Filling out forms is never fun. That’s just a fact. I’m a triple-checker: even on simple forms I take about ten minutes on each question and even then I always worry that I’ve made a catastrophic mistake so I have to check the form multiple times just in case… Does anyone else get this paranoid about forms?
So the thought of applying for an Indian visa was not an appealing one. I opted for the e-Tourist Visa which is for shorter visits – it also doesn’t cost as much as a regular visa and you can supposedly apply easily online.
It started off fine. I had all my documents ready, I answered the questions confidently (there’s even a step-by-step guide on TripAdvisor) and I only stumbled when it came to uploading my photo – the resolution was too low – but luckily I had some help at hand and we solved the issue quickly.
Then came the question of payment: I tried to use the SBI payment system but there was a server error. I had read that this is a common issue and I knew that you only get three attempts at payment so didn’t want to risk that happening again. Yet again, my helper came to my rescue and suggested I use his PayPal account. Bingo! Your payment has been successful!
I even got an email to confirm this and to tell me that the application would be processed in the next 72 hours. Cool, I thought, it’ll be here in a few days, exactly a week before I travel (side note: I know I shouldn’t have bought my plane tickets before I had a visa – they explicitly tell you this – so if this makes you lose all sympathy for me, I’ll completely understand). But who really does that…?
Anyway, I was happy enough and satisfied that everything had gone to plan so didn’t think about it until the next day. My boyfriend has a Swedish passport which means he gets a few perks when it comes to some visas; in the case of India it meant that his visa cost a little bit less than mine and I’m pretty sure it also meant that his application was expedited. It arrived the following morning.
That’s when the hand-wringing began. At first it was light-hearted: I was ‘jokingly’ jealous of his ‘Swedishness’ and of the fact that his had arrived already – “I wish I was Swedish, then I’d definitely have my visa by now!”, I’d say. The hours passed and I had heard nothing – I didn’t think they actually meant 72 hours for processing, that’s usually just a generic time-period so they can cover themselves, these things always come earlier than anticipated, right?
Wrong. As I write this, I still do not have an Indian visa in my possession. I leave for India in five days’ time… You can imagine my levels of stress and anxiety. As soon as the 72-hour processing period lapsed I went into panic mode. Why hadn’t they emailed me? Does this mean it’s been rejected? Or is it just a technical glitch? I emailed to enquire about my visa’s status and heard nothing back for 24 hours, during which time I phoned the helpline but couldn’t get through, called the High Commission of India in London and waited on hold for an hour and a half only to be cut off, and generally freaked out. I felt like I was in outer space and just needed some kind of contact. If my visa had been rejected I just needed to know so I could apply again before I ran out of time (you can only apply for an e-tourist visa up to four days before travel). Time was ticking and the silence was beyond frustrating.
And then there was a moment of joy – an email arrived in my inbox and it included the word ‘granted’. Hooray! The joy soon dissipated, though. I was instructed to visit the website, click on the Visa Status option and print my visa from there. But there was no visa to be found… when I checked my visa status, all I saw was the same page I’d seen for the last four days. I immediately wrote back to alert them to this and to ask for a copy via email (I believe this is the standard procedure anyway so I’m not sure why they didn’t email me my visa). That was yesterday morning and I have still received no word. I emailed again this morning to follow up and have still received no word.
Right now I’m not sure where I stand. I have an email stating that my visa has been granted but I can’t actually travel without a printed copy. Maybe I’ve been overreacting to this situation and should be a bit more patient given the time difference etc., but it’s extremely hard when time is running out and you could potentially have to cancel an 18-day trip to India which you’ve been looking forward to for months.
The main issue here is communication. I believe that if you offer an online service such as this then you should have an efficient system to deal with the inevitable issues that will occur and customer service should be a priority. Make sure you have enough staff to answer the phone in a timely manner so people aren’t left on hold for eternity; send an automated receipt of message email so people aren’t left wondering if anyone actually got their email; get a Twitter account so people can bring your attention to a situation that’s going really wrong and you can respond in real time. I don’t even know if it’s a 24-hour helpline, or if the support team clocks off at 6pm New Delhi-time, or if emails get answered over the weekend. I think sufficient staff numbers and an open line of communication are basic aspects of customer service that should exist in this digital age and I also think it’s just common sense. Sure, funding is probably an issue but there are definitely some solutions that are relatively inexpensive and would reduce the stress levels of lots of potential travellers to India. Ok, rant over.
I currently have mixed feelings about the e-Tourist Visa. I’ve seen it work incredibly quickly and if I was in my boyfriend’s position I wouldn’t be able to say a bad word about it. However, I’ve also experienced its downsides and have berated myself for not just forking out the extra £50, sending off my passport and having a physical visa in my hands well before my departure date. Overall, I’d say the e-Tourist Visa system isn’t ready yet – save yourself the hassle and go down the old-fashioned visa application route.
It was supposed to be so quick and easy…
I’ll let you know if I ever get my visa.