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Crossing the border to Turkey from Iran (Bazargan)

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After exactly 12 days and only 2 days before Ramadan will start, we planned to cross the border from Iran to Turkey at Bazargan. Although crossing the border at Sero might also have been an option, we didn't want to take the risk to get caught up in massive paperwork for our car so better play it safe and use a 'big' 24 hour border where they would hopefully be more experienced with cars crossing the border.

packing in Tabriz

We left the hotel at around 10:30 and it would be a 260 km ride to Bazargan. On our way to the border, we noticed long lines at gasoline stations. What's going on??? We only had about 100 km left so we needed to fill up ourselves. Thijs stopped at a gasoline station and inquired about the long lines. The people were very friendly and explained that there was a shortage and the gasoline was rationed. One of the guys he talked to recommended us to turn around, as they assumed that the gasoline station 5 km back would still be able to give us some benzine. It was a risk but we had no option. "If this doesn't work, we're stuck." said Thijs when he got back in the car. We were already nervous to cross the border today, we didn't need this extra excitement...

I guess we were lucky: we found the station 5 km back to Tabriz, were able to fill up the tank (and yes, it was rationed but probably because we do not get the Iranian subsidy (thus pay more), we were allowed to fill up completely.
We made a U-turn at a police checkpoint and were now back on route to the border. What a relief... Filling up our tank felt like emptying your bladder...

Mount Ararat in Turkey, view from Iran side

We arrived at the border at 14:15, both of us pretty nervous for the paperwork waiting for us. Fortunaltey, we didn't have to wait in line with trucks and lorries who are all waiting in a huge line starting from the bottom of the hill...

We parked our car at customs.
There were no signs, no explanation, completely unclear procedure what to do, how to get your stamps, where to go and how to proceed. Obviously, a nice Mr.Fix-it approached us, starting to pick at Thijs' paperwork and passports. Thijs made clear he would not hand out his valuable papers but we were willing to follow him into the maze of bureaucracy.
Step 1: get your exit stamp in your passport in the 'passengers departure hall'  (it took about 10 minutes per passport). There is an officer all the way in the back in a small 1 by 1 meter square office.
Step 2: go to the "passengers arriving hall" (next the departure hall), squeeze yourself, with your fixer, into the luggage check-hall and start getting the required stamps in one of the little offices.
I was not allowed in with the children (Onno was literally pushed out of the hall when he tried to enter), but peeked through the windows, like all the other people. It was madness inside. A complete chaos of people trying to get their luggage (people crossing the border with plastic bags) checked and getting the required stamps from an official who randomly decides who he will let pass and who he will block.
I have seen people being chased, slapped, pushed and yelled at. What an incredible disrespectful treatment some people had to endure...

I observed Thijs and Mr.Fix-it through the windows and saw by now he has surrendered himself: Mr. Fix-it was now walking around, holding all our important documents while Thijs followed his trail looking quite punished and apparently annoyed.
I saw them going into the same office 5 times and later Thijs would explain that the officer who needs to sign a certain paper kept sending him off somewhere else until he would give in and sign what he could have signed in the first place. This is a typical part of Iranian bureaucracy and local Iranian people have reported to us that a huge amount of corruption is usually involved. As foreigners we have never paid anything to get our paperwork done, and it is never suggested to us that we had to  (except the obvious fee for Mr.Fix-it).

When Thijs appeared back from the bureaucratic torture in the luggage check hall, he put up his thumb as a sign things are going into the right direction. So far, so good.
We now had all the paperwork cleared at the Iranian side. We went back to the car, parked with dozens of other cars while people were doing their paperwork and Thijs changed the number plates again.

We now had the Bahrain number plates back in our car, creating quite some interest from locals and police. "Bahrain?"
Mr.Fix-it went inside the office to return the transit number plates and just as Thijs was putting the second numberplate back on our car, he returned to us: "problem my friend, come with me."

I finished the numberplate (receiving lot's of strange looks). Meanwhile my nerves were making overtime. The knot in my stomach was getting bigger and bigger and I tried to read Thijs' face when he returned from the office 10 minutes later. "Dad is looking ok mom" said Noelle from the back of the car as we were all anxiously waiting for Thijs to return with good news.

