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How to get a visa for Afghanistan (by someone who has done it)

Most countries have issued travel warnings against visiting Afghanistan due to the ongoing war and the Taliban presence. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you again but if you choose to travel there, you go at your own risk.
The situation on the ground can change quickly and I encourage you to converse with your hosts, hotel, or locals on the ground who know best.

I would implore you to not travel to Afghanistan on a whim. Take the time to do the research and get prepared before you travel. If you can, go with someone who has been before – like I was lucky enough to be able to do – or connect with trusted locals. Not only will this help you discover the real Afghanistan, but you’ll also have an incredible time!

This guide was first created in November 2019.

Josh anxiously waiting in line. Watching his backpack which he was forced to leave on the other side of the road under a tree for security.

Where to apply for an Afghanistan visa

To be honest, you can apply for a visa to Afghanistan at any consulate or embassy. That said, due to the security concerns at this time, it’s incredibly difficult to get an Afghanistan visa in many countries.

Getting an Afghanistan visa in Pakistan:

Pakistan has several Afghan consulates across the country, but if you choose to apply for a visa for Afghanistan as a foreigner I’ve been told you must apply from the Embassy in Islamabad. This is the only office that has the power to issue visas for Afghanistan to foreigners.

Whether this is true, I am not sure. I have heard that the Consulate in Karachi do issue visas to so you can always give that a try.

As of November 2019, the Consulate in Peshawar is permanently closed.

Islamabad tends to be one of the most popular embassies to head to for a number of reasons. The proximity to Kabul, less than 473 km away, and Islamabad International Airport being just two.

The current Embassy of Afghanistan is located at House #90-A, Luqman Hakeem Road, G-6/3, Islamabad. This is on the corner of Ataturk Ave and Luqman Hakeem Road, and is about a block away from the ‘Geo News Islamabad Office’ near Jinnah Avenue.

You can’t miss it. There will be a line of people outside waiting to reach the container where your documents are taken and concrete barricades.

CHECK THE ADDRESS LISTED AS THE ‘EMBASSY OF AFGHANISTAN IN ISLAMABAD’ ON UBER OR GOOGLE MAPS BEFORE YOU GO.
The address listed – opposite FedEx – is wrong. It wasn’t until an Uber dropped me off in a residential street that I realised the first address was the wrong place.
Thankfully, after walking down the street a little, a local taxi driver knew where the Embassy was and took me to the correct location. It cost double the money, but thankfully taxis in Islamabad are relatively cheap!

From what I understand, a new embassy with visa processing facilities is currently being built with the intention to open sometime in 2020.

This is the current location of the Embassy (correct as of November 2019)

Other countries you could consider getting your visa to Afghanistan from:

My travel partner, Josh, also suggested obtaining our visa at the Afghan Embassy in Dubai. He had previously obtained his visa from there with very few issues. I’ve also been told it is possible to get an Afghan visa in Kuala Lumpur as well.

One thing to note: the rules for getting seem to be somewhat flexible and purely based upon how the Embassy or Consulate are feeling that day. That said, if they do deny you a visa due to safety reasons, understand it’s because their job is to protect visitors to their country; from my interaction with them they take this job incredible seriously.

Permits for the Wakhan Corridor:

I am yet to undertake the trek in the Wakhan Corridor, but I’ve been told you can obtain these in Ishkashim, Afghanistan. For more information, check out this great article.

What to bring with you when you apply for a visa

Bring the following when you apply for your Afghanistan visa:

  • Passport with at least 6 months validity
  • 1x Passport sized photo
  • 1x Photocopy of your passport
  • Crisp USD bank notes – They do not accept Pakistani Rupee or other foreign currency.
  • Accommodation address for Afghanistan
  • Patience

To ensure I was prepared, I also bought:

  • Phone number of my host in Kabul [since I wasn’t staying at a hotel]
  • Proof of flight into and out of Afghanistan

You may also be asked for:

  • Letter of Invitation (from a hotel, tour company, or person inside the country)
  • Letter of No Objection (NOC) – this is issued by your home embassy. Most embassies won’t issue NOC’s – particularly if you are travelling to Afghanistan! – so firmly tell them your embassy doesn’t provide a NOC.

If you have a printer, you might want to fill out the Afghanistan visa application form before you arrive. I found it simple to get one upon arrival.

Cost of a Visa to Afghanistan

As an Australian, it cost me USD$80 for my Afghanistan visa. This is the same price as most European citizens, from what I can deduce.

For UK citizens, it costs USD$130 and for US citizens a visa to Afghanistan will set you back USD$170.

If you require express service, this costs an extra USD$50.

How long does it take to get a visa?

The normal processing time for a tourist visa is five working days, and an express visa can be done on the same day.

From what I understand, you can for a visa from 09:00 to 12:00 on weekdays only.

If you are getting an express visa, make sure you drop your visa off before 10 am. While visa pick up time generally begins at 15:00, if you need it early, just come back after three or four-hours. Just keep bugging the staff at the window to check if yours is ready.

Visa length

From what I understand, usually tourists get issued with single visit 30-day visas. This is at either the Consul’s discretion or from the Vice Consul, if the latter has been granted authority to issue visas.

If you plan on staying in Afghanistan for a longer period of time, only the Consul can issue visas 90-days or longer. Talk to them and discuss your particular situation.

My Afghan visa process: My story

I should call this a tale of two stories as getting a visa for me was relatively simple. For my travelling partner it was not.

After getting a little lost, I arrived by taxi at the correct address shortly before 09:00am. Carrying only my small ‘handbag’ (a travel tote), I proceeded to stand at the back of the line in order to get the form to fill out. Almost immediately, the security guard beckoned me to follow him. Anxious I had done something wrong, I followed him as we walked closer to the container. A number of small windows had been cut into the side where people seeking visas were lodging papers and pleading their cases. Once the guy who was being served had finished his query, the security guard halted the next male in line and pointed me towards the window.

