I did not have time for a last minute trip to Tokyo. But, Getting An Indian Visa in Japan online is difficult. Getting straight answers from anyone in English proved to be even more difficult. I visited all of the websites I could find, including the official E-tourist Visa page. I called embassies in the U.S., Tokyo and India itself. No one could give me straight answers about what I needed to send in. Some people said one form, others said another.
Update 1: Here is the best description I’ve found (too late for me) of what you need. Indian Tourist Visa.
There were services I could hire, but none of them worked with my timeline. Each would have taken a minimum of 30 days and I had 21. That’s the other problem I ran into with getting this visa. In true Mindy-style, I booked my trip to India about a month out. I hear that some people schedule these things in advance, but similarly to the time that I booked my backpacking trip to SEAsia 16 days out, I’m always afraid that the longer I wait the more things will come up that will give me an excuse not to go. I was meant to go last October, but life happens, and it will always happen unless you don’t give it the chance. Once you book the ticket, it doesn’t really matter what’s going on around you. You have a departure date, and that’s that. So that’s been my philosophy:
When that nagging inside me says it’s time to go, I book a ticket and go.
Does this travel “style” make it easy? Um, No. Take it from the girl whose writing this post on a train in Tokyo at an unreasonably early hour trying to get home to Okinawa just so I can turn around and head back to the airport for a flight to Taipei tonight- there were easier ways to do this. But once the decision is made, you find a way to make it work.
After all of my phone calls, all of the online forms I filled out, and all of the dead ends I ran into, I decided to fly to Tokyo on Monday (January 25) to go to the Indian Embassy so that I could (hopefully) get my visa taken care of 4 days before our girls trip to Taipei. I called and tried to make an appointment before I left Okinawa. They told me they don’t take appointments, but if I arrived at the embassy at 9:00 a.m. I shouldn’t have a problem getting my visa that day.
Update 2: Don’t go to the embassy- you can’t get a visa here (more on that down the way)
Update 3: Same day visas are apparently impossible- so that didn’t work out either.
My delayed flight landed in Tokyo around 11 p.m. I navigated through the city and arrived at my hotel just before 1 a.m. I set my alarm for 7 a.m. hoping to arrive at the embassy around 8:45. (It opens at 9 .m.) As I neared where I thought it should be I saw a big sign in a window “Taste of Mumbai”. I was close. I could feel it. Standing outside a Lawson’s was a group of Indian men. I didn’t want to just assume they’d know where the embassy was because of how they looked, so I walked past them and kept looking. More restaurants, an antique shop- but no embassy.
Finally I gave in and asked if they knew where the embassy was. They pointed excitedly down a side street. One of them raised his hands. Cool. They were pumped. I started feeling pumped too! I followed the street and was soon walking beside a giant mural, “Find what you seek” and “!ndia”. Yay! This was it! I’d already found what I sought! The closer I got, the more Indians I saw. They were spilling out of the embassy, dressed beautifully, and holding cups of coffee. In less than a month I’d be in their country! I was smilingly a little too brightly when I approached the gate, feeling festive and one with the people, I declared: “I need to apply for a visa!” The man stopped smiling, shook his head and said, “No visas.” At first I kind of thought he was kidding. I’d just flown three hours and taken two trains to get here. “Indian holiday. Come back another day,” he told me, and then turned around and walked through the gated entrance away from me.
I just stood there, by the gate, like a girl who’d been denied access to what appeared to be a very fun club. All that coffee, all those cookies… just on the other side of the fence. I must have looked a bit dejected, because another man with a badge smiled and approached me. “You can get a visa tomorrow,” he told me. “But you’re in the wrong place, even if it wasn’t a holiday.” Great information that I wish the lady at the Embassy who I’d spoken to the day before had told me. He gave me a printed map labeled IVS Visa Center. Apparently I was not the first person who had made this error. “The website didn’t mention that you would be closed today,” I said. He shrugged. “Indian holiday!” he told me brightly. This was my first taste of what spending 5 weeks in India would be like.
