If I end up learning something from an experience, then the time is not wasted. That’s what I told myself after this registration ordeal. Especially since every moment is precious the moment you get off the plane!
When my Indian friend Jojin was preparing to host me in his home, he was worried because he learnt that he needed to register me as a ‘foreigner living at a local private residence’. We ended up spending a few hours, visiting both the town and local police station and finally the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) near the airport before realizing that, hey, it can be done online!
A lot of people shunned the idea of going to India as a travel destination, citing mainly safety and comfort reasons. I don’t blame them – most people read the news and take that as the Ultimate Word. In particular some Western news outlets seem to like to focus a lot on negative reports on India (amongst other places like Africa and South America), maybe to distract from their own regional deficiencies. And these reports often reflect India as a rather backwards place.
This episode of getting myself registered has helped me see India as a country who is in the process of transforming itself – like any other country – and while it takes time, it’s happening.
Walking into the local police station in this town in Kerala, I felt like I have entered a bygone era. The offices are equipped with bulky computer screens that we haven’t seen since Microsoft phased out their Windows XP edition. Stacks of papers everywhere, perspiring men working in tropical heat without air-conditioning and exposed electrical wires along the ceiling and walls. Nobody knows what is happening it seems. The only semblance of this post-911-era is the metal detector body scanner we passed through at the entrance and that’s about all the security check we got. We were referred from here to there and finally a man of authority asked us to submit multiple copies of a registration form to different places. Okay fine, better to have these settled ASAP, we thought.
When we finally reached the last stop – the FRRO, my friend was told he could have filled in the form online. But this is only after having obtained an account for his household, which the Indian host still has to apply for in person at the FRRO, with a proof of address documentation. Subsequently, all his foreign guests who want to stay at his home can be registered via his account online. The gentleman at the office took a long time to explain to us. He literally read to us line by line, field by field what to fill in (when in fact it’s pretty self-explanatory). We appreciated the new knowledge and that he took his time to make sure we got everything right even though we were bored out of our minds.
From the looks of it, India is at the beginning of the ‘do everything online’ revolution. Case in point, only recently we are finally able to apply for a Visa to India online. In more developed countries, we take for granted that everything is doable online. Pay your bills, buy your air tickets, get an appointment at the doctor’s, pay your taxes, apply for a new business account etc… Here, it seems that they are taking baby steps, but they are taking them.
For me it was interesting to rewind and go back time a little – this was around the late 90s to the early 00s for people in Singapore – I was perhaps too young to appreciate the nuances of ‘going digital’ in those days. The struggles as people weaned themselves off the habit of putting everything on paper and processing them manually. To trust that the machine will do the job right. If ever.
At the end of our visit to FRRO – feeling thankful, even after all the time wasted, for learning now that we could register online, the gentleman smiled tentatively at us with a look that says, you sure you guys can handle this at home? We were quite sure – all our business is pretty much done here.
For extra good measure, he wrote his name down in careful, neat script, signed it with a sense of officialdom and told us to keep the papers ‘just in case’. ♥
(Note: At no point was I asked to show my ‘papers’ throughout my trip in India… BUT, you never know, ;-) )
p.s. Many thanks for the hospitality and heartfelt warmth from my friend Jojin and his family!
The FRRO office address in Kochi (Cochin):
2nd Floor, Airlines Building
Weblink to register a foreigner:
(Under Registration and Visa Extension tab > Form C > Sign in with the host’s log-in details)