How to obtain a visa for India in London

Update: Much of the information below is now wrong! Visas take much longer to get – the queues are longer, and if you don’t arrive really early, you’ll be given a ticket to come back at a later date. The best way to learn more is to look through the comments that other people have helpfully supplied – check the most recent ones.

If you ever decide to visit India, you’ll discover at the travel agent that you have to get a visa. At this point you’ll go through several well-defined stages; shock, anger, fear, irritation and acceptance. Then you’ll find out that you have to make the trip to an Indian Consulate (in my case, India House on Aldwych in London), and you’ll go through them all over again. This is a brief guide on how to get a visa for India and what’s involved. This was all applicable in November 2004 – things may have changed by the time you read this and I advise you not to just rely on this guide, just in case.

Quick Facts

1) Don’t worry, it’s not actually that difficult
2) You can be in and out within two hours
3) If you make sure you clearly and fully complete your application form, then things will go much quicker
4) Bring a magazine or a book

Before you go

I’m going to assume that you have already visited the High Commission of India’s website, downloaded the visa form and decided on when to go to the commission. The website also has a list of official holidays at the commission when they’ll be closed – check this because they have a number of holidays and you’ll feel really stupid if you turn up and no-one’s home.

Fill in your form, check it and double-check it. Get two passport-sized photos and make sure you have the correct amount of money for the application fee in cash – they don’t take cheques or credit cards.

When you decide on when you’re going to go get your visa, you might want to consider if there are any holidays around when you go. For example, I visited the commission after two days of holiday (Diwali). As a result, I suspect the queues were longer.

How can I find the commission at Aldwych?

It’s the thing with a huge queue of people snaking out from it (unless you get there absurdly early). It’s hard to miss. The really long queue is the one for visas, the short one is for people with Indian passport enquiries (i.e. not you).

The start of the first queue, disappearing into the distance.

The end of the first queue (you can see the window at the end of the curve)

What time should I turn up?

The commission in London opens at 8:30am. I arrived at 8:35am and there were already over 150 people in the queue in front of me. I think people start queueing up as early as 7:30am, and I talked to a girl who’d been queueing since 7:45am and she got out at 9:45am (i.e. two hours all told). The problem with turning up that early is that while there are fewer people in front of you, you still have to wait for the place to open.

As a result, I think that if you turn up at any time before, say, 9am, it’ll probably take you around two hours altogether. If you leave it any later, you’ll have to wait longer. I really don’t recommend turning up any later than 9:30am since there’s a good chance you won’t be able to pick up your visa that day, or at least you’ll have to wait for much longer than two hours.

What’s the process when I get there?

I heard many people in the queue criticising the commission for an illogical system. That’s not true – it’s perfectly logical and it even is vaguely organised. The only problem is that they seem to have no desire to inform anyone of how it works. Luckily, I do.

The process has three steps; queueing to get a queue number, queueing to hand in your visa application, and waiting to get your completed visa. You’ll notice there’s a lot of queueing involved.

The First Queue: Getting a Queue Number

This is the one outside of India House. I arrived at 8:35am and spent a little under an hour in this queue. It moves along quite regularly. The point of this queue is to show a guy in a window that you have a passport and then to collect a piece of paper with a queue number (or numbers, depending on how many passports and visa applications you’re making). The queue number you collect here (e.g. B69) is for the second queue, inside.

The Second Queue: Handing in your visa appplication

After you collect your queue number, you’ll be allowed inside and walk upstairs to a room with a bunch of commission staff behind windows. There are a lot of seats here and in a side room that also has vending machines.

Once you get upstairs, do not loiter around in front of window 1, which will be directly in front of you when you go through the door at the top of the stairs. Window 1 is for people collecting their completed visas and right now, that’s not you. Instead, go and wait in the main room and get a seat if you can. There’s a display in the corner of the room with the current queue number. Notice that a letter from A to E is also highlighted below the number. The queue number cycles through the letters and goes from A1 to E99, so do not make the all-too-typical mistake of going to a window when it’s your number but not your letter; the staff won’t be impressed.

