On a sweltering hot summer day, I stood on the street outside the Embassy of Georgia in Delhi. Beads of sweat lined my forehead and anger boiled my blood. I had been waiting for almost two hours past my appointment time, outside the gate of the Georgian Ambassador’s residence in India – which doubled as their embassy. It would be another hour of cursing my Indian passport, melting in the hot sun, pleading with the guard to let me in, chatting with the Punjabi family who had waited even longer than me… before I’d score a short-term tourist visa to enter the country of Georgia.
But if you ask me now about Georgia, that’s not the part I remember. My mind only conjures up images of hiking to a dreamy 700-year-old church in the dramatic snow-capped backdrop of Mount Kazbeg, cycling to the Russian border, and soul-searching amid the surreal Caucasus Mountains. I remember local cabbies in Tbilisi singing ‘ichak dana-beechak dana’ when they heard I was from India, running into the waves of the Black Sea on a pebbly beach near Batumi, being offered a shot of whisky with breakfast in the remote Racha region.
That’s the thing about traveling the world on an Indian passport; frustrating though it is, it is totally worth the chance to breathe, feel and experience a part of the world so different from ours.
[Looking for visa info for a specific country? Ctrl+F to find it in the list below]
I don’t have a house (aka address proof) or a salaried job, yet I’ve managed to score visas to over 40 countries on my Indian passport. Here’s how I do it:
Prioritise countries that offer VOA (visa on arrival) or visa-free entry for Indians
If you hold an Indian passport, you’ve probably cursed it a fair few times when it comes to ease of travelling. I know I have. I’ve enviously looked at the passports of German co-passengers, who can travel to 177 countries (out of 218) without applying for a visa in advance. Show up at an airport, pick a destination, go. Oh, how liberating that must feel.
On the other hand, our navy blue passport allows entry into a meagre 59 countries, of which a fair few are remote Pacific and Caribbean islands, and cost a fortune to get to. But I’m not here to dwell on the miseries and frustrations that travelling with an Indian passport come with. I’m here to tell you, we can travel nonetheless, and we must.
For starters, we still have over 40 epic countries, both in our own backyard (Nepal, Thailand) and halfway across the world (Ecuador, Tanzania), where our Indian passports get visa on arrival or visa-free entry. We have no right to complain until we’ve explored these to our heart’s (and wallet’s) content, right?
Where I’ve been:
- Ecuador: No visa needed for 90 days; the immigration officer did look at my US visa though.
- Ethiopia: 30 days visa on arrival; the immigration officer asked me why I was there (just travelling) and how long I planned to stay (a month), but didn’t ask me to show any documents.
- Indonesia: No visa needed for 30 days; no questions asked.
- Jordan: 14 days visa on arrival; the embassy requirements say you need to show 1000$ in cash to enter, but many people on Twitter confirmed they weren’t asked. I had a letter from Jordan Tourism confirming I’m a travel blogger, so I wasn’t asked to show financial proof.
- Maldives: 30 days visa on arrival; I had to show my return flight ticket and was asked where I was staying.
- Mauritius: No visa needed for 30 days; I was asked to show my accommodations details and return flight.
- Seychelles: Visa on arrival for 3 months; I was asked to show my return flight.
- Tanzania: Visa on arrival for 90 days; I entered and got my visa at Zanzibar airport; the immigration officer asked where I’ll be staying.
- Thailand: Visa on arrival for 15 days; when I visited in 2015, it turned out that they’ve scrapped the slightly more expensive priority queue, so getting a VOA involved waiting in a long line for almost 3 hours. I’ve heard that the queues are shorter if you land in the morning / early afternoon.
- Trinidad and Tobago: Visa not required for 90 days; the immigration officer asked me to show my return flight.
On my wishlist:
- Bhutan: No visa needed.
- Bolivia: Visa on arrival for 90 days.
- Cuba: Visa on arrival (tourist card) for 30 days.
- Dominica: Visa not required for 6 months.
- Fiji: Visa not required for 4 months.
- Jamaica: Visa not required for 6 months.
- Laos: Visa on arrival for 30 days.
- Madagascar: Visa on arrival for 30 days.
- Nepal: Visa not required.
- Saint Lucia: Visa on arrival for 6 weeks.
- Timor Leste: Visa on arrival for 30 days.
Check out Expedia’s Visa Free Destinations for Indians tool, for a glimpse of where to go, when to plan your trip, and all the good food that awaits you.
Score e-visas online
A little more effort than just booking a flight and showing up, but quick and pretty hassle-free. Most e-visas require that you upload your information and documents online, and carry a print-out (or e-copy on your phone) of the approved visa.
