Retirement visa to India for non-Indians

I received a number of questions from non-Indian readers who wanted to know if there is any special visa or residency status that can be held by a non-Indian who wishes to retire in India.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about outsourcing retirement to India, the answer to this question is not very promising. There is no such thing as a "Retirement visa" to India. Still, I want to summarize the available options in this post.

First, those who have some Indian ancestry may be eligible to apply for the Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) status that I mentioned in an earlier post on India and dual citizenship. This is available to you if you, one of your parents, or one of your grandparents, were previously a citizen of India. You must also be a citizen of a country that allows dual citizenship. If you qualify, this is the best option, since it allows unlimited stay in India with few restrictions.

Next, there is a special status called Person of Indian Origin (PIO) available if you are married to a person of Indian descent. If you qualify, this entitles you to visa-free entry into India for fifteen years. Normally you can stay for up to 180 days on each visit, but you can exceed this limit by registering at a Foreign Registration Office (FRO).

But what about non-Indians who do not qualify for OCI or PIO status who want to retire in India, or want to have a long-term stay? Here the options become more limited.

The most common visa used to travel to India is a Tourist visa, so let us look at this in some detail.

  • A Tourist visa is normally issued for a period of 6 months for citizens of most western countries. Citizens of some countries may be issued visas valid for 90 days.
  • US citizens are eligible for a 10 year tourist visa. You still cannot stay in India longer than 180 days. You have to leave the country after 180 days but can come back in again without obtaining another visa.
  • Tourist visas are non-renewable. If you want to stay longer, you have to leave the country, get a new visa, and then return. Except for genuine emergencies, there is no way to extend your stay beyond the original period that it was issued for. It is also very difficult to get a tourist visa converted into any other kind of visa in India.
  • Overstaying your visa is a crime, and is taken seriously by Indian authorities. Overstaying can cause your future visa applications to be refused.
  • The most common way to extend your stay beyond six months is to go to a nearby country, and apply for another visa. Sri Lanka and Thailand are usually popular options for this.
What other visa options are there that can be used for longer-term stays?
  • Student visas are available to those who wish to study at recognized institutions in India. A student visa is valid for the period of study in India, up to a maximum of 5 years.
  • If you are coming to India to do business, but are continuing to be paid by an overseas company, then you can apply for a Business visa. Visitors traveling to India on business are generally granted multiple entry business visas valid for up to 6 months. It is also possible to obtain longer term multiple entry business visas, valid for up to 5 years. The period of stay in India for each visit is limited to 180 days.
  • If you intend to be paid in India by an Indian company, then you need an Employment visa. Employment visas can be extended as long as you remain employed by the company. Employment visas are usually held by skilled professionals working as technical experts, senior executives, etc.
What about a "Residency permit" or "Permanent residence visa"? Unfortunately these don't exist. What is sometimes known by these names is an Entry visa ("X visa") which has the advantage that it can be renewed within India, without having to leave the country after 180 days as for most other visa types. Here are some details on this type of visa:
  • The requirements for an Entry visa are not entirely clear. If you have a genuine need to be in India for longer than six months, and if the FRO approves your request, you may be eligible to get one.
  • For example, it may be given to someone who entered the country on a Tourist visa but then decided to start a business which requires them to stay for a longer period. Setting up a business in India is not an easy task, however.
  • Spouses of those on business/employment visas for over 6 months also are usually given Entry visas.
  • If you marry an Indian citizen when in India, you also become eligible for an Entry visa. As I mentioned before, you are now eligible for PIO status in this case, which is a better option.
Entry visas used to be given to foreign owners of property. These are harder to come by now, since the rules for buying property are being enforced more strictly. The way this works is like this:
  • To purchase property in India you have to first stay a minimum of 182 days in one financial year in India. As I mentioned in an earlier post on taxation in India, the financial year in India runs from April 1 to March 31.
  • You cannot stay for longer than 180 days with a single visit on a Tourist visa, so you have to leave the country and come back for another visit within the same financial year to meet the residency requirement for purchasing property.
  • Once you have signed all the necessary documents for the purchase of the property, you can go back to your home country and apply for a multiple entry visa to India. You may have to show documentation about the property you own, and that you have adequate funds for your extended stay in India.
  • The embassy may now issue you a Entry visa which will enable you to stay for a longer period within India with the added benefit that you don't have to leave India to renew it.
  • If you decide to take this route, be sure to follow all applicable regulations to the letter. Many Brits who purchased property in Goa without paying attention to details have been forced to sell them in recent years. For a sobering look at the current status of things, see this article in a Goan newspaper (link currently down).
The official sources for information regarding travel and immigration to India usually aren't very helpful. Indian embassies aren't very friendly to enquirers either. I have listed below some of the sources that I have found to be useful.

Related links: