Newbie travelling to India
November 24, 2013 9:49 AM   Subscribe

I'm contemplating travelling to India (New Delhi to start with) in January for ~10 days and meeting a friend there who is a naturalized US citizen who was born and raised in India. I know I need a visa in advance of leaving (gathered that much from the US State Dept website) but which kind? And: what else should I know?
posted by eustacescrubb to Travel & Transportation around New Delhi, India (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You would get a travel visa.

Can you be more specific with your questions? What's your situation, what do you want to do/see when there, what are your concerns?
posted by bearette at 10:33 AM on November 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

"what else should I know?" is a little vague for us to give you helpful answers. Are you asking: "What else should you know about the visa process?" Or do you have specific questions about other aspects of traveling in India?

As for the visa, I don't know what type of visas are available today but you probably want something called a travel or tourist visa. I got a visa for a study abroad program in India (5-6 months) maybe like 7 years ago. I don't recall what kind it was but I do recall that it was a bit of a hassle (played a lot of phone tag because there was a minor error on my form) and wasn't super quick to procure, so you need to get on it sooner than later. It may be easier if you are in a city with an Indian consulate office and are able to go in person (though not necessarily).
posted by dahliachewswell at 10:36 AM on November 24, 2013

There are also visa services which can process your visa for you if you don't live near a consulate office. You can google to find these services. They charge a fee, but are pretty convenient.
posted by bearette at 10:38 AM on November 24, 2013

Yes, just be clear, I was able to procure a visa remotely by mailing in forms and talking on the phone back in 2005.
posted by dahliachewswell at 10:41 AM on November 24, 2013

Response by poster: Sorry to have been vague; yes, I was asking about the visa process and anything else specifically related to travelling; once I'm there I'd be in the capable hands of my friend. Specifically: is it too late to get a travel visa for January if I start the process now? Is there only one kind of travel visa? Etc.
posted by eustacescrubb at 10:56 AM on November 24, 2013

Your best bet is to contact either the consulate or visa service agencies directly (they all have websites). visa regulations sometimes change and they are your best bet to get the most up-to-date information.

When I applied for my visa to India, I went on the consulate website, filled out a form which I had to bring to the consulate, and after I dropped my form off the visa was mailed to me in about a week. This was in China, however, not the U.S.- but generally, visas take not much longer than a week (in my experience) barring special circumstances.

There's one kind of tourist visa, that's all you need. The other kinds of visas are for business, study, and I forget what else but you definitely only need to and should apply for a tourist visa according to regulations.

But yeah, contact either the consulate or visa service agency directly. People here can share their experiences with you but what you need iscurrent, up-to-date info specific to your location and situation.
posted by bearette at 11:10 AM on November 24, 2013

Best answer: Last year, when I went to India, Travisa was still the company in charge of processing visa applications -- it seems that it's now BLS International.

Things that came up for me in getting a visa (I'm a US citizen, not of Indian descent), and that it might be helpful for you to know:
-- There's a fairly significant fee (for me, it was over $100, plus freight costs for the passport).
-- You'll need to send in photos. I got mine at CVS and they were fine.
-- Do it early! The visa takes time to process. I got my passport back in just a couple weeks, but do it as early as possible, I think they recommend about 6 weeks before your trip. You should be fine for January, but try to send it in ASAP for peace of mind.
-- On the other hand, the processing is a lot faster if you can go in person to a consulate or embassy, but which consulate/embassy you'll need to go to depends on which region you live in, so that may or may not be a possibility for you.
-- On the application, they ask for a contact/address in India. I was visiting a friend who didn't have a permanent address there or hotel reservations, so on his advice I just used an address for a hotel in the area where we were going to stay at the beginning of the trip. That wasn't a problem.
-- There are visa options for people who are originally from India, need multiple-entry and long-term options, etc. I know I was confused about the options, but just go with what seems like it makes the most sense for you and don't over think it. I personally went for the no-frills regular tourist visa, and it was completely fine.
-- For the flight, the best deals I found were on MakeMyTrip. Most of the airlines are either Asian and will give you a stopover in Asia (usually Seoul, when I was looking), or are European and will give you a stopover in Europe (usually London, when I was looking). I took a very long layover in London (a day and night) on the way back to stay with friends, and it was great, I'd really recommend long layovers where you can leave the airport and relax a bit to keep jet lag and just plain exhaustion to a minimum. Get the plane tickets as early as possible, the prices go up fast and there's a huge difference in price between "cheap" and "expensive" (double, triple the price).
posted by rue72 at 11:15 AM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: rue72 - am I understanding correctly that you had to mail your passport ?
posted by eustacescrubb at 12:08 PM on November 24, 2013

Best answer: Just a word of warning: BLS seems really incompetent. I've been helping friends who are coming to India for my wedding reception in December get their visas and, while some of them were lucky, others have had long delays as well as requests for more money on top of the amount that was asked for when they submitted the application form. Start the visa process as early as you can.
posted by peacheater at 12:28 PM on November 24, 2013

Just traveled to India from the US. BLS international can handle the visa for you. You want a tourist visa.

