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Visas in Mongolia: Tough Times on the Steppe

Visas – those little bits of paper in our passports that allow us to enter and leave the country.  If you happened to be lucky enough to be born in the US, Europe, Australia or other countries considered the “West” then you can probably travel fairly freely without the worry of getting a visa.  Of course when it comes to employment we all need visas in order to live and work in a foreign country.

While it would seem to make sense that Mongolia would make it relatively easy for people to apply for and be approved for visas, this is not necessarily always the case.  Mongolia, especially during the summer season, actively seeks to increase the number of tourists that visit the country each year.  In a country that has a viable tourist season of only three to four months, one would think applying for a tourist visa would be made as easy as possible.  Read the rest of this entry »

Translation in Mongolia: More Art than Science

Mongolian and English are hardly two of the most compatible languages.  Vastly different in their origins and structure, translation from one to the other can be a difficult prospect.  Mongolian is a Turkic-Altaic language that generally uses a subject-object-verb structure, which takes some time for Westerners learning Mongolian to get their heads around.  Translating from one language into the other takes a certain amount of care and finesse.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Ins & Outs of to Visas to Mongolia

Visas are the bane of travelers everywhere, except possibly diplomats, especially if you are a business traveler. W hen you are traveling you may spend as much time queuing for a visa as actually enjoying your trip.  Visas to visit, live, or work in Mongolia are somewhat readily available but advanced planning is definitely necessary.

The visa and immigration system of Mongolia is covered by the Law of Mongolia on the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens. This law covers everything from diplomatic immunity to the deportation of foreign citizens and everything in between. The English language translation of the law is a short 9 ½ pages, so needless to say the Mongolian Immigration system is quite basic at the moment, which is actually nice in many ways.

When applying for a visa to Mongolia the simplicity of the system will keep you from going crazy trying to figure out the Immigration Office’s rules and regulations. On the other hand when a situation arises that is outside of the scope of the Immigration Law, things get a little bit stickier, although the simplicity does make my job of dispensing visa advice that much easier.

Most visitors will really only have the need for four visa types – a J (tourist), B (business), HG (work) or T (Investor’s) visa.  In the following, text, we will cover these visas as well as some common Mongolian visa issues. Read the rest of this entry »

Things in Mongolia to Avoid Like the Plague

Well, the Actual Plague, For One

As the title implies, you will probably want to actually avoid the plague in Mongolia. While Mongolia has definitely not reached this level…

…the fact of the matter is that the plague is present in the country.  Read the rest of this entry »

Oyu Tolgoi Investment Agreement Signing Cermony

The Oyu Tolgoi Investment Agreement was officially signed on the auspicious day of October 6, 2009.  The ceremony was broadcast live throughout Mongolia on Mongolian television and can be seen here:

The stars finally aligned on October 6, 2009 as senior members of the Mongolian Government hosted senior officials from Ivanhoe Mines Mongolia Inc and Rio Tinto International Holdings. October 6 was chosen as the signing day because according to Buddhist lams it is an auspicious day on the Buddhist calendar.

The Oyu Tolgoi site (Turquoise Hill in English) is predicted to be one of the largest reserves of gold and copper in the world, with an estimated mine life of 40 years.  It is also the largest development project and foreign investment in the history of the country.

On a related note, it has been reported that one of the signers of the investment agreement, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister D. Zorigt, yesterday won the by-election for the Parliament seat left vacated by the current Mongolian President Ts. Elbegdorj, who was elected in June of this year.

Oyu Tolgoi Investment Agreement Finally Signed

After continued negotiations for the better part of the decade the Oyu Tolgoi Investment Agreement has finally been signed by the Government of Mongolia, Rio Tinto and Ivanhoe Mines Mongolia.

There have been numerous false starts to finalizing the OT agreement this summer. It was rumored that it would be signed before the Naadam national holiday held each summer on July 11-13. An Extraordinary Session of Parliament was held in late August which modified or repealed several laws that paved the way for the signing of the Agreement followed by report that it would be signed by the end of September. Well, September came and went with no movement.

The stars finally aligned, literally and figuratively, yesterday, October 6, 2009 as senior members of the Mongolian Government hosted senior officials from Ivanhoe Mines Mongolia Inc and Rio Tinto International Holdings. October 6 was chosen as the signing day because according to Buddhist lams it is an auspicious day on the Buddhist calendar.

One can only guess what conditions would currently be in Mongolia if the agreement had been signed five years ago and Mongolia had been able to take advantage of the commodity boom.  Hopefully the long wait will be worth it with great changes to both the country and the people of Mongolia hopefully being realized.

I am personally very excited to see what this means for Mongolia’s business community.  With an estimated $30 billion to be generated in tax revenues over 50 years Mongolia is in an enviable position to be financially able to drastically improve the lives of the Mongolian people.  To that effect, Mongolia is setting up a sovereign wealth fund that will be run by professional managers, according to Bloomberg.  The aim of the fund is to disburse a part of the profits from mine sites to everyone in Mongolia, either through cash or non-cash means.

Expats in Mongolia: You’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Following up on my previous two-part blog on difficulties and challenges of doing business in Mongolia, this blog will focus on why some expats may experience difficulties because of the way they think things should be done in Mongolia but aren’t.

That’s Not How We Do It

A major difficulty I see foreigners dealing with here, especially as managers of companies, is their wanting to run their companies according the legal system they are familiar with.  While we are all guilty of saying “Well, in the US we do this” or “In the UK we do that” unfortunately this just does not translate well to doing business in Mongolia.  The legal system in Mongolia is undeniably a product of the Soviet system, and while Mongolian lawmakers have pretty much rewritten most laws since the transition nearly 20 years ago, the major influence on many of the politicians remains the Soviet Union.  So while it is easy to fall into the mindset of “that’s not how we do it in…” you will only end up driving yourself mad thinking that way.

Laws in Mongolia can be extremely different from what we are used to.  For example, the Labor Law in Mongolia is extremely employee friendly.  The employer cannot really dictate anything to the employee as everything must be mutually agreed upon.  There is also no at-will termination, and based on Supreme Court interpretations of the law it actually leans towards lifetime employment.  That can be difficult for many foreign HR people to get their heads around.

Read the rest of this entry »

Doing Business in Mongolia: Potential Business Challenges, Part Two

Following up on Part 1 of some challenges to be prepared for when working or doing business in Mongolia, here is Part 2. This list really focuses on more practical things that many people who have worked in foreign countries may have already experienced, such as occasional electricity or internet outages or translation issues.

Electricity and Internet Outages

As I have already mentioned above, Mongolia, like many developing countries, has at times issues with electricity. This is due, in no small part, to the construction boom that has been going on for the past several years, but which came to an abrupt halt almost exactly a year ago. Mongolia is a very centralized country, with virtually everything coming through UB before being sent out into the aimags, and electricity is no exception. Of course is doesn’t help matters when all of the power plants are also located in the capital city.

Because of the huge surge in demand for electricity, mostly from new apartment and office buildings throughout the city, electricity outages are prone to happen. That said, more often than not they are caused by construction crews not really knowing what they are doing and cutting through the line. Power outages are occasional, but when they do happen they can last for a half a day or longer. My advice…have some good old fashion non-computer work on hand, or a laptop with a long battery.

Internet outages similarly occur.  Internet outages seem to occur more often but usually last for shorter periods, usually ranging from ten to 30 minutes. Internet service interruptions are sometimes caused by problems with lines from China or Russia but are usually a result of someone cutting through the line. If the intertubes are an absolute necessity for you Mongolia’s internet service providers are offering better and faster service every day and USB modems are available from several ISPs. Read the rest of this entry »