Help me travel to India!
September 5, 2014 12:48 AM   Subscribe

Hi, I am traveling to India from the US. I've booked my flight, and am leaving on October 3rd for a ten day visit, along with my husband and my two year old. My husband is an Indian citizen, and has a valid Indian passport. My son and I both have valid US passports. The purpose of the visit is tourism and a family visit. Do we need visas, and if so where do we apply?

I have been googling visa requirements and and all searches lead to the site Travisa. Is this the correct avenue for applying? Do you know if I need to do anything special for my son, given his father is Indian?

I apologize, I feel like this is a very basic question but I'm just a bit confused on which website is the authority and has the visa granting power. Also I live in Berkeley but I saw on Travisa there are special requirements for SF; is that SF residents or people applying in SF?

I am aware I should have nailed these particulars down before booking my flight. Cancellation or change of itinerary is a possibility if needed.

Thank you for your patience and help.
posted by JenMarie to Travel & Transportation around India (9 answers total)
I don't know what Travisa is.
I got my visa from the official Indian government website.
You need to complete the online form, then print it off and submit in person (together with an appropriate photo) at your local Indian consulate. At least, that's what I did. Be warned, the online form is infuriatingly glitchy.
posted by dontjumplarry at 12:58 AM on September 5, 2014

Leave as much processing time as possible. They will keep your passport while they check your credentials and attach the visa into your passport.
posted by dontjumplarry at 1:00 AM on September 5, 2014

(Apologies for the triple post! But it wasn't a consulate, it was a purpose-built visa processing centre run by a contractor to the Indian Government.)
posted by dontjumplarry at 1:02 AM on September 5, 2014

I'm not at all an expert, but I'm almost positive that if you only have a US passport (and not an Indian one), you need a visa at this point.

Travisa is a visa expediting agency, meaning that they will handle the paperwork for you and may potentially have the right connections to get the visa process sped up if necessary. When I applied for an Indian visa (as a US citizen, but through the embassy of a different country I was travelling in instead of from the US), I read a few warnings from people dissatisfied with their services. If you're not scared of paperwork, I'd go through the official channel to apply yourself, but if money isn't an issue, it could be worthwhile.

The Indian embassy in Washington says that this is the official (outsourced) agency to apply for a visa through. That site also says that as the spouse of an Indian citizen, you can apply for a Tourist visa, an Entry visa, or a Person of Indian Origin card (with your marriage certificate). It seems that a US tourist visa can last as long as a more expensive entry visa, so go with the tourist visa. According to the website, processing time is usually 3-5 days once the application is received, so you should be able to get your visa in time.

If you think you might go to India a lot, you should look into applying for the Person of Indian Origin card, which entitles you to visa-free travel to India for 15 years. That same website says that PIO card applications typically take 4 weeks, so it may be too late to apply for that before this trip, although it might be worth a call to learn more.

The forums at India Mike are a great resource for questions about travel to India.
posted by Theiform at 1:35 AM on September 5, 2014

The best way to find the official visa information (rather than scammers and potentially out of date web sites) is to go to the site for the country's embassy in your country, which typically has a page about visa services that links you to their current provider.

That provider has an application center in San Francisco and offer both walk-in and mail service. You'll probably be bounced via the site dontjumplarry mentioned as part of the process.

Special requirements for SF residents doesn't really make sense. There's a consulate in SFO, but they don't handle visas directly. They have a warning about third party agents under "alerts" on their home page, though, so apparently scams are a real thing here.

(Also, India does offer tourist visa on arrival for a small number of countries, but the US isn't on that list. And not SFO either.)

And yeah, one thing to be careful about is Indian holidays -- the provider may be closed on Indian holidays, which are not the same as US holidays. Make sure they're open when you go there to pick things up (speaking from experience here :-).
posted by effbot at 1:37 AM on September 5, 2014

DO NOT use Travisa for this. They had the contract with the Indian consulate a few years ago but don't have it anymore. This is the company to use. We wasted two whole months with Travisa and finally had them send back all of our documents. CKGS got our India visas within 2 weeks. I know it's possible to get visas through the consulates but we are in Seattle and would have had to fly to San Francisco. Paying CKGS was worth it for us. Good luck.
posted by lois1950 at 1:41 AM on September 5, 2014

You do need a visa.

I went to India last year and used Travisa (mentioned above) but it appears, per other respondents, that they no longer do the job.
posted by dfriedman at 10:35 AM on September 5, 2014

My boyfriend and I did this in February (in person, since we're in NYC) on stupidly short notice and once we found the right checklist, it was a remarkably smooth first encounter with Indian bureaucracy. We were afraid we'd jinxed the rest of the trip by using up all our bureaucracy karma right off the bat!

It's extra confusing because the Indian government outsources visa processing and they switched contractors from Travisa to BLS in 2013 and from BLS to CKGS in May 2014, so a lot of online resources are pointing to the wrong place. The CKGS site lists all the steps on this page:

The thing that took me a while to realize is that you have actually two transactions/sets of paperwork to complete, a visa application for the Indian government and an order form for the outsourcing company (then BLS, now CKGS). BF got his passport back four days later, took me a few more days because I had to go to the consulate for an interview.

Word to the wise: If you work for a nonprofit, do not off-handly choose "Charity worker" for your profession because they will make you come in for an interview to make sure you're not going to proselytize or rabble-rouse.
posted by yeahlikethat at 1:35 PM on September 5, 2014

Thank you, everyone, for your answers and information! It's super helpful, especially the explanations about India outsourcing their visa processing and which is the current company. The only snag has been they have no appointments available until October 1, they are closed for holiday October 2-6, and we leave October 3. But I'm hoping we can do it through the mail.

Thanks again!
posted by JenMarie at 2:03 PM on September 11, 2014

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