The returned number plates raised some red flags with the Iranian authorities: someone in the office insanely suggested that as they came from Bandar Abbas, they should be returned there. He really, seriously expected us to drive back the 2.500 km to return Transit plates!!! "how do we get back from Bandar Abbas to Bazargan?" I thought. "With new transit license plates? That we have to return in Bandar Abbas again when we return to Bazargan??? That means we're stuck in an eternal loop?"
Mr.Fix-it apparently saw the madness of this random bureaucratic suggestion that was apparently suggested on the spot, wrapped the license plates in plastic, left them on the desk and left the office with Thijs.
Our passports were stamped, Thijs had our Carnet the Passage stamped, we had the exit-paper for our car, we passed the point of no return, now let's get the hell out of here before anyone changes his mind!!!
Thijs payed Mr.Fix-it 20 Euro's for his service.

The police showed us how to go to the border gate and here we were: almost out of Iran, gate closed on both sides.
After a 10 minute wait, the gate in front of us opened and so did the gate on the Turkish side. We parked the car on the Turkish side with 14 other cars and stared the paperwork on the Turkish side. Behind us, the gate to Iran was closed again.

The paperwork on the Turkish side seemed easier. We had to buy a visa for $20 each (payable in dollars so you really don't need to get ripped off before you enter the Iranian border to change money to Turkish Lira).
The visa-window attracts local people who offer to change money against 'desperate rate', but again, you can simply send them away as long as you have US Dollars with you.

A nice driver, who crossed the border frequently was asked by an officer to assist us through the Turkish paperwork and Thijs never got the change to thank him. He disappeared when the border opened and never requested any money.
I noticed that on the Turkish side, no officers where dressed in uniforms. It was unclear who was actually working at the border and Thijs felt reluctant, obviously, to hand over documents and passports.
The paperwork was straight forward and there were no issues or bureaucratic obstacles. It just needed to be processed but we both felt that this was do-able.

After almost an hour, the gate to Turkey opened and we continued. One more obstacle appeared in front of us: the luggage check. We were hold and we had to get all our luggage out of the car, into an x-ray machine, back in the car again. Thijs went back inside the office to arrange for insurance and both Onno and Noelle helped me to get our luggage through the machine. Again, all officers wearing pain clothes, no uniforms or name tags.
"Mom, one of the guys want to talk to you." Onno send me back to the machine.
The unofficially looking officers wanted to check the contents of one suitcase and as I opened it, I heard a big sigh: the suitcase was stuffed with our belongings and their curiousity disappeared as they looked at how much work it would be to start checking this. "close" one of them said, as they apparently didn't bother anymore...

I parked the car a few meters past the x-ray machine and Onno started to load the luggage again. He has helped his dad many times loading and unloading so he knew exactly in which order and at which spot every piece of luggage was supposed to be put.
Meanwhile, people on foot passed the border around us, all passing the x-ray machine continuing their journey.
While we were busy loading our car again, I heard voices raised, yelling and the officers slapped someone and threw him out of the office, throwing his belongings behind him.
I picked up the guys stuff and put it back in the plastic bag he was carrying. It was juice and chips and tea. The guy, who was thrown out of the office returned and looked distraught and scared and refused the plastic bag I offered him.
The officers in the office sat down again, being very satisfied about their loot and I looked at a pile of cigaretes on the floor. The guy was a cigarette smuggler and they apparently caught him. Instead of the official paperwork you would expect to document the smuggle ware, they beat him up, throw him out, and probably keep the cigarettes to themselves...

I peeked inside. Thijs has returned and arranged the insurance, Onno was almost done puzzling our belongings in our car.
"Khalaas?" I asked the officers.
Yes, we were done, we could continue, the Arabic word 'Khalaas' (Arabic for 'done') seems pretty international and it worked in Iran as well as in Turkey.

We made it! It only took us a total of 3 hours to cross the border! 

amazing view in  Eastern Turkey


  1. What an adventure! I'm nervous for you guys only by reading this story! Have a wonderful and a safe trip!


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