WHY I AM JEALOUS OF TAYLOR SWIFT or CHALLENGES OF INDIAN PASSPORT FOR LONG TERM TRAVEL

Indian passport travel - Taylor Swift

 Taylor Swift famously sings –

So hey, let’s be friends
I’m dying to see how this one ends
Grab your PASSPORT and my hand
I can make the bad guys good for a weekend”

But Dear Taylor Swift,

Please don’t ever say this to an Indian passport holder.

Well you see, you will be in trouble as well at the Immigration of any airport. Almost no country allows us a visa on arrival or visa free entry. In your noble cause to turn the bad guy into a better one, you might be questioned for hours (in spite of your celebrity status) :P.

Indian passport travel - Reply from NZ Consulate regarding applying NZ Visitor visa in advance

So is the Indian passport really a nightmare for a long term traveler. Well, unfortunately the answer is YES and for the following reasons –

  • Only about 2 dozen countries have visa free entry on an Indian passport. Most are Caribbean nations (Commonwealth connection) or Pacific islands.  Return air tickets from India easily cost around a 6 figure amount in INR. Do not get too much carried away by your friends sharing buzzfeed style links of visa free travel countries on an Indian passport. Before you get too carried away check the price of air tickets from India to those countries.
  • The list of Visa on arrival countries is slowly rising which is a great news. I strongly recommend a backpack tour across S.E Asia as almost all countries have visa on arrival. But still there is long way to go on this as there are a lot of restrictions. Thailand gives only 15 day visa on arrival. If you apply in advance then you get single entry visa for 3 months and double entry for 6 months. While Canadian passport holders with at least 6 months validity remaining on the passport and a confirmed airline ticket out of Thailand (proof of leaving within 30 days) do not need a visa for visiting Thailand up to 30 days for tourism purposes. Again visa on arrival to countries like Madagascar is of no use since return flight tickets from Nairobi, Kenya itself cost more than 700 $
  • We do get visa on arrival or visa free entry depending on whether you have a valid USA/UK/Schengen visa. Most of Eastern European countries which are not part of Schengen zone (Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Cyprus) give you visa free entry if you have valid Schengen visa which is great news for us.  Similarly you can apply for Turkey eVisa (again restriction of single entry only) if you carry one of the visa from OECD countries or a Schengen Visa. You can check our guide on how to apply Schengen visa from Toronto
  • East African countries like Rwanda and Kenya (both great for tourism) have started eVisa system. We are a big fan of this concept since we do not have to submit our passports and just carry print out of visa payment. Similarly there is a visa called as East African visa (which very few know about). This visa gives you access to Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya. From Rwanda immigration website you can even apply it online but remember that Rwanda has to be the first country of arrival.
  • Some countries like Mexico and Dominican Republic give visa on arrival for Canadian & American Permanent residents which is great news for the Indian diaspora in N.America.
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However the biggest 4 challenges that Indian passport holders face are –

  • We can apply for visa ONLY from India or country of current residence. This is a big hurdle since we cannot apply when we are on the go. I was planning to apply visa for South Africa from Europe but I can apply only from Canada or India. Returning back to either of the 2 countries only for visa is extremely expensive and we had to drop South Africa from our Round the World plan :(
  • Each and every country requests you to submit passport for visa stamping only 1-3 months before your trip. Hence we had a cap of only 3 months to apply all our visas. Processing times (including shipping time) is around 2 weeks. So we can apply only 4-5 visas before we depart Toronto.
  • Almost each country (barring Schengen and UK Visa) grants  you visa immediately from the day it is stamped. I will never be able to understand this logic. Why cannot Consulates grant visa which is  applicable from future date? Again it constraints in applying visa in advance.

Indian passport travel - UK Visa

  • Fees charged are in $ or € or £. For budget conscious traveler who is earning in INR (or even otherwise) this is a huge expense. I am frugal traveler to the extent that I don’t even pay to print my passport photos. UK Visa is the worse. We paid 133 USD (170 CAD) per head just for the Visa fees. Processing times are 4-6 weeks. Since we wanted to apply multiple visas in a very short period we had to opt for Priority (Expedited) Stamping. It was another 235 CAD per head. We ended up paying more than 800 CAD just for our UK Visa. If we knew that in advance we would have certainly dropped it. Worse is that the 235 CAD priority stamping also turned out to be a farce. It still took 10 business days for our passports to arrive. UK consulates has outsourced to VFS who were unapologetic. UK is probably the only country in the world which charges you a hefty fee just to call their customer care to track visa status. I can only think of the English word “Cheap” for this attitude towards the visitors to UK. Even the so-called third world developing countries do not charge for calling immigration customer care.    
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To conclude I would like to say that if you are an Indian and even if someone like Taylor Swift asks you to follow her on a weekend, just don’t follow blindly :). Rather convince him/her to travel to S.E Asian countries :)

PS: I am extremely proud of my Indian nationality but passport is just a piece of paper and does not define my identity. In a parallel universe there might exist a world without borders, but sadly that’s not the case with our planet.

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