© Emily Lush 2017

How to Travel from Tbilisi, Georgia to Baku, Azerbaijan by Overnight Train

Overnight train 37 runs daily from Tbilisi to Baku, departing at 5.50pm from Station Square and crossing the border into Azerbaijan at around 8pm before pulling into Baku station at 7.20am the next morning (winter timetable). It’s an affordable, safe and convenient way to travel between the two countries – locals prefer it, and you might even meet a few people on the journey.

 

© Emily Lush 2017
Baku – a beautiful city indeed.

 

We travelled from Tbilisi to Baku by overnight train in the first week of April 2017. This complete guide covers the following steps:

  1. Applying for an Azerbaijan tourist visa online
  2. Buying train tickets at the station in Tbilisi
  3. Boarding the train/the journey
  4. Crossing the border
  5. Arrival in Baku/police registration

 

UPDATE (July 2017): Needless to say, this post is based on my own personal experience travelling between Georgia and Azerbaijan. At the time of writing (April 2017), all the information presented here was correct to the best of my knowledge. Things change – especially with regards to visas and timetables – so please use common sense when applying this advice and check the comments section below for updates from other travellers. I am happy to answer any specific questions if I can, but for accurate, up-to-date advice, I recommend you contact the relevant consulate.

STEP 1: APPLYING FOR AN AZERBAIJAN TOURIST VISA ONLINE

Important: The overnight train from Tbilisi crosses the Azerbaijan border BEFORE midnight. Therefore, you need to put down your date of departure from Georgia as your visa start date.

Azerbaijan’s new 30-day tourist e-visa makes it easier (and cheaper) than ever to visit the country. Lucky for us, the e-visa came into effect in early 2017, just in time for our trip to the Caucasus.

We applied online while we were in Tbilisi using the link and instructions provided here. The process was quick and straightforward. All you need is a photo of your passport ID page and an address in Azerbaijan (i.e. a hotel booking). We reserved a room on Agoda which we cancelled once the visas had been approved (because we wanted to stay at an Airbnb). One visa costs 26 USD and the site accepts both MasterCard and Visa.

Note that 30 days is the default period and you don’t have to stipulate the exact duration of your stay. You will, however, have to register with Azeri police on arrival if you plan to travel in the country for more than 10 days (see Step 5 below).

We filed our applications late on a Wednesday afternoon and our visas came through via email overnight, less than 12 hours later. It’s recommended to give it at least three days – and make sure you take notice of Azeri public holidays, of which there are a few, as there’s no visa processing on these dates.

You will definitely need a hard copy of your visa for immigration. We printed the single-page, A4 visas at a Xerox shop close to Rustaveli metro station in Tbilisi.

 

STEP 2: BUYING TRAIN TICKETS AT THE STATION IN TBILISI

It might be possible to buy train tickets online but the system wasn’t working for us. Two days before we were set to depart Tbilisi, we caught the metro to Station Square and bought our train tickets in person.

Important: Bring your passport and cash (credit card is not accepted but there are plenty of ATMs at the station).

Arriving at Station Square by metro, exit towards the escalators. The train station is located inside a separate building with shops and cafes on the first two floors. Follow the signs for the ticket counters, which are located on the top level on the right. Take a coupon if it’s busy or just head straight to the first free counter.

Our cashier spoke perfect English. First she asked us the day/date we wanted to travel. There is only one service to Baku – overnight train number 37 – so you don’t need to specify a time. She then outlined the ticket options: first class (a private two-person berth), second class (four-person berth ‘hard’ sleeper) or third class (open berth without doors).

We chose two second-class tickets and handed over our passports. The cashier didn’t make a copy but used them to enter details onto our tickets, so it might be possible to show a photocopy instead. She double checked our names a couple of times before spelling them out in phonetic Cyrillic characters on the tickets. We had our printed e-visas on us, but she didn’t ask to see them.

The second-class tickets cost 46.09 GEL per person. We paid in cash and she handed them over, double checking the important details one last time.

 

© Emily Lush 2017
The Tbilisi to Baku overnight train.

STEP 3: BOARDING THE TRAIN/THE JOURNEY

The train to Baku leaves at 5.50pm from the same place where you buy the tickets. There are plenty of shops and cafes around, so it’s recommended to arrive early and stock up on snacks and bottled water (and alcohol if you so wish). There is no dining cart on the train and apart from brief stops at the border, no real opportunity to buy food.

