30 MAY 2011
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Kazakhstan is a country far away from the United Kingdom, deep into Asia, that is having a ‘love in’ with the West. It has been independent from Soviet Russia since 1991.
Under President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan has made significant progress toward developing a market economy. The country has enjoyed significant economic growth since 2000, partly due to its large oil, gas and mineral reserves.
Kazakhstan is nothing like the country portrayed by Sacha Baron Cohen in the film Borat. The actual location was Romania and the Kazakhstan view was that as a caricature it was good publicity for the country.
The problem with Kazakhstan is not the people, or the national airline Air Astana, which flies into Heathrow twice a week from Almaty and offers a service as good as, if not better than, British Airways. The problem is the effort involved with raising the paperwork to actually get into the country.
If a nation wants to attract leisure tourists and business people it has to be flexible in the way it handles its borders. No country wants people looking for troubles or those who will be a drain on the economy. The USA has ESTA which works well; for Australia it is all done via a computer, and the UAE makes life very simple when you arrive in the Gulf. The Chinese are well organised in London. At Tel Aviv ask that your passport is not stamped and Israel will issue you with a piece of disposable paper. That might save embarrassment at some Middle East gateways. Typically Turkey has recently gone out of its way to make entry simple from many African countries.
If you want to go to Kazakhstan you need to personally visit the Embassy in London’s South Kensington during the passport offices limited opening hours and pay a minimum £35. You will require an invitation from the other end. A hotel will do. Once at the Embassy the office, deep down in a basement, is perpetually busy, and friendly, but be prepared to queue. There are no seats and the room is dreary. However they will process your passport in three days but what an effort, particularly if you live outside London. You, as an individual, have to attend no matter who you are.
Now here is the catch. Nowhere in the paperwork does it say they will mail the completed passport back. The suggestion is that you must collect it. Not true. Hand the clerk a stamped addressed recorded delivery envelope and it will be put in the post, saving another trip to Kensington.
If you have read to this point, you will probably say “Is it worthwhile planning to visit Kazakhstan?”
The answer is yes.
Turn up at Heathrow for Air Astana (or bmi who also fly the route) without a visa and you will be allowed on the aircraft.
When arriving at Almaty just go to the special visa desk and in less than five minutes all will be done.
Mr Nazarbayev sort out your border control officials. The Brits (and others too) will enjoy Kazakhstan. Providing the welcome within the country extends to your passport people!
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