Will India ease visa access for visitors?


I love visiting India. Both trips I’ve taken there were wonderful experiences (like this or this) and I really want to spend more time there. One of the annoying things about the trips is the visa process. Not because it is hard – at least in NYC it is pretty easy – but there is still plenty of standing in lines and paying the fees. That policy may be changing soon, however, as India looks to possibly switch to visa on arrival for citizen of some 40 countries.

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It seems that someone in the Indian government has realized they make a decent amount of money on in-bound tourism and that they could make more if they made it easier for tourists to get to the country. Meetings are expected this coming week to discuss the topic. No idea what the timeline would be on a possible change but I’m hopeful that it comes. My 10-year visa is still valid but I’m likely to get in trouble if I visit (too often) without my wife and getting her a new visa would be nice to do when we get there rather than dealing with the agency in NYC again.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

29 Comments

  1. Just went through the application process again.

    Online form (that you have to print out and sign, natch) requires you to list all of the countries you’ve been to in the past several years but has enough space to list about four.

    Submission by mail requires filling out a form where you list the tracking number of the envelope both for the submission and for return of the submission — and won’t tell you the address to send your package to until you’ve told them the tracking number (which makes creating the form in the first place rather complicated).

    I managed to figure it all out, but it’s not just the advance visa and the fee that’s a pain about India’s process.

    And really they’re just trying to make sure you have no historical ties to Pakistan!

  2. I am currently working on getting a visa for India and it is impossibly hard. They have outsourced the visa services (in San Fran at least) to BTI a new Indian company and its awful.

  3. most likely one of many, many, I complained to the Consulate General about the inefficient visa process and how it it was a deterent to visit or do work with Indian organizations. A change would be good news.

  4. $95 to CIBT and they’ll handle everything for you, get you a 5-10 year visa.

    It will be great if that’s not necessary in the future, but not an unreasonable fee to avoid a lot of headaches.

  5. I saw your posts on travel to India and ultimately, the economies pay a price due to lower tourism.

    Even home grown tourism grows slowly as no one likes to feel scammed.
    When India realizes it (and they do to some extent as in the fixed price taxi rides at airports) they will get more benefit from it

    I was ripped off in Beijing on a local who charged me 40 Yuan for a 3 km ride, But most were OK and charged me correct fare.

    Tokyo and Kyoto were the opposite. You got the exact fare and a receipt at once. You just needed the cash on hand as they did not take cards.They refused tips as well!

  6. You guys think getting a tourist visa for India is hard..try getting an OCI (Overseas Citizen of India)…it’s the most convoluted process that the Indian gov’t themselves don’t know how to deal with!!

  7. @nazgul – OCI is one of the easiest process for what is ‘almost’ a dual citizenship. I dont see any reason to complain there.

    India has visa on arrival for few countries since last few years(Singapore etc,) but due to reciprocity has to require visa from US, UK etc. Even then a 5-10 year visa is great.

    For all those complaining – compare the process to UK or US visa and you will realize India is not that bad. UK has amongst the worse forms(and then a separate biometric appointment required). Google US 221g and you will see the pain people go through for US visa application.

  8. Trust me US citizens really get it easy. Try getting a US tourist visa as an Indian citizen. The will treat you like a suspect. Till an year back you had to go to specific branches and deposit money. And yes you have to physically appear for interviews and biometric tests at selected locations. Say you are in Bangalore, you have to travel overnight to Chennai to appear for the visa just to give US a privilege of earning tourism money. India has a policy of reciprocity which I think should stay in place.

  9. I’ve applied for the tourist visa to India twice here in NYC and it was by far one of the easiest visa applications here for US passport holders! Try applying for a visa to Russia or Iran or Saudi Arabia!

  10. San Francisco is not. I had a personal letter of invite from a government minister and yet I had to demand the consulate return my passport the day of the flight. With my travel schedule i csn not give up my passport for unknown numbers of days on end.

  11. I just spent a few hours getting the paperwork in order for our impromptu trip to India & Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka took about 20 minutes and they came back with an approved ETA in less than 5 minutes although it ended up in my spam folder. India wants to know EVERYTHING about us, our parents, religion, employment, what countries we’ve been in the last 10 years (like Gary I ran out of room). At least we can walk into their visa office in Brisbane and don’t have to mail it off!

  12. @Asar – the reason the U.S. is tough is because Indians coming to the U.S. without being screened will overstay their visas, Americans will not overstay in India. Personally i have no desire to go, having been to Bangladesh so many times, which is impoverished enough, and having so many colleagues get sick in India and continue to be sick for months later after returning home. I just watch Slumdog Millionaire.

    1. Trojan, OCI is nothing close to dual-citizenship. It’s closer to US-type LPR status benefits but falls short of even that.

      Dealing with BTS in the US for an Indian visa is also a pain compared to even dealing with Travisa earlier.

      I was supposed to be in India two weeks ago and would have probably met the external and home affairs ministers on a personal level. I backed out of the trip after BTS messed up some associates’ applications and the Indian government was unable to locate the passports that went into the BTS blackhole which the Indian Government requires to be used by most visa applicants in the US.

  13. I really want this to go through, with the hope that other countries also sign reciprocal arrangement with Indians tourists and give them visa on arrival!

  14. @GUWonder – I know all about OCI – got it for my kids – thats why I said ‘almost’ dual citizenship. US LPR has residency requirements which OCI does not. The only main disadvantage of OCI is you cannot own agriculture land or perhaps run for some govt office.

