Turkmenistan — Visas and Vaccinations
Almost all nationalities require a visa to enter Turkmenistan. Usually, a letter of invitation is required in order to gain a visa, which must then be approved by the Turkmenistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The letter of invitation must be granted by an official sponsor; you can seek this letter from a tour company, although you should allow for at least 14 days in which to receive it before applying for a visa. You must then apply for a visa from the Turkmenistan embassy or consulate in your home country, a process which can take up to a week. If your country does not have a Turkmenistan embassy or consulate, a visa can be acquired at the airport on arrival, provided permission has been granted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and you have evidence of this. The visa on arrival is only valid for 10 days and a fee is charged. If applying at a Turkmenistan embassy or consulate, you can opt for a 10, 20, 30, or 90-day single-entry visa, or a 30, 90, 180, or 365-day multiple-entry visa. Each visa has an associated fee dependent on the duration of stay. In order to apply for the visa, you must also have at least six months’ validity on your passport.
On arrival in Turkmenistan you are required to obtain a migration card at a fee. In particular, you must take care of the departure card you are provided with, as you will need to present it to the authorities when exiting the country. If you then intend to stay in the country for longer than three days, you must register with the immigration department. You will need to present all valid documents along with two recent passport-sized photos. Furthermore, you are required to contact the immigration department to request and receive permission in order to leave Turkmenistan. Notice of permission to leave the country will be stamped in your passport and you will need to present this stamp to border control officials, alongside your registration documents, departure card, and visa, in order to exit the country.
Health and Safety
Compared to North American and European standards, healthcare in Turkmenistan is poor. Only basic and limited medical facilities are available. Take any medication you may require with you. In every case, you should ensure that you travel with adequate health insurance since you may require evacuation to have a serious medical problem treated.
Under no circumstances should you drink water directly from the faucet since it contains traces of toxic metals due to heavy industry in Turkmenistan, which is known to pollute the waterways. You are best sticking to bottled mineral water for the duration of your stay.
Homosexual activity is illegal in Turkmenistan and punishable by a jail sentence of up to two years. Photography of many official buildings is illegal in Turkmenistan, so you should always ask an official or your tour guide if photography is allowed before taking a photo to avoid unnecessarily being arrested.
Even though Turkmenistan is not particularly used to receiving tourists, it is a friendly and welcoming country to visitors. The main thing to avoid is criticizing the president. Turkmenistan was ruled by a benevolent, father-like dictator for 15 years, fondly known as his self-entitled label of Turkmenbashi. He is still revered today, and even after his death the country remains a closely controlled police state. It is best to avoid talking about politics, even if the conversation is initiated by a local.
Police corruption remains a big problem in Turkmenistan. Police have the right to stop you and ask for identification documents at any time, so you must carry at least a copy of your passport with you at all times. It is possible the police may seek a bribe, as this is common. Ensure you do not sign anything offered to you by police that is presented in a language you do not understand. The best approach is to remain extremely polite but firm.