Help me, already, with my India visa situation! Which Indian visa should I get? Is there a “visa on arrival” or an electronic visa option?
Image credit: Simon/pixabay
There is a lot of confusion about the so-called “India visa situation”. Pretty much everybody needs a visa and this has meant that there are a lot of visa agencies touting their business and charging huge fees to reduce your hassle. After doing some web research, it is annoyingly easy to have more questions than answers.
Believe me, this is the normal experience. Unfortunately, friends, the India visa issue is more complex than it needs to be (fair warning, some would say, for India itself).
When I applied for my Republic of India visa in 2009, for example, I had two separate appointments, needed to hand in a small mountain of paperwork and had to wait two weeks to get my passport back. Communications back and forth with the visa service agency were hardly straightforward and basically very frustrating.
I’m sure it’s not the first time you’ve heard this story.
Times are changing however: most people will now qualify for India’s new e-Tourist Visa or “eTV”. This scheme was introduced in October 2015 and takes some of the pain out of the process.
If you are heading to India, you should definitely consider this option.
What is the e-Tourist visa?
The e-Tourist visa is an electronic visa that you can apply for online. Once you get email confirmation of your “eTV”, simply carry it with you and give it to immigration officer upon arrival. An eTV allows you a 30 day stay in India and is good for a single entry. With an eTV, you can do some sightseeing, visit family or friends, get medical treatment or attend a casual business meeting.
How do I get an e-Tourist visa?
You apply online via a government website, answer a bunch of questions, upload a photograph and pay the visa fee. There are no agents to go through and you don’t, obviously, need to make a personal appointment with a visa center or an embassy.
How much does it cost?
$US 60 for this nomad, although it varies depending on which passport you have. You can see the full list of eTV fees here (current as at August 2016). There’s a processing fee on top of this, which is about $US 1 or 2.
How long does it take?
On average, it takes about 3 to 4 days to get an answer. The Indian Government system will send you an email which is considered your official eTV. It is not an instant system like the US ESTA or the Australian system. Some folks have got their eTVs back in 36 hours.
Am I eligible?
Probably. But you’ll need to check the fine print.
A. You hold a qualifying passport
The range of countries for the eTV program, standing at about 113, is impressive. If you are national of one of the following countries, you’re past the first hurdle.
Albania, Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Cayman Island, Chile, China, China- SAR Hongkong, China- SAR Macau, Colombia, Comoros, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cote d’lvoire, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, East Timor, Ecuador, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati, Laos, Latvia, Lesotho, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Montserrat, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niue Island, Norway, Oman, Palau, Palestine, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, Saint Christopher and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos Island, Tuvalu, UAE, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, USA, Vanuatu, Vatican City-Holy See, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
B. You are traveling to India for an eTV ‘OK’ purpose
You must be traveling to India for “recreation , sight seeing, casual visit to meet friends or relatives, short duration medical treatment or [a] casual business visit.” In my view, this is pretty generous and would cover most casual trips to India. Obviously you can’t work and you’re not allowed to stay longer than 30 days.
C. Your passport has at least six months’ validity and you have two blank pages left
Self-explanatory. Just check your passport to make sure you are good to go.
D. You are arriving by air at one of 16 designated airports
To benefit from the eTV scheme, you’ll need to land at one of the following airports: Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bengaluru, Chennai, Cochin, Delhi, Gaya, Goa, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, Tiruchirapalli, Trivandrum & Varanasi.
You cannot cross a land checkpoint into India (i.e. from Nepal) with an eTV. For that situation, you’ll need a regular visa. However, apparently “foreigners can […] exit from any of the authorized Immigration Check Posts (ICPs) in India.”
You should check the general information provided on the e-Tourist visa website, as these kinds of requirements often change.
Image credit: jackmac34
When can I apply for the e-Tourist visa?
The online system only allows you to apply within 30 days of your intended date of travel. When you actually try to apply, however, it allows you up to 34 days. This is a bit of a “catch 22” because if you are rejected for the eTV and need to apply for a regular tourist visa, 30 days or so doesn’t leave you too much time to get all the paperwork together and book the various appointments at the local embassy. On the flip side, you can’t apply less than 4 days out from your journey.
Why does the visa service company or this online visa agency say that I need the “full” visa?
You may have a trip planned that requires a regular tourist visa (see below). Otherwise, be careful – many of these visa agencies apparently downplay the eTV, so that you’ll opt for a regular, time-consuming visa. They’ll make more money this way. Watch out for fake sites posing as the official site (quick tip – check that the website you are using has “gov.in” in the domain name).
How is the procedure different when I arrive in India?
The immigration officer will check your eTV, ask you to supply your fingerprints for biometric collection (basically you put your fingers and thumb on a scanner) and stamp your passport. He or she may ask you a few questions, so you should have documents on you to show that you meet the eTV conditions. Basically, be prepared to show:
- a return ticket, departing India within 30 days
- hotel or tour bookings or other documents that support your travel purpose
- proof of sufficient funds (credit card or bank account balance) for intended stay
Are there situations in which it is best to get a regular tourist visa?
Yes, for sure. There are key limitations to the eTV you should be aware of:
- you can’t use it to work or stay longer than 30 days
- it is a single-entry visa, so you can’t leave India and come back (you’ll need a new eTV)
- you can only apply for 2 eTVs per year
- you can only arrive at one of the 16 eTV ‘friendly’ airports
- you can’t cross a land border into India with an eTV
- it’s expensive for what it is – some folks can get a 10 year, multiple entry tourist visa for $US 100 to 120
- you can’t extend an eTV (you can extend a regular tourist visa)
Have you visited India on an eTV or sorted out a complicated India visa dilemma? Let us know.
What are your friendly tips? Don’t be shy. Let us know by leaving a comment below.