Depending on your purpose of visit, you can get a tourist visa (six months), a business visa (6 months, one year or more, multiple entries) or a student visa (up to 5 years). A special 10-year visa (US$150, business and tourist) is available to US citizens only. An Indian visa is valid from the day it is issued, not the date of entry. For example, a 6-month visa issued on January 1 will expire on June 30, regardless of your date of entry. There is a minimum two month gap period between consecutive tourist visas. Tourist visa valid for 6 months can have maximum duration of stay of 90 days per visit, depending on citizenship. Make sure to check maximum duration per visit with your local embassy.
As of 1 January 2010, India has introduced a new TOVA (Tourist-visa-on-arrival) scheme, which is available to citizens of Finland, Japan, New Zealand, Luxembourg, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Indonesia and Philippines at the airports in Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata for a stay of up to 30 days. It can take some time (no set period, allow between 1 - 6 hours) to process the application once you have arrived at the Airport. The TOVA Visa costs US$60, is valid for a single entry and is not extendable. In addition, there is a minimum two month gap between the expiry of one tourist visa and the issuance of the next. Please contact the local embassy/consulate for more information.
Many Indian embassies have outsourced visa processing in full or in part to third party companies, so check ahead before going to the embassy. For example, in the USA, you must submit your visa application to Travisa, not the embassy. Applications through these agencies also attract an application fee, above that which is detailed on most embassy websites and should be checked prior to submitting your paperwork. In addition, many Indian embassies only offers visas to residents of that country: this means you should get your visa before you leave home, instead of trying to get in a neighboring country (although, as at August '09, non-residents are able to apply for visas through the Bangkok embassy for an additional 400 THB "referral fee").
Rules and validity of visas will differ based on citizenship. Check the website of the Indian embassy, consulate or high commission in your country or contact the local office.
It's wise to ask for a multiple entry visa even if you aren't planning to use it - they cost the same, are handed out pretty liberally and come in handy if you decide last minute to dip into one of the neighboring countries.
For citizens of Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, Bangladesh, foreigners of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin, and "stateless persons": Even on multiple entry visas, there is supposed to be a two-month gap between leaving India and coming back into the country. If attempting to reenter the country before two months have passed, you will be asked for details of your flight home and be made to pay a bribe (up to US$50) to get them to sign you back in to the country. This is true at smaller land entry points. More convenient is simply to visit the Indian embassy in the country from which you plan to enter India and complete the paperwork authorizing the early entry. The embassy will then paste a cool endorsement sticker in your passport, and you'll be set to reenter India. However, you may not need a re-entry authorization sticker if you are following a exact itinerary (for example, if you're travelling to a neighboring country before re-entering India) and present it to Immigration at each entry.
There are other categories for specialised purposes. The missionary visa is mandatory for anyone who is visiting India "primarily to take part in religious activities". This rule is meant to combat religious conversion, particularly of Hindus to Christianity. There have been cases where preachers have been deported for addressing religious congregations while on a tourist visa. You don't need to be worried if you are just on a religious tour of churches in India.
If you are on a Student, Employment, Research or Missionary visa, you need to register within 14 days of arrival with the Foreigners Regional Registration Office where you will be staying. If the place you are staying at doesn't have one, you need to register at the local police station. All visitors who intend to stay more than 180 days also need to be registered.
Overstaying a visa is to be avoided at all costs as you will be prevented from leaving the country until you have paid some fairly hefty fines and presented a large amount of paperwork to either the local immigration office or police station. This whole process is unlikely to take less than 3 days, and can take much longer if you include weekends, numerous government holidays and the inevitable bizarre bureaucratic requirements.
Clearing customs can be a bit of a hassle, though it has improved vastly over the the last decade. In general, avoid the touts who will offer to ease your baggage through customs. There are various rules regarding duty-free allowances — there are differing rules for Indian citizens, foreign "tourists", citizens of Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan, non-citizens of Indian origin and people moving to India. Cast a quick glance at the website of the Central Board of Excise and Customs for information about what you can bring in. Foreign tourists other than Nepalis, Bhutanese and Pakistanis and those entering through Nepal, Bhutan or Pakistan, are entitled to bring in their "used personal effects and travel souvenirs" and ₹4,000,- worth of articles for "gifts". If you are an Indian citizen or are of Indian origin, you are entitled to ₹25,000,- worth of articles, (provided of course you aren't entering through Nepal, Bhutan or Pakistan.) The other rules are on the web site. If you are bringing any new packaged items along, it is a good idea to carry along the invoices for them to show their value. You are also allowed to bring in 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250 grams of tobacco and 1 litre (2 litres for Indians) of alcohol duty-free. If you do not have anything to declare, you can go through the green channel clearly marked at various airports and generally you will not be harassed.
Importing and exporting Indian rupees by foreign nationals is theoretically prohibited, although in practice there are no checks. Indian nationals can import or export up to ₹7500,- maximum, but on trips to Nepal, this cannot include ₹500 and ₹1000 notes.
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