update: it looks like they got yet another new visa service provider as of May 21, 2014 (by my calculations they seem to get a new one every couple of years), so many of the tips here are outdated. good luck!!!
i just got my Indian visa and man, the process seemed just as bad, if not worse, than the one for Russia. no, you don’t need to get a hotel to sponsor you, but you’re buried in paperwork and multiple long web pages that just make your eyes glaze over. hopefully this post will simplify the process for anyone in the same situation. note that i’m an American citizen who applied by mail; the process may differ depending on your country of citizenship and if you apply in person.
your mileage may vary — this all worked for me. good luck with your application! also, they are planning to roll out 30-day visas on arrival but that won’t be starting until October (2014), so if all goes well you won’t need this blog post in the near future, but for me, i didn’t want to chance it in case that plan is delayed, and given how problematic the visa process can be, i wanted to give myself as much lead time as possible. (also, this month is the only time i’m home for an extended period of time and can relinquish my passport.) UPDATE: looks like visas on arrival won’t come until some time in 2015. 🙁 /thx @jetsetcd
the only other time i applied for an Indian visa was in late 2001 and it sure seemed easier then. or maybe i was just young and full of energy. either way, i could have used a bit of guidance this time around so i hope this helps you!
about the visa
as an American citizen, you can get a 120-month (10 year) multiple-entry tourist visa that does not expire with the expiration of your passport (just bring your old and new passports with you). there are certain protected and restricted sections of the country (the list is on the previous link if you scroll down) that require special permission that you can apply for along with the visa, although i don’t think these are “tourist-popular” places. there is a separate form and additional fee for this.
the visa is valid starting on the date of approval, not on the date of your first entry, so plan accordingly. the 10-year and 5-year visas cost the same ($150+fees — might as well apply for the 10); the 6-month visa is $60+fees.
what you’ll need
- bookmark this in your browser: the company that is the middleman between you and the consulate/embassy is BLS — their website will be your base of operations. i’ve heard some stories about them (they replaced the old company, Travisa, which was said to have been poorly run, and may or may not be even worse), so i constantly felt like i was pressing my luck. that said, barring a few hiccups the process was mostly smooth.
- completed visa form which you do online and print out when you’re done. as you make your way through the long, long, multi-page form, here are some tips:
- once you get past the first page you will get a code that you can use to look up and complete the form at a later time. once you finish the form, though, you can’t use that code to go back and edit. if you need to make a change, you’ll have to start over.
- it was apparently OK that i didn’t remember the exact places i stayed when i was last in India (1).
- they only offer you so much space to fill in the countries you most recently visited, so you will have to condense to continents (2) [JPB tip #1].
- you need a “reference” in India, which basically translates to a hotel reservation. if you don’t have one yet, just book a cancelable reservation and list that place.
- proof of address i just made a copy of my driver license. a list of acceptable documents is listed on the BLS website.
- photograph you can take your own picture and upload it to the online visa form as you’re filling it out or paste/paper clip the photo to the form after you print it out. note that there are requirements (also on the BLS website) for photos. and it must be said again, don’t use a picture that’s also in an old visa in your passport or you’ll have to submit a new one, which eats up valuable time [JPB tip #2].
- money order for the total amount. 10 years = $150 + fees = $157.70. they request that you enclose a photocopy of the money order (in addition to the real thing) but i was lazy and just took a picture of it with my phone to send them in case they asked for it later, which they never did. (i wasn’t going to go to the post office to get a money order, run somewhere to xerox it, then go back to the post office to mail!) this was the only place where i bent the rules and hoped for the best.
- checklists there are two checklists that i enclosed as well: the Tourist Visa Checklist and the Postal Application Form Checklist.
- BLS order form when you’re all done with filling everything out, complete the BLS Order Form via the link on their website.
- shipping method you are requested to send your application via a trackable service. i used USPS with signature confirmation and tracking — you can buy postage and print a label for a flat-rate envelope online. i placed everything in a big manila envelope and just stuck the whole thing into the free Priority Mail flat rate envelope you can get at the post office. the total cost for overnight delivery with tracking, insurance (i insured for the cost of a replacement passport), and signature confirmation was $10.70. you will need to enter the tracking number on the order form, or i would have just bought the postage at the post office.
- return shipping you can either enclose a prepaid envelope with tracking (you’ll need to provide that tracking number as well) or use their FedEx service. they only accept preprinted (i.e., not handwritten) mailing labels and i didn’t know how best to do that, so i just did their $15 FedEx service. while filling out the order form you can purchase this at the same time (click 1 to order, select “Yes” in 2 to open the prepaid return form options). you will get a confirmation email. put the reference number (3) into the TOP box, not the bottom one like you’d think. (i had to call them to confirm).
- you will also get a shipping label from BLS that you need to print out and tape to your envelope. i just pasted that onto the USPS label.
- enclose a copy of the BLS order form with your application. there was no option for a 10-year visa so i just chose 5-year and handwrote 10 on the printed form. also, the FedEx transaction number didn’t appear so i wrote that in and enclosed a copy of that $15 order confirmation email with my address on it just in case.
cross your fingers
at this point, you should (finally) have everything to send off. once they get it, they have a pretty decent tracking system you can use to monitor its progress. it took me about a week and a half from the day i sent it off to the day i received it back. if you use their FedEx return service, the tracking number might not be active for a day or two after they email it to you. they ship via ground, not express (at least mine), so it may take more than a day to return to you.
again, good luck! if i can do it, so can you!