Since many people there are submitting multiple visa applications (e.g. for friends or family) the queue number tends to go in bursts. I got inside at around 9:30am and the queue number was A77. My number, B69, took about 40 minutes to come up. When it’s your number, go straight to the next free window; don’t worry if they seem to have skipped past your number.

Once you’re at the window, hand over your application, passport, passport photos and money. Do not waste everyone’s time by searching through bags and wallets for the necessary stuff; you just spent at least an hour queueing before this so you don’t have an excuse. This bit only took me a couple of minutes because I’d filled in my form properly and hadn’t been denied a visa in the past. After she’s taken all your stuff, she’ll give you a receipt with your queue number (the same one as before) written on it. She will keep your passport – they need it to process your visa.

Waiting to get your completed visa

They hand out visas at window 1. For some inexplicable reason, there are always loads of people rammed up against this window despite the fact that there can be an hour long wait and also they always call out your number multiple times when they have your visa ready. Who knows why people do this – it certainly doesn’t speed things up.

The staff member who gave you your receipt will tell you how long you can expect to wait if you ask her. I was told it’d be 45 minutes; instead it was only 20 minutes. I put this down to my charming personality, or more likely, the fact that there weren’t any issues with my passport or application. You might as well sit down again at this point and wait for your number to be called out. Don’t fall asleep or listen to music, even if it seems it’ll take ages based on what numbers they’re calling out at the moment; they tend to skip around numbers a lot so they might be calling out B1 in one minute and B60 in the next.

When they call out your number, fight your way through the silly huddle of people around the window and get your passport with your visa inside. They’ll tell you to check it – do it! You are checking to make sure that they’ve gotten your passport number correct, and that the valid dates are correct for when you want to visit (they’ll actually be valid for ages longer than you’ll typically need it).

And then you can leave, all done! Like I said, it took me two hours altogether and I suspect it would be even quicker if I hadn’t gone through after two days of holiday.

Other Questions

Is there a toilet?

While I have not seen it myself I’m told there is one downstairs.

You’re wrong about x

Perhaps I am, I only went there once and things may have changed. Please do not rely on this guide for anything really urgent.

I can’t be bothered queueing up, is there some way I can mail my application in?

You can mail it directly to the commission, or you can use a visa service. The visa services are often much quicker and more expensive. Whether or not you want to use them depends on how much you value your time. I don’t know anything more about them so don’t ask me to recommend one.

Why did you bother writing this?

I estimate that at least 400 people go to the commission every day. That’s up to 100,000 per year. I was not been able to find anything decent online about the actual process of getting a visa before I visited, and for many of the people there, it’s quite a stressful and anxious procedure. I decided that a guide explaining all of the steps involved would make it a little clearer and more understandable for all concerned. Perhaps it might even speed things up!

Will you update this guide?

I sorely doubt it, unless there happens to be a good reason.

I would like to reprint this guide

Email me. There’s a link at the top of this page.

The ancient art of karaoke

Karaoke. The word can provoke extreme emotions in many, from freezing fear to joyous abandon. I tend towards the latter, so when I got an invitation off Lal to go to a karaoke party yesterday, I was pretty pleased.

The two previous times I’ve done proper karaoke (SingStar, fun though it may be, is not the same) have been in front of large groups of people, so I’ve already gotten over the fear aspect and now actually relish the opportunity to get a crowd dancing. This time I was a little apprehensive when I walked into the club on Frith Street, which didn’t look like any karaoke club I’d been to before, and then even more apprehensive when I realised it was one of those where you hire out a room with a karaoke machine for a few mates. I’ve never understood why you’d want to do such a thing – surely the fun of karaoke is the big audience?

Anyway, a few beers later and my apprehension was dispelled. The real beauty, I now saw, of getting a karaoke room is not having to wait for a bunch of talentless hacks you don’t know to have their turn before you get your go – instead, it’s just you and a bunch of talentless hacks you do know happily singing along to the classics. Actually, I lie – everyone there was pretty good and had done it before, although when a girl started singing in pitch-perfect tune to a song, everyone went quiet and starting murderously muttering about being ‘too good’.

What songs went up for me? No less than the Very Best including Road Rage (Catatonia), Somewhere In My Heart (Aztec Camera) and of course, Sex Bomb (Tom Jones). It’s definitely a great way to have fun with friends and good for those who haven’t yet made the step to performing in public.


