Tag Archives: bureaucracy

How to obtain an Indian visa in the most honest manner possible within an impossibly corrupt system

In Bombay, the most likely place to find foreigners (after places like Bagel Shop in Bandra or Blue Frog in Lower Parel) is the Foreigner Regional Registration office.

In the same way, in the last little while, after my neighbourhood cafe… the Indian Consulate was the most likely place you could find me in Vancouver.

After much stress, I obtained a visa. Gaining an Indian visa is hardly a subject I know anything about, as I was declined more than once before finally getting through. However, I believe that abiding by the following guidelines will increase likelihood of results.

  • Go to the consulate first just to get the information about which visa you require. Even information I had printed directly off of the Indian Consulate of Vancouver official website was declined and said to be false when I asked about it in person at the visa office. Go to the counter, say what you want to do, and create a checklist right then and there of the documents you have to collect.
  • Take note of WHO you talk to at the counter, so that you can say, for example, ‘Gurpreet had given me this information when I was here previously’, when you come for your second, fourth, or seventeenth visit.
  • When you arrive at the counter, do NOT volunteer information. Answer only the questions that are asked.Also, present your documents as they are requested, one by one. This is reassuring for the person at the counter. If you had a pile of candies for a toddler, you would not give them all to him at once! In the same way, give your papers one by one.
  • Be overly polite, and act overly naive about the visa rules. You should, however, know the rules inside and out! My opinion is that only those who know the rules of visas either much better, or much worse than the counter staff at the consulate will be able to obtain a visa.
  • Whatever documents you plan to present (be they real or false documents) should look as official as possible. Stamps, signatures, paperclips, staples, business cards, letterhead, etc. Be also sure to stick to the story of what your documents say.
  • If you can get whatever you want to do in India (working in Bollywood, selling drugs, studying a language, laundering money, any other criminal activity, volunteering in slums or hospitals, etc) done within 6 months, do not think twice: apply for a nice tourist visa. You will be granted the visa, and no-one will ask any questions aside from what sites you would like to see in India. Simple!
    **This applies especially for those going to volunteer. For some reason, a visa for an educated person wanting to do charitable work in India, for free, is the most difficult to get. It appears as though volunteers are considered the most dangerous of all terrorists who are struggling to go to India. If at all possible, get a tourist visa and then do whatever you want once inside the country.**
  • When all else fails, if you detect a bit of sensitivity in whoever you are dealing with, cry a little bit. This is particularly effective when you are dealing with the uppermost rank of visa official: the type who actually decides whether you get a visa or not. In my most recent conversation with a visa wala of the highest rank, he went from telling me You have no option. We cannot issue you a visa on any basis.” to… If you can provide a letter from your university on thursday {the next day} then we can issue you the student visa on that day itself, and you can take your flight on sunday.” …in only four minutes! This happened after I cried and told him that of all ways I could go to India, I was doing everything in the most honest and best way, and still he would not let me go? Sniff.
  • In dealings with consulate walas, I believe honey works better than vinegar. So: Do NOT bark at the doorman or at the counter person that this is your seventh time coming, that you’ve had to wait for two and a half hours. They know very well, they face people like you every day!Be sweet with them, tell them how much you appreciate their work, how many difficult people you imagine they have to put up with. At the end of the day, they hold all the cards and all the power. So speak softly, and say things like ‘I know that you are busy/you have many things to do.’Appreciate the work they do for you. Even though it may be your life’s single most frustrating experience, at the end of the day when you receive a visa, it is because they granted it to you. Say thank you.
  • It is likely easier for someone who doesn’t care whether they go to India or not than someone (like myself) who feels that they MUST go. The more you want or need to go, the harder it will be for you! Haha.If you are emotionally invested in any small or big way in India, do not let this show at the consulate. The only time to be honest about this is at the last minute, as a last resort. Part of this can include an honest or fabricated sob story, as well as a bit of crying, as previously outlined.
  • Above all, be prepared to bite your tongue instead of speaking, and to summon as much patience as is humanely possible, and then a little more.

How I would love to tell you that these guidelines may be of help to you in obtaining your own visa! But unfortunately, they will not.

People from the exact same places, going for the exact same reasons, have all been granted different visas, or been denied for different reasons. It is according to the taste of the person in charge, on that particular day, at that particular moment. Perhaps it depends on what his wife packed in his tiffin for lunch. Perhaps his daughter failed an exam and he is experiencing stress. Whatever it is, you actually only play a small part in it!

