All you need to know about visa-free travel

Indian passport   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

There is a thrill about journeying abroad. It is partly intrinsic as observing new vistas, hearing an alien language, and meeting unfamiliar people don’t need a hard sell. But you also cannot discount the effect of popular movies romanticising foreign travel — quite a few protagonists, after an eventful journey overseas, have successfully managed to “find themselves” or an answer to a troubling profound question. What we do not get to see in these movies is if they struggled to get a visa to travel to these exotic locations — filling up numerous forms, standing in long queues, etcetera. For, even if you have the money and time, without a visa, you might not be able to fly out of your country... and find yourself.

Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade, Serbia   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

There are, however, 55 countries, according to India’s Ministry of External Affairs, that grant a visa-on-arrival for Indians and 32 nations that don’t require a visa. Among the countries that offer visa-free travel are Barbados, Bhutan, Brazil, Cuba, Hong Kong, Maldives and Serbia.

Romil Pant, senior vice-president, leisure travel, Thomas Cook India, says, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, Maldives, Malaysia and Mauritius, due to their visa-free or visa-on-arrival policies, are among the most preferred travel destinations for Indians. The two primary reasons he mentions for these visa relaxations are, “One: These countries trust that India is a safe country when it comes to tourists. The second reason is the size of the market. We have a huge number of people travelling. So, who wouldn’t want to capitalise on that?”

What’s the catch?
  • The options for visa-free and visa-on-arrival travel are self-explanatory. But here are a few pointers that should come in handy when you plan your travel:
  • Even when you have visa-free travel rights to a country, you still have to pass through an immigration control facility, where your passports will be checked for validity.
  • Visa-on-arrival facilities are generally separate from immigration control. This means that the officer who receives payment and issues the visa is different from the officer who allows the visitor to cross the border.
  • Whether availing a visa-on-arrival facility or entering visa-free, you must be cautious not to overstay. Barbados, for instance, offers a 30 to 90-day visa-free stay.
  • You may have avoided the hassles of processing a visa, but you would still be required to present evidence of a return journey, hotel reservations, and sufficient funds. And, for visa-on-arrival options, you might be asked to pay the processing fee online.
  • Of the 32 countries that offer visa-free stay for Indians, many have clauses that need careful reading. Chile, for example, offers a 90-day visa-free stay, but only for the holders of a US visa with a minimum validity of six months.

Florian Sengstschmid, CEO of Azerbaijan Tourism Board, agrees that India is a significant tourism market. “We had over 65,000 travellers from India in 2019, compared to 23,000 in 2018, which is an impressive 66.8% increase,” he says. Azerbaijan allows Indians to acquire an e-visa, which, he says, will take just about three hours. “In the past, business travellers were the key drivers of tourism from India. But the new developments like the direct flight connectivity between Baku and Delhi (launched in 2019), will bring in more travellers looking to explore Azerbaijan.”

The visa-on-arrival option, albeit easy, is not hassle-free. Pulkit Goyal, who runs a YouTube travel channel Parry’s World, says, “You will need to fill out a form and submit your photo. Then, your return ticket, hotel booking and bank balance would be checked. And, the visa won’t be waiting for you as soon as you land. Last year in Bhutan, I stood in a queue for over two hours to get my visa.” To avail the visa-on-arrival facility in Vietnam, one has to submit an online visa application and receive an approval letter from immigration authorities in Vietnam before travelling. Pulkit also advises travellers to double-check the visa rules as countries change them frequently and without much notice.

There are also a host of other visa rules that have been eased in many countries, much to the delight of Indian passport holders. For instance, if you are transiting through the international zone of any airport in France, you do not need an airport transit visa any more. The United Arab Emirates is now granting a 10-year visa to highly skilled professionals and investors — specialists in science, medicine and research — and a five-year student visa to those who graduate from secondary schools with a grade of at least 95% and from universities with a GPA of at least 3.75. If you are applying for a short-term stay in Japan or a multiple-entry visa, you now do not need to show an employment certificate or explanation letter stating the reason for your visit.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 3:07:19 AM |

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