How this Indian Couple Navigated a Complex Visa System to Travel the World

By Nomadic Matt | Published March 18th, 2014

Vikram and Ishwinder from Empty RusacksAs an American, it’s easy for me to travel the world. My dollar goes far (though not as far as it used to) and I only have to worry about visas to a few countries around the world. Yet not everyone is blessed with a golden passport (EU, British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand passports fall under this scope, too) and it can be very hard to not only save money for travel but also obtain a visa to most countries around the world. And so today, we talk to Vikram and Ishwinder, an Indian couple who not only managed to save money for their round the world trip, but also navigated the tough process of getting tourist visas with an Indian passport.

Nomadic Matt: Tell everyone about yourselves!
Vikram: We are an Indian couple in our late 20’s that loves to travel. I am from a city called Aurangabad, close to Mumbai, while Ishwinder is from New Delhi. We were both working in London when we decided to get married in January 2012. Within a year we decided to quit our jobs, sell what little we owned and travel the world. We have been on the road for fifteen months now. We have traveled to 25 countries and want to travel until the last bit of our savings runs out. We started Empty Rucksack to share our experiences and send our love and inspiration to people who also dream of travel.

What inspired this big trip?
Ishwinder worked for a consulting firm while I worked as a Software Engineer. Stable jobs provided us the funds to travel but we always had to rush and return to our desks on Monday. We always found ourselves wanting to stay a little longer and not be dictated by the calendar. The more we travelled on weekends and short holidays, the more we wanted to travel longer. The tipping point was when we were hiking in Wales, climbing to the top of Snowdon. It was a Sunday so it was pretty crowded. We never saw a more crowded mountaintop than Snowdon. People were scrambling to step on the peak. We kept wondering what it would be like to come here on an off-peak day and have all this beauty to just ourselves. That was when we decided to quit our jobs and travel long term.

Vikram and Ishwinder from Empty Rusacks

As Indians, do you find getting visas hard? What are some of the difficulties you face?
My visa has been rejected three times by Belgium, Spain and United States, though Ishwinder has never had her visa rejected. Visa requirements are a necessary dimension we have to consider when we are planning to travel to a new country and we can’t afford to be ignorant about it. Most times they require proof of funds, bank statements, income tax returns, return tickets, hotel bookings, letter from employers and some even ask for cover letters.

Do visa requirements keep you from visiting certain countries?
Visa requirements do not prevent us from visiting any country. The restrictions only make the process tiring which ends up discouraging most people to apply. If we have to apply for a tourist visa for any Schengen country (most European countries), we would need to provide income tax returns, bank statements and return tickets. The immigration officers are very strict, so any shortcomings in paperwork are not tolerated. One of my visa applications was rejected because I did not have enough blank pages in my passport. Such restrictions discourage spontaneous travel.

Vikram and Ishwinder from Empty Rusacks

How do you go about making the application process successful?
There is no shortcut or simple way to making a successful application. All you do is read the immigration website thoroughly for the all the required paperwork. Then you follow all the guidelines and paperwork to the letter. Make sure you don’t overlook anything. Any mistake is just an excuse for them to deny your application. They aren’t very lenient.

Most common requirements include return flights, a certain set of money in your bank accounts for a period of time and hotel bookings. Websites like booking.com allow hotel bookings with no fees and allow cancellations till the last minute. If you are in England and planning to travel to the EU, then bus tickets are the cheapest option for showing return tickets, you can book some as low as 10 GBP. We keep a separate account in which we keep a certain amount of money to show immigration officials that we have sufficient funds.

Even if you meet all the necessary requirements and have all your paperwork ready, you should still be prepared to accept rejection.

Vikram and Ishwinder from Empty Rusacks

What countries are easier for Indians to get visas from?
We can visit Bhutan and Nepal without a visa, as well as Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius, and countries in Southeast Asia are fairly easy to travel to since most of them offer visa on arrival. Based on Internet research, countries in South and Central America also seem visa friendly for Indians. Having a UK, USA or Schengen is also helpful, as it makes us eligible for visa on arrival for certain other countries. (Having a UK visa allowed us to get visa on arrival in Turkey.)