Submit your documents properly, and follow the procedure, and hope for the best. Because when you come right down to it… the results are as arbitrary as the day of the week of the colour of your shirt. Good luck!


between Kuala Lumpur and Mumbai

After spending 20 unexpected hours couchsurfing in Kuala Lumpur, I took the KLIA express to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Bought some nice sandwich for 16 Malaysian ringet, and then followed a bunch of turbaned Sikhs and their wives and children to the Delhi flight departure gate.

On board and in the air, I tried to sleep but I was too exhausted and couldn’t. So I walked around everywhere like I was at a cocktail party, except that everyone else was sitting and no-one else was talking or drinking drinks.

The flight landed in Delhi an hour and a half before my next flight, to Mumbai, but I had been in row 41 in the airbus. I could barely get off the escalator that lowered to immigration, blocked by an enormous lineup of other foreign people also wanting to be in India. In the line, American businessmen discussed their domestic flights schedules for their week of meetings in Pune, Bangalore, Mangalore. In another (much shorter) lineup, fat diplomats fanned themselves with their special passports, complaning about the unsatisfactory AC.

The official almost didn’t let me in. He said, as I might have predicted, that I had to stay out of the country for two months. In anguish I told him about my FRRO office visit in Varanasi, how the official there had said that my visa was stamped in such a way that I should be allowed back in multiple times without any issues.

The official shook his head in a way that could have meant yes or no, and summoned another official.

“I have another flight at 10:40” I said softly in Hindi, wanting to cry.

The other official arrived and started to grill me. What are you doing in India? How do you know Hindi?

I said I’d come to visit friends and see sites, and then made a mistake.

“I learned  Hindi from a teacher.”

He flipped out. You cannot study any subject without a student visa! I said that it was not possible to get a student visa for learning that didn’t take place in a registered institution. We argued while other people walked blissfully past me to the baggage collection.

He looked at my two previous Indian visas and suggested that I was secretely doing business in India. I said something to the effect of:

“Please sir, respected sir, I didn’t mean to break any rules. I’ve never conducted business in India, it was not my intention to do anything wrong, please let me pass, sir, please.”

He wanted to see my return ticket out of India. I don’t have one at all, and said that I didn’t have a printout. He told me that I could be sent back (to Malaysia? What?) on the very same flight. I said again that I had a connecting flight to Mumbai in less than an hour.

The original official finally let me through, saying my Hindi was very sweet and respectful, and that I should register at the FRRO office in Mumbai and always pick the correct visa for my purposes.

By then it was 10:08. I sprinted to the baggage claim and waited anxiously there, squinting through the crowd of people around it. Then I ran to the shuttle bus depot to go to the domestic airport, a ten minute ride. I had no printout of my next flight ticket though, and so was not admitted. The official guardwala sat on his chair as though it was a bed, and gestured my to the prepaid taxi booth, where five other nice people were waiting (in a clump, not a line) at the counter. My god.

When it was my turn, I said I needed to go to the domestic airport, fast. I put money on the dirty counter.

“Your good name?” the man asked.


He looked up for a moment. “….Bee?”

“YES. Then ARR, then OWE..” I rolled my R Indian style, hoping to speed up the process.

Outside, I fought through a bunch of unprepaid taxiwalas to find the prepaid booth. The taxi man took his time in loading my bags into the car.

“Very heavy!” he smiled and laughed and crinkled his eyes. I was going crazy.

“I’m very late, let’s go immediately, quickly.” It was almost a lost cause. It was 10:25 and I was in a cab, had still to get there and check in and drop my bag and board a plane which was to take off fifteen minutes later.

“Don’t worry,” the taxiwala said cheerfully as we hurtled down the road. “Just stay in the airport, you can take a flight in the morning, nice and relaxed.” I shrugged, defeated.

When we finally arrived, I loaded my bags onto a cart and ambled over to the check in at my own pace.

“I’ve missed my flight,” I announced to the boy behind the desk, who looked to be about 18. “What do I do now?” But as I spoke my eyes scanned the whiteboard behind him.

My flight had been delayed! I started to laugh.

At the departure gate, I sipped a Mcdonalds cappucino and sat waiting, smiling.

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