You might have questions about our return, now that it seems imminent. Here’s our attempt to answer them. Feel free to ask (either in the comments or on Facebook) about anything we didn’t answer!
What’s your Visa status?
Mongolia closed their borders last March, making it impossible for us to return. While stuck in the US, our residency permits (different from, but related to, our visas) expired and our visas’ validity was in question. We learned a couple weeks ago that we either got new visas, or our current visas are still valid (we’re unsure which is the case). Regardless, we have valid visas and they’ll let us re-enter the country!
What are “Special Duty” flights? How are the different from regular flights?
During the border closure, Mongolia offered periodic repatriation flights. These were open, primarily to Mongolians stranded abroad, but also to foreigners with valid visas. There was a waiting list to get on these flights. Our uncertain visa status, combined with the type of visas we have, put us near the bottom of the list.
In May, Mongolia began a soft-open of their borders. Rather than running all flights as repatriation flights through MIAT, the Mongolian national airline, they opened their airspace to other carriers who regularly fly into Mongolia. These flights are called special duty flights and could be booked directly through the airlines rather than through the Mongolian Emergency Commission. The waiting list wasn’t a thing anymore; tickets were first come, first serve.
The schedule for special duty flights is published mid-month for the next month. These are typically not transit flights, meaning you’re not buying one ticket with two segments (US to Korea, Korea to Mongolia), you’re buying two separate tickets. This has a couple significant impacts:
- Our first flight would normally be US to Korea and, because it’s an inter-continental flight, we get free two bags included with our ticket prices. Our second flight is usually Korea to Mongolia. Because this is only intra-Asia, we only get one free bag. And it’s unclear if a second bag can be added, even if you pay for it. Normally, the two segments are counted as one trip so the two bags are free for the entire trip. But when they’re separate tickets like this, they’re not. So we’re faced with bringing just one piece of luggage back after a year of living in the US and shopping as if we’re bringing back two bags (we have one bag, for example, that is filled with a tent, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads that would get left behind if we can only have one bag each).
- Because the flights aren’t part of one trip, if one flight gets cancelled, the other doesn’t change…so we could be out of luck if we get to Korea and find our flight to Mongolia was cancelled, or if our flight to Korea is cancelled, the second part isn’t necessarily rescheduled for us.
In order to book a special duty flight with an unvaccinated traveler, you need to 1) have the first leg of your trip booked and 2) have your quarantine hotel booked. When you provide both of these things you can book the flight into Mongolia.
To make it more complicated, the June flights were announced 10 days ago but have not yet showed up in Korean Air or Turkish Air’s booking systems. We’re more inclined to go with either of these airlines because they allow us to use the same carrier for both legs of our flight (which, we think) would help with luggage allowance. But it doesn’t matter right now, because the flights aren’t available in their systems to book yet.
So why are you skeptical of the tickets you’ve purchased?
Because the government hasn’t decided if July flights are special duty or normal flights yet. And no schedule has been published for July (we expect that around the 20th of June). So we’re not sure if they flights we’ve purchased tickets for really exist or if the airline is just being optimistic.
We will find out, for sure, we think, when the government decides if they’re doing special duty or normal flights in July. So, if they decide July is special duty only, we’ll know around the 20th of June and will be able to scramble then. If they decide July will have normal flights, then we will *probably* be fine.
If this last year has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is certain and we need to be flexible. So it’s hard to get excited about something that we’re really not sure will happen, but it’s less stressful to wait and find out than it would have been in the past.
What will quarantine look like?
Currently, unvaccinated travelers, like our kid, are required to stay in a quarantine hotel for 7 days then at home for 7 more. Because she’s a minor, I would stay with her. Cory will be able to go straight home.
We can only take our carry-on and personal item with us (not our luggage) to quarantine so everything we want for the week will be carried on the flights with us.
We have a choice between basic or nicer hotels for quarantine. We’d probably go with the nicer hotels because they offer air conditioning, wi-fi, and usually have restaurants in them. Also the mattresses would probably be more western style than hard Asian-style. We don’t know if we’d have access to the restaurants or if we’d get served a pre-set quarantine meal plan. Either way we think someone could drop off groceries (Kid can’t survive without peanut butter and you can’t pack peanut butter in a carry-on). The one we’re looking at has a nice view of the city.
Quarantine appears to have gotten much better since the 21 day hotel + 14 days at home requirements earlier this year and last. We will for sure keep you all posted on social media because what else is there to do during quarantine?
What happens if Kid is Covid-positive in Mongolia?
She might get taken to a hospital, without us. We want to avoid this potential medical trauma at all costs. So, after June 13, about 14 days prior to us leaving, she’ll be avoiding contact with unvaccinated people unless they’re willing to mask up and maintain social distancing. We’ll also all wear masks when we’re out (but this reprieve of not wearing masks while out has been nice!). We’re not being jerks or trying to make political statement…we’re trying to keep our kid, who doesn’t speak Mongolian, out of a Mongolian hospital when we wouldn’t be able to stay with her.
What about all your stuff?
We’ve gathered a decent amount of stuff in the year we’ve been here. Some of it we’ll (try to) take with us. The rest we’re giving away at our open house/garage sale two weeks before we leave (June 11/12). People have so generously given to us, so we’re not charging anything for anything to give it away. We’ve got a beat up drum set, a piano/keyboard, clothes, dishes, craft stuff, etc., etc. More details will follow on Facebook. We’d love to see you all there!
What’s your timeline?
Well, these tickets are for July 2. If they get cancelled, I suspect we’ll leave a week or so on either side of that date. So We’re beginning to semi-quarantine Kid after June 13.
We’re planning to have an open house on the 11th/12th where we’ll also give away all of the stuff we’re not taking back with us (see above).
Other than that, we’re going to be spending time with friends, family, and other people. We will be closing down this household, doing some last minute shopping, keeping up with friends and projects in Mongolia, enjoy food here that we can’t get there, last doctors appointments, etc.
What’s up with Kid’s school?
Mongolian public schools normally start September 1. Her private school normally starts August 15. But school ended early this year after a rough year of distance learning (via television & internet) so they’re starting early next fall. It is unclear if unvaccinated students will be able to attend class in person. It is also unclear if the private schools will be able to make a decision about in-person learning independently. We are very hopeful that Kid will be able to attend in person as it will be good for her soul to be around people and it will give us some time to work on projects, attend language classes, etc. But, who knows what will actually happen. No one. No one knows.
If you have other questions, feel free to comment below or on Facebook!