Is there an interview process? How does that go? How hard is it to get a UK, EU, or US visa?
The visa process for US is fairly complicated. You make a payment, receive a code, and use it to book an appointment. When you go to the embassy, they check your paperwork and you are interviewed. They keep your passports only if they are going to issue you a visa; else they return the papers making it clear that the visa is being denied. It’s a country that seems that it doesn’t welcome tourism from India and is the toughest visa to get.

UK and EU applications are made through a third party agency. Most people in India still live under the impression that applying through an agent increases your chances of getting a visa. If you have the funds to travel and the proper paperwork (leave approved by employer, bank statements, bookings and tax returns), you will most likely get the visa.

Vikram and Ishwinder from Empty Rusacks

What did you do to save up for your trip?
Both of us finished college and started working immediately. I worked seven years and Ishwinder worked about six years before we decided to quit. The major chunk of our saving was from the 2 years we worked in London.

How do you stick to a budget when you travel?
Since we have been traveling around in Southeast Asia, India, Nepal and Bhutan, we have not had to watch our budget that much. The only rule with us is “don’t splurge.” In the past 15 months there have been no expensive dinners, spas, shopping binges or overly priced adventure sports. But when we arrive in a place we look for a clean and airy room and don’t mind paying a little extra for that. Sticking to the basics keeps us on budget.

benny lewis from fluent in three months

I get a lot of emails from Indians saying “travel is different for them.” Is that true? Has traveling changed your perspective on everything? What would you tell people/friends back home?
A lot of people think it’s a waste of time and money and that travel should be done once or twice a year. Long-term travel is still unheard of. A reason for this is that so many of us have limited opportunities that job security is a concern so you can’t quit your job and go travel. The most important thing is to secure your future. Indian society does not accept risk taking and that is what traveling long term is – a big risk.

Besides, if you are single, your family is preoccupied with getting you married. If you are married, there is a lot of societal expectation for you to have a baby. Spending time with family and being present at social functions is supremely important.

So with so many preoccupations, travel takes a backseat.

We were able to save money because we had good jobs in London and we didn’t want to buy a house or a car and our families were much more understanding than most people. But I think even if we had been in India we would still have been able to quit and travel but we would have needed two more years of saving. The only thing is with those savings we would not have been able to travel to Europe.

Vikram and Ishwinder from Empty Rusacks

What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you started traveling?
Besides all the fun things about traveling, I wish we had known that traveling long term and not eating a proper diet could really affect your health in mysterious ways. Ishwinder suffered from a severe throat infection for 4 months, and is still recovering from it. The thing that did the most damage was the improper medication she took. You must never treat yourself with medications you carry in your rucksack. It is worth spending money for medical checkups when you are abroad. But we have been hanging out at nature cure centers and yoga ashrams and are feeling a little better now. It’s important to slow down and take care of yourself.

*********************

It may be harder for Indian citizens to travel and obtain visas but it’s not impossible. I’ve met many Indian travelers on the road, and as Vikram and Ishwinder’s story shows, it’s possible to successfully get visas. Maybe not to everywhere, but for enough places to keep you traveling for a while. For more, visit Vikram and Ishwinder at their blog, Empty Rucksack.

Become the Next Success Story

One of my favorite parts about this job is hearing people’s travel stories. They inspire me, but more importantly, they also inspire you. I travel a certain way but there are many ways to fund your trips and travel the world and I hope these stories show you that there is more than one way to travel and that is within your grasp to reach your travel goals. Here’s another example of a non-Westerner who has made his way around the world:

We all come from different places, but we all have one thing in common:

We all want to travel more.

Make today the day you take one step closer to traveling – whether it is buying a guidebook, booking a hostel, creating an itinerary, or going all the way and buying a plane ticket.

Remember, tomorrow may never come so don’t wait.

comments 40 Comments

varunjith

Job security!!!That’s threes only thing which holds me back from quitting and travel around. I wonder what thought process people go through when they decide to quit job and travel. What after return? What if any monetary emergency at home? Are most of the westerners whotake this step by some way protectedby their government policies and less family bonding?
Mrs and mrs Vikram may God bless you to cover all countries :).

