Note: My visit to Ukraine was in August 2017, just shortly after the Visa on Arrival was introduced for Indians. So, understandably, it was a little chaotic and disorganised. As of writing, I can see that the information on the website is much better reflected now, and the chaos should be relieved too. In other words, this is NOT A RANT. Just describing my experience.
“Don’t visit countries that are at war!”, said conventional wisdom. Well, when have I ever listed to it?
I have wanted to visit Ukraine from the time that I did a few months of travel around Eastern Europe in 2015. I could have crossed the land border to Ukraine from Poland, Slovakia, Hungary or Romania. But one thing stopped me from going.
Getting a visa for Ukraine. It wasn’t so difficult if I was flying directly to Ukraine from India or Singapore (my former home). But it was difficult to get a visa when travelling.
So years passed, and I had forgotten about Ukraine. Until I read this news article in March 2017.
The Ukraine Visa on Arrival – Finally, for Indians!
So, Ukraine was finally announcing a visa-on-arrival for Indian tourists. But the news article had multiple information. One was about the VOA facility, about which the details were scarce. The other was about the Ukraine embassies easies the visa processing for Indians. I wanted to know specifically about the VOA facility and there was not much information about it online.
A few hours of google searching led me to the MFA website of Ukraine, from where I learnt that there was indeed a visa-on-arrival facility in Kyiv and Odessa airports for Indians. This was in April or May of 2017, and the MFA website had very little information about how exactly this VOA worked (as of now, the webpage looks detailed with all the info). So, I googled up the Ukraine embassy in Singapore (back then, I was living in Singapore), and shot them an email.
And I got a quick and courteous reply almost immediately. Oksana (If I remember correctly) from the Ukrainian embassy replied that I did indeed have the option of a 15-day tourist visa-on-arrival. I just needed the following items:
- A filled-up Visa application form, which could be downloaded from the MFA website.
- Valid travel insurance
- Documents showing travel plans, like flight tickets, hotel reservations etc.
- Sufficient cash required for the period of stay.
I assumed that 1000 USD for a 2-week trip would be sufficient, and I had all the other required documents intact.
And so, there I was, on a Turkish Airlines flight from Singapore to Kyiv, via Istanbul, in the month of August 2017. All set to test out the Visa-on-arrival policy of Ukraine.
To read: If you are an Indian traveller with Visa hassles, check out my list of top 10 countries where Indians don’t require an advance visa.
Kyiv Boryspil Airport – the visa-on-arrival process
After 2 flights and a 3 hour transit in Istanbul – not the first time, and wont be the last – I landed in Kyiv’s Boryspil airport. Rows of Ukrainian Airlines flights lined up the Tarmac, with a few exceptions like Turkish airlines. Luckily for me, the airport was quite empty at 9 am in the morning. It would not take a long time for me to exit the airport and head to the city.
Or so, I thought.
There was a board that mentioned ‘Visa on Arrival’. I headed there to find a couple of chairs, 3 laptops, and no official in sight. And plenty of other tourists – mainly from China – waiting for any official. The only thing that unnerved me a little was that there was no Indians in sight. So, I was the only one on this flight. Was there anything else to be done at the VOA counter for an Indian? I guess I had to wait to find out.
Oh boy, the waiting was no easy task. It was 9.15 AM in the morning. If someone had told me that it would take 45 minutes for an official to show up, I would have definitely found a seat to sit down. I didn’t. I tried asking a few officials to confirm if I was waiting at the correct counter. The Ukrainian officials were nice, but their English wasn’t. So every time I asked them a question, they simply pointed their finger back at the VOA counter. The only good thing was that there was a smoking lounge right next to the VOA counter, and I ended up using about twice in those 45 minutes.
Finally a Ukrainian official came out and collected our application papers. And then advised us that we had to fill in some information – which was already available in the visa application form – into an online form. I was a little miffed, but I think I understood the rationale. It was much easier for me to put my information into an online form, than for the official to input it himself.
Update: As of writing, it is possible to enter directly into the webform even before you fly, by visiting this page.
The problem was in front of me. Apart from the many Chinese tourists, there were also some tourists from the Middle East. They spoke almost no English and the web-form was only in English. They struggled to input any information into the form: even their own name. So, I decided to help them and asked them for their passport, so that I can enter the info myself.
Have you ever seen a Saudi Arabian passport? Well, it contains information in a mix of English and Arabic! Even I struggled to get information out of this dude’s passport. Using a mix of sign-language, guessing, and sometimes, sheer bluffing, (In his form, I made him stay at a hotel called “Hotel Ukraina”!) I finally completed the form for him. It had taken 20 minutes.
And there were 3 more in line from the same country, before I could get my turn.
Almost there. Ready for Kyiv
By 11, nearly 2 hours after I had landed, I was finally done with the web-form. Next to me, a Singaporean guy was cribbing away. He had decided to stay one day in Kyiv before proceeding to Minsk, just to check out the local nightlife. And he was soon regretting that decision, given the delay in the whole process.
The friendly Ukrainian official came back, checked the webforms, and then told me about the VOA fee. It was USD 100 or EUR 100. The conversion made no sense to me. I had both US Dollars and Euros, but it was definitely better for me to pay in dollar. So, I paid 100 dollars, while shooting an empathetic look at the Singaporean guy. Not only had he lost nearly half of his stay in Kyiv, but he also had to pay a 100 bucks for it. Not so shiok!
And then, we had to wait again. By this point, the airport was empty as all the other passengers had left, leaving only the VOA passenger behind. I visited the smoking lounge twice again. Ukraine may as well make me a serious smoker!
And around 12 noon, a full 3 hours after I had landed in Kyiv, the friendly official came out and gave us our passport. Inside, on one of the pages, was a new, clean single-entry visa stamp, allowing me to stay in Ukraine for 15 days. And I was finally on my way to the baggage claims!!
Note: Too bad that the Visa on arrival is only available at airports (Kyiv, Odessa) and is single-entry. Otherwise, I could have clubbed this trip with a side visit to Transnistria, the breakaway province of Moldova. Well, that would be another time, but I did make the most of my 2 weeks in Ukraine. More about that soon.
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