How to Cross the Irkeshtam Border from China to Kyrgyzstan

How to Cross Xinjiang’s Irkeshtam Border to Kyrgyzstan

September 11, 2014 | 40 Comments

Border crossing from Xinjiang into other countries in Central Asia isn’t necessarily difficult, but getting reliable, up-to-date information is. Take the Irkeshtam border crossing for an example – it’s one of the most common ways to travel from China to Kyrgyzstan and yet I have a hard time finding any published info on the process.

Thanks to the input of several travelers, I would like to present a simple “how to” to make crossing the Irkeshtam border easy for future travelers.

A map of how to cross the Irkeshtam border from China to Kyrgyzstan

*Special thanks to Sim Yi Hui and Jon LaRosa as well as Lee and Galen from Silk Road Hitchhikers for their contributions to this article.

Irkeshtam Crossing from Kashgar

Most people base their journey into Kyrgyzstan (吉尔吉斯斯坦) from Xinjiang’s western city of Kashgar, although technically you could bypass the city and go straight there from Highway 314. For the purpose of this article, however, we’re going to assume that you’re waking up in Kashgar.

The following is an hour-by-hour account of how to find your way across the Irkeshtam border (all times listed are Beijing Time despite the common use of local time around here).

  • 8am – Kashgar: Wherever you decide to stay in Kashgar, most travelers decide to begin their journey at the International Bus station on the northern edge of town. From here you can find taxis that will take you to WuQia Zhen (in Chinese: 乌恰镇, known locally as Ulugqat). Taxis are usually rented for anywhere between 120-150 which, if you travel as a group of four, could be equally split to make things cheaper (this is the case for many places around Xinjiang). The journey should take a little over an hour.
  • 10am – WuQia Zhen: You should arrive in WuQia Zhen early but your goal is to make it to the Chinese Border Processing Center at around 10am. One account of getting here referenced a golf cart that drove travelers from the road to the processing center. Border personnel will arrive at 10am but likely won’t begin processing your passport until 10:30am. It is during this time that you need to arrange for a vehicle to take you across the border. It is virtually impossible to hitchhike. A taxi from here should cost about 100RMB per person or 400RMB for the car.
  • 10:30am – Border Processing Center: Once everybody begins working, the actually processing of your passport should take no longer than 15 minutes. At this point you jump into your taxi to begin the journey.

Chinese Irkeshtam Border Processing Center

  • 12pm-1pm – Checkpoint: depending on the speed of your driver, you should arrive at the intermediate checkpoint between 12:15 and 1pm. This should’t be more than a cursory passport check but don’t be surprised if they ask you to step out of the car.
  • 1pm-2pm – Final Checkpoint: An hour after the first checkpoint you’ll reach the final checkpoint about 4km away from the Kyrgyzstan border. Unfortunately, like most everywhere in Xinjiang, lunch break starts at 1:30pm and usually lasts until 4:30pm. Unless your driver is particularly speedy, expect to waste a few hours at this final checkpoint waiting for patrol officers to report back for duty at 4:30pm. You should probably have a lunch prepared as all you’re likely to find is a small store and maybe a hole-in-the-wall place to grab some food.
  • 4:30pm – Final Checkpoint: At this point a lot of different things could happen. Chinese border guards are unpredictable and could let you right through or give you grief for a few hours. They may take your passport or they may just glance at it. Be prepared for anything. Once given the green light to pass, your taxi is no longer useful to you. One traveler describes having to board a “Chinese big truck” while another describes a “very nice bus”. Either way, it seems that transportation to the final 4km to the border is provided.
  • 5:00pm – Kyrgyzstan Border: One traveler describes having to change transport at the Kyrgyzstan border (which he walked across) an then take a taxi to the Kyrgyz customs processing center. The one thing to note with this is that unless you already have Kyrgyz Som (money), you’ll probably have to exchange your Chinese Renminbi at the border for a terrible exchange rate.
  • 5:30pm – Kyrgyzstan Processing Center: Unlike the Chinese border crossing, Kyrgyzstan will likely only take about 15 minutes. They will look at your passport, possibly write down the number and then stamp it.
  • 5:45pm – Entering Kyrgyzstan: At this point you have a choice to make, especially after all the travel you’ve already done. You can try to negotiate transportation to Osh (another 4 hours at least) or you can take a much shorter ride to Sary-Tash (only 1 hour). A shared taxi to Sary-Tash should run you about 60-100 Som (approx. US$1-2 or 6-12 RMB). A shared taxi to Osh will run you between 1,000 to 1,500 per person (approx US$18-28 or 110-170 RMB).

