You must get a visa before arriving in India and these are easily available at Indian missions worldwide. Most people travel on the standard tourist visa, which is more than adequate for most needs. Student visas and business visas have strict conditions and also restrict your access to tourist services such as tourist quotas on trains. An onward travel ticket is a requirement for most visas, but this is not always enforced (check in advance), except for the 72-hour transit visa.
Six-month multiple-entry tourist visas (valid from the date of issue) are granted to nationals of most countries regardless of how long you intend to stay.
*** Visa update: Any holder of a tourist visa who wishes to visit another country during their stay in India must wait at least two months before re-entering. This time will be factored into the total duration of your visa (usually either 90 or 180 days). Obviously, this new condition reduces the number of times you can come and go from India, however it is possible to apply for a more flexible arrangement through your nearest Indian Mission/Post. See the FAQ section of the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs website for more information.
There are additional restrictions on travellers from Bangladesh and Pakistan, as well as certain Eastern European, African and Central Asian countries. Check any special conditions for your nationality with the Indian embassy in your country.
Visas are priced in the local currency; Brits pay UK£30, Americans pay US$60, Australians pay A$75 (an extra A$15 service fee applies at consulates) and Japanese citizens pay just ¥1200.
Extended visas (up to five years) are possible for people of Indian descent (excluding those in Pakistan and Bangladesh) who hold a non-Indian passport and live abroad. Contact your embassy for more details.
For visas lasting more than six months, you need to register at the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office (FRRO) within 14 days of arriving in India; inquire about these special conditions when you apply for your visa.
Fourteen-day visa extensions are theoretically possible at the discretion of the Ministry of Home Affairs (011-23385748; 26 Jaisalmer House, Man Singh Rd, Delhi; inquiries 9-11am Mon-Fri) but don’t get your hopes up. The only circumstances where this might conceivably happen is if you were robbed of your passport just before you planned to leave the country at the end of your visa. If you run low on time, consider doing the ‘visa run’ over to Bangladesh or Nepal and applying for another six-month tourist visa there.
If you do find yourself needing to request an extension, you should contact the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office (FRRO; 011-26195530; firstname.lastname@example.org ; Level 2, East Block 8, Sector 1, Rama Krishna Puram, Delhi; 9.30am-1.30pm & 2-3pm Mon-Fri), just around the corner from the Hyatt Regency hotel. This is also the place to come for a replacement visa if you’ve had your lost/stolen passport replaced (required before you can leave the country). Regional FRROs are even less likely to grant an extension.
Assuming you meet the stringent criteria, the FRRO is permitted to issue an extension of 14 days, free for nationals of all countries except Japan (Rs 390), Sri Lanka (Rs 135 to 405, depending on the number of entries), Russia (Rs 1860) and Romania (Rs 500). You must bring your confirmed air ticket, one passport photo and a photocopy of your passport (information and visa pages). Note that this system is designed to get you out of the country promptly with the correct official stamps, not to give you two extra weeks of travel.
Access to certain parts of India – particularly disputed border areas – is controlled by a complicated permit system. A permit known as an Inner-Line Permit (ILP) is required to visit northern parts of Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim that lie close to the disputed border with China/Tibet. Obtaining the ILP is basically a formality, but travel agents must apply on your behalf for certain areas, including many trekking routes passing close to the border. ILPs are issued by regional magistrates and district commissioners, either directly to travellers (for free) or through travel agents (for a fee).
Entering the northeast states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram is much harder – tourists require a Restricted Area Permit (RAP), which must be arranged through Foreigners’ Regional Registration Offices (FRRO) offices. Ultimate permission comes from the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi, which is reluctant to issue permits to foreigners – without exception, your best chance of gaining a permit is to join an organised tour and let the travel agent make all the arrangements.
Most permits officially require you to travel in a group of four (married couples are also permitted in certain areas). This is enforced in some places, not in others – travel agents may have suggestions to help solo travellers get around these restrictions. Note that you can only travel to the places listed on the permit, often by set routes, and this is hard to change after the permit is issued.
It’s not a bad idea to double-check with tourism officials to see if permit requirements have undergone any recent changes before you head out to these areas.