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India Tourist Visa Nightmare

April 15, 2011

India Tourist Visa Nightmare ( map)

BEWARE! If you want to get a simple tourist visa to India while traveling Asia and you hold an American or Australian passport, it will likely be impossible or a nightmare not worth pursuing. In 5 years of non-stop travel as a family, with many simple tourist visas easily acquired, we were shocked by how ridiculously hard it was to just take a week trip to India. Do NOT wait to book this visa on the road of travel ( which one does with most) but book before going in your home country. This was particularly hard for us because we are not twenty something backpackers just partying at hostels, but "boomer" long term travelers with a young child in school with responsibilites and a leased furnished flat.

INDIA TOURIST VISAS ARE DIFFICULT OR IMPOSSIBLE FROM THE ROAD

Since running into this India visa problem we have met other travelers online who had the same problem, because it is not one that you would expect. Most place like to have middle class tourists visit. If you are traveling on a tourist visa, you can not get an India tourist visa in Malaysia or Singapore. One friend said she could not get it in Bangkok either ( she had to go all the way to Bejing to get it) but I have heard both possible  and impossible experiences on getting such in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Because our RTW ticket has had us booked from Penang to Delhi, India leaving on May 1st ( to Singapore first and onto India on May 3rd) ever since our purchase last September, it would have been really nice to have this important information at the time of purchase. We had to find out the hard way. First we called the two top travel agents in Penang, one was a referral from a good local friend here who lives in our building and is the general manager at a major hotel here ( thus someone the agent wanted to please).

When it became immediately clear that this very simple process was going to be difficult, DaVinci took a very early morning hours bus ride and spent one whole day trying to work it our with the travel agent as she talked to the Indian High Council in both Penang and Kuala Lumpur.

That was last Friday's wasted day. We were suppose to fly from Delhi to London, so just booked a week there to visit old friends who have a farm near Delhi (he is a pilot and she  does amazing esoteric healing with a Tibetan traditional medicine man)  as well as take a fast trip to see Taj Mahal. We thought it a nice way to break up the long haul as well between SE Asia and Europe.

Cooking Indian food

INDIA'S CRAZY TOURIST VISA POLICIES

Recently we were invited to visit Bhutan and Jordan by their tourism boards and planned to travel to both from Delhi, so this problem complicated everything as we are still in limbo lost in bureaucratic complications as the time ticks away for our take off from Penang date, May 1st. Meanwhile I am dealing with digestive health problems that have plagued me for the last year since my bike accident in Austria, but have been worse these last 5 months in Penang and taking up much of my days trying to solve. (I've learned so much through our process that I will do a whole series on health on the road once I have time).

Friday's failure led us to calling our agent where we booked our RTW ticket who told us to go ourselves to the embassy. So we spent the weekend filling out several detailed forms needed and getting passport photos for the India tourist visa, ( all time consuming when you go every where by bus) even though we knew this was a long shot. The rule is that if you do not have a business, school or working visa for Malaysia, then you can not get a travel visa for India while in Malaysia.

Our child has a student visa ( that was obtained by her Mandarin school here) so she can go visit India, but her parents are visiting Malaysia on tourist visas so we can not. In our case there is a possible way around this as we can apply for guardian visa's in Malaysia because she is a student, but that is complicated and takes a month or more to obtain. Some say it is just for the mother and others say it is for both parents.

INDIA AND SE ASIA CAN BE SURREAL - BIZARRE TRUE STORY

Davinci got up at 5AM on Monday morning and took an hours bus ride to the station in Komtar and got a taxi to the center of old Georgetown where the India embassy ( India High Commision Visa Center) is located ( which no old timer taxi driver knew where it was at first). Funny how place terms like Komtar, Tanjung Bungah, Batu Ferringhi  etc rolls off our tongues with relative ease now ( but I still have to look up the spelling. Everything is in English here, but place names).

He got to this very funky, ancient building in the  Little India section of Georgetown at 7:50, the first person in line as he watched the crude exposed electrical wires above, smelling stinky gray water drains and observing merchants sweeping, and various Indians walking by with hot big tubs of colorful Indian food. The large metal doors were locked.

