OVIR Obstacle Course

It has taken me most of the day, but I have managed to negotiate the obstacle course that is the OVIR registration process.

Travellers visiting Kazakhstan must register at an OVIR (immigration police) office within five days after entering the country. One the first pass through (eastern) Kazakhstan, the D’Rami Hotel in Almaty took care of the registration process for a fee of about $20 which, it turns out, was quite a bargain.

This time (in western Kazakhstan), the Ak Khaik Hotel didn’t want to assist with the registration, so I had to go through the process myself. I asked the hotel what I needed to take with me and was told I only needed my passport and the immigration form that I was given at the border. The OVIR office is about 1km away from the hotel, so I walked there and presented my passport and immigration form. The woman behind the counter didn’t speak English but a woman in the waiting area was able to translate for me. I was asked where I am staying and was told that I must have a document from the hotel confirming that I am staying there. There was also a n application form to be completed (but the form was in Russian). So, another 1km walk back to the hotel to get that sorted out.

I managed to get the hotel to provide a letter confirming that I was staying there (after a bit of a wait) and the receptionist also provided some assistance in translating the application form so that I could complete it. With both documents in hand, I walked back to the OVIR office. This time, a guy was behind the desk and asked for my ‘auto passport’ (vehicle registration document). I told him that it was at the hotel and he motioned that I needed to bring it to the office. I had no idea why it would be needed but when you can’t speak the language, you can’t make enquiries. The officer also pointed to his watch, motioned me to come back and then wrote down ’18.00’. I assumed he meant bring it back before 6.00pm. I asked for my passport but he told me that it stays at the office. Another walk back to the hotel.

I collected my folder with all of the vehicle documents and walked back to the OVIR office for a third time. The door was locked! Was it just lunch time, or did I misunderstand and the office was closed until 6.00pm? Another walk back to the hotel to try to establish the opening hours of the office. That’s 6km of walking, back and forth between the hotel and the office.

It seems that the office closes for a long lunch period and I was told that it should be open at 2.00pm. For the fourth visit, I drove there. I’d had enough of walking back and forth in the heat. When I approached the counter with my ‘auto passport’ the guy waved me away and shook his head. What now? Did he mean to come back after 6.00pm after all? I gave him a confused facial expression – not hard because I was confused! Then he picked up my passport and other documents from his desk and disappeared into another office. A few minutes later, he came back and handed me my passport with a stamp on the immigration form from the border. He didn’t need to see the vehicle documents after all – but at least I was now registered.

Paying a hotel $20 to take care of this mess would certainly be preferential to spending most of a day trying to do it yourself – if the hotel provides the service. If not, take all of you immigration and vehicle documentation with you as well as a letter from your hotel.

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