Be sure that your passport does not expire in less than six months from your travel date. In other words your passport needs to be valid at least through July 2014 for travel in jam 2013.
posted by dfriedman at 12:30 PM on November 24, 2013

Best answer: rue72 - am I understanding correctly that you had to mail your passport ?

Yes, I mailed the passport, and they mailed it back to me with the visa in it.

I paid the fee via a credit card, but I think I mailed everything, actually, and didn't submit anything online (though I might be misremembering -- there should be directions concerning that on the visa contracting company's site). Some specifics might also have changed, because Travisa was still the visa contracting company when I got my visa.

The visa itself is basically a big sticker (with your info/picture printed on it) that takes up a page in the visa-stamps section of the passport.
posted by rue72 at 12:31 PM on November 24, 2013

Best answer: You may want some vaccinations and a prescription for Cipro in case you get sick (from food or water). I'd suggest setting up an appointment with your doctor to discuss what is recommended.

That reminds me -- take anything medical or any toiletries with you into India, don't rely on getting them in-country. So if you wear contacts, make sure to take enough solution, etc. I didn't want to check my baggage, so I didn't bring any toiletries with me, but then picked it all up in the airport during my layover on the way there (then left my extra with my friend in India). I don't know if that's really worth the time/money, rather than just bringing what you've got with you -- I personally like flying very light and hate checking bags, I always just bring a bookbag or shoulder bag when I travel.

In that same vein: any other personal items that you might need, like clothes, also try to take with you because the selection in India won't be what you're used to. Take more clothes than you think you need, because Delhi is dusty/dirty and you won't be able to re-wear them between washes. If you're female, prepare to wear long pants and loose, long tops every day (short sleeves are OK). I wore leggings and casual, short dresses or tunics a lot, and that worked well. Closed-toe shoes are better than open because the streets are busy, but try to wear shoes that don't require socks (like ballet flats or loafers). Speaking of personal hygiene, you might want to practice with how to use a squat toilet, if you haven't done that before. It sound bizarre, but there are YoutTube videos that will teach you. You can get access to western toilets in plenty of hotels and other places, but there will probably be times when there are only squat toilets available.

I took cash and changed it to rupees in-country (there are plenty of banks and money-changers), and that worked well. You can also get rupees out of ATM machines in India, though I think that's slightly more expensive in terms of the exchange fee. Try not to take valuables with you, you won't have time to bother with your laptop or iPad or whatever anyway, and there are plenty of internet cafes if you absolutely have to get online. I honestly didn't take my phone and if you do, you should try to figure out what kinds of roaming rates might apply if you are carrying it in India. I did take my camera, and would recommend taking one, but remember that you'll need a way to charge it (ie, a converter). In my case, my camera got stolen when I was there (the only thing that got stolen, from my hotel room during check-out), so even though you're probably very safe overall, don't be completely complacent.

Wet naps were a *lifesaver.* There aren't a whole lot of places to wash your hands, but as long as you use a wet nap before eating and after the toilet, and drink bottled water instead of tap, your stomach problems should be minimal. I didn't worry too much about tap water being *in* foods (like lassi), food in general was absolutely fine in my experience, and the water is fine for brushing teeth and bathing, but don't just drink tap water out of a cup (lots of restaurants will put a pitcher of tap water on your table -- don't drink that, even if they say it's OK, request bottled. Even if something wouldn't get Indians sick, your system isn't used to the same things and might very well react). The wet naps are also nice for refreshing yourself and cleaning off your face/neck when you're out. I brought anti-nausea medicine but ended up not needing it.