Suddenly, a casually dressed, loudly moaning Indian man pulls up in a motorcycle and parked right in front of him. He clearly was in great pain and slowly got off the motorcycle saying that a car had just run over his foot! ( Wild traffic and crazy moped driving is part of Penang and Asian life). Sure enough he had car tread marks on his loafer that was all twisted off at his heal. He sat on the bike and carefully took off his shoe and sock. He tried to bend his toes and they were extremely black and blue, easily seen even on his very dark Indian skin as well as the top of the foot above the toes which was scraped.

He some how hobbled his way to the stairs in front of the building and sat down continuing to moan in pain, DaVinci trying to help as he could. A nearby Indian merchant who was clearly his friend, came by and they discussed the accident in an Indian language DaVinci didn't understand, then his friend opened the office for him. After composing himself he hobbled into the tiny office, entering the private area and leaving DaVinci with the handful of plastic chairs at the counter. A few minutes later he stood at the window and asked DaVinci, " Can I help you?"

Living in Asia is often like living on another planet and surreal. DaVinci answered, "How is your foot?". He could not convince the man to put ice on his foot and eventually he found out that we had all but no chance to get these simple travel visas to visit India. DaVinci was there for hours and the man never went to the doctor, but carried on with his work.

cooking Indian food in little India in Penang

WHY WE WILL SKIP INDIA AND THE TAJ MAHAL THIS YEAR

There was a long shot that if he went to KL he might be able to plead our case and convince them since we had a kid in school here as well as a ticket already to India and beyond. Meanwhile, I was getting much sicker with the digestive problems ( more about that in our next post) , so we needed to handle that immediately before take off.

It costs over 200 dollars for the India travel visa for the three of us ( good for six months) , and suddenly afer two weeks of struggling to get this, it didn't seem like such a good idea, so we decided against going the 4/5 hours by bus and ferry ( one way) to KL and adding those costs for just one week of travel when it is so miserably hot in India now. I am exhausted by trying to coordinate things with many people in several wide ranging time zones, who only wake up late in my day when I am tired.

The universe seems to be telling us not now. Makes more sense to add this next year, as we are already tired of India. We will be back next year for more Mandarin school, so can pick up our India tourist visas in San Francisco where we will be for Thanksgiving and before heading back here for another winter. Then we can take more time in India and go when the weather is perfect.

HELLO SINGAPORE, BANGKOK, BHUTAN, JORDAN AND EUROPE!

Thus India is out, but, after much juggling behind the scenes, we will soon fly out to Singapore, Bangkok, Bhutan and Jordan on our way back to Europe for the summer. We are really excited by all of them! Due to this strange rule, our RTW agent helped us reroute to Bangkok instead of India at no charge to us, which we are grateful for. We've never had a more difficult or bizarre trip planning process, but things all work out in the end, eh? The great thing about being a digital nomad family, is there is always a plan B, or C, D, E, etc.




 

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Violeta

Sorry to hear about your trouble getting an Indian visa. It wasn't meant to be and I agree that probably not worth the hassle when you can do it next year. When you get it in the States, you probably want to apply for the 10-year visa (I think that the longest time they give it out). It costs a little more, but it is good because then you just have it and don't need to go through this again. Though of course, I cannot remember what is the rule if your US passport expires meanwhile - probably you can show up with both old and new passports or have it transferred into the new passport. I've heard before it is a nightmare to get Indian visas in other countries than one's home country, so we got ours last year.

I look forward to your series on health care on the road - that's another major concern I have when travel. Not just health remedies, but also health insurance (since travel health insurance like the one from World Nomads does seem to be good only in emergencies situations). Since we are also EU citizens, I am trying to figure out if there other options available to us, eg buying private health insurance in Europe.

Good luck with your travels this summer. It all sounds wonderful - even without India.

Margaret Sch

Wow, I surely hope you get better soon! And your new travel plans sound very good. Wishing you all the best, and can't wait for pictures and tales.

Em Howle

Talk about surreal. Just read your post sitting in a hotel room in Dehli after moving moutains, it felt like, to get here for the weekend. We're an American family in Dubai, but came to Dehli to see our son run in a regional track meet. He got his visa fine. My husband and I did not get ours till 6:30pm Thursday for a flight out at 10pm that night. Total empathize with your frustration! India is fascinating, heartbreaking, gross. I feel like I see every ethnicity in the world reflected in the faces here. Hope you get here sometime. Probably best that you're waiting till your digestion gets on track. Enjoy Bhutan -am so jealous. Went to Jordan last fall. Petra is amazing!

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Do they still do that 10 year visa for India, Violeta? I will have to look into that as that does make more sense for us...with Asia as one of our bases now.

