Almost everyone requires a visa before travelling to India, though the process for obtaining a standard tourist visa has been streamlined a great deal in recent years, and online applications are now accepted for shorter visits. If you’re going to study or work, you’ll need to apply for a special student or business visa.
Citizens of the UK, Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and most other countries who only plan to visit India for up to one month can apply online for an e-Tourist Visa (eTV) through the Indian government’s official online portal (indianvisaonline.gov.in). These single-entry visas are valid for thirty days from the date of entry and must be secured at least four days (and no more than thirty days) before travel. You have to fill in the application, upload your photo and pay the fee online, then carry a printed copy of the eTV with you to India; you’ll be issued with your visa on arrival. Fees vary between zero and US$60, depending on your nationality, plus a small bank charge.
If you wish to stay in India for longer than thirty days, or are passport-holder from one of the few countries not covered by the eTV scheme, you will need to organize your visa in advance. Standard tourist visas are valid for a year (up to ten years for US citizens) from the date of issue (not of departure from your home country or entry into India), with a maximum stay during one visit of 180 days. Fees are a princely £102 for UK citizens but vary greatly for other nationalities – check on the respective websites. You’re asked to specify whether you need a single-entry or a multiple-entry visa; as the same rates apply to both, it makes sense to ask for the latter to cover all eventualities. Your passport will need to have at least 180 days’ validity.
Visas in the UK, US, Canada and Australia are no longer issued by Indian embassies themselves, but by various third-party companies or subcontractors, for a small additional fee. The firms’ websites give all the details you need to make your application. Read the small print carefully and always make sure you’ve allowed plenty of time. Processing time is usually two to three working days but it’s wiser to leave at least a week. Postal applications take a minimum of ten working days plus time in transit, and often longer.
Elsewhere in the world, visas are still issued by the relevant local embassy or consulate, though the same caveats apply. Bear in mind too that Indian high commissions, embassies and consulates observe Indian public holidays as well as local ones, so always check opening hours in advance.
In many countries it’s possible to pay a visa agency or “visa expediter” to process the visa on your behalf, which typically costs £60–70/US$100–120, plus the price of the visa. This is worth considering if you’re not able to get to your nearest Indian High Commission, embassy or consulate yourself. Prices vary from company to company, as do turnaround times. Two weeks is about standard, but you can get a visa in as little as 24 hours if you’re prepared to pay premium rates. For a full rundown of services, check the company websites, from where you can usually download visa application forms.
It is no longer possible to extend a tourist visa in India, though exceptions may be made in special circumstances such as serious illness. Many travellers who want to spend more time in India go to a neighbouring country such as Nepal for a new visa when their old one expires, but there is no guarantee a new one will be issued right away, as you are not officially allowed to spend more than six months in the country within one year.
Indian embassies, high commissions, consulates and visa-processing centres abroad
Australia c/o VFS Global. Offices in all states except Tasmania and NT – see website for contact details.
Canada Nine offices countrywide – see website for contact details.
Ireland Embassy: 6 Leeson Park, Dublin 6 01 497 0843.
Nepal c/o Indian Visa Service Centre (IVSC), House no.296, Kapurdhara Marg, Kathmandu 01 400 1516.
New Zealand High Commission: 180 Molesworth St, PO Box 4045, Wellington 04 473 6390.
South Africa High Commission: 852 Francis Baard St, PO Box 40216, Arcadia 0007, Pretoria T012 342 5392. Also consulates in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.
Sri Lanka High Commission: 36–38 Galle Rd, Colombo 3 011 232 7587; consulate: 31 Rajapihilla Mawatha, PO Box 47, Kandy 081 222 4563.
UK c/o VFS Global. Offices in twelve cities in Britain and Northern Ireland, including three in London – see website for contact details.
US c/o Travisa. Offices in Washington, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston and Atlanta – see website for contact details.
CIBT Australia 1902 211 133, Canada 1 888 665 9956, UK 0844 800 4650, US 1 800 929 2428.
India Visa Company UK 020 8582 1117.
Travel Document Systems US. Offices in Washington DC, Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle.
Visa 24 UK 0800 084 5037.
Visa Connection US & Canada 1 866 566 8472.
Visa Genie UK 020 571 0883.