Varunjith
Those questions will be there always. And you will have to make more arrangements, thats all.

But the more you prolong, the more things you need to plan about.

Dont worry about what you will do after coming back. It won’t be that difficult.

A day will come when you will just not be able to go to work, you will automatically let go of your job

Vikram

Hi Matt,

I have been a long follower of your website but a lurker and I would like to thank you at the onset for all the valuable advice. For example I was in Budapest last week and enjoyed Hungarian folk dance thoroughly!!
On this topic, yes it is hard for Indians to roam as freely as others that you but its possible. We just need more preparation when it comes to visa. And although travel is a dream for everybody, the common misconception is it is risky, expensive, uncertain. I started out on my journey this month with a 15 day solo tour of Europe – Lisbon to Budapest and loved every minute of it. I would add being a solo traveler is even more unusual for indians!!!

One thing I would like to emphasize is if one has a US(I live in Pittsburgh),UK or schengen visa, doors open a bit easily ;)

Barun,

Europe is so much fun, we always end up traveling slow, so lisbon to Budapest for us would take over 2 months.
We hope things would change soon and travelling will be more in the spur of the moment for Indians rather than endless planning.

-Vikram

Thanks for the inspiration, Vicky, Ish and Matt!

Here’s a fantastic resource by Mahesh Murthy for Indian travelers (an Excel sheet that shows you how to navigate the visa world): http://oh.pn/visa

Shweta

Oh, this is very helpful! Thanks :D

As a Indian, I have visa stamped from 14 Countries, though EU & US Visa’s are valuable to flex across given union, there are still territories like Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo in EU which in-spite being in European continent need’s individual visas. Moreover this countries allow free access to countries which are lower in comparison to India in terms economically. Standards or what so they measure.

Which brings me into that Indian government hasn’t engage our reluctant into forming bilateral treaties with this countries. It’s true as mentioned world is free, Only political boundaries carved by human’s restrain and many times discourage to Travel.

Countries such as Bulgaria,Turkey, Croatia and recently from Feb 1, 2014 Romania allows Indian PP holders to Travel and Stay for 90 days if in possession on Schengen long term Visa’s. As a tourist it not only helps me in terms of saving visa fees and repeated trips to Embassy but on the other end it encourages me as a outbound tourist in spending in their economy.

During my Recent Visit to ITB Berling Tourism Trade Fair, few pavilions had Boucher’s only in German language when asked where I can get more info in English, Since I don’t see your country participating in Trade fairs in India, or even Dubai, Abu Dhabi. She shrugged her shoulder’s.

India and China in last decade has raised millions out of poverty. The extra income at their disposal has led many to Travel. Inspite stories such as from Vikram and Ishwinder’s in visa issues are inevitable.

Well I know this is coming from a frustrated Traveller, but who know’s what lies in agenda’s of Foreign immigration office.

Cheers

Travel Safe

Rohit,
Totally agree with ur concluding line, unless you get the passport back with the stamped visa nothing is certain even if you have done everything by the rule book

-Vikram

Coming from Poland I can understand both of them and admire them for a lot for their patience with the awful bureaucracy. It isn’t as extreme for me, but I still found myself in situations when I was denied a Visa or had to try my ways around just to be able to visit some country. Luckily the situation changes for better from year to year, and recently I even got approved for a Work and Travel Visa for New Zealand even tho only 100 polish citizens a year get this opportunity, which proves that it is worth trying!

This is amazingly inspiring.

I knew how lucky we were to have NZ passports (though not so lucky with the NZD, goes far in less developed nations but falls over in comparison to many of the western countries we wanted to visit). The only places we had to get visas for were Cambodia and Vietnam, I cannot imagine having to worry about visas for every place we went.

Great post guys! You nailed it when you explained the expectations Indian society tends to have of a young person.

With an Indian passport and a visa to more than a few Western countries, I have looked upon the visa process as something akin to presenting a case – give them all the documents they ask for, and then some. It gets easier after those initial stamps on the passport.

All the best!

Wow this was an interesting read, I am British, and feel really lucky that it allows me access into different countries, mostly hassle free. Another good read!

