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01/23/2017

The OCI (of the spouse of an Indian) for dummies

After ten years of adventures visa-related, the time to end this story of annual meetings, endless trips, rule changes, frustration, had finally come. In short, I completed in August two years of marriage, which gave me the right to apply to become an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI), some kind of lifelong visa allowing me to live and work in India. Lifelong if you please! Well, at least as long as my marriage stands. Because it is the fact that I am married to an Indian person that gave (earned??!) me the right to this illustrious honor.

To put it simply, after two years of marriage, I could finally apply for an OCI. You know me, I was well ready on the D-Day – i.e. the day of my anniversary. But I had to wait till I had a few hours free in my calendar to go to the Foreign Registration Office in Delhi six days later. With the following papers (mentioned in this document / more information on the official website, where we also need to apply and upload documents):

  1. My passport (with my current visa and my registration to the FRRO) / also to be uploaded on the site
  2. My husband's passport / also to be uploaded on the site
  3. Our marriage certificate / also to be uploaded on the site
  4. A photo of myself and one of my signature / also to be uploaded on the site
  5. Our lease (not mentioned, but just in case, and it proved required)
  6. An 'indemnity bond' certified by a notary with a 100-rupee stamp (also not mentioned but I had often heard about it, so just in case, and by the way they kept it) / see an example of this document here
  7. A DD (Demand Draft) of 15,000 rupees to be drawn at 'Pay and Accounts Officer (Secretariat), Ministry of Home Affairs' payable at New Delhi
  8. The print-out of the form we have to fill up online

I will not spend time on how the office made fun of me when he checked my marriage date and my filing date – ‘you are not wasting time’! I’m not THAT eager to get the OCI, you see, it’s not the Holy Grail or anything, but I have heard that it takes more than three months and my visa expires in five and frankly if I could avoid going back to the Gurgaon FRRO...

When he was done laughing, he, in all seriousness, informed be about a (not so) funny rule: one must have lived for more than eight months in a city to apply (not six or twelve, no, eight). Obviously, this is mentioned nowhere on the site and obviously, I am far from it, having three months to complete. 24 months that I have been waiting and this jocker comes up with this crazy rule! I could cry. Maybe that’s why, seeing my face – or maybe I got a bit upset and yelling and shouting, I can’t remember – the officer accepted my file not without warning me “if it is rejected it won't be my fault”.

I then had to upload the passport of my husband under the ‘Proof of Indian Citizenship’. And finally I leave with a file number in my pocket!

But it would have been too easy wouldn’t it?

Two weeks later I get an email asking me to resubmit my marriage certificate. And when I comply, they explain to me that the words ‘marriage certificate registered under Special Marriage Act, 1954’ are missing on my certificate made in Mumbai. And then, the fun part begins.

a. We go to the Marriage Court of Gurgaon to register our marriage again. It’s illegal.

b. We try to find an agent who could get our certificate modified in Mumbai. The Bandra court replies that it is the standard certificate there and they won't change it. But maybe we can have them sign an affidavit. Except that the guy who married us has just be transferred and his replacement is on leave. And on that the agent stops picking up the phone.

c. We are still left with the option to re-register our marriage by getting married again, as per lawyers’ advice. But not in Gurgaon because the system has changed and one can no longer corrupt them. No, we would have to go to Ghaziabad and go take pictures at the temple and pay 15 000 rupees. I would do it for the experience you can imagine, except that it seemed a little too crazy... And I could really picture the scene where my marriage would be registered in 2016 and not in 2014 and I would have to wait another two years to apply (even though I was assured that antedating the document would not be a problem).

d. In despair, I thought I would send my favorite Indian plead our case in Mumbai.

e. And then finally, after three months of efforts and stress, I gave up. They can go to hell with their OCI...

India,OCI,FRRO,Foreign registration office,visaTwo days later, I'm not lying, I received a message stating that my application was approved and I had to send a new DD (the former having expired). I could not believe it. But the next day an officer showed up at my place – a normal procedure where they check that I live here where I say I live. And three days later I was officially an (Overseas) Indian Citizen!

01/09/2017

Tourist in India and cash situation / demonetisation

India,tourist,tourism,cash,demonetisation,rupees,new notesSeveral people have asked my opinion on how to travel in India right now because of the currency situation, here is my humble advice: come with patience!

