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In 2019, approximately 83 million American residents traveled abroad. The most visited countries were Mexico and Canada. Out of the 83 million, 37 million residents traveled to countries other than Mexico and Canada. The most visited countries (other than Mexico and Canada) are Western European countries (except Dominican Republic and China). Only about 1.4 million people visited India.
The actual number of American tourists who travel to India might be lower considering that many American’s who travel to India, might be Indian American’s traveling to India to visit their family members. If you are an American citizen of Indian heritage, you can apply for and receive an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) status from the Indian Government. While Indian food is gaining popularity in the United States, there is not a lot of enthusiasm for visiting India.
The OCI is a document that is stamped to your American passport. As an OCI holder, you have all the rights and privileges that come with having an Indian citizenship except the following: You cannot vote in Indian elections, hold elected office or own agricultural land. With an OCI, you are allowed to enter and exit India as many times as you want and also live in India as long as you want to. Many Indian Americans do not have OCI, so they have to apply for a visa if they want to travel to India. They are not strictly tourists.
The US Dollar goes a long way in India (One USD is approximately 75 Indian Rupees). You can lead a comfortable life for around 1000 Rupees a day (about $14/day) plus lodging. This is a great attraction for the budget travelers.
Reasons why American’s do not travel to India in larger numbers.
India is far away from the United States.
India and the United States are so far away from each other geographically. The two countries are also very large (the United States is the third largest country in the world and India is the seventh largest country). The time it takes to travel from the United States to India will greatly depend on which part of America you are traveling from and which part of India you are traveling to.
For example, I have traveled from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Mumbai (the financial capital of India) in 16 hours (this is approximately the same time it would take if you travel from Newark to New Delhi (capital of India). United Airlines has direct flights from EWR to New Delhi and Mumbai.
On top of the 16 hours, you have to consider the time difference between India and the United States. India has only one time zone and does not have the concept of daylight savings. The time difference between Eastern Standard Time and India can be 9 hours 30 minutes to 10 hours 30 minutes depending on Daylight Savings Time. Once you get there, you have to clear customs and immigration and then take the connecting flights to other Indian cities if your final destination is not Mumbai or Delhi.
Traveling to India takes time.
The standard American vacation is about one week long. One week is clearly not sufficient for a vacation to India. Let’s say you travel from Newark on a Friday evening (it is already Saturday morning in India). By the time you fly 16 hours non-stop and arrive in Mumbai, it is already Sunday evening in India. When you return, the time difference works in your favor.
Most flights to the US and Europe start late at night (Indian Standard Time) and reaches the US early the next day (EST). If you travel to India, you should consider staying there for at least two weeks. You should also account for the jet lag. You will find that those who travel to India are either the younger generation (those who are in college or the older retired generation. They have flexibility when it comes to time. Once you have a regular job, traveling to India on vacation becomes difficult.
US Citizens need visa to travel to India.
The United States does not allow Indian Citizens to travel to the United States without a visa. So, India does not allow American Citizens to travel to India without a visa (except American Citizens who have OIC). Simple as that. We Americans are used to traveling around the world without having to get a visa. This is understandable. India has recently made changes and made it easy for Americans to get the Indian visa.
US Citizens can now apply for an e-Visa. You can do this online. You can even apply 4 days prior to travel but I would do it much earlier. Once approved, you will get an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) via email. You can print this ETA and use it as a visa. This process is valid only if you plan to stay in India for less than 60 days.
India can be dirty and polluted.
Filth and Squalor are common in India. This is not just a problem in India but in many so-called “Developing Nations”. The concept of recycling or trash removal is new. But we do travel to countries that have similar issues like Jamaica and other islands in the Caribbean. India has spectacular beaches and resorts that one can travel to if you do not want to deal with the mess. As someone who lives in a large American city, I am not very bothered by the look and feel all that much. Outside of Center City Philadelphia and few other neighborhoods in Philly, Philadelphia has major problems with trash and other unmentionables!!
There is poverty everywhere in India.
I feel grounded whenever I travel to India. I am always reminded how lucky, blessed and privileged I am to live the life that I am living. Uplifting the poor people of India is a major task facing the Indian people and the Indian government. According to estimates about 300 million people in India joined India’s middle class in the last twenty years alone (this is almost the size of the entire US population).
This highlights India’s potential but also reminds Indians of the long road ahead. Seeing poverty all around us can be an issue for some tourists who are not used to this back home (I have noticed that my nephew, who is a typical suburban kid becomes very uncomfortable when he encounters homeless people and people who have drug issues and other mental issues on the streets of Philadelphia).
Is India safe?
India is a very safe country to travel. Violent crime is very low in most parts of India. Based on my experience, when it comes to minor crimes like pick pocketing, a country like Spain is far worse than India. There are disputed territories in India that I would not travel to like Kashmir. India is also not the best country in the world for solo travel (particularly for women). This is not because of safety issues, but attitude towards women in many parts of India can be archaic.
The West still views India through the prism of poverty, hunger etc. Many Indians would feel that there is also a different India, a prosperous India that is not given enough credit. India has the 5th largest GDP in the world (larger than United Kingdom, France and Italy). It is a young nation (one of the lowest median ages in the world) and also a nation whose best days are yet to come.
For those who are in the fence, one of the best ways to get to know India is to travel with someone who is very familiar with India. A guided tour is a something to think about. In this case, you will not have to deal with the day to day hassles. You can instead focus on the beautiful country that is India.
Have you traveled to India? What was your experience like?