British tourists must apply for a visa to visit India, and are not eligible for e-visas, a rule that has caused disruption to hundreds of holidays.
However, the Indian High Commission has announced new “interim measures” to speed up applications, including a service that will collect relevant papers from your doorstep and return them once processed – for a fee.
Before the pandemic, the UK was among tens of countries from which most holidaymakers could use an e-visa to travel to India. The system was fairly straightforward and similar to applying for a US Esta.
It was reinstated for 156 countries when India fully reopened to tourism in February, but the UK was left off the list of eligible nationalities. The Indian High Commission confirmed on 7 October, following weeks of confusion, that Britons would need to attend in-person appointments and interviews to secure a visa.
In October, visa applicants reported difficulties securing a slot at the the nine processing centres across the UK, which were booked up well into November. Travellers who were able to book an appointment spoke of long waits at the centres and people being sent away due to small mistakes on their paperwork.
UK tour operators have cancelled many trips, and refunded customers. Some have stopped selling trips to India for the rest of the year.
Ashley Quint, holiday designer at Berkhamsted travel agency TravelTime World, told i that two clients had found the process “difficult” and “stressful”.
Last month, Aito, the specialist travel association, estimated that around 1,500 of its members’ bookings were affected.
Why can’t British tourists use an e-visa?
It is not clear why the UK was been excluded from the list of eligible countries; Canada has also been left off the list.
Theories include an administrative oversight with the end of the Brexit transition period having occurred between India suspending and reinstating its e-visas (all current EU member states are on the eligible list), or as a reciprocal measure given that it is an arduous process for Indian citizens to apply for a UK visa.
For now, there is no suggestion as to if, and when, e-visas might be reinstated for Britons.
How to get a visa for travel to India
You should make an appointment in good time ahead of your trip to India. These can be booked online.
There is a three-step process: After applying online, submit your documents at an Indian Visa Application Centre, then collect the documents from the centre or receive them via post. You can check the status of an application online.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) warns that you should make sure that you have the right visa and that it is valid for the purpose and duration of your stay.
Under the entry requirements on the India advice page, it adds: “If you enter India on the wrong visa, you could be detained on arrival and you may be deported and blacklisted, meaning that you cannot enter India again.”
The FCDO advises that overstaying your visa is an offence in India and to ensure you leave the country before your visa has expired.
Visa applicants of Pakistani origin who have dual nationality must apply for an Indian visa on their Pakistani passport.
The new measures to speed up applications
Indian High Commissioner, Vikram K Doralswami, said in a video posted on Twitter last week that the number of visa applications being handled for travel to India from the UK had doubled to 40,000 from 20,000 in a month as a result of changes made to the booking system in October.
The High Commissioner has previously said that the visa process had been “difficult”.
New visa processing centres have opened in Glasgow and Marylebone, London (the latter on 1 November) to help reduce waiting times.
A new “visa at your doorstep” service is also being introduced under which travellers can pay a fee to have their papers collected for processing and returned to them after processing.
To assist with this, the service provider will also offer a service at a small cost to have documents checked online before they are taken to be processed.
There will also be a form filling service for those that need extra help in completing the paperwork.
The Indian High Commission has yet to release details on how to apply and pay for these services.
Visas for group tours travelling to the same destination in India and on the same flights, usually with a tour operator, are available again as of 1 November.
What to do if you’re due to travel to India
If you are planning to travel to India in the next couple of months, then be sure to apply for a visa as soon as possible.
Travel agents have reported customers having to rely on appointments on the day before they travel.
Ashley Quint from TravelTime World told i: “I have been trying to help a couple of people who have been caught up in this mess.
“They were panicking because the only date they could get for their appointment was the day before they were travelling and found the process difficult.”
“I believe they got their visa in the end, and were able to travel, but it was really to the wire and stressful.”
If travelling with a tour operator, or booking through a travel agent, contact them for the latest advice.