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Friday, May 04, 2007

Travelling #8: Renewing my Indian Visa

Although I mentioned my time spent at the Indian Consulate in a previous post, I wanted to more fully recount the process and experience for your enjoyment and for anyone's future use.

Ultimate Lesson: Applying for an Indian visa takes plenty of patience.

This is good practice and warning of course for anyone planning to travel to India as doing much of anything official in India in general takes a good deal of patience.

The process is relatively straight forward actually, just slow.

First Visit:
You arrive the first day and fill out and submit a telex form to be sent to your home country consulate for a security check. The office is open from 9-12. Get there early. Like an hour early before opening. After poking around getting going that first morning, I arrived 20 minutes before opening and the line was already 40+ people long. So you get there, join the queue and that is your life for the first morning. You won't likely get out of there before noon.

Technically the window closes at noon, but they may stay open later to clear the queue (since tomorrow a whole new group will arrive, just compounding the problem). Don't count on it though - I've heard both stories.

On the plus side, if you're chatting and friendly, you've got lots of time to meet fellow travellers in line, all wrying, patiently or frustratingly in the same boat. Half the line will be first-timers like you, the other half are on the second pick-up trip. You can tell which are which because the seasoned queuers have brought snacks, water and books.

So we wait and we wait. Not so bad really, nice people, but it kills much of a day. I amusingly note a few travelers hurrying to get and fill in their telex form. They are either not understanding the pace of this line or are overly optimistic. I suspect they have not been to India before. We fill out the form at our leisure, 10 minutes of doing something in 4 hours of waiting.

I meet a cool girl Aussie girl with the very Indian name Citra, who I end up hanging out with for much of the remainder of my time in Kathmandu and a British mountain bike guide in Kerala named Mike. People from all walks of life. Many of us are returning to India.

I should note for anyone using this account: there are reports of the Kathmandu consulate not always accepting visa renewals. Sri Lanka and Bangkok are known to be much easier places for renewing visas. But that said, no one in our weekly queue had any problems and there were many people like me going or back-to-back visas. I did not get asked any questions or had comments or warnings made. I just handed in the forms and got the visa back. So that was my experience. Take the advice as you will.

The two of us get up there just shy of noon, handing in the telex form & being given a receipt (do not lose this for any reason) and a visa form to bring back next time.

The telex costs NRs (Nepali Rupee) 300. Bring exact change! Let me repeat that. Bring exact change! The telex officer may refuse to process your request if you don't. He just says, "find change in the group. Next" 3 of us managed to combine for NRs 900 so that he only had to issue NRs 100 change for 3 people and that seemed acceptable to him. But heed my warning. When we left, at 5 minutes to noon there were some people still frantically trying to work out the small bills.

Another point to note: how long they'll tell you to return to pick up your telex form. The officer will just give you a slip with a date on it. This is usually 3-5 working days. I think everyone in our cohort were getting 3 days. But the office is not open on the weekend, so if you submit your telex on Tuesday like I did, I got my visa by Friday, only a 3-day period, but if you submit on Wednesday, you'll get Monday at the earlier and may get a 5-day wait so a full week. So plan for a week. Do not make travel plans, buy tickets etc. You can try to use these excuses, like, "I need to fly out xx day so can I please have it by then," but they may not care. Don't count on it and remember that is is people like you that is making the line so slow moving for everyone else.
We take off for some chai and lunch, resolving to come earlier and bring more provisions next time. Seriously though, the consulate should install a chai stand and snack counter and they'd make a fortune. There is a small cafe positioned outside the gate though that does very well as they have a guaranteed crowd every morning sharp. Smart.

Second Visit:
So 3 days later, Friday morning, we return, earlier this time (just after 8), but still in the middle of the pack. We are better provisioned. I've brought bakery goods for breakfast, water, a book and of course I now know half the line from Tuesday. We all joke at our common return to the line.

And again we wait in line all morning. Common theme. I'm OK with it though; I planned my week around it.

Bring your completed visa form, NRs 3050 (again exact change) and 2 passport photos (they only needed one, but ask for 2, so don't risk it).

There is supposed to be 2 lines, 1 for telex forms submission and 1 for pick-up, but that, in our experience, broke down into one common line so you can't cut it.

We get out telex back by 11:30 and joined the next line to submit our forms. We're getting antsy about missing the noon close. Thankfully the generous Consulate Staff of the second window stayed open to clear all the visa submissions. We got through by 12:10 with a long line behind us still.

You can shorten this wait for everyone if you don't ask a ton of very simply answered questions: tourist visas for most every nationality is 6-months. No exceptions. If you are a UK or US resident who I hear can get longer visas, you cannot do it in Kathmandu so don't ask. You can only get those long visas at home. So don't try. Transit visas are 15 days. All visas are valid and active from date of application, not entry. So if you want a full 6-months, you need to wait to very close to your departure date. So me for example, I lose 3 weeks because I applied before my trek. That's the deal. No way around it. If you want one of the other visa types (work, student, etc.), those take a lot of paperwork and time and I have not idea of that process. Don't just show up and try for one, these take pre-planning and research.

Third Visit:
Citra and I again go for lunch and hang out for a few hours, then it is back to the Consulate for visit #3 at 4:30 (arrive by 4) to pick up the visa and your passport. It takes at least an hour for no good reason. By this time, we're old friends with our group. And we leave with a shiny new Indian visa is our passports. We're successful! And I've gotten through in time to start my trek as scheduled.

Total time spend at the Consulate: 9 hours.

They should just install a guesthouse there so we can just live there and not bother walking to and from each time!

So that was a good part of my first week in Kathmandu, twiddling my thumbs. Funny little world.

Hopes this helps someone negotiate the process easily and in good spirits!


hans said...

Thank you so much for posting this. It eases my mind a lot to know what to expect.


Ajay said...

My friend, an Israeli citizen,age 46, is in India on a tourist visa and working in an orphanage as volunteer for the past three months. Her visa expires next month. Do you think she can get her Indian visa renewed in Kathmandu? Should she get a letter from that orphanage about her work?

McKay said...

@Ajay, first my post is now a couple years old so I would suggest you also do a search for similar reports that are more current on whether the Indian visa office in Kathmandu is still issuing what they call "repeat" tourist visas - aka people who are just coming off one and wanting another. Some months and years they seem to ban the concept (meaning they want you to return to your home country each time), but many/most of the time they seem to allow it. Certainly this time of year, Nepal is a beautiful place to renew one's visa.

However, one constant advice: no, she should not mention her work in any way to the tourist office as that is technically contravening her tourist visa. Tourist visas do not allow volunteer (or paid) work so she should definitely not breath a word of it. There is no paperwork or letters that will help for a tourist visa, just a story of really loving travelling through India, perhaps friends made, and plans to continue travelling through parts she has yet to see.

The process as I've said isn't complicated or rigorous, just arbitrary, meaning she just has to try, but cannot pre-affect the outcome of whether they decide she will get a full second visa. Tons of people get them, so the chances are high, just check some more recent forums on the latest word.

Good luck!

McKay said...

BTW, I should have long ago updated that this is more or less the same process for getting a visa in Sri Lanka, which I've also done.

The process is the same there as in Nepal, except that when I was there in Colombo, the process actually took a full extra day's visit because the queue line was so long you basically sat in line the whole first morning lining up to get a number to come back the next morning to actually queue up to submit your telefax. So same 3-step process, just with an added day waiting before step 1! Perhaps it has calmed down these days or varies season to season.

I've now moved onto proper employment visas, which last longer (a year), but come with their own whole new set of challenges and stacks of paperwork. Visas are never easy anywhere! :)