Last updated: 04:00 PM ET, Fri December 18 2015

India's eVisa Success: Is This the Future of Travel Documents?

Features & Advice | Josh Lew | December 18, 2015

India's eVisa Success: Is This the Future of Travel Documents?

TravelPulse file photo

A number of countries have been trying to simplify their visa procedures this year. The goal of these changes is to make it as easy as possible for tourists to come. Some places, like Australia (for Indonesians), Thailand (for Indians) and Vietnam (for Americans) opted for one-year or multi-year visas that allow for multiple entries. 

Other countries, meanwhile, have taken the application process online.

eVisas bringing more convenience to travelers 

eVisas have become a huge hit with tourists who want to go to India. The country’s “E-Tourist Visa Scheme” was first tested in late 2014. Early response was positive. In August of this year, India decided to offer online visa applications to people from 113 countries. Travelers can apply on an official government web site, and also pay their fees online. Costs vary depending on the nationality of the passport holder, but they are lower than before. For example, the Telegraph has reported that visa fees for UK passport holders have been more than halved. The cost is now $60 (£40).  

The site makes it clear that the service is mainly for tourists. Eligibility is explained like this: “International Travelers whose sole objective of visiting India is recreation, sight seeing, casual visit to meet friends or relatives, short duration medical treatment or casual business visit.”

eVisas can only be processed at one of the 16 largest airports in India, so they are not for overland travelers.  

The usual requirements still apply

All the usual requirements apply: six month passport validity, return airline ticket, a digital version of a passport photo, an so on. The application and approval process reportedly takes about one work week, and the workload for would-be tourists has been significantly reduced. 

India is touting the scheme as a game changer, saying online visa applications were up more than 2,000 percent since the program’s early days. The number sounds astounding until you realize that the rise is mainly due to the program being opened to 113 countries.

Nonetheless, the idea of making visa applications easier seems to have been embraced by both India, which can draw more tourists because of this convenience, and by travelers, who don’t have to go through a weeks-long application headache just to go see the Taj Mahal. 

Malaysia announces its own online visa aspirations

Malaysia has announced a similar plan. Starting on Jan. 2, tourists from seven countries can apply for visas electronically. The countries are China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the United States and Canada.

According to Malaysia’s leading Chinese language paper, the Sin Chew Daily, the new program will be especially useful for drawing more Chinese and Indian tourists: “The objective of easing the visa application [process] is to attract more tourists to visit Malaysia... especially those from China and India.”

The wave of the future?
There are certainly some security questions surrounding online visa applications. Could the site be hacked? Could someone forge supporting documents more easily online? On the other hand, having visas processed in a central place would make it much easier to combat things like corruption (someone “buying” a visa from a corrupt consular official, for example). 

eVisas are obviously growing in popularity. It seems like a win-win situation for both the country and its visitors. Now that more countries are adopting them, any flaws should become evident quite quickly. The only disadvantage on the destination’s end is that most online visas seem to be of the single-entry variety.

The other new visa trend, long-term multiple entry visas, makes it possible - even likely - that people will take more than one trip to a country during the duration of their eligibility.   

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