1:42:34 – that’s the time in which I completed the half marathon, and represents an average speed of 7.67 mph, which is okay, but not really that great. Granted, it’s about three minutes faster than what I managed last Sunday, but I’m sure I could have run faster. I’m certainly convinced I can break 1:40 next time now.

On the tube today: saw a guy reading a book with a strange inked-in graph. That looks strangely familiar, I thought, and then glanced at the title. I was very satisfied to see that it was Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson – and the page was the bit with the plans for the mine in the mountains. Definitely a turnup for the books in the war against Dan Brown, I felt. Looking further down the carriage, there was a guy reading the Collected Works of Arthur C Clarke – truly, ’twas a veritable teeming mass of literary good taste!


This week has been a veritable social whirlwind for me. Along with the ridiculously fun and interesting work on the Top Sekrit Project Syzygy, I’ve been venturing outside South London recently. Last Sunday saw a visit to the National Film Theatre for Resfest, to see a session about filmmaking and gaming. In attendance was the Sony London Studio showing off their rather impressive Getaway 2 game with a rather less impressive and in fact pretty boring presentation. Luckily, the Red vs. Blue crew saved the day with a staggeringly funny and totally unscripted chat and Q&A session.

On Tuesday I managed to get an invitation to a party at Harvey Nichols, courtesy of Firebox, who were providing various games and toys there. Distressingly, they’d run out of all alcohol 30 minutes before I arrived. Even so, it was an interesting night out. Wednesday: a party at the Marquee Club in Leicester Square, arranged by Joystick Junkies. Suffice to say that while there were a whole load of (I’m sure) very interesting people there, plus free drinks, various arcade games and girls on rollerskates wearing far too little clothing for what is, after all, October, the deafening volume of remixed 70s music precluded any meaningful conversation beyond the following:

“I’m Adrian!”

Ho hum; I suspect it was one of those things which is much more fun when you know a lot more people there (not that I didn’t have fun). Tonight, I visited my friend Evan, an undergrad doing a semester at NYU’s London campus in Farringdon, for a dinner party he was holding. There are about 200 other American undergrads, mostly from NYU or Virginia, studying in London at the moment, and a fair few of them were at this dinner.

I’ve long had a desire to go to a stereotypical American undergrad party, mainly for ethological reasons. This party did not disappoint me in the slightest – I felt like I was on a set from a cutting edge teen movie; on the sofas were the requisite impeccably made-up girls wearing expensive designer clothing, thrown together haphazardly. Lurking nearby were several unshaven young men wearing messy shirts and jumpers, and those silly flip flops (in one case, with socks on). The two groups often made comments about the rapid consumption of a bottle of vodka, with the girls protesting their wholly inebriated state and the guys denying any similar accusations leveled at them. Meanwhile, I drifted in and out with my glass of wine (I was the only person to bring any…) and became involved in exchanges like:

“Yeah, I basically live in Oxford and London now.”
“Oh, so you’re a local then?”


“Well, yes, I’m British, if that’s what you mean.”

Lest you think that I’m being terribly cooler-than-thou and will collapse into some gravitational singularity of cynicism in the next few days, I didn’t really think it was that bad. The people there were interesting to talk to, and the food was great – and cheap!

I’m going back home to Liverpool tomorrow for a half-marathon on Sunday. I actually ran the equivalent of a full 13.1 half-marathon last Sunday in Oxford, just to see whether I could do it or not, considering that my previous record had been 9 miles. Not only did I manage it easily, but I actually made it within the 1:45 time I was aiming for this Sunday, which takes an awful lot of pressure off me. More updates on that later.

Sing a Song of Esso

Guerrilla advertising – Meg has cleared up a mystery for me! When I was in London last week, I saw a lot of anti-Esso Poems on the Underground which surprised me no end since I couldn’t see how the London Underground could get away with it. It turns out that someone has been printing and pasting these poems on top of existing ones such that they look, on the face of it, indistinguishable. Very clever.

London photos

London photos – from my sightseeing trip last week which included the Tate Modern, British Museum, London Eye, Trafalgar Square, Millennium Bridge and lots of good weather.