There are many border crossing points between Mongolia, Russia and China, but just six of these are currently open to foreign nationals. I’ll cover these crossing points in some detail, highlighting their locations and providing some money saving advice for travelling across the border.
Which Mongolian Border Posts are Open to Foreign Nationals?
|Zamin Uud||China||Southern Mongolia||Train / Road|
Train Timetables and Fares for Russia & Mongolia:
Mongolia to Russia / Russia to Mongolia
Trans Mongolian Express and the Altanbulag Border Crossing Point.
By far, the quickest and easiest way to cross the border, is on the Trans Mongolian Express train. However, as the train is frequently sold out to tourists, tickets can be extremely expensive and must be booked well in advance during summer months. (See Real Russia for ticketing enquiries.)
The cheaper alternative:
There are regular bus and taxi services that run from Ulaanbaatar, (and Sukhbaatar), to the Altanbulag road crossing. Upon arrival, you must arrange to be transported across the border, as crossing by foot is prohibited.
With all being well, you’ll “soon” be in the Russian border town of Khiata. From here you can take a marshrutka, (fixed route minibus), to Ulan Ude or Naushki. Both of these towns have train stations with connections to Irkutsk. These local trains are significantly cheaper, and more frequent, than their international counterparts. For entering Mongolia, reverse the procedure.
The Tsagaanuur Border Crossing Point.
The newly opened Tsagaanuur border crossing is located in the far west of Mongolia and has freed up travel to some of the wildest, previously inaccessible, parts of the country.
Speculation abounds about a new restricted zone, recently opened, on the Russian side of the border. Many travellers are worried about permits to pass through this area. I checked the legislation and discussed this matter with many people who have successfully ventured across the border. I can reliably inform you that no permit is required. FSB checkpoints are in place throughout the border region, but permits will only be required should you leave the road to Kosh Agash, which is officially exempt.
Regular buses and marshrutkas (mini buses) operate from the border, but do not follow a set timetable, they are therefore unpredictable. It is perfectly possible to hitchhike to and from the border as haulage trucks travel the route daily and pass through the major towns.
Crossing into Mongolia, there are two main routes across the country to Ulaanbaatar. These are aptly named the northern route and the southern route; neither is paved. The southern route is by far the easiest, and is highly recommended. It skirts the Gobi desert, has better tracks and less rain. Consequently there is less likelihood of getting bogged down far from helping hands.
Ereen-Tsav Border Crossing Point
Like Tsagaanuur, the Ereen-Tsav border crossing is newly opened to foreign nationals. However, unlike Tsagaanuur, the crossing is little used by travellers and may present major difficulties, particularly when dealing with Russian immigration officials. Consequently, it is difficult to find accurate accounts from people who have successfully negotiated their way across the border, if indeed such people exist. Reports that do exist, state that foreigners are turned away by Russian border officials, who claim the Russian side of the border is a restricted zone due to nearby Uranium mining. A railway line from Choibalsan, Mongolia to Borzya, Siberia crosses the border at Ereen-Tsav, however it is closed to passengers from Chuluunkhoroot in Mongolia all the way to Siberia. It cannot be used as transport across the border. The small town on the Russian side of the border is called Solovjovsk. If you harbour an intention to cross at this border point, you will require a backup plan and you should expect to use it. This will generally entail a return trip to Ulaanbaatar for onwards travel.
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Mongolia to China / China to Mongolia
Trans Mongolian Express and the Zamin-Uud Border Crossing Point
Like at the Russian border, the easiest and quickest way to get to China is by International Express Train. For a ticket from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing, expect this to cost in the region of about US$200. Tickets can be arranged at guesthouses in Ulaanbaatar or bought in advance from an agency such as Real Russia. These trains are extremely popular with travellers, and in the summer months tickets are sold out well in advance. Book early to avoid disappointment and / or unnecessary delays.
As a cheaper alternative take the daily train to Zamin-Uud and pay for a spot in a jeep or bus to transport you across the border. From Erlian, the Chinese border town, you must get a train to Hohhot or Jining and then a connection to Beijing. There are several daily sleeper buses that travel from Erlian, directly to Beijing, taking around 12 hours.
Mongolian Border Crossing General Tips.
In Mongolia, border crossing points are open Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm. There is a 2 hour break for lunch from 12pm to 2pm that can add considerably to processing times.
Walking across Mongolian borders is prohibited, but plenty of buses, taxis and locals cross over the border every day. Many are willing to sell you a space in their vehicle for a small charge.
For the vast majority of nationals, a Mongolian visa should be obtained in advance, prior to arrival at the border. The process is quite simple and can be arranged at your nearest Mongolian embassy.
Mongolian border crossings are slow, at Sukhbaaatar and Zamin Uud expect the crossing to take upwards of 5 hours. The Mongolian railway network is built to Russian rail guage and, consequently, the sleepers must be changed at Zamin-Uud for travel into/out of China. At other crossings such as Tsagaanuur in Western Mongolia, crossing can take in the region of 8 hours. Overnight / Weekend stays are not unknown at the Tsagaanuur border crossing point.
At Russian border posts, paperwork is highly scrutinised. If you are travelling in and out of Russia make sure that you get the required customs declaration form, and ensure that it is stamped. If you fail to do this, you stand to lose all of your currency and high value possession when you try to leave the country. Russian border officials may be quick to dismiss the need for this document, but you must insist that you get the paperwork and the stamp. Thousands of tourists get hammered this way every year.
Other Mongolian border checkpoints exist but are restricted to Mongolian and/or Russian / Chinese Nationals. You should not try to cross here, as they border restricted zones. If you somehow managed to get through, you’d find yourself in a whole new world of pain. If you really need to cross at one of these points, you must file the necessary paperwork to the appropriate Foreign Ministries, requesting special permission to enter the restricted areas. This must be done well in advance of travel.
Travelling to Mongolia in your own car.
Since 2007, if you wish to travel in and out of Mongolia using your very own vehicle, all you must do is turn up at the border crossing. However, if you intend to leave the vehicle in Mongolia, some pretty hefty vehicle import duties are payable and paperwork must be arranged before your arrival at the border.