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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.

Tourist visa – J

Let’s start with the run-of-the-mill tourist visa. It pretty much does what it says on the tin. If you are coming just to travel then this is all that you will need. A J visa is generally issued for 30 days with the possibility of extending for another 30 days. Unfortunately the Mongolian embassies/consuls like to play by their own rules so there is no overriding procedure for how to apply for a J visa. I know that the London embassy will issue a J visa very easily, with little or no supporting documentation from a tourist agency in Mongolia. On the other hand a friend recently applied for the same visa in Vienna and I had to get him a letter from a Mongolian travel agency stating he had a hotel reservation booked. Go figure.

If you are lucky enough to be a US passport holder then you get 90 days, visa-free, to roam around the country. I presume it is still as easy as it once was for a US citizen to enter Mongolia without a visa. I know when I arrived two years ago I passed through Immigration no questions asked. Of course now I have a visa and long-term residency permit, so it is no longer an issue.

As the name implies, the J visa is for tourism purposes only. A J visa holder is not allowed to engage in any type of work or business activities while in Mongolia.

Business visa – B visa

A B visa is intended for very specific purposes when visiting Mongolia, including attending business meetings, negotiations, exchange programs, conferences, seminars, congresses and workshops on trade and economic questions and auctions, exhibitions, shows and other events commercial in nature.

B visas should be applied for before entering the country at any consul or embassy of Mongolia. The applicant must have a Mongolian company apply on his/her behalf at the Immigration Office here in Mongolia. If Immigration approves the request it will send an approval letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which will then fax it to the relevant consul. The applicant can apply for the visa at any consul, not just the consul in their home country.

A B visa is good for 30 days with the possibility of extending up to another 30 days. Multiple-entry 6 or 12 month B visas can be applied for once the person has entered Mongolia. These are also good for 30 days per entry with the possibility of extending an additional 30 days perhaps once during the 12 month period. Any further extension attempts and the Mongolian Immigration officials become suspicious that the B visa holder is actually here working.

While a B visa can technically be applied for upon arrival (through the same procedure as above, except Immigration will send its letter to the airport, not fax it to a consul) I do not suggest it. In my experience Immigration Officials are too fickle to risk waiting until the airport to apply for a visa.

US citizens do not need to apply for a B visa if they will be here less than 90 days. Please check the visa requirements for your country.

HG Visa – Required for Work

There are actually three components required for an expat who has an HG visa to work – a work permit from the Labor Office, an HG visa and a long-term residency permit.

Before arrival the expat’s Mongolian company will need to obtain approval from the Labor Office first and the Immigration will then issue an approval letter to be faxed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, like the B visa.  The  Mongolian company should allow 3-4 weeks for this stage.  The expat will then apply for the visa at the consul, enter Mongolia and will need to be registered within seven (7) days of arrival in Mongolia, including weekends, with Immigration.

Once they have arrived the work permit will need to be applied for from the Labor Office. Once this has been issued the yearlong HG visa will be applied for from Immigration, at the same time applying for the expat’s long-term residency permit as well.  This stage may take another 2-3 weeks, but the expat can begin working immediately after arrival.

HG visas will be issued for as long as the work permit has been issued, up to a maximum of 12 months, with the possibility to extend each year. A work permit must be obtained for any foreign worker who is coming to Mongolia to work (with the exception of an investor or executive director – more on that below). Expat workers are also liable for Mongolian income tax and social insurance contributions on any income earned while working in Mongolia, subject to double taxation treaties your country may have with Mongolia.

There is also a foreign-worker quota in Mongolia that is issued annually by the Government of Mongolia. While the quotas do vary, generally 5-20% of a company’s workforce can be foreign, with the default quota being 5%.

In conjunction with an HG visa H visas can be issued for dependents of an employee. They can be applied for at the same time as the HG visa. Please note original birth certificates/marriage licenses will be required by the Immigration Office in Mongolia to issue long-term H visas to dependents.

T visa – Investor’s visa

A T visa is a special visa given to either an investor or a foreign executive director of a foreign invested company. A maximum of three may be issued per company, two for individual investors in a company and one for the executive director of the company.

First the investor or ED will need to apply for an Investor’s Card from the Foreign Investment and Foreign Trade Agency (FIFTA) in Mongolia. Once this has been issued a T visa is applied for in the same way as other visas. First permission must be obtained from the Immigration Office and the approval letter will be faxed to the person’s consul of choice. While procedures do vary from consul to consul the employee will most likely be issued a single-entry T visa which will need to be converted to a yearlong T visa upon arrival. At the same time the long-term residency permit will be applied for at Immigration. Like an HG visa holder, a T visa holder will need to register with Immigration within seven days of arrival or face stiff penalty.

T visas are good for a year and can be renewed annually. The advantage to a T visa is that the holder does not need to have a work permit to work (or pay the associated workplace fee) and the T visa holder does not count against a company’s quota of foreign workers.

If the foreign-invested Mongolian company has a corporate shareholder that company is limited to a single T visa for the ED.

Visa issues

Of course the flip side to the Mongolian Immigration system being fairly simple means that there is little room to maneuver within the system for any outliers, such as consultants or non-married partners of expat employees.

In the case of short-term consultants it makes little sense to apply for an HG visa and work permit as the entire process takes several weeks, although to legally work in Mongolia a work permit is necessary. While it is often tempting for companies to try to get away with a consultant on a B visa, that is technically breaking Immigration law in Mongolia. In addition to needing a work permit any expat employee who works in Mongolia is liable for income tax and social insurance contributions on any amount earned in Mongolia, even if the employee only works for a day. The Immigration system is fairly rigid on this, which makes it difficult for consultants or other short-term contractors who may be coming to work in Mongolia.

Another area that is unaddressed is a visa for an expat employee’s unmarried partner. Basically the partner is going to be out of luck without either a job in Mongolia or a marriage license showing s/he is married to the employee. There are options that can be explored, but without a job here themselves the partner is going to have a difficult time securing a visa in order to stay in Mongolia for the long term.

In our experience the Immigration Office can be one of the more difficult agencies to deal with, like bureaucracy everywhere, I suppose. At the end of the day it is necessary to deal with them at some point for most foreign visitors to Mongolia and their bark is usually worse then their bite.

Disclaimer: This blog is from informational purposesonly. ICMC cannot be held liable for any inaccuracies you may find in this article regarding the Immigration policies of Mongolia. For visa regulations for your country please check with your local Mongolian embassy or consul. A list can be found AT: http://www.mongolianconsulate.com.au/mongolia/embassies.shtml.

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