If you’re an American citizen, you can stay in Mongolia up to 90 days without a visa. Awesome, right? Absolutely. There is, however, a little sneaky addendum to that. If you’re staying longer than 30 days, you have to register with the Mongolian Immigration office. It’s free for U.S. citizens, but it’s still a pain in the neck. That said, here’s how to go about registering in Mongolia (for American citizens).
When I first went to get registered, I didn’t have enough space in my passport to accommodate the necessary visa stamps. After going through all the paperwork and lines, I was told by the immigration officer, “Sorry, you can only stay in Mongolia 30 days.” There was no freakin’ way I was going to cut my trip short on account of a stupid stamp, so I made an appointment at the U.S. embassy to get some visa pages added to my passport. I got lucky and was able to get the pages added in time since Americans only have 7 days from when they arrive to get the registration stamp.
Before you leave, make sure you have your passport, an extra passport photo, a copy of your passport (to speed things up a bit), and a little bit of money for bus fare and the application form.
From the city center, get on bus 11 going towards the airport (south). A good place to catch it is across the road from Monnis Tower. Pay the fare collector 400 tugrik and endure the bumpy and crowded ride out of the city. Once you leave the city and the industrial area behind, you want to keep an eye out for a big white arch that goes across the road. Just after the arch is your bus stop.
Another good landmark is the UFO that crash-landed in Mongolia a few years back. That will be on your left…
Walk along the road a little way in the same direction you were going until you come to a gas station. Turn left down that road and walk some more. The first big building you see on your left will have nice big lettering that sayyyys….
…Mongolia Immigration!!! Congrats, you found it. Once inside, give a smile and a nod to the security guard and turn right. Head straight to counter 1, where you pick up a registration form. Be sure you get the registration form and not the visa application form. This and a copy of your passport (if you need it) should only set you back 2000 tugrik or so.
Fill out the form and also take a few minutes to write a short letter on the back of the passport copy stating how long you will be staying in the country and for what purpose (always put tourism). Once you’re finished, take a number from the machine right by where you walked into the room. Grab a seat and watch the numbers at the counters on the back wall to see when your number comes up. All that you do after that is hand the completed form, passport copy/letter, passport photo, and passport to the nice person behind the counter and stand there awkwardly while they hmm, haw, and give you your stamp.
I was really happy to get this whole thing behind me. For a few days, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to stay in Mongolia for as long as I’d hoped. Luckily it all worked out, and I left with a smile on my face and a skip in my stride. As I was walking back to the bus station, I had a unique little encounter to further brighten my day.
Across the road, there was a local herder watching his herd of goats. As I walked up, he swung himself onto his horse then gestured and hollered for me to come over. Not really sure what he wanted, I figured I’d walk over and say hi. Turns out, there was a bag on the ground that he needed help grabbing. I grabbed it and passed it up, only to have him beckon me closer and invite me to look inside.
Nestled in the bag and blinking up at me was a baby goat. Through sign language and fragments of Mongolian and English, I learned one of his goats had just given birth. Despite the communication wall between us, there was nothing confusing about the bright smile that split his weathered face or the enthusiasm that was in his voice.
Moments like that are the essence of why I love to travel. The fact that a Mongolian goat herder and an American wanderer can take a moment, smile together, and appreciate the magic of a new life is a testament to the fact that all of us are human and we’re all in this crazy world together.