Going to India is always an adventure. And it starts with getting the tourist visa.
This was early May 2015 – I was bracing myself for a long-drawn fight at the visa centre at The Verge. After all, I received an email from VFS Global (where I applied last time) saying that they will stop processing visa after 8 May 2015. I figured everyone will flood to BLS International (the only other visa processing centre) in no time.
The Verge is a shopping mall near Little India MRT Station – take Exit C and go past Tekka Market, keep going straight, then cross the road to reach it.
The last time I applied for my visa was at VFS, so this might as well be the first time for me. So here we go…
I arrived at the centre around lunchtime (submission time is from 9am to 5pm on weekdays) to find a manageable crowd – no crying babies, no obnoxious middle-aged men hacking up their lungs in a corner, just patient good folks waiting for their turn. Most of them are Indians applying for the new biometric passports, plus a handful of non-Indians applying for visas. I packed a book, earphones, some water and a lot of patience with me..
More importantly, I brought my form (filled out & printed), passport and visa fee in cash. As far as I can see, they only accept cash.
There was an unmarked counter near the right side of the entrance where a lady was dispensing queue numbers. Since there was no apparent system going on, I proceeded with a ‘monkey see monkey do’ approach. I took this time to run downstairs for a snack. It took around 25 minutes to go through around 20 numbers. That means they work through the applications fairly quickly, but they basically just put your form between the pages of your passport, tie it with a rubber band and put it in a pile to send off to the High Commission of India.
Having brought all the necessities – which is a surprisingly short list of original passport, passport copy, copy of local identification card, one passport-sized photo taken within 6 months (or a recent photo that’s not the same as that of in your current passport issued more than 6 months ago, you get the drift) – the lady at the counter processed mine fuss-free.
But remember – fill in your form online, then print it out and bring it here. (Don’t expect old-fashioned fill-in-the-form-on-the-spot business; you won’t be entertained as an elderly gentleman who was not so kindly escorted out has demonstrated.)
My only gripe – on top of the standard visa fee of S$45 for a 6-month multiple-entry visa + various taxes amounting to another $3.05 – they slapped me a non-refundable S$3 of SMS fee which I didn’t request and clearly didn’t need. It was my folly not to have checked but when she asked for payment she didn’t mention any caveats. Anyway I didn’t want to go through the trouble to ask for my money back and I’m happy to think of it as an efficiency fee.
Done submitting in 45 minutes. (And since I went to grab a quick bite, time passed even quicker than I thought.)
Step 1: Fill in the online form
Step 2: Print out the form
Step 3: Bring it to the visa centre
Step 4: Pay up in cash and take your collection slip
Step 5: Pick up in 3-4 working days time (depending what is written on your slip)
Picking up wasn’t so easy though. The pickup time is only 6 to 8pm on weekdays. (There were still people streaming in at 8.30pm though.) The only thing I brought for this purpose was the collection slip.
I arrived at 6.45pm. To a big horde of anxious people crowding round the counters.
No queue numbers are issued for collection. Hmm.
Tons of people waving their collection slips in the air. Just get your slip to one of the ladies working in the counters. It won’t be easy, but everyone was happy to help one another. I expected some vicious elbowing but the place was civil though insanely crowded.
Then just wait while names were being called out at random. There was no guarantee if you passed your slip first that you would get your passport first.
After 2.5 hours of waiting, I finally got my visa and passport. Not before a short fiasco of the employees getting panicky because they thought they misplaced my passport.
Well, for those who haven’t been to India – this is something like a ‘Welcome to India’ crash course. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to India and I love the place as much as I possibly could, but everyday you’d expect some inane things to happen. Inane things as in things you’d rarely expect to happen, say in the middle of London or Paris or Singapore – like carting passports into the visa office using plastic unmarked baskets and distributing them with no system whatsoever.
I hope this was some kind of in-between period as they suffered a surge in demand for visa applications with the other place closing down. And even if it’s not – I’m sorry to say that I’m not surprised if it has always been run like this.
I was only too happy to grab my passport – though famished and understandably annoyed to the brim – and head home.
**You can now apply for your Indian Visa online, but last I checked it was definitely more expensive than if you do it in person.
***The information with regards to submission and collection timings does change from time to time so it’s best to get the latest info from the BLS website. This post only reflects my observations and my experience in visa application.
All the best for your travels in India! ♥