I could barley make out the figure behind the blackened windows. A young male. He asked me for my passport. He returned it a few seconds later with a form to fill in. I asked for a second form. My friend Josh who was also travelling with me to Afghanistan was coming soon. We had hoped for efficiency, I would be able to fill in his application as well. The guard passed me the second form but told me that he had to be present to submit the forms.

After filling in the forms against the low concrete barrier that marked the beginning of the road, I returned to the back of the line.

Again, after only a few seconds, I was beckoned to the front of the line.

Turns out there were perks to being the ‘weaker’ sex.

Handing over the paperwork I was asked the usual barrage of questions. Why do you want to go to Afghanistan? Who do you know in Afghanistan? What are you going to do in Afghanistan? Where are you staying? Have you been before? You do know how dangerous Kabul is, yes?

The most worrying part of the process was when he asked me why I had already booked a flight from Islamabad to Kabul. I told him that I had expected to have three-days to have the visa issue, but with religious holidays shutting the Embassy, it left me with little time. I was scheduled to fly out that afternoon.
What if you don’t get your visa?” was all he asked in an annoyed voice.
I had no response and he told me to wait.

I went back to the barrier, made prettier with potted plants and flowers planted inside it, to ponder the query. We didn’t have a plan B.

While most of the men sat on the floor or headed to the grassy growth on the other side of the street where there were shaded trees, I kept standing trying not to look impatient in the humid Pakistan weather.

When I spoke with people inside the Embassy, I was told that most of the people outside were skilled labours from around Pakistani hoping to get a work visa to head to Afghanistan for work.

The security kept offering me a seat in the ‘women and children’s section’ right next to the container and with a lone fan blowing air towards the covered, many wearing a burqua, women. I politely declined but after an hour of being stared at by men, in a curious way not a leering way, I chose to sit for a few minutes.

Eventually Josh came and he joined the line to submit his paperwork. No special treatment for him, a male.

If you have a large bag or backpack, security will wave you away and you will not be able to approach the container. There’s a tree on the other side of the street where people can leave backpacks and luggage. Clearly Josh was nervous about leaving his bag there and asked me to keep an eye on it while he was in line.

My name was eventually called and I rushed to the window. Instead, I was told to follow a security guard who admitted me into a door. After going through a metal detector, handing my phone over (and given a number in its place) and having my bag searched, I was shown to another door.

A lone women was inside and smiled at me. “Salam” was all she said before the little too thorough pat down began and then I was ushered back outside.

I followed a staff member who held my paperwork and passport in his hand. I didn’t take in much of the embassy – it was fairly non-descript – but was left to sit in a small lounge room with windows instead of walls and a sunlight, perhaps once intended to be an indoor garden.
Another person – a male – was bought in, putting his items onto the wooden table in the middle of the four comfortably worn couches. I barely took in his glasses and dark hair before my name was called and I was beckoned into an office.

Relaxed behind a wooden desk was the Consul. He smiled and welcomed me, saying a few words to the staff member who bought me in, he left.

Gesturing for me to sit, I sat on one of the arm chairs, pulling my hijab – actually just a cheap scarf I bought the day before – a little tighter. This was the man who would determine the fate of my visa; I wanted to make a good impression.

He was charming. He was well spoken (his only slightly broken English was due to studying in America for several years). Leaning back in his chair, cross-legged, I could see he was wearing the long white shirt – “my Afghan clothing!” he said, surprised I had noticed – that you’ll often find men wearing in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

We talked about all sorts of things, not just the usual visa questions.

Afghanistan is a very dangerous place, you know,” he said.

I noticed he asked a few of the questions twice, trying to catch me in a lie. My story was simple and the truth. He seemed amused by me.

I am going to issue you a visa today,” he said, “you seem like a very smart woman with a good head. But please be careful.

I assured him I would.

Tea and biscuits had appeared during our conversation which I gratefully drunk as I awaited for the paperwork to be completed. The heavy ‘thunk’ of his stamp being placed on my freshly minted visa.

I was going to Afghanistan!

There are many things you need to know in this life.
One of them is not my passport number. Sorry for the ugly edit.

Before I left, he gave me his business card telling me to contact him should I have any issues. I assured him I would.

As I left the Consul’s room I saw Josh sitting in the open atrium. I retreated outside barely able to contain the excitement and relief of the past few uncertain days.

It only took 30-minutes for Josh to come out. His brow was furrowed. I was certain he was playing a prank on me. As I teased him, I tried to convince him to show me his visa.

Turns out, he hadn’t received a visa.

Josh trying to act cool.

As we hopped in an Uber to take us back to our Islamabad airbnb, he explained what happened.

Josh hadn’t been issued a visa because he required a Letter of No Objection (NOC) from the German Embassy. He was also told to move or cancel his flight because there was no way he was going to Kabul today.
The Embassy had held onto his passport and come back the next day to find out what was decided. Josh’s interviewer by even went as far to say that the one who could issue visas wasn’t at the embassy!

Thankfully, the Consul had given me his business card with his WhatsApp number on it. I quickly send off a few messages asking exactly what Josh had to do. It was all true, that Josh had been before, organised our accommodation, and was essentially my ‘fixer’. I needed him to travel with me today.

It took a bit of talking and convincing, but eventually the Consul told me to send him back to the Embassy. He was willing to meet with Josh and discuss his visa options.

Josh must have said something right. The next time he left the Embassy he had the full-page Afghanistan visa in his passport as well, and we were rushing to the airport to make our flight to Kabul!

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