If you land in a foreign country with an expired tourist visa, you’ll likely experience the same type of nightmare trip Sarita Charan recently experienced.
She flew halfway around the world to India before anyone noticed that she only had an expired e-visa in her passport. But moments after Charan stepped off the long flight, immigration agents noticed — and they ordered her to return home immediately.
Now Charan is asking the Elliott Advocacy team to hold Air Canada responsible for the entire debacle. She figures the airline owes her about $10,000 for allowing her to fly with the expired tourist visa. Is she right? (reprint)
Charan’s terrible experience underscores the importance of paying attention to detail when planning an international journey. Unfortunately, Charan did not realize that she was holding an expired tourist visa until it was too late. However, her passport showed all the information she needed about her travel e-visa — if only she had looked carefully.
Tickets: check. Passport: check. Tourist visa: check?
Charan’s awful tale begins with a flight from San Francisco to New Delhi via Toronto. Having visited India previously, she knew that immigration required U.S. citizens to have a tourist visa.
“I used the company iVisa to apply for my travel visa for my trip,” Charan recalled. “They processed a double-entry e-visa for me. So I was allowed two entries into India with the same visa.”
When Charan checked in for the international flight, she says that the Air Canada agent checked her passport and the printed version of her travel visa.
“They approved me to fly to India,” Charan explained. “The agent gave me my boarding pass, and I had no idea anything was wrong.”
But something was very wrong.
However, Charan wouldn’t find out until after the grueling, nearly 24-hour flight.
Indian immigration: “You only have an expired tourist visa. You can’t stay.”
When Charan’s flight finally landed in New Delhi, she was exhausted. She gathered her belongings and tiredly made her way to the immigration window. That’s where all her plans took a sudden nosedive.
“I had a travel visa valid for two entries — each of those e-visas were valid for 60 days,” Charan insisted. “I had already used one earlier in the summer. This visit was my second use. But the immigration officers said I only had an expired tourist visa in my passport. They told me I couldn’t stay. I was shocked.”
A bewildered Charan tried to figure out how to avoid the situation that was unfolding in front of her. She asked the immigration officers if she could try to apply for an emergency e-visa online.
“So [the immigration officer] said if I can get a new tourist visa, they will let me [stay],” Charan says. “I called iVisa immediately and let them know my problem. They started processing a new e-visa right away.”
Time was running out for Charan, who was now being detained by the Indian immigration authorities.
She says that good news soon came from iVisa.
But did it?
A nightmare trip to India: “Sorry, You must leave immediately.”
Charan says that iVisa sent a confirmation of a new tourist visa, but the immigration officer told her that she must print it for it to be valid. Otherwise, she was going to need to leave India immediately.
“Air Canada would not let me print my new un-expired e-visa!” Charan lamented. “Instead, they harassed me and made me get on the flight and go back to San Francisco. I don’t know how many doors [we ran through], but they rushed me to the plane that was about to take off.”
And soon, Charan was airborne again heading right back to where she started the previous day. She could not believe the turn of events.
“My phone was going dead,” Charan reported. “I couldn’t even call my family or friends before Air Canada made me go back.”
Fact: Don’t expect the use of WiFi and a printer in immigration
When Charan’s plea for help landed on my desk, I scoured through all her paperwork. She was still firmly convinced that she did have a valid travel visa for entry to India. She wasn’t clear as to why the Indian immigration had rejected her e-visa. But she hoped the Elliott Advocacy team could determine who made the mistake that ended with her rejection at the New Delhi airport.
Charan felt strongly that Air Canada had caused the entire mess.
“If Air Canada had just let me print my new e-visa, immigration would have let me in,” Charan insisted. “I had a new travel visa in my email. All I needed was Wi-Fi and a printer. Instead, they forced me to go back home.”
Unfortunately, we know from experience that foreign governments are quite unforgiving when it comes to travelers arriving without the required documents for entry. India is no different.
All U.S. citizens who wish to enter India as a tourist must have a travel visa. This document can be an electronic visa (e-visa), but it must be approved before stepping up to the immigration window. There are no provisions for travelers to make emergency applications for a travel visa upon arrival. Nor should a passenger expect to have the use of WiFi and a printer in the immigration area. If you show up in a foreign country without the required documents in your hand, you will likely be going right back to where you came from.
This fact is true of every country, worldwide. We’ve seen time and again, awful stories of travelers who arrive without the required documents for entry to their desired destination. It never ends positively:
And although Charan was aiming all her anger at Air Canada, I believed that it was misplaced. Her paper trail told a story that I didn’t think she was fully aware of even as she was asking our team to hold the airline responsible.