    I haven’t dealt with BTS so cant comment.

  15. The US won’t be giving India visa waiver program type of access anytime soon.

    India has given visa on arrival to foreigners even in the absence of reciprocity given to Indian citizens. For example, Indians need a visa to visit the Schengen area (including even if visiting just Finland), even as Schengen nationals from at least Finland and Luxembourg can do visa on arrival in India.

    Also, Indian visa policies for foreign citizens are anything but consistent. For example, a Swedish citizen living in the US applying for an Indian visa in the US doesn’t have to come in for biometric scanning to get a visa; however, a Swedish citizen registered as living in Stockholm (or the neighboring counties) now need to come in for biometric capture; and yet a Swedish citizen living in Stockholm but registered in the population register as resident with mamma in Gothenburg doesn’t need to come in for biometric capture to get a visa.

    By the way, it’s important to keep in mind that “visa on arrival” may be quite distinct from visa waiver type of arrangements, especially as the laws/regulations/policies related to one don’t necessarily get triggered by or hit the other.

    I think the Indian government is going to be relatively slow in changing to visa-on-arrival policy for citizens of the US/Canada/UK&IRL as long as the RAW and IB types and their backers get their say at the table. The 2008 Thanksgiving long-weekend massacre in Bombay is still a rather raw wound for many of them.

    If I had my choice, I’d want a Chilean like system for arrival into India: pay the fee on arrival and get in without submitting to a lot of questions or having to submit a rather long double-sided immigration application. There is no way the Indian government is going to make it that simple for US citizens.

  16. trojan,

    OCI is far more restricted than what you mention.

    By the way, some OCIs can lawfully own agricultural land in India, even as they cannot lawfully acquire more such land in India except by way of perhaps inheritance or religious family law. OCIs are not allowed to hold elected political office or hold a whole litany of government positions, even those having little or nothing to do with “security”.

    OCI was gutted from what it was originally drafted to be; and even after OCI was “implemented”, it has been targeted for further restriction, at least administratively. Even some rather basic research and religious outreach programs are no longer as allowed to OCIs in the absence of prior government permission to engage in such as is allowed to ordinary Indian citizens, even those with criminal records. Indian citizens have no such limitations. Even recreational mountaineering — and various OCIs in my family own mountainous property in India — is restricted for OCIs absent prior government permission for such activity.

  17. Let there be no doubt that a bureaucratic, expensive, inconvenient visa process creates a hurdle toward inbound tourism. Brazil, China, India – it reduces travel to those countries, and none of them make it easy or cheap to get the visa, and even worse if you live in a city that doesn’t have an embassy or consulate.

    However, keep in mind that the U.S. is pretty awful for inbound travelers from any country that isn’t part of the visa waiver program. I’m pretty sure people wanting to visit U.S.A. need to apply in person at a U.S. embassy and are not treated very well in the process. Many of these countries won’t treat us any better until we treat them better. So maybe we should start by making it easier for people to visit U.S.A.

  18. Carl,

    China’s tourism visas are pretty easy to get for US citizens even outside one’s country of residence and/or citizenship. Brazil is a bit more of a hassle, but India is even more of a hassle. The upside is that India and Brazil are more likely to give multiple-entry, 5-10 year visas to US citizens than China is for tourism purposes.

    As a US visitor to various EU countries, I can get my Chinese tourist visa in the same day or next day at whole bunch of Chinese embassies/consulates without pulling strings; but to get a same-day Indian visa at India’s embassies/consulates in Europe just isn’t going to happen as a visitor to various EU countries anywhere near as smoothly. Even as US citizen resident in the US, same-day turns no longer are as possible as they were seven months ago.

    While the Indian visa process isn’t usually nearly as bad as the Russian visa process can be, the Indian process has become worse since the Indian government handed the US contract over to BLS after the contract with Travisa was concluded; and the Indian process is more varied/messed up than the Russian process even if BLS is taken out of the picture.

    Yes, the US visa application process is a hassle — and I have Indian and other relatives who have had to go through this process.at US embassies/consulates — but I’ve never been one to recommend following a “beggar thy neighbors” policy. As one famous quote attributed commonly to M. Gandhi said: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” More blind mice and men? No thanks.

  19. I know a US citizen with US passport got visa only during the day of travel. Waited over2 months to get visa from chicago office. She was accused of being chinese even though she can’t speak a word of chinese and was born as a tibetan refugee in india. In india it is all bribe system, if you bribe they take care of you right away otherwise they keep you waiting. I don’t understand why the indians think what they are doing with their visa wait system is so right. US citizens don’t live unlawfully in india and do jobs there.

  20. I know very well just how awful the US policies are in this regard. That is one of many reasons I quite willingly pay the fees to other countries when I plan my visits. I know we’re far, far worse.

    But that doesn’t mean I cannot be happy about others recognizing the value in doing it better and smarter.

  21. @Jim,

    There are US citizens who have been living and/or working illegally in India. There have been US citizens traveling to India on tourist visas and working illegally there; however, this declined after India put in place a restriction generally requiring a 60-day gap between tourist “visits” to India. That 60-day restriction is now mostly gone.

    India’s approach to Tibetan refugees in India is sort of conflicted, even after those refugees leave India.

    1. The passport holder is a US citizen with US passport. Where she was born shouldn’t have mattered. Where she was born and her origin as a tibetan shouldn’t have mattered! The indians know this.

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