Africascott

Congratulations on meeting some of the unique challenges associated with traveling on Indian visas. I am American but have been traveling for a year with my Ghanaian girl friend in S.E. Asia and now Ecuador. Getting visas for most African countries citizens in almost all countries is very difficult. I think your having bank accounts and letters from employers makes a huge difference.

Continued success to you, Scott

shahzad vasaigara

First of all, congratulations to Vikram and Ishvinder. My best wishes for you to travel the whole world at your pace and enjoy the journey. Yes, you are so 100% right in explaining the issues that 99% of us indians face..marraige, job security, kids, family, social life and the list will go on and on which all indians will only understand truly. Plus the menace of Visa, which is really a big pain for us indians. So many times i have planned some country and dropped it due to the time consuming visa process. I still fail to understand how some small countries are not realising the economic potential of tourism they can exploit if they allow easy access to millions of middle class indians who are really eager to see and explore new places. Recently, i was planning a trip to some 5 Central asian countrien along the old silk route. I was really disappointed to know that even these countries ask for so many formalities and are so bureaucratic to grant visas. And yes, many times when i get to meet foreigners in flights and other places i always tell them how lucky they are to have those golden passports which they many times take for granted. Anyways, this was a nice read and very happy to see my countrymen going far and enjoying the road! Cheers! :)

Njeri

Matt,

Thank you so much for sharing this story. I am Kenyan and I also have many visa issues and I was feeling very discouraged. Thank you Vikram and Ishwinder for sharing and encouraging the rest of us. Happy Travels!

Matt please include more stories like this of Non- Western Citizens travelling. It is so encouraging!

Well done you guys and what an inspiring story. I’m a British person so the world is pretty much open to me but I’m so pleased that you continue to live the life you want to lead regardless of the difficulties. Good on you!

Yes, this is an inspiring story especially the visa part. US/EU are still fine, individual visas to some of the countries are a challenge even for those sponsored by companies.

LaksIndia

Excellent post! I agree with Vikram, in India travel has still not caught on as an important outlet…because of the risks involved..people would rather choose a movie or a sport (read Cricket) over spending time on travel.

jonny

Posts like this do highlight how unfair this passport lottery game is. Having lived in Mexico, I have Mexican friends who have told me about all the hoops they have to jump through just to come to Europe or go to the States – it’s crazy. I wouldn’t like to do it myself. As a Briton, when on the Turkish border last year I was one of only three people on my train (along with two Dutch girls) who had to pay for a visa on arrival. It seemed like discrimination on a bizarre and utterly arbitrary basis, as the people I was travelling with (Lithuanian, French, German) had no requisites, but I did.

Oh, and on a last note – I’d just like to point out that while a British passport is not a Schengen passport, it IS an EU passport. Apparently anti-EU sentiment is so high amongst my compatriots that even people from other countries have forgotten we’re part of the Union!
Jonny

Excellent blog! and I can relate to it very well, being Bolivian I also face with the adversities of getting visas to everywhere (mainly US, UK and EU) with a bolivian passport you can only get to neighbouring countries in south america, then its visa for everywhere you want to go. I have traveled a lot and never got a visa rejected but still each time I have to apply I can´t avoid to think about he probabilities of being rejected (I´ve never been very stable with jobs and I´m young and not married, which embassies see as a very good prospect for migrating to other countries) I´m still savouring that bitter rejection of my Aunt´s US visa application, which whom I intended to travel as a recognition for everything she´s done to help me (like a mother), now she´s with health problems and it´s unlikely that she´ll be fit to travel in the future… it´s SO unfair!

Wow, what an inspiration! Here I am, as a US Passport holder, complaining about having to get a few visas and the expense of air fare. There is a lottery of birth and we who have it easier should realize that and try and give back.

They did the Khardung La pass on a motorcycle, too, that’s so cool! An Indian friend of mine suggested doing that since I already ride.

Wow, I had no idea it was that hard for a person from India to get visas to some countries. That sucks. But I am so glad you guys found way to make this work! You will be an inspiration to a lot of people. :)

Thank you everyone for all the kind words.
We hope to continue this journey forever.