You can either apply for e-visas on the relevant government website of the country, or for a small fee, through a service called iVisa created by a Harvard grad; iVisa makes it simpler to apply and takes care of everything for you.
Where I’ve been:
- Bahrain: E-visa for 14 days; I was invited on a cultural exchange trip and my Bahraini hosts arranged the visa.
- Georgia: It now issues an e-visa for 90 days;
lucky us!unfortunately there have been repeated reports of Indian travellers being deported from Tbilisi airport despite a valid e-visa and proper documents, so please beware.
- Malaysia: E-visa for 7 days; back when I travelled there, a visa was needed in advance.
- Singapore: Although they offer e-visas, you can only apply for one through a friend who holds a Singapore PR / SingPass, or through a travel agent. It’s a bit strange, but I applied through a resident friend on my recent trip to Singapore, and the process only took a day.
- Sri Lanka: E-visa for 30 days; I’ve scored it online twice: quick and easy.
- Vietnam: E-visa for 30 days; back when I travelled there, I got a visa on arrival.
On my wishlist:
- Cambodia: E-visa for 30 days.
- Kenya: E-visa for 90 days. I got a transit e-visa for Kenya on my East Africa trip, but this is not needed if you stay at the airport, even if you are changing airlines or terminals.
- Myanmar: E-visa for 28 days.
- Tajikistan: E-visa for 45 days.
- Zimbabwe: E-visa for 90 days.
Use the US or Schengen visa to get VOA / visa-free entry into other countries
The best visa I have on my Indian passport right now is a multiple-entry US B1/B2 visa valid for 10 years! Not only does that allow me to travel to the US often, it also gives me visa-free or VOA access to some pretty cool countries around the world. Using it, I’ve travelled through most of Central America, parts of the Caribbean, and even Turkey.
Long-term UK and Schengen visas have a similar advantage, but I’ve learnt from experience that these are harder and much more expensive to score. Most US tourist visas are issued for 10 years, and despite the myths surrounding the process, I found it relatively easy to score mine.
Where I’ve been:
- Costa Rica: Visa on arrival if you hold a valid visa to Canada, Japan, US or the Schengen zone. I entered over land, and my multiple-entry US visa got me in easy, but I did have to show a bus ticket out of Costa Rica (an open date ticket can be bought at one of the bus booths near the immigration area); I got 30 days twice, and 15 days once.
- Dominican Republic: No visa needed if you have a valid US, UK or Schengen visa; I was asked my purpose of travel and return date at immigration; 30 days.
- Georgia: No visa needed if you hold a valid visa for the US, UK, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, South Korea, Schengen or GCC countries. I entered with my valid US visa the second time and could stay for 30 days.
- Guatemala: No visa needed if you hold a valid US, Canada or Schengen visa; I got stamped in for 90 days; no questions asked.
- Honduras: No visa needed if you hold a valid US, Canada or Schengen visa; I got a 90-day entry; I was asked about my return plan and my passport was taken to another room for verification.
- Mexico: Visa not required if you hold a valid US, Canada, Japan, UK or Schengen visa. I got stamped in for 1 month at the land border crossing; no questions asked.
- Nicaragua: No visa needed if you have a valid US, Canada or Schengen visa. However, I entered the country thrice (since I decided to use it as a base for part of my 6-month Central America trip), and immigration at land-crossings was nightmarish. My friend and I were detained for questioning twice, keeping the entire bus on hold, and I was charged a different visa fee each time. Arrive by air if you can, keep proof of a return flight, and carry some patience! I got 30 days each time.
- Panama: No visa needed if you have a valid US, UK, Canada, Australia or Schegen visa; immigrating at even land crossings was easy.
- Philippines: No visa needed with a valid US, Japan, Austral, Canada, Schengen, Singapore or UK visa; I was asked to show my return flight at immigration; 14 days.
- Romania: No visa needed with a valid Schengen visa for 90 days. We were asked to show our visa the moment we stepped off the flight by a policeman, but immigration after that was a breeze.
- Turkey: E-visa for 30 days, if you hold a valid Schengen, US, UK, Australia or Canada visa; I’ve used my US visa to obtain a Turkey e-visa.
On my wishlist:
- Albania: Visa not required if you hold a valid, multiple-entry US, UK or Schengen visa
- Belize: No visa needed if you hold a valid, multiple-entry US visa; an Indian friend who visited in 2016 confirmed that the (infamous) repatriation fee for Indians is no longer required.
- Colombia: In 2015, Colombia started offering visa on arrival to Indians with a valid US / Schengen visa; 90 days!
