For this, we'll need to rewind a few months and go back to when I was still kickin' it in Hanoi... After getting my visa into Burma, it was time for me to apply for my visa into India. Living in Hanoi is great because, being a capital city, every country in the world has (or, had) an embassy right next to my house. I could have applied for the E-Visa, but I like to do things in person if I can. If I had been in the U.S. (and didn't happen to have a week in Washington D.C. or New York City in my immediate future) I would have just applied online.
SO, the hours to apply for a visa at the Indian Embassy in Hanoi are from 9:30am to 12:30pm. I showed up at 9:15am, ready for action. There was a short Indian man working the desk with a thin mustache. I told him that I had come to apply for a visa. He asked me if I had my application form from the embassy website and my plane ticket.
That was something I had apparently overlooked in the zero research I had done. It turns out that there are a few things you need to have ready before you apply for your visa into India. Here’s the rundown:
What you need
Your passport (duh)
A standard passport sized photograph of yourself
The visa form, printed out from the website
A copy of your plane ticket into the country
The visa fee in U.S. Dollars ($123.00 for Americans)
Of these, I only had 1 and 2. So let’s break the rest of this down.
The Visa Form
Go to the website of the Indian Embassy for the country from which you are applying. If you are an American in Hanoi, don’t go to the website of the Indian Embassy in America, go to the website of the Embassy in Vietnam. Likewise, if you are a Vietnamese person in the U.S., go to the website of the Embassy in the U.S., not Vietnam.
If you’re in the U.S., go here: https://www.indianembassy.org/
If you’re in Vietnam (like I was), go here: http://indembassy.com.vn/
You’ll be asked a lot of things on your questionnaire; it's pretty intrusive. Some advice – don’t put too many countries into the “countries visited in the past 10 years” or it will freak out and you’ll have to start over. There will also be a section where it asks for a reference name and reference address. This is referring to the name and address of your hotel(s). I hadn’t made any reservations yet, so I just looked up a hotel in Kolkata and plugged the information in.
The Plane Ticket Into India
This is pretty straightforward. Just print off a scan/screenshot/receipt/whatever of your ticket into the country, and bring it with you. This was not so simple for me though. You see, I was planning on entering India by train. They told me that it was not a problem; I should just print of my train ticket and give them that instead.
The Visa Fee
If you applying from within the U.S. this is no problem. If you are applying from outside of the the U.S. this a royal pain in the ass. Most embassies only take USD. There will surely be a different secret to tracking down USD everywhere in the world (as a last resort you can always go change your money at the airport), but this is how you do it in Vietnam: go to a gold shop. Gold shops in Hanoi are known more for changing USD for VND than they are for anything to do with actual gold. There are plenty of gold shops around, but Ha Trung Street is the most reliable place for you to go. In the Hanoian tradition of having businesses physically grouped onto different streets according to category, this is 'gold street'. You don't need to speak any Vietnamese. Just go into any shop and hold out your VND. They'll take it from there.
As for the actual visa cost, I had seen a lot of different prices here and there, but when I got to the Indian Embassy in person they told me that I needed to bring 123 USD. That's a pretty random number, and one that had not showed up anywhere in my research, so make a note of it. Or don't. Who knows.
Completing This List From Hanoi
Being In Vietnam Made This A Bit Harder
It was 9:30am at that point. I had 3 hours to pull all of this together, so I ran out the door, hopped onto my bike, and drove to the nearest coffee shop. I sat down and powered through the visa application. It took me a little while because a lot of the questions required more explanation than was given. When I finished the website gave me a PDF of my summarized answers that I was to give to the Embassy.
My next order of business was my ticket into India. I was planning on taking a train across the border from Bangladesh. I had thought that I would figure that out once I was actually in Bangladesh… but apparently that wasn’t an option anymore. So I got on the internet and feebly attempted to purchase a train ticket.
My efforts eventually proved to be fruitless, because after tracking down the Bengali train department website, I had no Bengali cell phone with which to register. You know what, I'll do this later.
Luckily I was right next to a small print shop, so I printed off my visa form for 2,000 VND (0.09 USD).
Next I needed to change my VND to USD. There was a big bank right next to the print shop so I went in to ask them if they could make the exchange, but I was turned away. No matter - I went to Ha Trung Street instead. Once that was taken care of, I rushed back to the embassy.
I walked in, out of breath, and the short man with the thin mustache directed towards a door on my left. I walked into the room and sat down in front of another Indian Embassy worker. This one was balding and wore thick grandpa glasses. He also seemed to be very irritated for some reason. I handed over my materials and he began to look them over and type into his giant computer that had clearly been purchases during the early 1990s.
"I don't have a plane ticket," I began, "I will take the train into India from Bangladesh and I haven't been able to buy the ticket..."
"Ok, ok, no problem!" the Indian man interrupted, still looking down at my papers, waving a hand at me, as if I had annoyed him.
"Also, my form says 3 months," I started again, "But I'd like to apply for a 6 month visa. Is that more expensive?"
The man made a note of it on my form, but said nothing.
There was silence for a few minutes. Then he looked at me and said "Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles?"
He turned the screen towards me. Each of the cities were listed in an a chart. He gestured for me choose one.
"Um, I guess I live closest to Chicago...?"
He turned the screen back around quickly and continued with what he was doing.
"What's that for?" I asked cheerfully.
The man was silent.
When he finished what he was doing he looked up at his calendar. He wrote down a date and told me that was when I should return. I thanked him, and left.
On my way out the man with the thin mustache, who seemed to have been waiting for me to make eye contact with him, gave a very creepy smile and, with a wave, very quietly said "welcome".