Know the rules: never travel with an expired tourist visa
Travelers must never attempt to go to a foreign country with an expired tourist visa. That is unless you want a nightmare trip too!
Unfortunately, it was clear from Charan’s email trail that she did not understand her e-visa. The Indian government did grant her a travel visa with two entries. But the terms were as follows:
- The first entry must occur between May 27 and Sept. 24, 2018.
- The e-visa expires 60 days from the first entry into India.
- The second entry must occur within the e-visa validity “stamped in the passport.”
- You must be using the same passport referenced in the original travel visa.
Charan had first entered India using this e-visa in July 2018. At that time, the Indian immigration had stamped her passport with a visa expiration date of Aug. 29. When she arrived again on Sept. 2, her tourist visa had already expired.
Fact: It’s always the traveler’s responsibility to know their own entry requirements
When I explained the terms of her original e-visa, Charan pointed out that she had been granted an emergency tourist visa while being detained in New Delhi. She insisted that Air Canada forced her removal from India even though she had a valid e-visa — if only she had the use of a printer and Wi-Fi. She continued to insist that Air Canada caused this entire nightmare trip for her.
Unfortunately, that part of Charan’s case didn’t quite match the facts either. While she did have a second visa, it was not approved until Sept. 3 — the day after Indian immigration rejected her.
And although Charan was quite angry at Air Canada for the entire fiasco, I pointed out that it is always the traveler’s responsibility to know about, and possess, all their own required documents for entry to foreign lands.
Air Canada had checked her passport and even looked over Charan’s visa document. The document, if taken alone, did suggest she tourist visa was not expired. It was only the immigration stamp buried inside her passport that revealed that Charan had already used the initial entry on the e-visa. As a result, there was an expiration date of Aug. 29 on the travel visa.
Indian immigration sent a notice of removal to Air Canada
But Charan continued to insist that the immigration officers were willing to let her stay in India and wait for additional approval.
Michelle, The air Canada employees treated me bad. I had received my other tourist visa in the email, but they didn’t let me stay. The immigration officer told the airline manager and me that he would allow me [to stay]. I only had to print [the new e-visa]. And the guy snatched the paper that immigration gave me. He said that doesn’t belong to you. He didn’t know that I had already taken a picture of it on my phone. They did harass me. This could have caused me heart failure. They rushed me, jumped me, and made run to board the plane. I could not breathe. I was feeling suffocated. So if I was dead, my children would have no idea what had happened to me.
In this case, the paper that Charan was referencing was the order from immigration to Air Canada to immediately remove Charan because of her expired travel visa. Air Canada had no choice in the matter:
Airlines can be fined heavily for bringing passengers to foreign countries without the required documents for entry. So when it happens, carriers must immediately follow the direction of the immigration authority of the country in question.
“I learned a lot — I wish someone had told me.”
And finally, after some additional discussion, Charan said she understood what happened here.
At least I understand now and have learned a lot out of this. Honestly, to my understanding, I thought I had a visa valid for two entries. I believed that the visa expired in 120 days, and each entry was valid for 60 days. I didn’t know I was traveling with an expired travel visa. You know it was scary for my family — they didn’t hear from me for two days. I think you should tell my story. I would have appreciated reading a story like this — and then it wouldn’t have happened to me. I’ve been traveling for 30 years and never have I experienced something like this before.
Still, I say Air Canada was a horrible experience. But your answers make sense. Thank you.
How to avoid a nightmare experience at the immigration window on your next trip
It’s easier than ever for travelers to get the information they need to successfully navigate the globe — if you know where to look. So you can avoid showing up at the immigration window of a foreign country with insufficient documentation, it’s essential to do some research — before you head to the airport.
- Visit the U.S. Department of State’s website: The State Department’s website can be an invaluable tool for travelers looking for information about their intended destination. Here you can find entry requirements, warnings, general information, and more.
- Bookmark IATA’s traveler’s tool: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) offers a traveler’s tool that many airlines have added to their own websites. By entering your personalized information into the program, you can find the latest info for passports, visas, and health requirements for your intended destination.
- Use a trusted travel advisor: If you are unfamiliar with the entry requirements for your vacation spot, a qualified travel professional could be just what you need. An experienced travel advisor can help you avoid unpleasant surprises on your journey.
- Study all the expiration dates on your documents: In this case, the expiration date of the visa was clearly displayed inside the passport. If you have a visa inside your passport, take a careful look for the expiration date before you try to use it.
- Visit the embassy of your intended destination: Whether virtually or in person, a visit to the embassy of your intended destination can clear up any document misunderstandings — before you touch down in any foreign land.