Right now, the world’s bucket-list travel destinations fall into two camps. Some have reopened their borders to at least some international travellers, such as Italy, Iceland and Jamaica. Others, including Bali, Australia and South Africa, have hinted or officially announced that their borders will remain more or less completely shut until at least 2021. And then there’s India.
Travel to, from and within India was suspended in March, when the country implemented a strict lockdown. Now things are starting to open up again.
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But as one of the countries most affected by this year’s events, the rules on travel to and from India right now are complicated – and, in some cases, pretty unclear. Here’s what you need to know.
Are there flights to India right now?
Back in May, repatriation flights began for stranded nationals (known as the Vande Bharat Mission). In July, India started to form ‘travel bubbles’ with other countries, allowing more flights to resume.
The ‘bubble’ arrangement currently allows flights to India, operated by specific carriers, from the USA, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, the UAE, Qatar and the Maldives. As of August 18, according to Indian aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri, 13 more countries were in negotiation to set up travel bubbles.
Outside of these specific countries and carriers, international flights to India are suspended until September 30, and this date may be further extended.
Can I travel to India?
Assuming flights have restarted from your country, you’ll need to ensure that you’re actually allowed to travel to India. The Ministry of Civil Aviation has strict guidelines on who can book a flight.
Indian citizens and their close relatives are now allowed to travel back and forth relatively freely within the ‘travel bubble’ scheme, subject to the entry rules (such as quarantines) of their destination country. This does vary for some countries taking part in the scheme, such as France and Germany.
Those holding Overseas Citizenship of India (and their close relatives) are also allowed to travel to India, according to the Bureau of Immigration.
Although Indian citizens were not previously allowed to travel on tourist visas, The Times of India reports that as of August 10, passengers with any type of visa – including tourist visas – are allowed to travel to and from India within the ‘travel bubble’ scheme, whether it’s for business or pleasure. However, the official MCA guidelines (as of September 8) are more complex, so check with your airline before you book.
The bad news for non-Indian citizens (and those without OCI status) is that the rules are much stricter.
If you’re not an Indian citizen, you are generally allowed to fly out of India within the ‘travel bubble’ scheme, allowing repatriation for anyone stranded in the country since March.
However, only limited categories of traveller are allowed to enter the country. This includes healthcare professionals, journalists and some business travellers, but not those holding tourist visas.
So to put it bluntly: sorry, international tourists are still not allowed to travel to India.
Is there a quarantine to enter India?
Government rules state that all international arrivals will face 14 days’ quarantine on arrival.
Once you enter India, you will be medically screened (usually just a temperature check). Even if you show no symptoms, you will need to spend the first seven days after arrival in a government facility or designated hotel (at your own cost), then the next seven days self-isolating in a private residence or any other accommodation. You’ll be tracked using the government’s Aarogya Setu app.
Exemptions from the first section of quarantine are available for compassionate reasons: in these cases, you’ll be allowed to quarantine within a private residence for the full 14 days. Some states may also let you skip institutional quarantine if you can provide a recent, negative test result.
That said, each of the country’s 28 states is allowed to set different rules for international arrivals to follow, so requirements may vary depending on which airport you fly into. See here for a state-by-state breakdown.
Can I travel domestically within India?
Short answer: yes! Indian domestic flights were allowed to resume from May 25, and passenger numbers have been growing steadily since.
Some states are actively trying to incentivise travellers, in order to reboot their tourist economies. For instance, the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand is handing out vouchers that are valid for hotel and home-stay accommodation.
However, other states (such as Delhi and Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai) are requiring domestic travellers to quarantine for seven or even 14 days after arrival. See here for a state-by-state breakdown.
When will I be able to travel to India from overseas?
If you’re a traveller with your heart set on an Indian adventure (and we don’t blame you), you’ll be wanting to know when you’ll actually be able to visit the country.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like this will happen before the end of the year – or even beyond. According to the Economic Times, the main Indian tourism and hospitality body says that it expects international tourist numbers to be near zero for the rest of the financial year, until April 2021.
One major hospitality group is even more pessimistic. PRS Oberoi, executive chairman of EIH Ltd, said that his company expected ‘very few’ international travellers to visit India for the next two years, reported the Financial Express. He added that travel would probably be India’s last industry to recover.
That’s no reason not to keep planning that trip of a lifetime, of course. Check out our essential travel guide to the best of India, and keep dreaming!
Remember, many countries are still warning against all non-essential travel and some are quarantining all overseas arrivals, including their own returning citizens. Check all the relevant restrictions before you think about travelling.