The last hurdle: obtaining our Indian visas

india2When we started planning this trip, we knew it would be a daunting task, given that we were setting out to plan and book every aspect of a multi-city visit to Asia ourselves. But as we’ve mentioned before, we do enjoy that part of any vacation: for us, reading and planning is half the fun. In previous posts we’ve described our process and hurdles with deciding on the itinerary, and booking flights, both international and domestic. Although we haven’t written about it, researching and booking hotels in each city took a little time as well. We’ve encountered challenges, read reviews, asked advice, watched videos, and made our way through the process fairly undaunted.

Until now.

Nothing has proven to be quite as head-scratching as the process for obtaining an Indian visa. I can hear you now. Seriously, you’re thinking, what’s the big deal? Fill out an application, write a check, done. Right?

Oh, no. Not even close.

We had some inkling early on that the visa process would be a bit of a task, as we perused the online instructions of a company called Travisa, which is (or rather, was: more on that in a moment) the company the Indian government uses for processing visa applications. There was an online form, then lots of instructions for photo sizes, submission guidelines, printing in duplicate, acceptable forms of identification. Oh, and of course the payment, which needed to be done via credit card, but with receipt printed out and signed and mailed in too, or else the payment wouldn’t be valid. Huh?

OK, no problem. We’re college graduates, this can’t be that difficult.

Well, first there is the multi-page online application, which is long and a bit tedious to work in. Although the questions are all understandable, there were a few that required an email or two to obtain the answers, including where each parent was born (specifically, as in, city and state), and the address and phone number of a contact in India (our friend Richard, with whom we’ll be staying in Delhi).

Helpfully, the online application lets you “Save and Exit” your application so you can come back to it to finish later.

Unhelpfully, when you log back in to finish it, unbeknownst to you, the application has changed several of your “no” answers to “yes” answers. Great questions like “were your grandparents Pakistani nationals?” and “have you ever been denied entry into India?

Naturally, we didn’t notice these changed answers until we printed the application. And, of course, once you print, you can’t go back in to fix the answers. Thanks for playing, start over.

As you can imagine, this process took a few days to master, but master it we did, eventually completing two applications (oh yes, one for each of us, twice the fun!), printing in duplicate, and assembling our photocopies of drivers licenses, etc.

Next, time to make payment & mail in. But right after we follow the online instructions for paying what seems an exorbitant amount of money to obtain the right to visit a place for just six months, we notice some fine print: Travisa is no longer the company the government is using for processing Indian visas.

Literally a day or two before we started this process, a new company is in charge. Why did Travisa let us go through the entire process, including payment, on their system? No clue. But, thanks for playing, start over.

Well, not quite. Thankfully, we did not have to redo the applications. Those were still the correct official forms. But the new company, BLS International, has a completely different set of submission instructions, oddly worded checklists, as well as a different payment structure (less expensive, oddly enough), and forms of payment accepted (cash or money orders only). For some reason, they also seem to require fewer backup documents.

It took a few more days to get to a bank during their fleeting, rare, lobby hours to obtain money orders, and then last night we attempted, very carefully, to follow to the letter the submission instructions, which contradict themselves in several places, but consistently warn you about PUTTING YOUR DOCUMENTS IN THE RIGHT ORDER. After much hemming and hawing, we clipped everything together in the order that seemed to be most logical for someone opening the envelope to inspect our applications.

I’m sure we’ve done it all wrong.

So in a short while I’m off to FedEx to mail our applications and passports (gulp), off to New York where they will, hopefully, be stamped “APPROVED” forthwith. Crossing fingers…

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