How to get your passport and visa (Traveling to India series)

Passport and visaYou decided. You are going to India. Congratulations! Your first step is to get your documents in order. 

I will cover the following tips and tricks to speed you on your way: get your passport first, buying extra passport photos and what not to wear in them, fees for both your passport and visa applications, special types of materials and information needed for the visa application, and where to mail your visa materials.

Get your U.S. passport first

You will need your passport before you can get your country-specific visa. For the most current details on passport requirements, see the State Department's passport application site. Here are a few requirements that you might want to know about before you go and try to fill out an application.

Proofs of identification

The state department's website gives more detail on what forms of identification are acceptable, but here are the two most generic forms of i.d. to bring:

  1. Birth certificate (or similar citizenship proof)
  2. Driver's license (or other present identification)

Special passport-approved Photos

You can get passport photos of approved quality and size made quickly at most major drug stores (CVS, Walgreens, etc.).

There are some weird requirements for the photos (probably to make facial recognition software easier to use). To be certain the photographs are acceptable:

  • Do NOT wear glasses
  • Do NOT wear hats or headphones or other head coverings
  • Wear street clothes, NOT uniforms
  • Do NOT smile

You only need one for the passport application, but you'll need 2 more for your visa (so get them made at the same time). The state department's website gives full details on what requirements passport photographs must meet.

Pay fees and turn in application forms

Usually, you would do this in person at an Acceptance Facility or Passport Agency (many post offices, clerks of court, public libraries and other state, county, township, and municipal government offices are so designated by the federal government).

The cost for an adult passport, at the time of this posting, is $135 USD. If you're in a hurry, however, you can pay more to get the application processed more quickly. This expedited service and mailing brings your total cost to $208 USD.

Next, get your Visa from the Indian consulate (using Travisa company)

Now you have a current passport in your hands (that doesn't expire until at least 6 months after the dates you'll be traveling).

Next you need a visa (a permit for traveling into a specific country). The Indian consulate has a 3rd party company do most of the processing for visa requersts, so you'll be sending your application materials to a company called Travisa Outsourcing.

What kind of visa to get?

For Indian visas, you must decide what kind of visa and for what length of time to apply. There are numerous types of visas, but usually you'll be getting the Tourist visa.

How long will my visa last and how much does it cost?

A Tourist visa can be issued for 6 months, 5 years or 10 years. The 6-month visa is the cheapest, but both the 5- and 10-year visas costs the same (almost 3 times more than the 6-month visa). However, the visa process is boring, so you mistsght save time in the future, assuming you want to travel to India later on, by applying for the 10-year visa.

Travisa's site has a current list of Indian visa costs. At the time of this post, the cost for the 5-year visa application was $76 USD and for the longer tourist visas was $166 USD. However, this does not include shipping costs through FedEx which, at this time are $21 each way. So, realistically, the 6-month visa costs $118 USD and the multiple-year visas cost $208 USD.

 What to send in your visa application

There are a number of pieces of information and types of document you will want to collect before preparing your visa application. These include:

  • 2 extra passport photos
  • a money order (make sure to write your application number in the notes field) with your payment amount
  • your passport
  • proof of address (such as a photocopy of your driver's license or a recent major utility bill)
  • your employer's name and address
  • a list of places in India you intend to visit
  • a list of countries visited in the last 10 years
  • a short phrase explaining the purpose of your travel
  • the name, address, and phone numbers of a reference person IN INDIA
  • the name, address, and phone numbers of a reference person in your country

Where to send your visa application

When you're ready to mail in your application, remember 2 things:

  1. Write your Travisa application ID number on the bottom right of the shipping envelope
  2. Send your application materials to the correct regional office of Travisa.

Indian consulates are regional and you must apply through the region that your state falls into. The Indian embassy website lists the four regional consulates as New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Houston. Check their website to see which region your state applies through.

To get your visa, the Indian embassy has designated Travisa Outsourcing to process all U.S. visa requests. If you follow their instructions and use their recommended FedEx shipping method, then your printed application materials will contain the exact Travisa mailing address in one of the above four cites.

Double check your application

Spend the time to make certain that everything is labelled correctly and has all the required information BEFORE your seal and mail off your application.

Travisa will send you email updates about the status of your application, in case you want to track how long the process is taking.