A bump in the road, I told myself, cheerfully. No one said this was going to be easy. I texted Dane I’d be staying an extra day as I walked to a park to study my map to see what landmarks were near me. I watched people walking their dogs and kids playing in the park and something about it all reminded me of the movie Finding Neverland. A full day in Tokyo. This was a blessing, even if it was an inconvenience.
I saw that the Imperial Gardens & Palace weren’t far off, so I decided I’d go walk through the gardens. In January. As you might expect, the gardens were a little… brown, but this is Japan and even brown– it’s beautiful.
After walking around for about an hour, I realized that the only problem was I could not find the palace anywhere. Directions are challenging for me in English. In Japanese they are damn near impossible. I followed the map they gave me, but it took me to a wall. “Other side,” a guard told me helpfully. “Yes, but how do I get there?” I asked him. “Oh no, not here. Other side,” he said shaking his head and offering nothing more.
One pleasantly unexpected surprise were a few trees with unseasonably early cherry blossoms. They hadn’t even started blooming in Okinawa, so it was shocking to see them in Tokyo. There was still snow around the base of some of the trees, yet there they were fragilely clinging to the limbs as people gathered around snapping shots.Turned out to be the only Japanese cherry blossoms I saw this year!
I wish I had a fit bit because I’m pretty sure it would tell me that I walked 1,000 miles trying to find the famed view of the Imperial Palace. Eventually, after stopping for directions three times, I found my way, and discovered there was a straight shot from the subway line that took me directly back to the hotel. It’s a very scenic route from the Indian Embassy, but very easy to get to otherwise.
The next morning I was up with the sun ready to arrive at IVS Global before it opened. My Uber driver, bless him, could not find the place. Up and down we drove the narrow side streets of Tokyo. This was off to a good start.
I wrote down the whole process the day I did it, but even with every detail still fresh in my mind it’s very difficult to tell you exactly what you need to do in order to secure a visa to India as a foreigner in Japan with less than 3 weeks turnaround time, but I am going to do my best.
Side note: I have friends who have successfully done it all by mail (a much cheaper option (no flight/no hotel)- if you have time). The reason I couldn’t do it this way is because it takes at least a month and time was not a luxury I had. One friend also warned that it can take several months if they send your paperwork back to you for corrections (which they did to her). I couldn’t risk it. I had 21 days.
SO here’s what you need to know if you are applying for an Indian visa on a time crunch. If you have questions, feel free to reach out! I’ll do my best to help!
1) Fill out this online form carefully: Indian Visa Application. Make sure that your “permanent address” is an address in your home country (as in U.S. for me). It doesn’t actually have to be yours, they suggested I use my parents. Do not leave any question blank. If it doesn’t apply to you put “NA”, but try to fill in everything. If you leave off an NA, you will have to redo it. If there are any blanks left blank– even the phone number of your spouse’s employer (they got me on that)– find a way to fill them in! If there is anything they can find for you to do over again, they will. And it will cost you 1800 yen to do so.
2) There are two additional forms. I found the first here: *** and brought it with me. The second was one that they gave me at the visa center and had to be completed by hand.
Make sure you sign everything exactly the way your signature appears in your passport. Signed your middle initial? Sign it again. If you don’t you will be filling the whole thing out again. And again… it will cost you.
3) Bring a passport photo. They need to be standard: square, white background, no shadows, etc. Someone had told me you couldn’t be smiling, but I was in mine and they didn’t have a problem with that. Here are their specific instructions for the passport photo. If there is an issue with your photo, there’s a Photo Booth there that you can use if there is an issue with your photo, but again, it’s going to cost you.
4) Bring your proof of residency in Japan. If the military brought you here, bring your orders and your ID card.
5) BRING CASH. More than you think you need. I cannot emphasize this enough. I had ¥ 16,000 with me, and I’d read online that a 6 month visa would cost me $60 USD or roughly ¥ 6,000. Well they charged me ¥ 22,160 (I still plan to look into this to see why it cost so much and fight it if possible), but on the day of the transaction, I didn’t have a choice but to pay and I didn’t have the option to pay with a card.
