Getting Indian Visas as Americans in France

Eric and I recently attended a friend’s wedding in India. Before our trip, we were excited to be adventuring to a new country and new continent; however, for us to travel to India, we first needed to obtain tourist visas, which turned out to be a rather expensive and somewhat stressful process.

First off, we didn’t fully consider the visa issue while we were trying to make up our minds about whether we should take the trip. In retrospect, that did not show great foresight on our part, because we delayed and delayed the decision; then with one month before the wedding we realized we definitely wanted to go and that we would need to acquire visas for this trip, ASAP. The timelines we found for acquiring an Indian tourist visa in France without going to Paris directly were not quick.

In France, to get an Indian visa you must use the services of the company “VFS”. From what I gather, the Indian government has basically outsourced the entire visa application submission procedure to this company, both here and in other countries. Luckily for us, their website for France has all the information available in English as well as French.

To apply for a visa, you first have to fill out several form pages on an Indian government website. You will possibly (probably?) have problems with the website’s security certificate. I did in both Chrome and Firefox. This is not a very inspiring sign, given that you are about to submit a ton of personal information over the internet. Obviously you always want to use due caution with such issues, but this is apparently a common issue with this website — several online guides on how to fill out this form, as well as the website itself, mention that you may need to download the security certificate. The output after filling in these form pages will be a two-page long pdf.

You’ll need to submit this along with any additional supporting documents requested and your passport to VFS. Submitting our passports was something we were really uncomfortable with, given that we are foreigners in France and our passports contain our French visas. Handing over our passports for days/weeks is not something we had ever been required to do in the past — when we have applied for other visas while in Europe, it was understood by the governments we were working with that people who are foreigners should generally retain possession of their passports during the visa process. Luckily we did not have any problems while VFS had our passports.

The woman we worked with at the VFS collection point in Lyon indicated that a month “should” be enough time to get our visas, but mildly scolded us when we affirmatively answered her question about whether we had already purchased our plane tickets. Ultimately our passports were returned to us by post after approximately two weeks processing time.

Unfortunately, being a foreigner in France meant we paid a premium for these visas. The price was somewhere around 140 Euros per visa, and that was only for 6-month validity, single entry visas. This included a bogus 25 Euro fee because we hold US passports. If not pure greed, why US passport holders are subject to a special fee no on else gets stuck with is beyond me, especially when there is already a 30 Euro fee for all foreign passport holders.  We were a bit disgusted when we found out our American friends who had obtained their visas in the US were able to get 10-year, multiple entry tourist visas for only about 50 USD more than their base price (which was also much cheaper); we would have paid at least an extra 100 Euros per visa for that privilege.

Hopefully in the future the visa process will not be so expensive or such a hassle. In my research on the visa issue, I found out that extending the “Visa on Arrival” program to US and other nationality passport holders has been proposed. If that proposal is put into practice, I imagine it will make traveling to India a much more enticing prospect for many tourists.

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