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Travel Tips


Visas

Depending on your purpose of visit, you can get a tourist visa (six months), a business visa (6 months, one year or more, multiple entries) or a student visa (up to 5 years). A special 10-year visa (US$150, business and tourist) is available to US citizens only. An Indian visa is valid from the day it is issued, not the date of entry. For example, a 6-month visa issued on January 1 will expire on June 30, regardless of your date of entry. There is a minimum two month gap period between consecutive tourist visas. Tourist visa valid for 6 months can have maximum duration of stay of 90 days per visit, depending on citizenship. Make sure to check maximum duration per visit with your local embassy.

As of 1 January 2010, India has introduced a new TOVA (Tourist-visa-on-arrival) scheme, which is available to citizens of Finland, Japan, New Zealand, Luxembourg, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Indonesia and Philippines at the airports in Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata for a stay of up to 30 days. It can take some time (no set period, allow between 1 - 6 hours) to process the application once you have arrived at the Airport. The TOVA Visa costs US$60, is valid for a single entry and is not extendable. In addition, there is a minimum two month gap between the expiry of one tourist visa and the issuance of the next. Please contact the local embassy/consulate for more information. Many Indian embassies have outsourced visa processing in full or in part to third party companies, so check ahead before going to the embassy. For example, in the USA, you must submit your visa application to Travisa , not the embassy.

Applications through these agencies also attract an application fee, above that which is detailed on most embassy websites and should be checked prior to submitting your paperwork. In addition, many Indian embassies only offers visas to residents of that country: this means you should get your visa before you leave home, instead of trying to get in a neighboring country (although, as at August '09, non-residents are able to apply for visas through the Bangkok embassy for an additional 400 THB "referral fee"). Rules and validity of visas will differ based on citizenship. Check the website of the Indian embassy, consulate or high commission in your country or contact the local office. It's wise to ask for a multiple entry visa even if you aren't planning to use it - they cost the same, are handed out pretty liberally and come in handy if you decide last minute to dip into one of the neighboring countries. However, even on multiple entry visas, there is supposed to be a two-month gap between leaving India and coming back into the country.

If attempting to reenter the country before two months have passed, you will be asked for details of your flight home and be made to pay a bribe (up to US$50) to get them to sign you back in to the country. This is true at smaller land entry points. More convenient is simply to visit the Indian embassy in the country from which you plan to enter India and complete the paperwork authorizing the early entry. The embassy will then paste a cool endorsement sticker in your passport, and you'll be set to reenter India. However, you may not need a re-entry authorization sticker if you are following a exact itinerary (for example, if you're travelling to a neighboring country before re-entering India) and present it to Immigration at each entry.
There are other categories for specialised purposes. The missionary visa is mandatory for anyone who is visiting India "primarily to take part in religious activities". This rule is meant to combat religious conversion, particularly of Hindus to Christianity. There have been cases where preachers have been deported for addressing religious congregations while on a tourist visa. You don't need to be worried if you are just on a religious tour of churches in India. If you are on a Student, Employment, Research or Missionary visa, you need to register within 14 days of arrival with the Foreigners Regional Registration Office where you will be staying. If the place you are staying at doesn't have one, you need to register at the local police station. All visitors who intend to stay more than 180 days also need to be registered.

Overstaying a visa is to be avoided at all costs as you will be prevented from leaving the country until you have paid some fairly hefty fines and presented a large amount of paperwork to either the local immigration office or police station. This whole process is unlikely to take less than 3 days, and can take much longer if you include weekends, numerous government holidays and the inevitable bizarre bureaucratic requirements.

Customs and immigration

Clearing customs can be a bit of a hassle, though it has improved vastly over the the last decade. In general, avoid the touts who will offer to ease your baggage through customs. There are various rules regarding duty-free allowances — there are differing rules for Indian citizens, foreign "tourists", citizens of Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan, non-citizens of Indian origin and people moving to India. Cast a quick glance at the website of the Central Board of Excise and Customs for information about what you can bring in. Foreign tourists other than Nepalis, Bhutanese and Pakistanis and those entering through Nepal, Bhutan or Pakistan, are entitled to bring in their "used personal effects and travel souvenirs" and 4,000,- worth of articles for "gifts".

