Thursday, 22 December 2011

How to obtain a visa for Abkhazia when in Georgia

Abkhazia is a breakaway region of Georgia. Internationally (with the exception of Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Transdnestria, South Ossetia, Nauru, Vanuatu and Tuvalu)  it is still recognised as part of Georgia, although it uses Russian Roubles as currency and relies heavily on the Russian military for security. Despite its close association with Russia, Abkhazia is desperately trying to assert itself as an independent country. This poses several administrative problems for people, like us, wanting to visit, especially travelling from Georgia and back. How do you cross a border, which the Georgians do not consider to be a border but the Abkhaz do? Luckily the Abkhaz Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a very good website in Russian, Turkish, English and Spanish. And it turned out to be much more straight forward than we anticipated, just a couple of administrative hoops to jump through. The following describes how we did it.

1. Fill out a online form here Allow 5 days for a reply.
Top tip: When stating on the form the towns to be visited remember to spell Sukhum without the i, as this is the Abkhaz spelling, whilst Sukhumi is the Georgian spelling. Luckily this faux pas on our application didn't prevent us getting the paperwork.

2. Print out the letter of invitation received by email (we received ours within 24 hours although the website says to allow 5 days).

3. Take said letter to the border or administrative boundary line if being politically correct.

4. Visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sukhumi with the letter and pick up and pay for a visa (the visa has to be paid for first, in Roubles, in a bank a good walk away from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
Top tip: You cannot leave Abkhazia without a visa so it is best to get it at the start of any trip, therefore if you need to leave urgently you can. Also, the cost of a visa for 30 days or less was stated on the website to be $20 but when we explained that we only planned to stay for a few days they dropped the price to $10.

5. The visa is not stuck in your passport and when returning to Georgia, on the border, the Abkhazia take it back.

Please note that this advice is for travelling to Abkhazia from Georgia and returning to Georgia. I should imagine the process is also quite simple travelling from and returning to Russia. I would, however, be very cautious of going from Georgia to Abkhazia to Russia or vice versa. This is because Georgia still considers Abkhazia part of Georgia, you do not get an exit stamp when entering Abkhazia from Georgia, therefore have not officially left Georgia. Conversely you would not get a Georgian entry stamp when entering Abkhazia from Russia, so if trying to travel onto Georgia, the Georgians could treat you as if you had illegally entered Georgia.

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