If you have booked with a tour operator or directly from not-too-bad-hotels, you can pay by card and keep your small change (which is worth gold) to buy a bottle of water, a chai, a rickshaw fare etc.

But since it is still handy to have some cash with you (especially in India), here are some ideas to get rupees:

1. Exchange:

Legally, foreigners are allowed to exchange only 5,000 rupees a week – which is enough pocket money if you pay for lodging, transport (bus/plane/train) and beers by card. Technically, no one can check how much you exchange per week unless you go to the exchange bureau of a chain.

2. ATM:

The other possibility is to withdraw in an ATM, within the limits of 2,500 rupees a day (although apparently the limit has been increased to 4,500). The exercise here is to identify the ATMs that have the cash. The following site can help locating them: https://cashnocash.quikr.com/ 

3. Bank counter:

There is the option to go directly to the counter at the bank. Here again you must find the Bank that has cahs and it’s not easy easy. Then wait in line. And with a little luck you can withdraw 24,000 rupees (per week, wherever you withdraw, at the counter or the ATM).

4. Indian SIM and apps:

Finally you can take an Indian SIM that will last 3 months. It is not always the easiest experience, but it does get you into the swing... (Apparently in September the Government agreed that all the tourists with an e-visa will automatically receive a SIM card but I can't seem to find out whether it has actually been implemented). You need to come ready with a photocopy of the passport, your visa and a photo. Plan to activate a card with roaming (if you change State) and data to have wifi. And if you get that far and you have previously downloaded the app PAYTM (and recharged your account) you should be able to make a lot of payments with your phone! Uber or Ola app can also be useful.

Good luck!

12/26/2016

The 'demonetization' seen by me

One find morning, the country awoke without cash (cf this post). The notes of 500 and 1,000 rupees (about 8 and 12 euros), the biggest ones, had no more value. BOOM. And the citizens had a few weeks to deposit their ‘old’ notes at the bank. New notes, of 500 and 2,000 rupees, came quite fast but in infinitesimal quantities – which is either voluntarily or not from the Government, we don’t know). So here's what I realized when 'surviving' with 300 rupees for 2 weeks:

  • I pay my vegetables to the street vendor in cash. My only option was to go to the supermarket, cutting off a source of income to my local dealer (which would in turn have to pay his supplier to continue to receive his vegetables and we can go back up to the seeds provider like this, in the farming chain!). Fortunately, in less than a week, my street vendor had installed the Paytm app and I can now pay him via my smartphone.
  • I had to stop taking rickshaws and get only Uber / Ola.
  • I stopped tipping people – small change is worth gold. And it hurt me quite bad when I couldn't give anything to the old man in the supermarket who carried my bags and dug up a little thingy for my son.
  • I stopped paying my cleaning lady until she opens a bank account.
  • I attended a shopping Sunday evening in a fancy Mall ten days after the fateful date of 'demonetization'. And while I had heard a lot about people holding on to their money in fear of what was coming next, it was just madness in H & M and Mark & Spencer where card machines overheated, and lines were endless. The rich could still buy clothes, I was reassured ;)
  • I was told this move was a disaster for weddings (and we just entered the wedding season) which are all paid in black cash and yet it is full party in the wedding ground of my neighbourhood almost every night.
  • I had the chance to visit the bank to deposit some old bills and witness the chaos, it’s crazy.
  • I got really upset at the post office because, although it is public institution, they don't have a card reader and don’t accept cheques. (Besides Indians are not fans of cheques especially when they are on the receiving end – for example if you pay by cheque at a Mothercare shop, they deliver you the product only that once the funds have been credited because there are too many blank cheques.)

In short, it’s a mess, we hear about everything and anything about it, and it is especially the poor who have to pay (he he) but at the same time it is a new opportunity for Indians to demonstrate their resourcefulness (or jugaad as we say here) which is simply amazing.

PS: It is heard nowadays that the Government wants to go Digital. Though it is a seducing idea, let us not forget that 30% of the population still can’t read, 30% still doesn’t own a phone, 85% doesn’t access the Internet on their phone, 900 million still leave with less than 2$ per day.

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The daily view from my office, the line one hour before the ATM opens...