Near the ticket counter you’ll see an electronic departures board. Train 37 was already up when we arrived at 4pm but the platform changed at the last minute. Down on the platform, there are kids waiting to help you find your carriage and carry your bags. Be aware that they will ask you for money if you take them up on either offer. We gathered with the other passengers at the carriage door and were permitted to board at 5.20pm.

Carriage and seat numbers are marked out in English. The berth was bigger than we expected and much nicer than most trains in Southeast Asia. When you arrive, the bottom seats will be propped up so you can store your big luggage items underneath in secure bins. The train was very quiet and we ended up having the four-person berth to ourselves.

Our train left right on time and the friendly stewardess bought us chai and sweets. Later she dropped off a plastic bag containing clean linens and a hand towel. Contrary to other reports, this doesn’t incur any extra charge. Mattress-sized pillows are stored on the top bunk, so we could make our beds ourselves whenever we wanted. The door locked securely, and there were plenty of lights and a power outlet inside the cabin. The toilet started off pretty gross and got worse as the evening wore on; but this is an overnight train we’re talking about.

The train stopped at various points in the early evening to collect more passengers from both sides of the border. The scenery was pleasant, especially in Kakheti, but not all that spectacular.

STEP 4: CROSSING THE BORDER

Georgian immigration lies a few kilometres before the actual land border. We arrived there at around 7pm. There’s no disembarking the train for immigration – everything is done on board. Georgian officials entered the train and collected our passports. They also checked our Azeri visas but let us hold onto them. About an hour later, the passports were returned to us with exit stamps inside. Easy.

I was a little apprehensive about immigration formalities on the Azeri side of the border. Safe to say the procedure was a little more thorough.

First off, there were a lot more guards and officials involved. The question on all their lips was this: ‘Have you ever been to Armenia?’ I haven’t read anything that suggests an Armenian stamp in your passport will prevent you from entering Azerbaijan – but I could be wrong. Relations between the two countries are tense, and it was certainly a preoccupation for the border guards. It was a huge relief to be able to answer honestly, ‘No’.

One official took our passports and visas and the declaration forms we filled our shortly after boarding. Another official entered our berth wielding what looked like an oversized selfie stick, using the mirror on the end to inspect the high-up nooks and crannies of our compartment. (By coincidence, we had boarded the train just a few hours after the metro bombing in Moscow. We think security may have been amped up in response.) The official gave us instructions to open our luggage, but we misinterpreted his flailing of the stick as a direction to move our bags to the top storage area.

A female official then came in and after we had pulled our bags down again, performed a perfunctory search of all our luggage. She asked us whether we were bringing in anything from Georgia, so we showed her our souvenirs. She didn’t seem that impressed.

When that was over, the train stewardess summoned us to another berth where they had set up a DIY immigration desk. We passed yet more guards and a gnarly looking German Shepherd in the corridor. One by one, we sat in front of the immigration official’s laptop. We were photographed and asked a range of questions, including if we had ever been to Armenia (still no), and if we could name the capital city of Australia (?). Nothing about our plans or itinerary or even our intended length of stay. The whole process lasted no more than 15 minutes, and we were soon back in our berth and on our way to Baku.

UPDATE (July 2017): Since writing this post, I’ve had a few specific questions from travellers regarding the handling of our passports by Azerbaijani immigration. The Azerbaijan E-Visa is a sheet of A4 paper, i.e. it does not get affixed to your passport. But officials WILL stamp your passport with Azerbaijan entry/exit stamps, so there will be evidence of your visit in your passport. This is good to know if you plan on going to Armenia later (like we did). If you are planning on visiting Armenia after Azerbaijan, I highly recommend the post below, which has some vital information about the border crossing what you need to bring with you.

Read more: Travelling to and from Tbilisi and Yerevan by overnight train.

 

© Emily Lush 2017
Last-minute bible studies before our big arrival in Baku.

STEP 5: ARRIVAL IN BAKU/POLICE REGISTRATION

Important: Any tourist planning to stay more than 10 days in Azerbaijan must register with Azeri police within three days of arrival. Failure to do so many result in a hefty fine (up to 400 AZN by some accounts) when you exit the country.

We were woken by the stewardess at about 6.30am and instructed to gather up our bed sheets. At 7.20am on the dot we pulled into Baku’s ultra-modern main railway station – a rather impressive introduction to the city.