If you are an Indian citizen or are of Indian origin, you are entitled to 25,000,- worth of articles, (provided of course you aren't entering through Nepal, Bhutan or Pakistan.) The other rules are on the web site. If you are bringing any new packaged items along, it is a good idea to carry along the invoices for them to show their value. You are also allowed to bring in 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250 grams of tobacco and 1 litre (2 litres for Indians) of alcohol duty-free. If you do not have anything to declare, you can go through the green channel clearly marked at various airports and generally you will not be harassed. Importing and exporting Indian rupees by foreign nationals is theoretically prohibited, although in practice there are no checks. Indian nationals can import or export up to 7500,- maximum, but on trips to Nepal, this cannot include 500 and 1000 notes.

Domestic flight luggage: Prior to boarding your domestic flights in India as you leave the main terminal, please ensure that you "identify your checked baggage". To do so, ask the airline representative where you need to actually identify the baggage that you have checked for your specific flight. Failure may mean that your checked baggage will not be put on the flight. Unfortunately, this process is not followed by all airlines and at all departure points, so make it a good and safe practice to ask for where you should identify your checked luggage just prior to boarding any flight. Please be aware of this procedure, but it is not followed everywhere and everytime.

Currency and Exchange Rate: The local currency in India is a Rupee abbreviated as Re. or Rs. The Rupee is further divided into 100 paisa, but since the value of the paisa is so small, it is hardly ever used. Internationally, within currency transactions, it is also abbreviated as INR. The exchange rates floats and has recently been varying between Rs. 40 and Rs. 50 to a US Dollar. For sake of first approximation and ease of calculation, consider assuming that the rate is Rs. 50 to a US Dollar, and thus Rs. 10 is 20 US cents, and Rs. 100 is US $ 2.

Clothes: If you are planning to wear full length clothes during your walking tours, then make sure that they do not drag on the floor since streets can be dirty and wet. You should not wear clothes that are very loose because they can get caught in protruding stones and surrounding bushes. Bring light rain gear. Consider bringing, as a minimum, one "Tee" shirt, one "heavy" flannel type shirt and one light jacket. This will allow you to wear layered clothing for a variety of ambient temperatures.

Shoes: When you visit places of worship, you will need to take off your shoes prior to entry. You are free to wear your socks, but may find that the floor is wet, thus it may be prudent to take off your socks also. Make sure that you bring comfortable and well supporting walking shoes. You will be walking a lot in the ruins of old temples and forts, and they normally do not have a clean and clear path with upturned stones, and steep narrow and broken steps.

Telephones: It is best to make local, national and International telephone calls from manned public booths, marked “STD/ISTD”, and all identified with a right yellow sign. Amount payable is presented in an electronic form. You would pay cash (any denomination, since it is not a machine) at these locations. Do not make phone calls from your hotel as they have exorbitant phone-call rates. The country code for making calls into India is +91. If you decide to bring your own phone, then read Telephones in India.

Leather-wear: There are some Hindu temples that demand that you do not take any leather goods such as belts, wallets and leather bags inside the temple. Therefore it is customary to take off ones belt and certainly not wear a leather jacket.

Gurudwaras: Both men and women will need to cover their heads prior to entering a Gurudwara (Sikh place of worship). Such covering can be in the form of a large handkerchief for men or a shawl for women. As a mark of respect it is NOT advised to cover ones head with a cap or a hat.

Accessories: Consider bringing your swimming trunks, air brush to clean the dust from your cameras and lens, a telephoto lens if your camera supports one, lots of clean wipes for your face and hands because of the dust. Traditional 35 mm film is available in plentiful, however you are advised to bring your memory cards for your camera, as these might not be freely available.

Document safety: Prior to start of your journey, send yourself an e-mail with all important passport and other numbers. Thus should you loose any documentation, then you can retrieve your mail and have all necessary information.
 
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