Entering India by air or land is relatively straightforward, with standard immigration and customs procedures. A frustrating law barring re-entry into India within two months of the previous date of departure has been done away with (except for citizens of some Asian countries), thus allowing most travellers to combine their India tour with side trips to neighbouring countries.

Customs Regulations

Technically you’re supposed to declare Indian rupees in excess of ₹10,000, any amount of cash over US$5000, or total amount of currency over US$10,000 on arrival.

You're also prohibited from importing more than one laptop, two litres of alcohol, 100 cigarettes or equivalent, or gifts and souvenirs worth over ₹8000.

Passports

To enter India you need a valid passport and an onward/return ticket, and a visa. Note that your passport needs to be valid for at least six months beyond your intended stay in India, with at least two blank pages. If your passport is lost or stolen, immediately contact your country’s representative. Keep photocopies of your airline ticket and the identity and visa pages of your passport in case of emergency. Better yet, scan and email copies to yourself.

Visas

Apart from citizens of Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives (Nepali citizens are, however, required to get a visa if they enter via China), everyone needs to apply for a visa before arriving in India. Over 100 nationalities can obtain a 30-day e-Tourist visa/Visa on Arrival, applying online prior to arrival; this is valid from the day you arrive. For longer trips, you'll need to obtain a six-month tourist visa, valid from the date of issue, not the date of arrival in India.

Entry Requirements

Visas are available at Indian missions worldwide, though in many countries, applications are processed by a separate private company.

  • Student and business visas have strict conditions (consult the Indian embassy for details).
  • A standard 180-day tourist visa permits multiple entry for most nationalities.
  • Five- and 10-year tourist visas are available to US citizens only under a bilateral arrangement; however, you can still only stay in the country for up to 180 days continuously.
  • Currently you are required to submit two digital photographs with your visa application (format jpeg 10-300kb)
  • An onward travel ticket is a requirement for some visas, but this isn’t always enforced (check in advance).
  • Visas are priced in the local currency and may have an added service fee.
  • Extended visas are possible for those of Indian origin (excluding those in Pakistan and Bangladesh) who hold a non-Indian passport and live abroad.
  • For visas lasting more than six months, you’re supposed to register at the Foreigners' Regional Registration Office in Delhi within 14 days of arriving in India; enquire about these special conditions when you apply for your visa.
  • Check with the Indian embassy in your home country for any special conditions that may exist for your nationality.

Re-entry Requirements

Most tourists are permitted to transit freely between India and its neighbouring countries. If you plan to fly out of India and don't have a visa covering re-entry to India already, it's a real hassle getting a new visa in Kathmandu. However, citizens of Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, foreigners of Pakistan and Stateless persons are barred from re-entering India within two months of the date of their previous exit.

Visa Extensions

India is extremely stringent with visa extensions. At the time of writing, the government was granting extensions only in circumstances such as medical emergencies or theft of passport just before the applicant planned to leave the country (at the end of their visa).

If you do need to extend your visa due to any such exigency, you should contact the Foreigners' Regional Registration Office in Delhi. This is also the place to come for a replacement visa, and if you need 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 most countries; enquire on application). You must bring one passport photo (take two, just in case), your passport (or emergency travel document, if your passport is missing), and a letter from the hospital where you're having treatment if it's a medical emergency. 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 and leisure.

Travel Permits

Access to certain parts of India – particularly disputed border areas – is controlled by a system of permits that applies slightly differently to Indian citizens and foreigners.

A permit known as an Inner-Line Permit (ILP) or a Restricted Area Permit (RAP) is required to visit Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and certain parts of Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh and Uttarakhand that lie close to the disputed border with China/Tibet. Permits are also necessary for travel to the Andaman and Lakshadweep Islands, and some parts of Kutch in Gujarat.

Obtaining the ILP/RAP is usually a formality, but travel agents must apply on your behalf for certain areas, including many trekking routes passing close to the border.

Permits are issued by regional magistrates and district commissioners, either directly to travellers (for free) or through travel agents (for a fee). In some places you also need to pay an Environmental Tax of ₹ 300; ensure you keep the receipt.

In Odisha, permission is no longer required to visit tribal regions, and there’s nothing to stop tourists from taking a bus or taxi to visit regional markets, but some villages are off-limits to visitors (due to potential Maoist activity), so seek local advice before setting out.

Double-check with tourism officials to see if permit requirements have undergone any changes before you head out to these areas.

Visa on Arrival (VOA)

Citizens from over 100 countries, from Albania to Zimbabwe, can apply for a 30-day e-Tourist visa online at indianvisaonline.gov.in a minimum of four and a maximum of 30 days before they are due to travel.

The fee is US$60, and it's necessary to upload a photograph as well as a copy of your passport, have at least six month's validity in your passport, and at least two pages blank. The facility is available at 16 airports, including Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru (Bangalore), Chennai, Kochi, Goa, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Thiruvanathapuram airports, though you can exit through any airport. You should also have a return or onward ticket, though proof of this is not usually requested.

If your application is approved, you will receive an attachment to an email, which you'll need to print out and take with you to the airport. You'll then have the e-Tourist visa stamped into your passport at the airport, hence the term 'Visa on Arrival', though you need to apply for it beforehand. It is valid from the date of arrival.