If I am born again, would love to be born in Britain :-)

-Empty Rucksack

Interesting to hear a non-Western perspective on this … makes me thankful to have won the birth lottery by living here in Canada!

Laura

….. it’s kind of crazy that people can’t travel freely… I feel really blessed with my EU passport.

SyedZaidi

A nice article. Empty Rucksack if you think its tough getting a visa on an Indian passport try doing that on a Pakistani passport lol. I have been living and working in the UK for the past two years and have travelled to Europe twice but my visa was still rejected by the Austrian embassy. You are right when you say that the officers at the embassy are looking for an excuse to refuse visa to third world nationals because they consider us potential immigrants.
Job security is another issue and you’re right when you say that people consider long time travel a waste of time and money. Long term travel is still a western concept in Pakistan and India.

You have given me not just great tips, but a great motivation to push through with my dreams of traveling around the world! There are several countries which are kinda very strict with who they give visas to but thanks to this article, I think I’ll just have to go and try again!

I was so ignorant about this sort of thing up until about a year ago. I didn’t even know that not everybody could just get up and travel where they want to travel. I’m Canadian so I have never had an issue with this. I’m glad that this hasn’t discouraged you from travelling and enjoying all that the world has to offer.

Great tips to getting visa & passport that is which is essential need to visit there from anywhere of the world. I’m so glad to read your nice content that you’ve appreciated as far as possible for all traveler who want to be a part of Canada!!

Wonderful story! As an American and Australian married couple it’s wonderful to get a different cultural perspective on what it’s like to travel.

We have several Indian friends who studied in Australia, and yes it’s a culture that seems to generally frown upon the risk taking of long term travel. Great for you guys, well done! :)

I am European and my husband is Indian. We’ve been traveling for more than 2 years and you can’t imagine how different our visa experiences are! I am happy to see other Indian travelers overcome the hardships that the Indian passport might represent in some countries, and go ahead with their travels and dreams anyway!

For other Indians interested in info regarding tourist visas for Indians around the world (particularly South American countries) my husband runs this “Visas for Indians” section on our blog: http://bkpk.me/category/visas/

Sorry for the shameful promotion, but I thought many other Indian travelers reading this post and commenting would find this useful! :)

NomadicMatt

I agree, which is why I have more non-western stories coming!

Nice to hear a positive story like this. Fortunately I have been blessed with one of the “Golden Passports” but I feel for some of the travellers I met along the way who can’t travel to the countries they really want to see. In particular, I have met many Russians and Chinese, who were extremely interesting people, and great travellers, but they were constantly facing torturous processes for applying for visas for certain countries. I feel for them, but am glad to see Vikram and Ishwinder fullfill their dream!

What an inspiring story – I’m not sure that I’d be as patient as Vikram and Ishwinder if I had to provide bank statements every time I wanted to visit a new country. Kudos to them for showing everyone that it’s possible!

Kaylin

Ishwinder and Vikram, you guys rock! Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s not quite the same thing, but where I live (Southern US) it’s also relatively unheard of for people to travel long-term/quit their jobs to travel; most people here just get married and have kids young, and stay in their hometown. This sure makes me glad I have one of those “golden passports”! But it also makes me angry that there are people like you guys that have such trouble traveling when you want to, and Americans who could travel almost anywhere and refuse to. And here I was, also, complaining about the visa for China being so expensive and not worth the effort… I don’t know if I would have traveled half as much as I have if it was that much of a pain in the butt for every country, so definite kudos!

Hi Vikram & Ishwinder. I can see you’ve got this great passion for travel … and you guys being a couple just makes it all the more fun. 25 countries you’ve been to and counting … Isn’t it grand to have the freedom to travel? Ok … so there’s a little hassle getting visas from some countries. You’re not going to let a small thing like that ruin your planned trips .. right?

Another very interesting read. Nomadic Matt was not only an Inspiration of mine to travel but also to blog while I do!

This is a fascinating story. Many people do not realize how privileged they are to have a golden passport. I wish everybody could read this article.

Very interesting article…!!!
Thanks !!!

Hi Matt,

Yes this is very interesting and informative article specially the visa portions and Vikram & Ishwinder you guys are done wonderful job. I loved the way you both tired for travelling.

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