The Tajik exit formalities were straightforward, taking only about 25 minutes. On the Uzbek side, the immigration formalities were easy, but customs was a little ugly.
Uzbekistan has tight currency controls. If you are carrying undeclared currency, the customs officers are entitled to confiscate it. Which no doubt provides the officers with a significant incentive.
As I approached the customer area, a customs officer was shouting angrily at people and forcing them back. I think too many people had been trying to push into the customs hall proper, so we had to queue outside in the sun. I was eventually spotted as a foreigner and pulled in and given English forms. After filling those out, I joined the actual customs queue. There were separate lines for men and women, with matching male or female customs officers.
Oh my. I had carefully listed all my dollars and electronic gadgets. The initial paper shuffling went fine. Then came the command “dollars!” and I was required to show my cash. So I hauled out my wallet, my money belt and my backup envelope. This was all carefully counted, with two Uzbek customs officers getting involved and me trying to keep an eye on it all. They eventually reluctantly agreed that I had listed exactly the right amount. They asked if I had any Sterling or Euros and seemed dubious when I claimed I didn’t. Then they rummaged vigorously through my day-bag and pack. Then I got directed to a partly curtained-off search room, made to turn out my pockets, and was vigorously frisked. I had my groin prodded a couple of times, but no, I only had the standard items. (To be fair, it was done reasonably professionally. He was checking if I had a stash of money in my underwear.) By now various Uzbeks and Tajiks in the queue behind me were becoming quite impatient and exchanging angry noises with the customs officers.
Then I was given the thumbs up, a reasonably friendly smile, and allowed to gather my stuff and exit. Before going more than a few steps, I stopped and re-counted my money. Rather to my surprise it was all still there. And all my gadgets made it through OK.
Now, I’ve been through Uzbek customs a couple of times before, in the North, with only a cursory scan of my paperwork and no search. So why the extra vigor this time?
Well, this is a much quieter border post, probably with much less supervision. In the North they get a lot of tourists and I suspect they are under orders to keep foreigners happy. Down in the South, they probably don’t see many foreigners and the possibility of undeclared cash-on-the-hoof was probably too good an opportunity to pass up.
Also, I was traveling on a UK passport, but I hadn’t declared any UK currency. Aha! Clearly I must have some juicy undeclared pounds hidden on me somewhere. But no!
Now, I’ve enjoyed my trips through Uzbekistan, so don’t let this tale put you off visiting. This level of scrutiny is unusual and even so it was only 10-20 minutes of nonsense. Just make sure you declare all the money you want to keep.