More Jordan links
To get to Syria from Jordan is very easy from Amman. You have three ways of doing it : by bus, by service taxi, or by train.
The train service has now been cancelled.
Probably 99% of people going to Syria go by road. A Jett bus leaves from the Jett international office in Amman every morning at 7am, and at the same time a Karnak bus leaves Damascus. They return to their respective homes at 3pm. Since these buses take somewhere around 4 hours, the two departures a day are quite popular, don't risk turning up at the last minute. This is most certainly the most comfortable way of getting to Damascus, they are large, air conditioned and have plenty of room for storing luggage. The fare is usually around 6JD. The terminus in Damascus is the Karnak bus station, Karnak being the Syrian state bus company as Jett is the Jordanian.
The only drawback is that with a number of passengers in the bus, you are forced to wait for everybody to clear the border formalities. If just one person has a passport/visa problem then the whole bus is delayed. This can be absolutely infuriating.
However the most popular way is by service taxi. These leave from the taxi offices around the Abdali bus station. There are a great number of them: you can hear the drivers announcing their destination. For Damascus listen for "Asham!" the most usual Arab word for Damascus being "Cham". The price is generally 12JD for one seat. The taxi holds five people, and I am the not only one who prefers to pay for the two front seats when travelling alone; the driver believes firmly that time is money, and if you are crammed in with the car swaying around you can find yourself wishing fervently for a flying carpet. Similarly, many couples pay the 36JD for the three back seats. This truly cannot be considered expensive for the journey, which is likely to take something under three hours on the road, quite possibly not much over two. The unknown factor as always is the border crossing, but unless something unusual is happening you are rarely delayed more than an hour total, so Amman to Damascus in three hours is perfectly possible, you can almost always count on less than four. The same holds good about waiting for the last passenger to clear passport formalities, but since there are only five passengers maximum, and the driver pushes you through as fast as he can, there are seldom the same delays that sometimes hit the bus passengers.
So as I said, it is very easy - in theory! And in fact if you have your visa and you have never been to Israel this is all that there is to it.
Previously it was extremely difficult to obtain a visa for Syria anywhere except in one's country of residence. However this rule has been largely relaxed, and now it is generally possible to obtain the visa at the frontier. It's not entirely straightforward; it involves the border authorities sending a fax to Damascus and awaiting a reply which can often take four to six hours. It is also noticeably more expensive than the same visa you might have obtained at an embassy. But at least it is a visa - so one difficulty has been resolved.
A single entry Syrian visa, incidentally, is usually valid for two weeks after your arrival in the country and you have three months in which to arrive. If this doesn't suit you, if you are wandering around before getting to Syria, you might like to know that a multi entry visa is valid for six months, which fact might come in very useful. If you are even considering visiting Lebanon you will avoid an enormous amount of hassle with a multi entry visa for Syria, so it's worth thinking about, however expensive it might be.
Most people can also if they wish, buy a transit visa at the border. The price, like the main visa, depends on your nationality, but is valid for 72 hours. If you are just passing through, this might be enough for you. BUT if the officials are having a bad day, without a visa you are never absolutely positive of being able to enter Syria (and sometimes not then, see below!).
The Israeli stamp! A notorious problem this. (Anybody wondering what I am talking about might like to look at the page on travel from Israel)
But let us suppose that having visited Israel, you have successfully avoided their stamp. This is not enough. An immigration official will probably examine your passport minutely, looking for any anomalies at all in the entrance and exit stamps from the Middle East. If you have entered a country, then you should have a stamp showing where you left it; similarly if you have left a country, then where is the stamp showing your entrance? This catches quite a few people, especially as they don't confine themselves to your current journey, but look at all stamps from former trips as well. ANY SUSPICION ON HIS PART THAT YOU HAVE BEEN INTO ISRAEL OR THAT YOU ARE PLANNING TO GO THERE WILL GET YOU REFUSED ADMISSION TO SYRIA. Never forget that an immigration official doesn't need to have proof of anything - in theory he can refuse you admission if he doesn't like the colour of your shirt!
So check your baggage and your pockets - you might be asked to turn them out, or to produce your wallet for examination. Be sure that you don't have a guide book with pages on Israel annotated, no ticket stubs used as book marks, no odd shekels in your pockets, no tee shirts from Masada, etc etc.
So many things can give you away, not just on the frontier but at any time in the country. If the police catch on, you will be escorted immediately to the nearest frontier, which will not necessarily be the most convenient frontier for you.
The same goes for Lebanon if you are going there - be careful that you show no evidence at all that you have been to Israel.
Some remarks on the trip : it is very likely that a service taxi will stop at some point in Jordan and suggest that you might like to change some money into Syrian pounds. This can be good business for you - or it can be a major ripoff. This last won't happen if you have taken the elementary precaution of checking on the official rate of the Syrian pound before you leave Amman. If you can't find this out against whatever currency you are using, ask about the rate of the Jordanian dinar compared to the pound, almost everybody can tell you this and it will provide a check.
If you get a chance ask any other travellers you meet who have just come from Syria about the black market rate in the souks there. With this information you won't be caught out by the money boys doing a bit of private enterprise!
Coming the other way, things are even simpler. You find a service taxi at the Sumariya bus station or take the Karnak bus in the morning or the Jett bus in the afternoon, you pay the fare which is broadly the same as in the other direction, and there you are! There is no problem is obtaining a visa for Jordan at the frontier, price is 10JD or approx 16USD to be paid in JD. There are plenty of facilities for changing money or for drawing from ATMs at the frontier. There is certainly no point in applying to the Jordan Embassy in Damascus, in fact they often refuse to process a visa for you, saying that you should get one at the frontier. You can only get a single entry visa there however; if you should need a multi entry visa (price 20JD) for some reason, then insist at the Embassy. There is little point in it for most people since single entry visas are so easy to obtain.
Jordan frontier officials usually look at your luggage, often quite thoroughly, but have never given me any particular grief. Be just a bit careful about having too many "duty free" (ie smuggled) cigarettes with you. The driver of a service taxi may ask you to take in charge any purchases he has made - use your discretion here, he could make life a bit more difficult for a few hours if he wanted to!
Again you may be offered the chance for "black market" money exchange. The point about this in Jordan is that, unlike Syria and a few other countries, there is no restriction on currency there, so nothing in particular is to be gained by any private enterprise! In other words, you are very likely to lose when you change money anywhere other than at a bank or with an official money changer, most certainly you won't gain anything.
Bus stations in Syria : by the time you reach the point of heading for Jordan you will have discovered that it is necessary to show passports and have your luggage checked (sometimes very thoroughly) before boarding a bus or a service taxi. Be sure to wave your passport in the air conspicuously, and as a foreigner you can usually escape at least the baggage check. If in doubt, look blank and understand nothing...
Welcome to Jordan!