USA Visa for Indian Citizen

While we were in Colombo, we looked into the process for USA Visa application. As I am am Indian Citizen, it was necessary for her to get the USA Visa. Turns out, everything was very straight forward. We looked through US Travel Docs site and followed the steps.

After filling out the online application, we had to make our way to a bank branch to pay the fee. We waited till we got to India for the payment step. Once the fee was paid, we received a receipt number.

We tried to book an appointment soon after but the receipt number wasn’t accepted. We guessed the system had to be updated. We tried again at night and bang, we got to the schedule appointment screen.

As we were scheduled to leave Delhi and travel around India, selecting collection port was an issue. US Embassy allows applicants to submit their application in one city and collect their passport in another. Upon thinking through our options, estimating the process time and discussing with my mother, we decided to pick up the passport from Mumbai.

Step 5 and step 6, both require appointments and although the system allows applicant to schedule appointment for step 6, interview stage, first, the date has to be after step 5, collection of finger prints, is done. This took us a while to figure this out!

We headed to Nehru Place to submit my finger prints and photo. The process took 40 mins, apart from the waiting around for appointment. Usually this step is really quick but make sure you are carrying all your documents, especially your bank statements. Only then your application will be processed. This step is carried out by an outsourced company and not handled directly by USA Embassy.

On the day of the interview, we headed to the Embassy. I queued up while Manish and mum-in-law spent time driving around Delhi. Luckily Rohit, Manish’s friend, had offered to drive us to the embassy. They came back every half hour to check on me as I couldn’t carry my mobile phone inside the building.

Once inside, I felt the US Visa anticipation atmosphere. It was almost like everyone there was preparing for a job interview they really want! The interviewer decides if the applicant will receive the visa or not. The range of interviewers was diverse as well, from an older man to younger female including an Indian origin American. It was also quite a surprise to see Americans speak in fluent Hindi and Punjabi.

I had almost done a walk-in interview, i.e., without any preparation, and was started to get worried. When it came to my turn, I was interviewed by the Indian American. Upon reciting our story, the interviewer double checked a few details. I suppose, mentioning we live in Sydney and Manish is an Australian Citizen, cleared most of his doubts. He clarified why was I applying the visa from India and upon learning that we are backpacking, he quickly dropped the visa in a tray and said that an email with be sent about the collection. It took me a couple of seconds to digest what had happened and I eventually walked out smiling.

Manish and the crew drove back to the embassy and picked me up after 2 hours. At least I had good news for them. Upon hearing my initial concern about the interview and me not being prepared, Rohit said that it appears US Visa is granted to those who don’t need it. So true I must say!

In 3 days we received an email saying my passport was ready for collection. Luckily my mum was in Mumbai and we couriered her a couple of papers, including an authorisation letter. The passport pickup was not an issue at all.

I suppose the entire process for scheduling appointments and receiving USA Visa for Indian Citizen took about 10 days. So now if I get visas to other countries or not, we can at least travel to US and other countries that allow Indians to visit based on the US Visa validity. Hurray!

Bye bye Australia

We were at the airport yesterday to drop mum off and we decided to leave our bags in the Smartecarte lockers at the carpark. It costed us $14 but we didn’t have to worry about making our way to the airport in the morning. Take note, these guys also have outlets at the airport, but the self lockers are cheaper. We jumped on the train and had a pretty relaxed train ride to airport. Overall, economical and stress free.

Dropping off our bags was quick – very quick! We didn’t even get a chance to take a pic! We also changed some cash.

Tip: post immigration there is only Travelex Currency Exchange around. They charge a flat fee of $12 and the rates they offer are sort of reasonable.

Anyway, we are now grabbing a quick small bite before our boarding to Hong Kong.

PS – the international airport is under renovation so the food options are really limited at the moment.

Manage Travel Money

We were slowly starting to save money for our travel plans. The next obvious step was to come up with a plan for spending it as well.

manage travel money
Source: http://cupegraf.com

Our confirmed itinerary (post coming soon) included 17 different currencies  across Hong Kong, Nepal, India, Europe (Scandinavian countries, UK & Ireland, EU region, Turkey), possibly Dubai, South America (Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Columbia) and finally US. We definitely needed a plan to manage travel money.

We researched travel cards that hold multiple currencies such as Qantas Cash Card, Aus Post Prepaid Card, Travelex Card and others from various financial institutes. After reviewing the charges and transaction fee involved (which btw is $0), we decided to go with Qantas Card Card for Hong Kong, Europe (all regions), Dubai ad US. While we are spending with this card, we will also be accumulating points as we go! In theory, it is a win win situation. We started watching the exchange rates and when the time was right, we loaded the card with our travel funds.

For Nepal and India we will be relying on my ICICI Bank Debit Card. We have transferred the allocated funds to my bank account to avoid any recurring transfer fee.

The South American region is a tough one. After loads of research we decided to rely on cash with large amount withdrawals using our Citibank Debit Card. As most of our transaction with be involved around accommodation, transport and meals we assume that card transcations can be tough to be fulfilled, thus the decision of using cash.

We will also be carrying our Citibank Credit Card as a backup / emergency option. Using the credit card will incur large fee so we will aim to keep the usage to minimum.

Do watch for our posts from the road as we document our learnings along the journey.

Saving For Travel

Taking one year off to travel needs lot of planning and discipline. As soon as we decided to travel, we went on budget mode and started saving as much as we could.

saving for travel

Here are some quick win tips we followed for saving for travel –

  • We ditch that morning coffee from a cafe. Instead Manish made his at home while I rotated between nescafe coffee and milo at work.
  • We stopped buying cafe brekky every morning. Making eggs, toast or oats porridge for brekky at home doesn’t take much time. I am not an early riser, so I bought instant oats mix and bread for work. Otherwise, you can also make smoothies with yogurt / milk, fruits and nuts in the morning or the night before.
  • Lunches aren’t cheap in Australia, I was usually spending at least $10 per day. I started getting lunch from home and rotated the menu so I won’t get bored.
  • Avoid taking taxis where possible. The public transport is cheap and available. We started to plan your trips so we can avoid paying high taxi fares, this included late night bus from city after a night out.
  • We started planning our week’s food schedule and hitting the local supermarket. We cooked a larger portion for dinner so we could pack it for lunch the next day. If you aren’t into daily cooking, you can use the weekend to plan and prepare your brekky and lunch for the week.
  • We reviewed our phone bill, internet and TV plan to identify any cost efficiencies. Downgrading mobile plan or unsubscribing a channel we hardly watched resulted in recurring savings.
  • We reviewed our gym, swimming pool and club membership that we weren’t using regularly. We cancelled some of them and started use public facilities where possible. Most suburbs have parks with basic gym facility and track for runs.
  • Tried to make full use of Cheap Tuesdays. We planned our date nights on tuesdays so we could still enjoy movies and dinner.
  • We started renting movies from Hyotts kiosk and making popcorn at home :)
  • Avoided massive parties or drinking sessions. Alcohol is cheaper at retail stores than at restaurants, bars or clubs. We started picking BYO restaurant so we could still enjoy a glass of wine without hurting our wallet.
  • We tapped onto loyalty programmes such as Qantas Frequent Flyer, Everday Rewards and used Citibank Credit Card. We planned our grocery shopping very week which helped us earn savings on our bill and simultaneously gain points. We can now pay for part of our Roumd The World flight tickets with accumulated points.

Saving for travel does not mean you need to give up your lifestyle and stay home. It means you need to be tactical about your expenses. Start by reviewing your past month bank statements and start identifying areas where you can potentially save. Be disciplined and continously remind yourself why you are doing it. Traveling is a great motivation.