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Getting an Indian Visa in the USA - Difficult or Simple?

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One of the activities we have been pursuing while saving for our upcoming adventure is acquiring a few of the harder to get visas in advance so we don’t have to worry about them on the road.   Many years ago we wrote about the difficulties of getting visas in a few of the world’s most popular destinations and even at home.  From proof of onward travel to brief validity periods, often only six months, many visas pose a headache of a scenario for those looking to travel long-term.

But recently many of these countries have been revisiting their policies and getting rid of the quick entry requirements that most US citizens had to face.  India is one of these who have recently changed their visa policy; but as we found out, the bureaucracy of getting a visa is still present. 

Hassle or Standard Procedure?

We aren’t really being fair when we call the procedure a hassle.  The process of getting a visa can be a bit involved no matter what country you go to.  Considering we had not researched how to get an Indian visa prior to applying we didn’t really comprehend how much of a process it would be.  As it turns out, the steps are very simple, but you must be prepared for one busy day when looking to apply for an Indian visa before leaving the United States. 

Steps to a Visa

The following is the steps we had to take in order to get our Indian visas as US citizens as of March 2013.  Please check all required steps on the visa processing service you use to ensure that you follow the correct procedure as these may have changed since publishing or may be different for your unique scenario.

  1. Apply online for a visa at the India Consulate’s 3rd party service.  
    • Citizens of the USA can apply for a visa valid for 6 months, 5 years, or 10-years, perfect if your travel is more than 6 months away like ours was.  The latter two categories charge a higher fee, but is worth it if you think you’ll ever make it back to India within a 10-year period.
    1. Include a reference in India such as a hotel or apartment that you have a booking with.
        • If you don’t have one, you may have to make one by booking a cheap hostel and paying a $1-$2 deposit.  You can always cancel this later at a loss of your deposit.
        1. Print your application and attach a 2 x 2 passport photo and sign the forms where needed.
        2. Apply online at the 3rd party service’s application form for handling (same link as above).  
          • This application is for the visa handling service whereas the first application was for the India visa from the government.  You have to have the official government form finished before filling out this processing form.
        3. Scan your India Consulate application (#1) and upload your photo and signature with your online application.  
          • The form will prompt you for uploads of the image and will let you crop the photos accordingly.
        4. Print your application form from Step #4.
        5. Supply proof of residence with your application either in the form of a lease, mortgage scan, or drivers license 
          • All of these likely will require a scan and a subsequent print unless you wish to pay them to make a copy.
          • Our apartment lease used Angie’s maiden name, so we included a copy of our marriage certificate just in case any confusion came up and had no issue.
        6. Buy a money order for the price of the visa, handling fee, and return Fed Ex service for the number of passports you have.
          • You can also include your own return shipping method if it is prepaid; however, we recommend using their service for greatest efficiency.
        7. Send all of these items in a traceable method to the office recommended based on your location.
        8. In the grand scheme of things the list of items that you need to go through in order to get your India visa in the USA is not a big deal.  What we found out in doing the above steps was how big of time commitment it would require on our end to make it happen.  Between the subsequent printing, scanning, reprinting, and so on we found that we put in around 6 hours of time just to put together our applications.   Add in the nearly $400 in fees and you have one busy, and expensive, day.  

          But to put this in perspective, we have to think of the alternative.  We may only spend 4 or 5 days at most in any major city around the world that has an Indian consulate.  Giving up at least a full day putting together an application, plus possibly many days of waiting for the visa to be turned over, and you could have a major dent in travel plans because of it.  Then consider the fact that we may not have copies of our marriage license, proof of residency, or other necessary items with us and we’ll have to add even more time coordinating scans with family back home just to have the correct information to apply.

          A Real Surprise – 6 Day Turn Around

          By the time we shipped all of our documents out to obtain our Indian visas we both felt defeated and apprehensive.  Defeated by the fact that we spent almost a full day working on the documents, and apprehensive at the thought of possibly having something wrong on our forms and the ever present anxiety for trusting our passports with a shipping company.

          The bureaucratic part of the visa application process was over.  Within 2 days the handling service had not only received our passports, but they also emailed us to give us a tracking number so we could follow our passports during the application process.  Every few hours the tracking page would tell us where our passport was at and at what step in the application process it was in; something I’ve never seen before from a 3rd party service.

          By the next day our passports were already at the Indian Consulate and awaiting issue of a visa.  The following day, just four days after shipping our passport out, we got an email that our visas were approved and passports were back at the handling agency!  An hour later they were already shipped out with next day Fed Ex, and were set for delivery the following day.

          To put this in perspective, we had sent our passport out on a Saturday afternoon with two-day shipping (Tuesday delivery), and our passports were returned to us that same Friday; 10-year visa stamped and absolutely no hassle. 

          What was that bureaucracy I was talking about again?!

          The Real Perk – Applying Early

          As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, many of the major countries around the world now have a less strict policy on when you are allowed to get your visa.  In previous years you had to get your visa, enter within 3 to 6 months, and leave before the end of your validity date (normally 6 months).  Due to agreements between governments in major visa countries like India, relaxed policies remove this entry requirement with certain visa types. So rather than buying a 6 month visa that would have expired before we arrived, we could pay a little extra to get a 10 year visa and enter India whenever we please!

          In the grand scheme of things the extra time and money it cost us to get our Indian visa at home was a small price to pay to ensure that we had this hard to get visa well before we were on our way.   Sure, we spent a fair bit of money more than we would have on the road to get the visas, but we now saved a few days of time which would cost far more than the extra cash we spent upfront.

          A small victory for long-term travelers, if only we could get Brazil to change their rules we’d be all set.  Now lets go travel!

          Jeremy is the primary author of

          2013-04-29 07:48:54



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