The experience of traveling the world on can vary greatly depending on a traveler’s passport. A lot of Americans and Europeans assume they have the most powerful passports in the world, but that honor falls to Japan, where passport-holders can visit 190 countries without a visa. Many people in the world, however, are not so fortunate. Getting travel visas if you live outside of Western Europe or North America can sometimes be a nightmare.
For that reason, Savi and Vid, two Indian travelers, share how they travel the world as citizens of India, and how they have overcome the problems of obtaining visas to other countries.
There is no dearth of inspirational travel quotations on the internet. Every once in a while, we stumble on something that reads “Pack a bag, book a ticket, and go traveling” or ‘Book a ticket and follow your dreams.” We’re pretty sure these quotes and accompanying photos of faraway lands have tempted many a globetrotter—but as travelers on an Indian passport, we’ve learned to toss them aside with a smile.
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Why Travel is Tougher with an Indian Passport
We love travelling and visit more than 10 countries a year on an average. But we’ve learned to accept that the phrase “spontaneous travel” is a bit of an oxymoron for us. This is because traveling 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 U.S. and UK citizens can travel to over 170 countries without a visa, Indian citizens can travel only to 28 countries without a visa—plus 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 visa difficulties deter us from traveling (42 countries, 300 cities, and counting), but the whole visa situation makes it very hard for us to follow our dream of traveling full time. This is because of 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 one’s travels. Our American and British friends are often left aghast at the kind of paperwork that goes into applying for a single visa when you’re traveling on an Indian passport. Our visa-laden passport booklets (five going on six) 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 learned 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 should stop you from traveling.
It’s really as simple as that.
If the thought of applying for a visa intimidates you, why not start with those countries with relaxed immigration rules for your passport? A number of culturally rich nations offer visa-free travel to Indian Passport Holders, while others offer easy visas on arrival.
Best Visa-Free Countries for Indian Passports
Some of our favorites include Cambodia, Thailand, Kenya, and Mauritius. We’ve spent a long time exploring the bylanes 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 also such diversity in terms of culture, history, and food.
Handling 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 one visa and, if granted, you can visit 26 countries using the same visa.
Schengen Visas for Indian Travelers
That said, procuring the Schengen visa is a fairly long and expensive process. Short-stay Schengen visa applications cost around £75 (6,500 INR) and it can take around two 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: The visa fee is the same for single, double, and multiple-entry Schengen visas! Make sure you request a year-long, multiple-entry Schengen visa in your cover letter to the Consulate. Once you have multiple entry visas, 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 was 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 multiple entry visas—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 don’t need to apply for a separate visa IF you have a multiple entry Schengen visa!
As for the application procedure, it’s pretty much the same for Australia, the UK, USA, and the Schengen states: You MUST make them believe that you have no intention of staying in their country.
This means you should provide whatever documented proof you plan to continue living in India—detailed tax records, salary slips, proof of employment, address proofs—you name it, you should submit it with your visa application.
Except for travel to the UK, you also need to provide confirmed bookings for travel and accommodation. However, these visas can be acquired only if you have proof of full-time employment. It’s nearly impossible for Indian Passport holders to acquire visas without proof of employment.
Additionally, you must show enough funds to cover your expenditure when traveling—usually this amounts to a budget of £50 (4325 INR) per day for the duration of your visa. So, if you’re requesting a multiple entry visas valid for 3 months, you must be able to show that you have at least £4500 (389,000 INR) in your bank account.
U.S. Visas for Indian Travelers
Tourist visas for Australia and UK are usually valid for 6 months, but the best thing about the U.S. visa is that it is valid for 10 years. Short-term visas can cost anywhere from £75 (6,500 INR) for Australia and the Schengen countries to £100 (8650 INR) for visas to the UK and the United States. A tourist visa for the USA is likely the most difficult to procure, but if granted, it’s 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 you’re applying for a U.S. visa as an Indian passport-holder, it might be best to wait until you have accrued these “Visa Brownie Points”—since it’s such a long visa once you receive it, they are very strict about ensuring you aren’t a risky bet!
Traveling as Indians IS Possible
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 ensure 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.
By Savi and Vid
Savi and Vid are avid travelers 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 and vlog about their travel and fashion adventures at BruisedPassports.com. Their favorite city is London, where they currently live.