tldr – getting my visa for India was an ordeal and Kira is great.
This is going to sound like a story of procrastination, but for anyone who knows Kira you will know that isn’t her style. We are going to India over the winter break and you need a tourist visa to enter the country. You can apply for the visa online within 30 days of your trip and up until 4 days before you leave. With that in mind Kira started the process more than two weeks before we were leaving. Here is what happened.
- When filling out my online form we realized that my passport expires within six months and that is not allowed when traveling to India. Actually this appears to be pretty standard for international travel, but I have made it this far in life few without knowing that fact. A ten year passport is really only good for 9.5 years.
- To get a passport renewal you have to make an appointment at the US Embassy. Their appointments were all full the week before Christmas. Luckily Kira was able to talk to someone on the phone and they said they added me in manually for an appointment at 9am on 12/21. We had tickets for Tokyo Disneyland that day so the family went to the Happiest Place in Japan and I went to stand in line.
- I got to the embassy a little early and was told by the Japanese guard at the entrance that there was no record of my appointment. He left to go talk to someone who makes decisions. An American without an appointment was above his pay grade. He came back and said he was sorry, but there was no record of my appointment. I told him the story about the schedule being full and how we called in and they said they added me for a 9am appointment. He left again and came back after about five minutes and said, “You don’t have an appointment, but they said you can come inside.” Excellent.
- If you ever have to get your passport renewed in Tokyo you should go at 9am on the Wednesday before Christmas. I walked in and the clerk behind the counter waved me over immediately. I explained about the visa for India and he looked at the calendar. He said they wouldn’t be able to process a normal renewal within such a short time frame, but would I like a temporary one year passport. Yes, please. Thirty minutes later I walked out of the embassy with a passport good until December of 2017 and I managed to catch up with the rest of the family before our Space Mountain fastpasses expired.
- During the same time frame Kira was working on the India Visa’s, for the people in our family without expiring passports, and having some “fun” with the e-Tourist Visa (ETV) website. After filling out a long application for Melanie she was unable to pay because it redirects to the State Bank of India’s epay site, which evidently is notoriously glitchy and often down for days. We did some research and it seems that the SBI epay was designed for mobile devices and while some people have been able to get the site to work on a normal browser from your laptop, we were not. We waited a day to see what the response would be from the ETV site on how to pay for Melanie’s application. The application was saved, but not paid for, but gave no advice on how to make that happen. The solution that seemed to work for most people telling their tales of woe on the internets was to fill out the EVT application, save it, and then use your phone’s browser to make the payment. We thought we would give this a try, but then the SBI website was down for a day or so.
- After the State Bank of India rejoined the 21rst century Kira was able to fill out all the applications and then use her phone to make the payments. Success!
- Or at least success on submitting applications. About a day later she started getting emails for each application that was submitted.
- Melanie’s visa application: accepted!
- Michael’s visa application: accepted!
- Sarah’s visa application: accepted!
- Kira’s visa application: accepted!
- Mike’s visa application: rejected.
No reason was given for the application rejection, which was the height of frustration. You have to upload a recent picture and a scanned copy of your passport as a part of the application and we thought maybe my picture quality wasn’t good enough so we used a different picture and tried again. And paid again. The fee is for processing, not for the visa.
- Mike’s visa second application: rejected.
- With no reason for the applications being rejected our next step was to try in person. In Tokyo the Indian government, or a third party that masquerades as a government agency very well, has an office just for processing visas. With all of the SBI bank issues, filling out applications, and celebrating Christmas it was now almost a week later, December 27th. Kira woke up early that morning and saw the second rejection email so we were able to arrive at the offices when they opened at 9am.
- Everyone was very helpful. The first woman we spoke to was a nice Japanese woman who helpfully told us it takes five days for a foreigner (meaning non-Japanese citizen) to get a tourist visa. We explained about leaving in a few days (1/1/2017) and about the e-visa problems. She explained that they were not connected to the e-visa division in any way. We both kept saying the same thing. Us, “But we really need one this week is there anyway to expedite?” Her, “It takes five days.” This went back and forth about four times when she finally called over another employee to have him explain because she couldn’t find the right words in English. He started off telling us the same thing, “five days.” But he also said it was possible we might get it back in time. He couldn’t guarantee anything, but if we wanted to take the risk they could try to process the application in time. He also said the eVisa was automated and was probably rejected because of the temporary passport.
- We decided to risk it. Worst case I could change my flight and catch up with the rest of the family in Shanghai, hopefully in time to join them for Space Mountain in Shanghai Disneyland. They added a small post-it onto my application highlighting the date on our itinerary. I crossed my fingers, paid a processing fee for the third time, and went home to wait.
- Best case scenario we thought would be getting the visa back on Friday 12/30, but earlier today they called and said it was ready. We rode over to their offices and within less than five minutes they handed me back my passport with my tourist visa for India attached inside.