We give you a start-line and a finish-line, but we’re not going to tell you where to go in between. That’s entirely up to you. There is no set route for the Mongol Rally, there is simply the ‘un-route’.
Over a decade of the Mongol Rally the terms ‘northern-route’, ‘central-route’ and ‘southern-route’ have been coined to describe ‘un-routes’ that a good 80% of Mongol Rally teams have taken, but you don’t have to do the same as everyone else. Previous teams have visited the Arctic Circle and Pakistan and Morocco en-route. Stuck for ideas? Bored at work? Check out our old school Mongol Rally route planner: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zoPOP_GVJ3TI.k3dDzQfNozmU
There are a few important variables you'll want to consider when choosing your un-route, but remember not to spend too long planning the details, it's not conducive to proper adventure and will probably just be waisted time anyway.
Time is naturally the first variable in the route planning process. If for example, under threat of loosing your job, you only have four weeks to complete the Rally then you probably shouldn't be driving via Pakistan. Be slightly realistic here - there's no point in adventuring across half the world if your memories consist of tail lights and petrol stations. You’d be better off covering a shorter route or pre-empting the inevitable sacking and quitting anyway. As a rough guide the northern route usually takes 3-4 weeks, the central takes 4-5 weeks and southern route takes 5-7 weeks.
Visa's and border crossing payments can add up very quickly and on some routes can become the largest chunk of your spending. So if your budget is tight you'll have to carefully balance your hit list of countries against the risk of going destitute.
While undoubtedly it's impressive to your mates that you've been to more countries than they'll have heard of, transiting a country in a few hours (as some of them will have to be) seems to us to rather defeat the point of looking for adventure along the way. For every desert or mountain range you're team is eyeing up there's an equally stunning cheaper alternative.
As a rough guide visa's and border payments per person will roughly add up to £200-£300 on the Northern route, £600-£1,000 on the Central route and £1,200-£1,500 on the Southern route.
It pays to plan a little but it pays even more to stay flexible. If all goes well then something will go wrong. When it does you'll be able to appreciate the chaos a bit more by refraining from being a control freak. Work some contingency dates and cash into your route plan, and try to remain unsurprised when it turns out not to be enough and you have to botch together an alternative plan involving a camel herder, 200 toothpicks and and an inflatable globe.
Once that's all been partially decided you'll want to get some visa's. The technical details will vary from country to country differ between the nationality of the applicant, however there are a few countries that stand out for being bureaucratic party poopers for more or less all teams heading through them.
The Visa Machine
Luckily The Visa Machine have created this rather handy visa information tool. They've been crossing the t's and dotting the i's on rally team visa applications for nearly a decade now. Here they've provided us with a bit of advice on the main culprits, and links to some further advice on other visa's.
If you like what you see and want them to help you with your paperwork head here: http://mongolrally.thevisamachine.com/ or drop them and email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
With the Mongol Rally finishing in Ulan-Ude, Russia rather than Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, many teams will need to have a double entry visa to complete their trip.
As a tourist, most nationalities can get a maximum of two entries to Russia within one 30-day period per visa. Russia will also only permit one active visa per passport at any one time (so you can't enter three times by using a double-entry Russian visa AND a single entry Russian visa in your passport). Russia will also only issue visas from your country of domicile. These factors combined render any plans to visit Russia three times en-route impossible on standard tourist visas.
All applications will need to be supported by a letter-of-invitation. UK applicant's need to apply in-person at the embassy and submit their biometric data at the time (fingerprints and facial image). AU & NZ applicants have it somewhat easier as they won't be required to submit in person.
Full Visa Machine Russia details here: http://mongolrally.thevisamachine.com/countries/ru/visas
As lovely as a traditional Azerbaijan sticker Visa looks in your passport teams can now apply for the rather less aesthetic but more convenient and cheaper E-visa. You'll need to allow at least 6 weeks to get the E-Visa as summer is peak season, but your passport won't actually need to leave your hands during the process.
If you’re reading this within weeks of departure, fear not. The ‘Full Visa’ might still be obtainable but The Visa Machine would physically need your passport.
Full Visa Machine Azerbaijan details here: http://mongolrally.thevisamachine.com/countries/az/visas
It probably hasn't escaped your attention that Iran does not enjoy harmonious diplomatic relations with most of the Western world at the current time. If you're travelling through Iran you need to be aware that the visa regulations for this country change frequently.
Before you think about an Iranian Visa you’ll need to get your hands on an "Authorisation Code" - this is issued by the Iranian Ministry of Immigration in Tehran and takes up-to 6 weeks to process - just to keep things simple this does not guarantee that you'll be granted a visa, it simply gives you the ability to apply for one.
Iran does not demand that you make your visa applications from your country of domicile, but most Iranian embassies do require you to make your application in person in order for them to collect biometric data from you. You'll also need to think about a carnet for your car (check the 'Your Vehicle' section).
Full Visa Machine Iran details here: http://mongolrally.thevisamachine.com/countries/ir/visas
Turkmenistan is a particularly fascinating country (whether it is for the world’s largest indoor ferris wheel, rotating statues of Turkmenibashi, or the ‘door to hell’), and almost certainly a necessity for any team doing the ‘southern route’. It is however, another complicated country to drive through, usually requiring a guide and a strict itinerary that is pre-approved by the Turkmen Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
To avoid this Mongol Ralliers can be issued a very particular Letter of Invitation only obtainable via The Visa Machine. It’s a little complicated but in short the Turkmen consul in London has been very understanding and rather than forcing teams to get a transit visa in advance of travel they have allowed The Visa Machine can apply for a transit letter of invitation (LOI) which allows teams to get a transit Visa on arrival. The Visa Machine applies for this 3 months before the rally starts with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ashgabat and can acquire it for any applicant, regardless of their nationality or residence.
Full Visa Machine Turkmenistan details here: http://mongolrally.thevisamachine.com/countries/tm/visas
Mongolia only shares two borders with its neighbours - Russia and China. Over a dozen Mongol Rally editions and thousands of teams only a few teams have ever entered Mongolia from China.
There is very good reason for this. To drive in China requires at least a temporary Chinese driving licence, an official guide, mountains of paperwork and literally thousands of dollars to ease the wheels of bureaucracy.
If you wanted to do this we recommend speaking to Team PMZ from 2013.
The Caspian Sea Ferry
In a rusty little dockyard tucked behind a unassuming warehouse deep inside Baku sits an unmarked portacabin in which an angry 7ft shipping official resides. With a little bit of shouting, some palm grease and a lot of waiting around it's possible to acquire a ticket from this man which enable you and your vehicle to cross the Caspian sea on a corroded soviet era cargo ship.
If Iran isn’t a possibility but you don't want to go north then taking this crossing to Turkmenibashi in Turkmenistan or Aktau in Kazakhsthan might be for you. Despite the eye-popping $650 fee recent teams have been paying to board the boat, and the Kafkaesque bureaucratic maze that is the Turkmeni customs office on the far side of the water, some of the greatest Mongol Rally tales year-on-year seem to come from these ferries.
Here is a letter which some Scottish teams have been requesting for Russian Visa's