Russia-Mongolia border crossing


The view, soon after entering Mongolia

Overland crossings are incredibly exciting; I love entering a country by land. Arriving by plane sometimes strikes me as a little too straightforward and almost uninteresting.

There are two ways to cross on public transport into Mongolia from Russia- via train or bus. I chose to take the bus from Ulan-Ude to Ulaanbaatar not only because the duration of the journey is half that of the train ride, the ride itself is also cheaper (train ticket: approx. US$144; bus ticket: approx US$51).

If you plan to take the bus from Ulan-Ude (which is quite a pleasant and interesting city for a stopover), stay at UU Hostel because the staff can buy the ticket for you in advance if necessary.

My bus, which was a comfortable 45-seater, departed Ulan-Ude at 7.30am on the dot. We reached the gate at the border checkpoint at 11.15am where a very friendly, matronly woman in a dark red vest came on board and checked our passports. I’m not sure what purpose she served because all she did was flick through our documents and chat with the bus driver and conductor.

At 12.10pm our bus entered the checkpoint area, after which we were told to alight from the bus with our bags and stand in line. A couple of grim-looking Russian officers approached us, checked our passports and asked us to open our bags. The officer who spoke to me didn’t seem to be terribly concerned about whether I might be carrying any dodgy substances and barely looked at my rucksack when I unzipped it.

Things began to get interesting after this. As we were all lining up for our bags to be checked, our bus went through what I would describe as a mobile scanning machine. It looked very much like a giant x-ray machine, only it had wheels and was larger than a truck. This machine had an overhead arm which buses, trucks and other vehicles passed under to be scanned. The nerd in me would have loved to take a few photos but that would’ve been a very silly thing to do in the circumstances.

After getting back on the bus and getting our passports stamped, we finally cleared Russian immigration at 1.50pm and entered Mongolia.

On the Mongolian side, once again we had to get down from the bus with our bags. This time our luggage was scanned, just like how it would have to be at an airport. The process was fairly straightforward.

We left the Altanbulag Border Control Complex at 2.30pm and made our way to Ulaanbaatar, where we would arrive that same day at 8pm.

By bus, the entire process on both the Russian and Mongolian sides took three hours. In comparison, if I had travelled from Ulan-Ude to Ulaanbaatar by train, the wait at the border could have taken up to eight hours in total.


© 2012 – 2014, Anis. All rights reserved.

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5 Responses

  1. Got a few questions, if you don’t mind:

    1. The staff at UU Hostel can buy the tickets in advance prior to your arrival or after your arrival. I presume after your arrival at the hostel?

    2. Was the bus full?

    3. How about the crowd at all the checkpoints? Were there many people? Just wondering about the bus schedule esp. in terms of arrival time and its relation to the crowd at checkpoints.


    • Anis says:

      No worries, glad to help 🙂

      1- Nope, they can get it for you before you arrive, if you want to save the hassle of going to the ticket office and buying it yourself, which is good idea. All you need to do is email them and they’ll sort it out. The hostel is centrally located and manned by some very nice people, so that’s another plus.

      2- Yes, it was full. The train is popular but so is the bus because it’s a much shorter ride. There were lots of Mongolians, Russians and other foreign travellers, including the odd Malaysian ;).

      3- Yes, there were a fair number of people but I remember seeing more buses and trailers/trucks transporting goods between the two countries (hence the need for the giant scanning machine), not just cars. I doubt very much that arrival time is influenced by the size of the crowd at checkpoints because the bus actually keeps its schedule- the whole journey, immigration process included, is estimated to take about 12 hours. If you do arrive late in UB, it’ll be because of the mad traffic getting into the city, not the crowds at the checkpoints. Like for any other stops you’ll be making along the way, if you need a nice place to stay in UB, tell me. They’ll also pick you up from the station.

      • Shawna says:

        Great description of the bus trip.
        As to the wait at the border crossing: private cars, buses, taxi’s etc can wait for hours at a time, but the scheduled international bus has priority. In many, many trips, the longest the bus has ever waited was an hour.
        Immediately after crossing the border several Mongolians will board, eager to exchange money into local currency and to sell you a SIM card. The exchange rate isn’t fantastic, but not bad. If you don’t have local currency, you will certainly want to change there. A Mongolian SIM card will simplify your life if you plan to meet people or want to call your hotel or hostel for directions at any point.
        Also, soon after completing both border crossings, the bus stops at a cafe for about half an hour. It is actually in a rather seedy looking hotel. You follow the crowd down a hallway and enter the cafe with two rooms of tables. Menus are in Russian and Mongolian, no pictures. I recommend the “gulash” which is beef stew meet, served with rice, potatoes, and a simple cabbage salad. Nothing fancy, but I’ve not known anyone to get sick eating there.
        Across the hall from the cafe you can find bathrooms, usually with soap. It is always nice to wash your hands.
        Also in this building, on the other side of the main entrance is a small store. Chips, water, and other snacks can be purchased here for a reasonable price.
        As you described Anis, the scenery from the bus can’t be beat! Fascinating any time of the year.

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