I was personally escorted around the neighborhood to look for an ATM by the young branch manager, (I’m not sure everyone gets this service). When we found one it didn’t accept cards that were not issued in Japan, so he gave me his cell phone number (again not sure everyone gets this) and I told him I would keep looking and call if there was an issue. Thank goodness I remembered that our cards work at Post Offices, so I googled “yubinkyoku near me” (one of the words I’ve learned, but don’t get to use very often) and found one. I made it back with the cash, minutes before 1:30 when they close for three hours.
6) If you can live without your passport for 8-15 days, this is the end of your road. They will mail it back to your Japanese address, and you are good to go. If you need it for another trip (which I did) you will have to sign it back out and mail it back. I signed a release form and a form that said they were going to start the process without having my physical passport. They told me when I got home from Taipei all I needed to do was mail those two forms back with my original passport and ticket and they guaranteed I would have the passport back in my possession within 3 business days- which was good because I left for India 2 days after that.
**Update 4: this did NOT go smoothly, it never came, and it ended up costing me another ¥20,000 and some serious stress as I flew from Okinawa to Tokyo to catch my flight to India WITHOUT a visa. There might be a whole story about this coming later!
7) Along with those two forms, I had to mail a copy of my e-ticket. I only bought a one way ticket to Goa, but I was told that for a 6 month visa it was okay for me to only send a one-way. We will see how all of that works out when I get there!
**Update 5: It didn’t work out. It should have, and it did for half of the people I met, but not for me. The girls at the Tokyo Etihad counter were insistent that I purchase a return ticket before they would check me in for my flight. They assured me this was the law and that I needed to have a copy of the ticket printed or they wouldn’t let me into the country of India. When I finally got there a million hours later, I tried to show the guy at the immigration desk the return ticket I’d been forced to buy at the counter. He waved it away and said “I don’t need.” Of course he didn’t.
After I paid the ¥ 21,000 I asked for a receipt. They told me they would send it to me when they sent the passport. This all seemed sketch, but I went with it, because I didn’t really feel that I had another choice. They asked me to have a seat and I sat and sat and made all of these notes so I could remember just how ridiculous I thought the whole thing was. I would have typed them but I wasn’t allowed to bring my computer out, so I just sat. I’d been hoping to catch a return flight to Okinawa that evening, but as time ticked by I realized it wasn’t going to happen. I started looking for the earliest, cheapest flights for the following morning and continued sitting.
Around 3 p.m. they finally finished whatever they were doing back there with my passport and I was free to sign it back out and leave. The Tokyo Tower, which has been sadly eclipsed by the newer and significantly taller Tokyo Skytree is nearby, and I’d never seen the “international orange” tower, so I walked over to blow it some kisses.
After the tower, I headed to Ginza to do some much-needed shopping. (This is a big deal for those of us in Okinawa who only have Old Navy and Forever 21 to choose from). I arrived back in the hotel around 9 p.m., booked the earliest return to Tokyo I could and went to sleep.
The next morning I woke at 4 a.m. and walked to a nearby metro station (that I was told opened at 5), so that I could get to Ueno Station and catch the first Kesei Skyliner to the airport. If I missed the skyliner, I would miss my flight. I arrived at the metro station at 5:05, but the locked gate gave me the impression that perhaps I’d been misinformed and it didn’t open until 6. I caught a rather expensive cab instead, and arrived at Ueno Station just in time to catch the Kesei. I got to the airport just a little over an hour before my flight, lucky I had no bags to check. I landed in Okinawa around noon. Brette picked me up and took me straight home so I could unpack, repack, and then catch a ride back to the airport for our girls trip to Taipei, all before Dane even made it home from work. Don’t worry — I left a note with lots of x’s and o’s and gave extra kisses to the pup.
All in all it was an exhausting and unproductive trip: but (spoiler alert) in the end it all worked out and I made it to India and fell in love with it!
In 2013, I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Thailand. After four months of backpacking I returned to the States and fell in love with a guy whose job sent us straight back to Asia. Nothing has gone according to plan... and it's been absolutely magical.
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