- Croatia: Visa on arrival if you hold a multiple-entry Schengen visa.
- Ireland & the UK: A valid UK tourist visa can be used to travel in Ireland, and vice versa, under the British-Irish visa scheme.
- Montenegro: Visa-free for 30 days with a valid Schengen, US, UK or Ireland visa.
- South Korea: Visa-free for 30 days if you hold a valid visa for Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand or the US, and are in transit to/from that country.
Be smart about visa applications when applying in India
I do my fair share of sulking when I need to apply for a visa at a consulate in India, but I always try to go the extra mile in the hope that the visa officer might grant me a longer term, multiple entry visa, yet return my passport quickly. Sometimes it works!
US Tourist Visa: The good part about applying for a US visa (as compared to other visa applications) is that you are not required to show confirmed accommodation or flight bookings. I went the extra mile by getting an invitation letter from my brother who works and lives in the US, as well as carrying a cover letter addressed to the visa officer and carrying copies of my bank statements; it helps to remain calm (and honest) in the visa interview too.
Canada Tourist Visa: The visa application process for Canada is pretty standard; show confirmed flight and hotel bookings for your travels together with a whole stack of documents like bank statements, proof of employment, income tax returns etc – as listed on the VFS Canada website. Then apply in person. I scored a multiple entry 7-year visa for Canada, and my passport was returned within 2 days!
Schengen Visa: Similar to the Canada visa process; you apply at the embassy of the country you’re going to spend the longest time in, or the one that is your entry point for Europe. If you are making refundable bookings that you plan to change, I suggest you apply at VFS Germany – I’ve found them very efficient and have received my visas within 1-3 days each time. Once you have a Schengen visa, you can enter Europe from and travel to any country within the Schengen zone.
I have 6 Schengen visas on my passport now, all of them expired; sigh. I managed to score a 1-year multiple-entry visa last year from the German consulate; I went the extra mile by attaching copies of all my expired Schengen visas and details of my past trips to Germany / Europe, as well as a cover letter explaining why a multiple-entry visa is essential in my case. It worked last year, but it didn’t this year.
UK Tourist Visa: One of the most painful visa applications yet. I had 11 working days from the date of my UK trip, and given that the fast track options are ridiculously expensive (like ~INR 21,000 to get a visa with 3 days; ~INR 70,000 within 1 day), I went for the regular option (INR 7,000).
Unlike most other countries, the UK visa application doesn’t let you check your application status online, and its UK-based helpline (which costs 1.6 pounds a minute to call in addition to the call charges; ridiculous) is unreliable at best. I nearly bit off my nails waiting for that visa, but it came through on the 10th day; phew. The process is similar to the Canada/Schengen visa applications, though they recommend that you don’t confirm your travel bookings before you get the visa – but please, give yourself plenty of time (or money) to get your UK visa. I got a 6 month visa; my friends have scored 2-year visas the second time around.
Don’t be afraid to try getting a visa in a country where you are not a resident
As someone who travels long term without any fixed plans, I often find myself wanting to visit a different country without going to India in between. Most consulate websites state that you need to be a resident/citizen in the country where you’re applying for a visa, but I’ve managed to plead my case a couple of times – and scored a South African visa in Germany and a Schengen visa in Georgia.
Other practical visa tips for Indians
- Visa rules change all the time (usually for the better)! Make sure you check the visa consulate section on the embassy website of the country you are traveling to before you go. Call the country’s embassy in India and speak to the consulate section if things are not clear.
- When traveling to a country that offers visa on arrival to Indian citizens, it’s a good idea to have proof of accommodation (atleast for your first night or two) and a return/onward flight out of the country handy on your phone – or atleast a convincing answer. You usually need the former for immigration forms and the latter to convince hesitant immigration officers.
- If you plan to quit your job to experiment with long term travel, I urge you to apply for a US tourist visa while you can still get a letter from your employer.
- Please, don’t work illegally or overstay your visa. It hurts all of us who genuinely want to travel without silly visa restrictions.
- Share your visa experience on blogs, forums, facebook, wherever – so anyone looking to confirm visa processes can find it, but also so others know that traveling with an Indian passport is not as impossible as it sounds. As more Indians travel, I have no doubt that our visa restrictions will gradually become more relaxed.
It’s just a twist of fate that our navy blue passport makes our travel aspirations a little harder to fulfil.
Travel anyway, because the beauty of the world and its people is worth experiencing.
Have you had any memorable (too easy or too painful) visa experiences with your Indian passport?
I wrote this post in collaboration with Expedia. This post also contains affiliate links. Those painful (and can’t believe it was so easy) visa experiences and tips are all my own!
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