Congratulations! You’re now in Kyrgyzstan. At this point you can hopefully find your way to a nice hotel to lay down and rest.

Special Notes | Irkestam Border

There are a few notes and warnings that I want to give for those considering crossing the Irkestam border in Xinjiang. This may not always apply, but it’s good to hear what has happened in the past.

First, sharing a taxi with Uyghur passengers could slow you down. It’s sad, but it’s a fact. One traveler was held up at the border for an extra few hours because his fellow travelers were Uyghur. It’s blatant discrimination but as one traveler told me “If you can, try to find Han Chinese to share a car with”. Perhaps easier said than done.

Second, cheaper transportation isn’t better. It seems that it is possible to hitch a ride to Osh with a truck driver in Kyrgyzstan for half the price of a taxi…but it might cost you an extra 2-4 hours on the road. Is US$10 really worth the headache?

Third, remember the time change. This might not be hard if you’ve been living off of Xinjiang’s “local time” that is two hours behind the official Beijing time, but just remember that once you cross the border into Kyrgyzstan, you’re now officially two hours behind Beijing.

Finally, Lee from SilkRoadHitchHikers.com shared with me that it might work best to shift this schedule two hours later (i.e. starting at 10am instead of 8am). The reason for this is that even though he arrived at the border before the 1:30pm lunch break, they still wouldn’t process him to go through. He contends that you might as well just sleep in and arrive around 3:30pm-ish to wait for them to open up again at 4:30pm. Any plan that involves sleeping in sounds good to me!

So that’s it! I hope this has been helpful in your planning. If so, please share this or leave a comment below. Thanks!

Photos courtesy of Bebnews

About Josh Summers

Josh is a writer, musician and entrepreneur who currently resides in Urumqi, capital of China's western province of Xinjiang. He has been traveling and writing about this region since 2006 and has no plans to stop in the near future.

Leave a Comment

  1. Hi Josh, just wondering if you have any idea whether it is possible in ones own vehicle? I live and work in China and have my China driving licence and both motorbike and sidecar outfit. I am thinking of planning an October week trip from Urumchi/ Kashgar into Kyrgyzstan and/ or Tajikistan. If you had any ideas on this or know of anyone that would be ‘in the know’ it would be much appreciated! Cheers

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on July 23rd, 2015 at 4:58 am

    Hey Tommy! Thanks for the comment. If you own your own vehicle – meaning you have the appropriate permits and insurance – you should be fine here in Xinjiang. The only problem you might run into is having out of region plates. There are some places they might not allow you to enter, or perhaps ask you to pay an “entrance fee” since you’re not from XJ. Make sense?

    [Reply]

    Tommy B on July 23rd, 2015 at 5:03 am

    Hi Josh, much appreciated for getting back to me. Yep, I have Zhejiang plates. I haven’t had a problem going into Gansu; Qinghai; Inner Mongolia or Yunnan before with these or Sichuan plates, but I know Xinjiang could well have special nuances.

    What about crossing the actual border(s) with the bike, can you give any advice on that or do you know anyone who could? Really meaning Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan predominantly here.

    Josh Summers on July 23rd, 2015 at 5:14 am

    Hmm…I have experience with bringing cars INTO China but I have no idea what to tell you about taking them OUT OF China. I recommend reaching out to a good travel agency. Get in touch with Old Road Tours and see what they have to say. Abdul has helped a number of people cross the border like this before.

  2. Hi Josh,
    Thanks for your helpful comments! How likely is it to run into other foreign/travelers to share rides with or at least people who can speak some English?

    [Reply]

  3. Hi Josh,
    What about the other way round, from Osh to Kashgar. I was told I could not get into China without getting a permit (besides a visa) through a chinese travel agency to meet me at the border, is that correct ?. Is there a way to do without that just get a shared taxi (we are 4) after crossing into China ?
    Thanks

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on August 31st, 2015 at 5:02 am

    The reason they do this is that they want to make sure you have transportation from the border toward Tashkorgan/Kashgar. There aren’t taxis just waiting around and they don’t allow hitchhiking right at the border. You have to arrange for that taxi, and it has to be through a travel agency since only official taxis are allowed near the border. Does that make sense?

