As much as I travel, there are certain subject I simply cannot speak to authoritatively. As an American, I’m in one of the best position to travel in terms of getting visas to other countries. Many people in the world are not so fortunate. Getting visas to travel if you live outside of Western Europe or North America can sometimes be a nightmare.
I’ve asked Savi and Vid, two Indian travelers, to tell their story of how they travel as citizens of India and have overcome the problems of getting visas to other countries.
There are lessons to be learned here for citizens of many countries who have difficulty getting visas to travel.
There is no dearth of inspirational travel quotations on the internet. Every once in a while, we stumble on something that reads ‘Pick a bag, book a ticket, and go travelling’ or ‘Book a ticket and follow your dreams’. We’re pretty sure the said quotations and accompanying photos of faraway lands have tempted many a globetrotter out there. But we’ve learnt to toss them aside with a smile.
It’s not because sepia-tinted photos of turquoise beaches and curvy roads don’t tempt us – it’s because we can’t just pick a bag, choose a place on the globe, and get going. We love travelling and visit more than 10 countries a year on an average. But we’ve learnt to accept that the phrase ‘spontaneous travel’ is a bit of an oxymoron for us. This is because travelling on an Indian passport is a carefully orchestrated operation involving endless salary slips, proofs of address, bank statements, and letters of employment. No, we are not exaggerating in the least.
While US and UK citizens can travel to over 170 countries without a visa, Indian citizens can travel only to 28 countries without a visa. Another 30 countries issue visas on arrival to Indian passport holders. It’s worth pointing out that this list of 58 countries includes a number of politically troubled or geographically remote nations such as Antarctica, Tuvalu, Djibouti, Iraq, and Tajikistan, which are off limits for most people.
Does one give up?
We’ve never let this deter us from travelling (42 countries, 300 cities and counting) but the whole visa situation makes it very hard for us to follow our dream of travelling full time. This is because visa applications for Europe, the Americas, Australia, and most of Asia and Africa request credible proof of full-time employment and sufficient funds to cover ones travels. Our American and British friends are often left aghast at the kind of paper work that goes into applying for a single visa. Our visa-laden passport booklets (5 going on 6) are a constant source of amusement for them.
Over the years we’ve spent a lot of time and money procuring visas for various countries. We’ve had to cancel flights and entire holidays because of visas being turned down or simply not getting the visa on time. Here’s what we’ve learnt along the way – we hope these tips come in handy if you travel on an Indian or Asian passport.
Where To start
If you’re struck by wanderlust, nothing can stop you from travelling. It’s really as simple as that. If the thought of applying for a visa intimidates you, why not start with countries that have relaxed immigration rules? A number of culturally rich nations offer visa-free travel to Indian Passport Holders while others offer easy visas on arrival. Many of the Caribbean islands, Cambodia, Seychelles, El Salvador, Ecuador, Bolivia, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Maldives amongst many others allow visa free or visa-on-arrival facility to Indians. Some of our favourites include Cambodia, Thailand, Kenya, and Mauritius. We’ve spent a long time exploring the by lanes and alleys of Thailand, acquainting ourselves with locals in tiny villages in Cambodia, and sampling the street food of Mauritius.
Countries that are geographically close to India and allow visa-free travel for Indians such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, and Seychelles are definitely some of the easiest ones to visit. It helps that they offer such diversity in terms of culture, history, and food.
The more challenging visa applications
Out of the more popular destinations like Australia, USA, UK, and various European countries, we find it’s best to visit countries grouped under the Schengen area. You apply for 1 visa and if granted, you can visit 26 countries using the same visa. Procuring the Schengen visa is a fairly long and expensive process. Short-stay Schengen visa applications cost around £75 (?7,460) and it can take around 2 weeks for the visa to arrive. Everything from hotel stays to connecting flights need to be booked in advance and submitted with the visa application, so there is little room for spontaneity.
Do keep one very important thing in mind – Visa fee is the same for single, double, and multiple-entry Schengen visas! Make sure you request for a year long multiple-entry Schengen visa in your cover letter to the concerned Consulate. Once you have a multiple entry visa, you can plan spontaneous trips to any of the Schengen countries and stay there for a period of 90 days. We have found applying at the French consulate in London has been the best avenue for getting a year-long multiple entry Schengen visa. In fact, on a couple of occasions we have actually planned a trip to Paris just so we could get a multiple entry visa – the added bookings were totally worth it.
Some of our favorite Schengen countries are Iceland, Spain, and Italy. Outside the Schengen countries, Croatia is one of the most scenic countries we have visited and you do not need to apply for a separate visa IF you have a multiple entry Schengen visa!
As for the procedure for applying, it’s pretty much the same for Australia, UK, USA, and the Schengen states: You MUST make them believe that you have no intention of staying in their country. You should provide whatever documentary proof you can to prove this – detailed tax records, salary slips, proof of employment, address proofs – you name it. Except for UK, you also need to provide confirmed bookings for travel and accommodationconfirmed bookings for travel and accommodation. However these visas can be acquired only if you have proof of full-time employment. It is near impossible for Indian Passport holders to acquire visas without proof of employment. You must also be able to show enough funds to cover your expenditure when travelling – usually this is £50 (?4,973) per day for the duration of your visa so if you are requesting a multiple entry visa valid for 3 months, you must be able to show that you have at least £4500 (?447,583) in your bank account.
Tourist visas for Australia and UK are usually valid for 6 months but the best thing about the US visa is that it is valid for 10 years. Short-term visas can cost anywhere from £75 (?7,460) for Australia and the Schengen countries to £100 (?9,946) for UK and USA. A tourist visa for USA might be the most difficult to procure, but if granted, is definitely the best value for money.
It’s good to accrue what we call “Visa Brownie Points” – the more visas you have, the easier obtaining visas gets in the future. In addition, having a resident permit for UK, USA, Canada, Australia, or any of the European countries definitely improves the chances of getting visas for other countries.
If we can do it, so can YOU
It might be expensive and cumbersome to travel on underprivileged passports but that doesn’t make it any less fun. We absolutely love acquainting ourselves with new cultures and making friends around the world. Nothing comes close to the feeling on being on the road.
A gentle reminder – while we have tried to make sure that all information is correct, always confirm details from the consulate of the country that you are planning to visit. Often their official websites are not up-to-date, so we always send an email to the consulate to verify details. You can also refer to these wiki pages for a general overview: Visa requirements for Indians, Filipinos, and Malaysians.
Savi and Vid are avid travellers struck by wanderlust. They have driven with zebras in South Africa, been caving in Austria, cavorted with bedouins in the Sahara, befriended soldiers in Israel, and partied in a nuclear bunker in the Czech Republic. They blog about their travel and fashion adventures at BruisedPassports.com. Their favourite city is London where they currently live.