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Entry requirements

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Almost everyone needs a visa before travelling to India. If you’re going to study or work, you’ll need to apply for a special student or business visa; otherwise, a standard tourist visa will suffice.

Tourist visas

Tourist visas are valid for six months from the date of issue (not of departure from your home country or entry into India), and usually cost £30/US$75. 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 just in case you decide to go back within six months. Note, however, that a ruling introduced in 2009 (in theory at least) prevents visitors on a tourist visa (or visas) from re-entering India within two months of their last visit other than in exceptional circumstances, and with pre-arranged clearance from your local embassy or consulate – although, again, whether or not this ruling is likely to be strictly enforced remains unclear at the time of writing.

Visas in the UK, US, Canada and Australia are no longer issued by Indian embassies themselves, but by various third-party companies (sub-contractors) for details. 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. Applying in person it’s possible to obtain your visa by the following working day – but don’t bank on it; three to four working days is more common. 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.

Visa agencies

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/$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.

Visa extensions

It is no longer possible to extend a tourist visa in India, though exceptions may be made in special circumstances. In addition, new rules introduced in late 2009 require that visitors travelling on a tourist visa must leave at least two months between visits to India. Thus, if your visa is about to elapse, it’s no longer possible to pop over to a neighbouring country and then re-enter on a new visa a couple of days later.

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