In 2014, India made a huge decision that would impact its tourism industry radically: the introduction of the e-visa. Instead of forcing tourists to go to or mail reams of tedious paperwork to consulates, one could simply apply online, pay a fee, and get an electronic visa within hours.
Initially, this was valid for 40 countries, then 113 in 2015. As of now, it’s available for arrivals at 24 airports and also 3 seaports.
My last visa expired two years ago, so for my trip next week, I decided instead of taking the hassle of getting another long-term visa, I would try the e-visa.
First, I went to the e-visa website and simply clicked the apply button. For an e-visa, the application was eerily similar to the general tourist visa application in length and breadth, with the typically odd questions I’ve never seen asked from any other country:
What is your religion?
What is a unique mark on your body?
Name all countries visited in the last ten years?
Have you visited SAARS countries in the last three years?
And of course the obvious, have you visited Pakistan or are your parents or grandparents of Pakistani origin? References to Pakistan popped up throughout the application multiple times. Suffice to say, nobody with any history of living or visiting in Pakistan for at least 3 generations will have a chance at receiving an e-visa.
The other two important things to note are that you must have a scan of your passport (maximum of 300 KB) and also a picture with a white or light background, minimum of 300 x 300 pixels, but maximum of 1 MB. It was actually tough for me to find a picture with a faint background, but eventually I found one of me standing in front of a light blue sky.
The final piece is to pay the fee, this varies based on country of residence, but for US residents it is $75. This is quite a lot for someone who visits often, as a 10 year visa is only $150. However, for tourists who are only going for a once in a lifetime trip, this is definitely worth it. Even for those who go frequently, it may still be worth it as you do not have to give your passport to a strange third party agency who may lose it.
After making the payment, I received an approval e-mail after just fifteen hours. This was much faster than the three or four days I was expecting. All one needs to do is print this out and take it to the e-visa line upon landing.
The dates on the e-visa are a bit deceptive and confusing. You have 120 days to enter India from the date of approval. However, once you enter, the validity is only for 60 days. This 60 days allows up to two entries. Also, an e-visa may only be granted twice a year.
All in all, this was a relatively painless process compared to the headaches of going to the Indian consulate or third party providers in years past. India’s tourism has predictably shot up in response to this initiative. This seems to have caused ripple effects to make other changes beneficial to tourists as well. For example, the tourism ministry is now giving free SIM cards to tourists upon landing in certain airports and shockingly, the Indian Railways website now accepts foreign credit cards and allows foreigners to create accounts. I will test both of these functions very soon and report back.