    I know it’s annoying, but that’s the way it’s set up. :(

    [Reply]

  4. Paul Blount-GreeneHello Brian,My son and I are riding from Australia to Europe next year. We will leave in April. We are plinnang to ride a similar route to yours. We were plinnang to cross India then Pakistan to Iran. Your trip up the KKH sounded very interesting and beautiful (got me thinking ). We have found that the quotes to transverse China were too expensive. Did it cost you much for the guide and which company did you use? We’re you happy with them? How long did it take to get your china visa?We are still trying to do a budget, could you please give us an indication of your daily cost from Nepal to Western Europe.Thank you in advance and enjoy your wonderful trip.Paul and Angus Blount-Greene

    [Reply]

  5. Thanks for the information!
    Do you know about visas on the spot? Can I issue my visa at Irkeshtam?

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on February 8th, 2016 at 10:21 am

    As of 2014, all visas had to be prearranged and couldn’t be issued at the border. Of course, if you’re going from China to certain Central Asian countries, visas are granted upon arrival…you just have to do your research before you go. It would be terrible to get stuck at the border!

    [Reply]

  6. Hi
    Its sajjad
    From pakistan
    Thank Josh it’s really useful information that I was looking for will u please guide more about hoteling food places to visit in Kyrgyzstan and prices etc.
    Thank again

    [Reply]

  7. Hi Agness. am planning a trip to kyrgyzstan & neighboring countries by camper van with u.s. passport & chinese visa , looking for a traveling companion to share expenses. pl. contact if interested. I do not have visas for those countries yet. raj

    [Reply]

  8. Hi, on this post I understand you talk about crossing the border from China into Mongolia by Xinjiang province, but do you know if it´s possible the way around? from Mongolia into China… thanks for the info !!!

    [Reply]

  9. Hi Josh ,
    I am planning a road trip from India to France. So can you guide me about border crossing with my own vehicle with Indian number plate. China – Kyrgyzstan border crossing,Kyrgyzstan – Uzbekistan border crossing, Uzbekistan – Kazakhstan border, all these are my concern
    .

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on September 12th, 2016 at 8:54 pm

    Crossing with your own vehicle is going to require agency assistance. Connect with a travel agency that can get all the approvals and paperwork you need to get your car into China.

    [Reply]

    fatih on November 16th, 2016 at 8:59 am

    hi just wanna ask where and how can i get documents for my car with turkish plate number to enter and exit to china from Russia.

  10. Hey Josh, first thank you very much for taking the time to compile and share this information with the public. It is an incredibly important source of information for those planning travel.

    I wanted to ask you if you would be interested in offering some advice for an expedition i am planning to Xin Jiang in 2017. My email is barney.francis(at)gmail.com, it would be great to ask your advice on a few things related to travel in Xinjiang!

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on December 14th, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    Hey Barney, thanks for your kind words! Have you had a chance to check out the FarWestChina Xinjiang Travel Guide?

    One of the bonus features of buying the guide is that you get access to a private Facebook group where me and hundreds of other Xinjiang travelers help answer your questions.

    [Reply]

  11. Hi Josh, this is really really useful information. I love your blog as well.

    We should be 4 travellers crossing the Irkeshtam pass in early June. Do you know if the information in this post is still all up to date? Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on April 5th, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    Hi Etienne! Thanks for reading and yes…this information should still be up-to-date.

    I also recommend you check out the FarWestChina Xinjiang travel guide for any planning you’re doing for this trip. It’s over 400+ pages of very useful information that goes beyond what you’ll even find here on the blog. :)

    [Reply]

  12. Hi Josh, I’ve just been told that the border closes over the weekend. Do you know if that’s a new regulation? Thank you.

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on June 6th, 2017 at 10:19 pm

    I haven’t heard of any such regulation. It seems pretty ridiculous to me – the only time I’ve ever heard of borders closing is during the dead of winter. If I were you, I would connect with some travel agencies in Kashgar to find out more details.

    [Reply]

  13. Hi Josh,

    I’m looking at going to Xinjiang > Kazakhstan > Kyrgyzstan > Xinjiang.

    Do you know how easy it is to do this journey in reverse? I imagine it’s not as common the other way around? Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on July 30th, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    As long as you have your proper visas and transportation lined up, you shouldn’t have a problem as far as I know!

    [Reply]

  14. hey Josh, thanks so much for the info! as far as you know, is this still valid? I am in Kashgar now, and have about five days, but hoping to head into Kyrg. for 2 or three. Cheers mate.

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on July 30th, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    Hey Daim! Glad you found the site. As far as I know, this info is still the same for this year, although I would check with your hostel (or hotel) to see if they think anything has changed.

    [Reply]