India – if you want to obtain a multiple entry, 10 year tourist visa, you will complete a detailed application (with hidden rules) along with a variety of other forms.
One of their hidden rules on this long application is never, NEVER let your signature touch or go over (gasp!) the lines of the signature box. In a Western-thinking world where no one cares how messy your signature is, this one rule has kicked out more India visa applications than I can count. I typically coach the applicant to think about the board game Operation. You may or may not be familiar with this, but as you play the game, the goal is not to touch the sides with the tweezers as you remove a vital organ. Ha! As morbid as this sounds, it is a fun game. Bottom line – do no touch the lines or go over the lines with your signature. Submit a miniature version of whatever your signature is and leave it at that.
Another hidden rule, maybe not so hidden these days, is your employer. If you are employed by a religious NGO of any type, I would encourage you NOT to share that with the Embassy of India, as they are not friendly to anyone with that on their application. If they do not like your information (and it makes it all the way to the Embassy for review), your passport will be ruined with a stamp of the Embassy with writing ACCESS DENIED written in black sharpie. You will not be able to use that passport to enter any country, as it will create suspicion with any customs agent. I have seen this happen and it could have been prevented.
How to obtain a visa without the hassle
I made a decision a few years ago (probably after fighting with the Embassy of Nigeria…) to ALWAYS use a visa processing company. Their fee to process (typically $50-$75) is well worth the stress of dealing with an Embassy that will not take phone calls regarding the status of your visa application.
If you travel frequently or manage group trips, find a visa processor (my recommendation is Travel Document Systems, Inc TravelDocs.com), introduce yourself by phone and establish a personal contact within that company. They work for you – not the embassy. They will review all documents submitted and will catch costly errors that would have resulted in a marked up passport and a ban to enter the country.
If presented with a challenging traveller (due to background, employment, etc) I will call ahead of submitting the application for phone review. Again, establish the relationship first. Like any business, they will take care of their clients. They are not in the business to hand out free information for you to use on your own. Well worth the money. Every time.
Airport Entry Visas
Many countries only require you complete an entry document on your inbound flight that is processed at customs once you deplane. Have your hotel/lodging information handy and do not feel the need to divulge every itinerary item on this form.
How to Research Visa Requirements
My friends at Traveldocs.com have an exhaustive list on their web site that lists visa requirements per country. Great resource – great people!
The charts at PassportIndex.org are also very helpful when planning ahead on visas. Check my post on which country’s passport ranks #1 on the most travel freedom.