Also carry tissues -- toilet paper and paper napkins aren't provided in lots of places. Sunscreen can be useful, but I didn't use my mosquito repellant at all; roaches and lizards were more of a presence than mosquitoes (that could be a time-of-year thing, I don't know). I also didn't get any vaccinations, because at the time none were required, and a friend who is a doctor advised me not to (for example, she said she didn't think I should take any anti-malaria drugs) -- that might have changed, or you might be vulnerable, however, so I would check the State Dept site and maybe with your GP.
posted by rue72 at 1:36 PM on November 24, 2013

Best answer: If you're still in Brooklyn, fill out the tourist visa form online for BLS International, print it, and make an appointment on their site to submit your application at their office in Manhattan (13 E 37th St on the sixth floor) to submit it. I was in India last month and took care of the visa application in August. You hand over your passport, extra photo and paperwork, they give you a receipt and you return in 3-5 days once it has been approved by the consulate. They emailed me to let me know that it was ready ahead of schedule. Just be sure to bring reading material, as the appointment is really just a time when you're allowed in the building, then you get a number once you're inside.

As for travel vaccinations, be sure to start that now if you're going ahead with it, as you'll need two rounds of shots over four weeks for the hepatitis vaccination, if you don't already have that. You would also do a third round five months later, but will be 95% covered. I also took a four pill typhoid vaccination and used anti-malarial pills while I was there. You'll want Cipro for the dreaded Delhi Belly and I would suggest taking a probiotic to offset the chances of that occurring. I ate only at the hotels, except for one meal in a restaurant, which was delicious, but then I paid the price for the next 18 hours. I based my vaccinations off what the CDC recommends for India. Some of my colleagues didn't take the anti-malarial as they were just going to be at the hotel and preferred to take their chances. I came back with enough mosquito bites that I was happy that I had taken the pills.

I was in New Delhi for 9 days, before traveling onto Agra and Jaipur...feel free to memail if you want any other info.
posted by icaicaer at 3:32 PM on November 24, 2013

Try to get your visa as early as possible before your trip. It can take a long time. And yes, you do need to give them your passport so they can put the visa in it.

When you fly make sure you have on you an address and phone number for the location you are staying in India and the contact information for people you are staying with. They will ask you on arrival at the airport and you will be dead tired so it is important to have on hand.

Also make sure you print out your flight itinerary for your return flight. Some airports will not allow you to enter without a printed flight itinerary. So you will need this for your return.

Bring a Z-pack. Have toilet paper on you at all times. Don't pet the stray dogs.

Go to Barbeque Nation if you get a chance. Amazing banquet for the equivalent of about $10.
posted by donut_princess at 4:42 PM on November 24, 2013

Others have confirmed that you need to send your actual passport in to have the visa added to it. I wanted to chime in to recommend that you arrange to do so using whatever courier service they use, if they'll allow you to preprint a mailing label as part of your transaction when you fill out that paperwork online. The first time I went to India, I was a poor student and was shocked by the cost of the visa itself, so I thought I'd save the $25.00 (or whatever) and use the "mail it yourself" option when shipping options were presented.

Of course, the passport got lost/was processed incorrectly, and having to apply for an emergency passport (plus the visa, again) before my trip was a nightmare. So, if you can, I'd strongly encourage you to take advantage of any built-in conveniences that BLS has in place for sending in your passport. The extra cost is worth it compared to the potential hassle were something to happen to your passport.

rue72 has given you lots of good advice above. Regarding clothes:

Take more clothes than you think you need, because Delhi is dusty/dirty and you won't be able to re-wear them between washes. If you're female, prepare to wear long pants and loose, long tops every day (short sleeves are OK). I wore leggings and casual, short dresses or tunics a lot, and that worked well. Closed-toe shoes are better than open because the streets are busy, but try to wear shoes that don't require socks (like ballet flats or loafers).

I'd approach this slightly differently. I try to take as little clothing as possible when I go to India, and what I do take is made of lightweight, natural fibers or quick-drying synthetic ones. You can wash clothing yourself (in a home or a lower-budget hotel) or send it out to be washed, dried, and pressed at a midrange or more expensive hotel for a nominal amount of money. Bring enough outfits so that you have at least a few days' worth, but I'd plan to wash things as you go and not schlep around two weeks' worth of outfits. (You'll probably pick up a few things while you're there, too.) I also prefer to wear sandals in India - much easier to clean/dry off. As a rule of thumb, I wouldn't bring any shoes or clothes you'd be sad to have ruined.

I've gone to India about twice a year for the last several years, and my living and touring experiences have run the gamut from totally solo travel in more rural areas to homestays to group trips where we stayed at a Taj hotel and went sightseeing. Feel free to MeMail me if you have any questions about traveling to or within India.
posted by Austenite at 9:37 PM on November 24, 2013

Everything you need to know about travel in India is here. Have a great trip!
posted by Shoggoth at 10:29 AM on November 25, 2013

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