Wooing Indian tourists with visa-free entry | Explained

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Visitors walk atop the Skybridge in Malaysia’s Langkawi. Malaysia has become the latest country to extend the advantage of visa-free travel to Indian citizens. File
| Photo Credit: AFP

The story so far: Malaysia has become the latest country to extend the advantage of visa-free travel to Indian citizens. The facility will be extended to Indian travellers till December 31, 2024 and will be valid for 30 days from the date of entry. The initiative is aimed at ensuring hassle-free travel for Indians who have emerged as one of the major tourist groups visiting Malaysia in the recent past. According to industry sources, at present there are around 26 countries that extend visa-free entry to Indian citizens for various reasons.

What does the Malaysian decision imply?

Tourism has emerged as one of the key focus areas for Malaysia’s post-COVID recovery strategy. Renowned for its scenic locations like the Langkawi beaches, Malaysia’s tourism sector was hit hard during the COVID period when travel restrictions and visa problems nearly decimated its tourism industry. But under the Anwar Ibrahim government, Malaysia is taking serious steps to recover its leadership in the tourism sector. According to the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, 10.7 million visitors chose to visit the country in 2022 bringing in more than $28 billion to the economy. The recovery can be measured by the fact that during the peak COVID period of 2021, only 0.13 million tourists visited Malaysia. The visa-free facility to Indian (and Chinese) travellers is, therefore, aimed at making the country a more attractive destination for recreation seekers from two of the major Asian economies.

Which are the other countries extending visa-free travel to Indians?

Among the major regional tourism destinations, Sri Lanka and Thailand are the nearby economies that have also extended visa-free travel facility to Indians. Sri Lanka which was hit by a economic crisis in 2022 has a reason to make itself an attractive destination. Its visa-free policy for Indians is driven by both economic and political reasons.

What are the categories of visa exemption?

India has visa exemption agreements with many countries in the world that cater to multiple categories of visas. According to the Ministry of External Affairs, at least 34 countries across the world, have agreements with India that exempt visas for the holders of Indian diplomatic passports. These include Germany, France, Iran, Japan, Norway, Turkey and others. That apart there are at least 99 countries with which India has operational agreements for “diplomatic, service/official passport holders”. According to the MEA, (un-updated list), there are 16 countries that offer visa-free travel facility for a certain period of time to ordinary Indian passport holders — this includes, Nepal, Bhutan, Fiji etc. The list, however, keeps changing as countries keep on experimenting with their visa policy. According to the latest estimate available in the Passport Index website, there are at least 26 countries at present that provide visa-free facility to ordinary Indian passport holders.

Is the visa-free facility permanent?

Countries extend visa-free facility to Indian tourists for a certain amount of time or for a period depending on their advantage. But there are factors on the ground that may also determine whether a particular tourist is suitable for such facilities. Malaysia, for example, has mentioned that the scheme will be subjected to security clearance. Similarly, visa-free facility does not mean relaxation of security protocol in the port of entry. For example, in Dominica and El Salvador — that provide visa-free entry to Indians — strict checks are carried out in airports to prevent illegal or undocumented immigration to the Americas from India. There are reports from places like Guatemala that extended visa-free travel to Indians but withdrew in view of fear of undocumented immigration.

What are other advantages countries are providing to increase Indian tourist flow?

Tourism destinations like Singapore, Egypt and Albania provide e-visa facility to attract Indian travellers. E-visa is helpful for countries that do not have formal diplomatic missions in India. “Today, tourism plays a vital role in a nation’s economy. Many countries, as a result, offer various attractions for tourists from across the world to visit the country. One such attraction is removing the usual hassles of travel logistics, such as visas. Therefore, providing visa free entry to tourists creates a large impetus for tourism, which is perhaps one of the prime reasons why many countries have extended such facilities,” Honorary Consul General of Albania Dikshu Kukreja told The Hindu.

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