From here you can easily connect to the metro by heading down the escalators to 28 May station, or alternatively pick up a bus/taxi from out front. There is a 24-hour cafe inside the arrivals hall that has free WIFI.

This is where we met our Airbnb host. She took us to our apartment and offered to complete our police registration for us. She needed a photo of our passport ID page, a photo of our visa and a timeline for our stay (we told her 30 days). Hotels can also do the registration for you, or you can try to make sense of it yourself online here.

 


 

Are you planning to take the overnight train from Tbilisi to Baku (or vice versa)?
If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below!

 


 

PIN THIS POST FOR LATER –

How to travel from Tbilisi, Georgia to Baku, Azerbaijan by overnight sleeper train.

 

29 comments on “How to Travel from Tbilisi, Georgia to Baku, Azerbaijan by Overnight Train

  1. It’s a relief to find a recent review of the Tbilisi-Baku train as there’s a lot of conflicting information online, I’m travelling there next month but I’m quite worried as I’ll be travelling in Armenia before Georgia so it sounds like lots of questions get asked…

    Thanks again 🙂

    • Emily Lush

      Hi Matt!

      Glad you found the post helpful. Yes, it’s a bit of a difficult situation. We just arrived in Yerevan and we were asked a lot of questions about our recent trip to Azerbaijan at the Armenian border – so it seems either way you go, you will be questioned.

      I recommend you keep details of your travels in Armenia (including hotel names) handy as they might ask you for these at the Azeri border. I think it’s just a formality – as long as you haven’t been to Karabakh.

      Good luck and happy travels!

    • Hi Matt and everyone else who may have knowledge about my concerns .. about seeing Azerbaijan after seeing Armenia and Georgia. So I’m a US citizen planning to see Armenia then Georgia then Azerbaijan and then go back to The US from Georgia . Should I switch around my plans and travel to Azerbaijan first then Armenia then Georgia ?

      • Hi Lucy,

        As long as you don’t enter Nagorno-Karabakh while you’re in Armenia, then you shouldn’t have any issues with your current itinerary. There is nothing to prevent travellers from visiting Azerbaijan then Armenia (or Armenia then Azerbaijan) – crossing back through Georgia, of course. You might get some questions like we did, but everyone’s experience at the border is different.

        I hope this puts your mind at ease! Happy travels.

  2. Jeremy Journeys

    This info great. I’m going to be taking this same trip in two days and in trying to find some recent details I came across your post. Thanks, it seems very helpful. Looking forward to visiting Baku after some great travels around Georgia.

    • Emily Lush

      Thanks Jeremy! I hope you enjoy Baku… It’s a change from Georgia that’s for sure. Do let me know if you have anything to add about your experience on the train. Happy travels!

  3. Thanks for info! T tried for an azerbaijan E Visa and the official website came back and replied my info was incorrect, so I paid extra and went through another site and got the visa, hope its genuine. like Matt I’ll be in Armenia for a few days, hopefully there wont be any issues

    • Emily Lush

      Thanks for the update on the e-visa. Good to know there’s another online option available if you need it. Have a wonderful trip!

  4. Ann Luyun

    Hi! do we still need to apply for a visa? We are UAE resident, Filipino passport holder.

    We’ll be traveling from dubai-baku-tbilisi

    Any advise?

    • Emily Lush

      Hi Ann! You’ll need to check with your airline about transfer visas. Good luck!

    • Hi Ann! I am a fil too and yes we need to apply visa. Azerbaijan is very strict with the requirements. Visa is for 20USD. Bring your documents to Azer consulate in Jumeirah. It takes 5 days to get the visa. Best of luck!

    • You need to apply if you are planning to stay in Baku. But if you won’t go out from Baku airport then no need!

  5. Does this train stop in Ganja or does it run straight through?

    • Emily Lush

      Hi Melanie – I’m not 100% sure (because I was asleep!), but I did a quick search online and it looks like the train makes a stop in Ganja at midnight. You’d need to double check with the ticket office. The staff in Tbilisi are great and will be able to help. Good luck!

  6. Just reading this post makes me want to get travelling! Thanks for sharing this useful info.
    How was Baku itself?
    I would like to sample Azerbaijan from Georgia but I’m just wondering if I should instead visit somewhere on the west side and avoid travelling all the way to Baku to save time. Any tips?
    Also, does the night train stop anywhere before Baku please?
    Thanks!