So many people online have been telling me their own disaster stories about getting into India...even some Indians! Strange that they would make it so difficult. I hear the legal system is VERY bureaucratic there and that's the problem.

Sooo much good info to tell about health with links and many ideas. I will try to give a few in my next post, but tons of great info that has helped us.

We're on a tight budget, so always looking for the best at the best price.

I see health insurance more as asset protection. Other than the US, most places, health care is good and very affordable...BUT one wants to be covered for a major problem.

We use IMG with a very high deductible, then only add emerge evac for the rare times we go into areas where one would really not like to be hospitalized...like Morocco.Even then we only would want to be evacuated to Spain, NOT the US.

The US is the worst possible place to have a health care need ( dental or hospital etc) & we have to get a separate policy just for our time there.

My severe accident in Austria was very low cost for top care ( we paid out of pocket due to our high deductible & made up those costs else where...like being forced to travel slow for a while).

That would have cost a fortune in the USA. The rest of the world has better health care at MUCH lower cost, so the insurance isn't as big a hassle as you might think. We save a bundle on health care costs just by doing it outside of the US.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Aw, thanks Margaret! Me too, I think I am finally making progress, but I am nervous with only 2 weeks to go. I can not tell you how many doctors and health professionals that I have consulted about this. Not an easy problem to solve it seems.

I am really excited and pleased about Jordan and Bhutan, both beautiful and sacred destinations with unique attributes.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

That is funny, Em. Sorry you had so much trouble, but glad you made it!

Interestingly, our friends who live in that farm outside Delhi now, use to live in Dubai and we were going to visit them there ( and a few other places) but have not made it yet. Our kids were good friends in Cal when small.

Yes a bad belly doesn't make delhi belly sound too inviting,eh?

We'll definitely go next year as one can not do a world tour with out the Taj Mahal & we do want to see these friends. ;)

Bhutan and Jordan should be great trips, so we are psyched about them & honored to be hosted! I think we are the first travel bloggers ever to be hosted in Bhutan, so pretty thrilling.

Shannon O'Donnell

Sorry to hear you had such a hard time getting your visa in Malaysia, nearby countries are not so bad actually; James Nomadic Notes got his in Chiang Mai just last month, and Phnom Penh, Cambodia has an Indian consulate that issued me one no problem!

On a different note, looks like we may be crossing paths in Jordan next month, so I hope we get to share a coffee at least at some point! :)

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Yeah, it really varies, Shannon and I can't tell you how many horror stories that I have heard online from people who have had a really hard time getting an India Tourist visa..in MANY places..even Chaing Mai ( but I do know Aussie James got his there).

I have never heard of another simple tourist visa that is this difficult except Russia, so people should be warned.

Many try to get it in KL or Penang or Singapore ( popular spots..as I think James did first) so they should know ahead of time that it is impossible in Malaysia or Singapore...and may be difficult in other places.

Thankfully, it's not a big deal for us because we are perpetual travelers, so we can see it again and it's too miserably hot in India now any way. But it can really screw over someone on just a years trip ( as it's only good for 6 months even if you get it in your home country & that can impact a years trip & possibly force planning in a way one would rather not go).

Even we will probably go for the 10 year one now, so we can go when we want to, now that we have Asia as one of our travel "homes".

I think it takes a week or more even if one is lucky in other places, so that cost and hassle for the 3 of us, ( plus take kidlet out of Mandarin school our main objective in Asia) just wasn't worth the effort for a iffy possibility for only a week in India. Even on cheap airlines, costs add up for 3 and then the added costs of lodging and food, when we have a "home" here and we are not big on hostel backpacker group living.

Cool that you are going to Jordan too..they really should have travel blogger conference there as it's getting as popular as Chaing Mai/Bangkok for backpacking travel bloggers.;)

I don't think we will be in the same places or at least not at the same time, but if we get a chance, let's meet up!

with2kidsintow

OMG--we were planning on getting ours in KL too!!! and we're aussies!!! we couldn't get it at home due to the timing (we're on a long trip) of the length of the visa, although we were going to do it in CM, but even that was too far out. if shannon could give me some info on how long it took for her to obtain it in PP, we might have a chance with that, otherwise may have to try for Manila or Colombo (Sri Lanka)!!! so definitely they have the rule in malaysia that you cannot obtain a tourist visa for india if you are only a tourist in malaysia??

they make things so hard!!!

