 kilometer, maybe 2, and I was convinced the guy did not know where he was going. When we turned onto what could have been either a street or an alley, I was even more suspicious that I was being taken for a ride and I asked the guy in Russian again if he knew where the embassy was. He insisted he did and, sure enough, within a few minutes, he pointed to the Uzbekistan flag flying over a large mansion and a small police hut standing outside of the building. I thanked him profusely as I got out of the cab, feeling a bit guilty for doubting him.
I greeted the guard in Russian and told him I was there for a visa. He asked my nationality and then called someone before letting me in. Once inside the gate, I went upstairs to a nondescript room with a small cashier’s window. I had already completed and printed 2 copies of the application form and gave those to the man behind the glass. He then asked for one passport-sized photo and my passport. Because I needed my passport to also get my Tajik visa, I asked if I could leave a copy of it with him and that was fine. Then he wrote out the amount of the fee on a small slip of paper with the address of the bank where I needed to pay (located in the center of Baku near Fountain Square). Although the website said that processing time for U.S. citizens is 2 business days, he told me it would be ready the following Tuesday (4 business days) – although he gave me his phone number and said I could call on Monday to see if it was ready. I was not sure if he spoke any English or not as our entire conversation was in Russian.
The next day, I retraced my steps (aside from getting lost) and returned to the Tajikistan embassy. There, the same guy asked me to leave my passport and come back the following day.
On Friday, I made a couple stops.
First, I went to the International Bank of Azerbaijan to pay the $160 fee for my Uzbekistan visa. The guy at the embassy had asked me to wait until it was June 1 for accounting purposes since my visa would actually be issued in June. Go figure. That was incredibly easy as they seem very used to handling payment for visas. The teller spoke great English and immediately asked me what country (implying multiple countries process payment there). I was in and out in less than five minutes.
Then, it was back to the Tajikistan embassy. After a much longer wait than my previous two visits, the same young man led me into the same conference room and told me to wait. He returned about fifteen minutes later with the visa stuck in my passport, the ink literally still drying. It was handwritten, which he clearly just did as I waited.
I thanked him and headed outside, breathing a sigh of relief that I had at least one visa secured.
After a weekend away in the mountain village of Lahic, I returned Monday afternoon and called the Uzbekistan embassy. To my relief, the receptionist spoke English. After asking me to call back twice, I finally spoke with the consul who informed me the processing time is normally five days, that he didn’t have the confirmation yet and to call him back in an hour. When I did so, the receptionist kindly informed me he was gone for the day.
So Tuesday morning, I headed back to the Uzbekistan embassy.
After not following my own notes on how to get there and getting myself lost for thirty minutes, I finally arrived and was able to speak briefly with the consul. This time, he spoke to me in a mix of Russian and English and the gist of our conversation was that I needed to call him at 3:00 p.m. Disappointed, I left my passport and bank receipt with him before heading back to the center of the city to kill five hours.
3:00 p.m. rolled around. I called. I was told to call back. I called back, the consul confirmed the dates I wanted for the visa and, to my pleasant surprise, told me I could head back to the embassy to pick up my visa.
An hour later, I emerged, the second of my five Central Asia visas in hand!
Practical Guide to Getting Visas in Baku
Both the Tajikistan and Uzbekistan embassies are located off of the Badamdar Highway. Take the #3 bus from outside the Ichari Shahar Metro station or any other bus from anywhere else heading to Badamdar. For #3, from the Metro station, walk up Sheykh Shamil street across from the station about two blocks to a bus stop. You can also catch it on Azerbaijan Prospect across from Fountain Square.
Once on the Badamdar Highway, you will pass a roundabout and shortly thereafter, you will see a Citimart Supermarket on the right hand side of the road. Get off here for the Uzbekistan embassy. From the supermarket, walk back a few meters toward the city and head down a side street to the right of this store.
Walk down that street for several minutes. You will probably wonder where the hell you are as you pass rows of walled estates hiding large mansions, but keep going. Eventually on your left you will see the Uzbekistan flag flying above a building (see top picture) and after a few more meters, you will come to the entrance to the embassy and the guard station.
To reach the Tajikistan embassy, head back out to the Badamdar Highway and walk down the highway away from the city. It is about a 15-20 minute walk or you can hop back on a bus going that way. The road seriously lacks sidewalks so be careful!.
Alternatively, if you do not need to visit the Uzbekistan embassy, simply take the bus as described above and get off when the bus turns right off Badamdar Highway (it will be right before you see a sign pointing to the AEF Hotel on the left side of the road).
Follow the sign and then take the very first left, following another sign to the AEF Hotel.
Then, you will take the first right (next to a car wash), which is Baglar Street. If you actually reach the AEF Hotel, you have gone too far.
Walk down the street until you see the Tajikistan flag flying on your left and a small guardhouse with a Police sign (if you visited the Uzbekistan embassy first, you’ll be glad to see Tajikistan is not nearly as far down the street!). The embassy is open for visa matters from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. They will likely ask you to deposit your cell phone, camera and any other electronics with the guard when you enter, so consider not bringing those with you.
In case you need to ask a local, here are the addresses for each embassy in English and Russian. Note that the word for “embassy” in Russian is pronounced “polsolstva.”
Бадамдар, ул. Баглар, 2 переулок, 20
Badamdar, Balgar Street, 2nd lane, #20
Phone: +994 12 502 14 32
Бадамдар, 1-е шоссе, 9-й переулок, д. 437
Badamdar, 1st freeway, 9th lane, #437
Phone: +994 12 497 25 49 or +994 12 497 25 52
Note that I did not see a single house number or any street signs aside from the one pictured above.