Unless your country is on the visa-free list, you will need a visa (paper or electronic) before you fly. The easiest option is to apply for an e-visa, which costs US$20 and is valid for 90 days from the date of issue for a single entry and a stay of up to 30 days in Uzbekistan (but not beyond the expiry date of the e-visa).
Even if your country is on the visa-free list, a standard visa is required if you wish to visit other countries and return to Uzbekistan, or if you wish to stay in the country for more than 30 days. To get one, fill out the online application form and print it. Be sure to sign it in black ink as this box is easily overlooked. Submit the form with two passport photos, a photocopy of your passport and the passport itself to the embassy.
Getting there and away
For somewhere so centrally located geographically, Uzbekistan can be surprisingly challenging to reach. There is a shortage of direct flights from Europe and the US, land borders open and close on a whim, and arriving by train requires a passport full of transit visas and the patience of a saint.
The vast majority of visitors arrive in Uzbekistan on a flight to Tashkent and this is, on balance, the easiest way to travel. With the exception of Uzbekistan Airways, direct flights to Uzbekistan tend to come only from the Middle East, Russia and the other CIS countries. Otherwise, you’ll probably have to get a connection in one of the regional hubs (Almaty, Istanbul or Moscow).
There is a certain romance attached to train travel, and if you have the time to sit and watch the world pass by at a leisurely pace (very leisurely in the case of the old Soviet rail network), it is still a viable way to reach Uzbekistan. Depending on your nationality, you may need transit visas for the countries en route.
Ticket classes are categorised in the Russian style. First-class accommodation (Spalny Vagon; SV or es-veh; also known as deluxe) buys you an upholstered seat in a two-berth cabin. The seat turns into a bed at night. Second class (Kupé) is slightly less plush, and there are four passengers to a compartment. Third class (Platskartny) has open bunks (ie: not in a compartment) and lots of interaction with fellow passengers. Bring plenty of food for the journey, and keep an eye on your luggage, particularly at night, as theft is sadly commonplace.
There are three trains a week between both Moscow and Tashkent and Almaty (Kazakhstan) and Tashkent. The Moscow service (train numbers five or six depending on the direction of travel) takes 62 hours, with tickets starting from US$166. The Almaty service is a modern Talgo train which takes 16½ hours, with tickets starting from US$14. There’s also a weekly train from Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) to Tashkent, passing through Kazakhstan (20hrs 40min; tickets starting from US$55); it actually starts from Balykchy (formerly Rybachye), a resort on Lake Issyk-Kul. From Tashkent, weekly trains also run to Ekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Ufa in Russia.
The train timetable for the whole Russian rail network (including central Asia) is online. The Uzbek Railways site, parts of which are in English, is www.uzrailpass.uz. The Man in Seat 61 also has detailed information, including personal reports, about train travel in the former USSR.
Personally, we prefer to reach Uzbekistan overland, not because customs and immigration make it a particularly easy or pleasant experience, but because of the freedom having your own transport gives you once you finally make it inside. If you are bringing your own vehicle into Uzbekistan (regardless of the entry point) you will have to declare it on the usual customs form, plus fill in additional paperwork to be entered on to the computer system.
Theoretically at least, you will not be allowed to leave the country unless you take the vehicle with you. You may be told that right-hand-drive vehicles cannot enter Uzbekistan; this is not true so hold your ground. Expect to have the vehicle thoroughly inspected, sluiced with disinfectant, and to have all of its contents (sometimes right down to the jack and spare wheel) passed through the X-ray machine.