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Yep, Jess, you are exactly, the kind of folks I wanted to reach with this post, so you didn't have to learn the hard way like we did ( and our aussie friend).

If you are going to China, I hear that it is easy there. Crazy huh?

Yep, you can not get it in Malaysia...they say so right on the forms on the internet. They make very rare exceptions, like if you have to go to a family members funeral in India.

Usually, I hear they take 5 days to 2 weeks to get them ( insane) so proper planning is needed for sure.

These things are always trickier with a family than as a single.

Good luck!

with2kidsintow

thanks so much for your post!!! it was timely! at least we won't waste our time in KL and we are now leaving ourselves open for 'Plan B, C, D and E'.

Ms Traveling Pants

I'm sorry that you are having this experience in combo with being rather under the weather. What a tough spot to be in!
Good luck on Plan B, C, D, or E. Whether traveling, under the weather, or not, we all need these.
Keep us posted with lovely pics and the outcome.

Julia

Oy, I am so sorry to hear about this! I hope it was worth it in the end...

Marlana

I've known people to get visas from Bangkok, not Chiang Mai -- but they aren't on tourist visas.

Right. This is a miserable time to visit SE Asia. But we've had a really mild hot season this year in Northern Thailand; I don't know about India.

Unfortunately, one of the worst parts about living in Asia is the traffic. Anyone who's lived there long enough has seen people die in accidents.

Camels & Chocolate

We're going to be in Penang for a week later this year. Would you recommend it for visitors (we already spent three weeks in Malaysian Borneo last summer), or is there somewhere else nearby we ought to consider going instead, do you think?

Also, we're going to India--just for a week--but my new employer is (hopefully) taking care of the visa, so I'm hoping to avoid the difficulties you experienced!

Yvette

Well that sucks.

Come to Nepal next year instead of India btw- been here almost a week, no visa issues whatsoever, and similar to India tho not quite as insane. Though I'm sure Bhutan will be similarly interesting!

Heidi

Wow - this is so great to know before we set out on our own travels. Thank you so much for sharing details like this.

And I love your take on the contingency plans - if you are willing to roll with the punches, you can make it work no matter what happens. I'm certain you cannot survive the lifestyle you lead without this flexibility and adaptability.

Another inspirational post - this time for more practical reasons!

Kristy

Singapore is quite easy, we got 6 month multiple entry visas for the kids. Waiting time is 5 days and you are required to plan in advance (at least 60 days before you intend to travel). Hopefully you get it sorted out for next year and you get to travel to India. We are taking off to Cochin India tonight and will be happy to share any tips we find.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thx Mstravelingpants! It's been a challenging time, but we are making it and learning a lot along the way, so it's all good!

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Julia- Yeah, a little high drama, but things have a way of working out. ;)

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Marlana- I couldn't agree more with you about the traffic. We saw another wreck the other day and I cringe as I see all the kids and babies riding with parents on those crazy mopeds in wild traffic.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Camels & Chocolate..Penang is definitely a fascinating world heritage site not to be missed. Most say it's the best food in Asia and Singaporeans drive 9 hours just to eat it.

You might want to also check out nearby Langkawi that is just a short boat ride away.We've been invited to the Four Seasons there which looks divine, but haven't had a chance to get there yet...lovely romantic spot for a couple.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Yvette...sounds cool & we'd love to see Nepal. Glad now that we are missing India and we'll pick it up later. Enjoy Nepal and we'll wave to you from Bhutan soon!

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks Heidi for your kind words, glad it's a help! Yep, flexibility is probably the most important key for travel and a travel lifestyle like this. I also think it's great training for my daughter as there will be even more need for flexibility in the future in our fast changing world.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks Kristy? Don't you live in Singapore and the kids are full time students there? That makes all the difference.

My child could also easily go to India because she is on a student visa.

The problem comes in for Malaysia and Singapore ( and some other places in Asia) when one is seeking a tourist visa into India when you have only a tourist visa in Malaysia or Singapore.

It's crazy and a rather new rule. Some say two years old and others say it just changed this past year.

That 60 day wait would be a killer too for most travelers.

Have fun in India, we look forward to it next year and are happier now with our current plans of Singapore, Bangkok, Bhutan and Jordan. Heading to the zoo and bird park this time btw in Singapore! ;)

Loved our tropical winter in Asia, but now really ready to get back to European explorations and our many friends there.

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