    • Emily Lush

      Hi Helen! Thanks for your comment! We really enjoyed Baku – very different from everywhere else in the region. We also went to Sheki (which is close to the Georgian border at Lagodekhi) and really, really enjoyed that as well.

      Baku is a very modern, wonderfully strange city – Western Azerbaijan is very rural. So it depends what you prefer. The bus to Sheki from Tbilisi takes almost a full day, but the overnight train is a convenient way to save time. I’m not 100% sure, but I believe the train also stops in Ganja (and possibly some smaller towns) on the way to Baku.

      I hope this helps!

  7. I have a question, my visa is marked 27 of September. But I’m leaving Tbilisi 26th of sept. Should I have problem with this? Well the train will be overnight, and when I reach Baku obviously it’s sept 27. Help pls

    • Emily Lush

      Hi Kate,

      Sorry, I can’t provide you with any specific advice on visas but I can confirm that the overnight train crosses the border into Azerbaijan on the same date that it leaves Tbilisi (departs early evening, crosses later that night). You might need to delay your departure by 24 hours.

      Sorry I can’t be of more help! It would be best to contact the office where you got the visa or the Azerbaijani consulate for more information.

      Good luck,
      Emily

      • Hi ems! Thanks for your reply! Can you please share with us when/what time where you able to get your Baku entry stamp?

        • Emily Lush

          Hi Kate,

          Sorry, not sure what you mean by a Baku entry stamp. We applied for and received Azerbaijan visas online (see Step 1 above), and our passports were stamped with standard entry stamps by Azerbaijan immigration on entering the country – somewhere between 8 and 9pm on the same evening we left Tbilisi. Does this answer your question?

      • Hi ems!

        I have called the embassy several times and they would say it’s okay.

        However, I have read one blog that has same situation, he left a day before the validity of her visa but will arrive Baku on the day of the validity. The immigration officer at the border of Azerbaijan held her for few mins and she said she was reluctantly allowed to travel.

        So let me try my luck!

        Thanks ems

  8. Hello,
    I had a tour in Armenia-Georgia, and did Azerbaijan independently while most of fellow travellers continued with the tour. I had not problem to enter Azerbaijan – the immigration officier actually just asked me to confirm that I was in Yerevan for tourism purpose, and the custom officier had a quick search of my luggage. I had dinner later with my group in Baku, they crossed the border on tour bus – one person had the date on the visa incorrect, he had to stay behind to apply for an immergency visa and got it after 3 hours, he had to hire a car to join the group.(Of course, I guess the tour leader knew exactly what to do to help that traveller). On September 19, the train left Tbilisi at 7:30 pm and at 10:10 pm, the train stopped at the Azerbaijan side for immigration and custom control, and re-rolled at 11:00 pm. Hope with these updated information, you can made the proper decision.

    • Hi Hoaiai, thanks so much for the update.

      I think the train timetable must change during summer. Great to know that it’s possible to get an emergency visa, too. I’m sure other travellers will find your tips very useful.

      Thanks again, and happy travels!

    • Hi Hoaiai,
      What do you mean incorrect date? And how much is the emergency visa? Thanks very much.
      The date on my visa is one day early upon arrival in Azer border but exact date arriving in Baku.

  9. Emily, thank you very much for the blog post, it helped a lot. A short update, as I took the train last night: It now leaves at 7.30 PM and arrives at 9.15 PM – and was right on time.

    Some days before crossing the border to Azerbaijan, I spent a few days in Armenia. Getting the entry stamp to Azerbaijan was much easier than expected. The border guards did only ask what I was doing there; replying with «Travelling/Tourist» satisfied their expectations.

    However, be sure to *not* bring any Armenian items to the train. I forgot that I had an armenian package of cigarettes with me. The officers were pragmtic though and let me keep the cigarettes, but I had to hand them over the package.

    • Hi Felix,

      Thanks so much for the update! I guess the trains change time in summer, which makes sense. Good to hear that you didn’t have any trouble at the border. We got a lot of questions going the opposite way (entering Armenia with Azerbaijan stamps), but everyone’s experience seems to be slightly different.

      Enjoy Baku! Happy travels!

  10. Great, all I needed. I am going there in January and I found this post very helpful. Thanks 🙂

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