Getting ready to go to India was nerve wracking. I had never applied for a visa before and only knew that the CDC told me to get a lot of vaccines to be safe in India. Now that I have come to India and talked to other study abroad students, I wanted to give you a run-down of the experience. I am no doctor or expert, so always ask professionals what they think!
Student Visa for India:
I was lucky that my program gave me a lot of help with my visa. I had to have letters from my Indian university, from my study abroad program, from my study abroad host university, and proof of my American citizenship. There were so many documents to find, and I was terrified to send all of these in the mail with my original passport. My program sent me the sponsor letters that I needed, but I had to get photos and other documents myself. When you go through the visa process, they are asking for all of your information. I had to have multiple copies of some things and had to check off the checklist the embassy gave me twice. My personal advice for this: ask your program, look closely at all of the fine print on each document you fill out, and start early! My visa only ended up taking two weeks, but my program recommended starting the visa process as soon as they got us our sponsor letters, about a month ahead of time. I think this is a good estimate. Also, double check that you are applying for the correct type of visa and the correct period of time. My best friend’s visa is for a shorter period of time than he plans to stay for, so he has to go through a difficult process in India to fix it.
Again, I am no professional, so definitely ask someone who knows better, but I will tell you what I went through to get my vaccines and what it was like. Check out cdc.gov for more information!
I already had: my routine vaccines and Hepatitis A, plus gardasil.
I got these vaccines: Typhoid (I took the pill version), Japanese encephalitis, Hepatitis B, Rabies, and Malaria pills.
These were expensive, and I did a lot of looking around for the best prices (thanks mum and dad)! I got my vaccines at a great travel center that was really helpful and knowledgeable. Word of advice: rabies was the most painful vaccine I got, but I am glad I did because there are a lot of stray dogs in India. Also, you need to start these vaccinations early on in order to finish all the different doses you need. Some of the students I went with did not get any vaccines or only got a few. My best friend did not have Malaria pills, nor did several other students. The ones of us that did have them ended up getting ill the third or fourth day we took them, but this was the only day we got sick from them. This is your own choice on whether or not to take them, but the CDC recommends taking them if you are staying in India for an extended period. My immune system is weak, so I wanted to be safe. Additionally, I enjoy street food and living as authentically as possible, so I wanted to make sure I would be safe if I ate something new. On the up-side, if I want to go to most other places in the world, I just need to get my yellow fever and keep myself updated in order to be safe.
If you are staying in India for more than 14 days, you will have to register at the police station before that time expires. My program helped us do our applications online, get our pictures taken, and took us as a group to the police station to get the paperwork filed. We had to fill out the application early on when we got there, around day 4 or 5, in order to be scheduled for an appointment to get our registration done. We had to have pictures of ourselves to use that were like passport photos, and this was an all day affair at the police station. We got there early before our appointment times and were given numbers for specific counters. It took some people longer than others, and there were various people there getting their registration done. If you have to do this, start the process as soon as you can when you get to India. You must have this done when you leave India and have to show evidence of it at the airport.
Customs in India:
When we landed in India, it was around 2 a.m. The airport was pretty empty and quiet, and it did not take us long to get through customs because of this. They gave us a sheet on the airplane before we landed for it, but there were extra copies at the customs station. We gave them this form that basically said what kind of valuables, if any, we were bringing into India, and got our picture taken. This is where we got our cute little India stamp in our passport.
So, you are now semi-ready to really go abroad, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime! Do not be afraid to ask everyone multiple questions because it is better to ask now than to make mistakes later!