How travel has changed this year! Since March regular international flights to India have been banned. The only way to get to India is on what they call repatriation flights.
Since these are special flights that have been authorized by the government on a case by case basis, there are many more forms to fill and extra paperwork to deliver. The flights can be booked pretty easily on any online travel agent (expedia, etc.).
Also, if you want to avoid a 7 day institutional quarantine, it’s important to get a COVID test done at your origin and then upload your test result to get an exemption from the Indian government.
What’s made most of this much more difficult is the fact that the regulations and rules are not clearly stated in any one place. They seem to be all across the board, bits and pieces on different webpages and notifications.
I recently flew to India and I had a spent a fair amount of time getting tested, filling forms, and printing papers. But, when I finally showed up at the airport there were several forms that I had missed!
So this article is an attempt to clarify what is needed to fly to India and get an exemption from quarantine if you want one.
First off, if you want to avoid a mandatory 7 day institutional quarantine (you do..), a COVID test is required 72 hours prior to departure. Make sure you find a local lab that can deliver your results within the required timeframe.
There’s also the option of getting tested on arrival at New Delhi or Mumbai airport. But, after flying internationally for close to 20 hours, I didn’t want to sit for 5 hours at the airport and wait for my test result. Also, if I actually had COVID, I preferred to quarantine at my starting location rather than pay for an institutional quarantine in India.
In most places it’s quite easy now to get tested for a reasonable fee and get your results in 12-14 hours. I paid €60 with the red cross in Lisbon. Once you have your result, you will need to fill up the exemption form on New Delhi airport’s website, and ask the government to exempt you from quarantine. The form is pretty straightforward.
There’s a little bit of confusion regarding some of the rules because in some place in the FaQ of New Delhi airport it says that you must submit the form at least 72 hours before departure and then it also says that your test should be taken within 72 hours of departure. So a lot of people are writing posts and tweeting about how can they take the test within 72 hours but submit the form at least 72 hours in advance. It doesn’t make any sense!
I found the answer to this as well. It appears that there are several exemption categories and the government has said that if you are flying in because of a death in the family, or some other type of emergency – you need to submit the exemption form at least 72 hours in advance.
If you have taken a COVID test and have a negative result, you should upload the result as soon as you have it. It can even be right before the flight or you can also try to show it on arrival. You can most certainly upload it within 72 hours of your flight. I did so, and received the exemption approval in about 5 minutes.
You can see that the government clearly specifies this in this notification. See paragraphs iv, v, and vi.
There are two forms that you need to fill online on the Air Suvidha website. First fill the Self-Reporting Form which is mandatory for all inbound international passengers. Then, once you have your COVID result, fill the exemption form. I had my COVID test report in Portuguese and English as a PDF and that was fine. You do need your flight details to fill these forms so make sure you’ve already booked your flight.
Once I filled the exemption form, I received an email in about 5 minutes granting my exemption.
I printed out the Self Reporting Form and the Exemption form to show the airline before boarding. In addition to this, I printed my COVID negative test report. I thought this would be enough, but when I arrived to board my Lisbon-Paris flight with Air France, they told me I was missing several documents!
They directed me to this page on the Air France website. On this page you can read all about the state-wise travel restrictions for international passengers in India. Along with that, it lists all the additional forms you need to fill depending on your individual situation.
This page directed me to register with the Indian Embassy in Paris. Even though I was traveling from Lisbon, since the ‘repatriation’ flight was Paris-Delhi, I needed to register with the embassy.
And that form from the Indian embassy directed me to fill an Undertaking cum Indemnity Bond which basically says that I will follow all quarantine regulations
Once I filled all these forms, I was finally allowed to board. Before you travel, I recommend that you take a look at your airline website to get an updated list of all the forms you may need to fill as these keep changing each month.
On arrival in New Delhi, there are several queues prior to immigration. Make sure you join all the queues in order otherwise you are going to get sent back to get the relevant stamps.
The first queue was a person checking the self reporting form. He stamped the form with a quarantine stamp. I asked him Why are you giving me a quarantine stamp when I have a negative COVID test, and he said “Quarantine is for everyone”. I panicked a little bit, but I thought okay, lets see what happens next.
Then, a few steps down from there another person was checking the quarantine exemption request. And once they saw the approved request, they stamped a quarantine exemption on top of the previous stamp.
After this, I reached immigration and he looked at all the forms again. Finally, he stamped my passport and I was free to go!
The process on arrival was quite streamlined, arriving passengers just need to go through these queues.
Once you exit the secure area of the airport, there will be more checks. Their are many people stationed at different spots checking if you are exempt from quarantine so make sure you keep your stamped forms handy. They will want to see that they don’t need to whisk you away to a quarantine center.
However, the moment you’re out on the street, you’re free to go and there will be no more checks. Just keep showing your form as many times as needed until you get there.
There were also several ads all over the place advertising Delhi airport’s COVID testing facility. The general copy was “Avoid quarantine, get tested”. You can book the Delhi airport test in advance online or on arrival (provided it’s not full). When I passed by, it looked quite empty.
For what it’s worth, the test at Delhi airport costs about Rs. 5000 ($68) and the results take about 5 hours. They seat you at a lounge while you wait and this is part of the package they charge you for. However, to compare, an RT-PCR test in the city costs just Rs. 800 ($11) and you get your results in about 12-14 hours. So the test at the airport is at a considerable premium. Of course, there is no option to get tested outside because you won’t be able to get a quarantine exemption once you leave the airport.
For the way back, I also decided to get tested before leaving. My options are to get tested in Delhi and carry a recent (72 hours) test report or to get tested on arrival. Since it’s only Rs. 800 over here I decided to do it here. I did the drive through testing at Dr Dang’s Labs. It was very efficient, I booked online, and got my results in about 8 hours. You can also book for home collection and they will come to your house and take your sample for Rs. 1200 ($16). I chose this lab because it was recommended by a friend but there are plenty of options in New Delhi and the price is regulated by the government so they can never charge more than the prices quoted above.
There’s a lot written and said about how uncomfortable the tests are but to be honest – it’s nothing. No big deal. Barely 2 seconds with some minor discomfort.
So just to recap, the procedure I followed was:
- Fill up the self reporting form
- Get a COVID test within 72 hours of departure
- Fill up the exemption form with the COVID negative test report uploaded
- Find out all the other forms on the airline website and fill those up too
- Enjoy India
- Get another COVID test within 72 hours of departure
- Fly back
If you need to take a connecting flight, as in, if you’re flying AMS-DEL-BLR then you will definitely need to get a COVID test in advance. Once you clear the quarantine exemption queue, and immigration, you will be allowed to board your connecting flight. Of course, you need to check your local state regulations for arriving international passengers.
Also, the Delhi airport Air Suvidha forms are for passengers arriving at all airports in India. So even if you’re flying Paris-Mumbai, you need to fill and print the same forms.
The COVID numbers in India have declined a lot and it seems like the government is on the verge of declaring that the pandemic is over. There were no restrictions on inter state travel although everyone is taking precautions and masks, social distancing, and hand hygiene are all in place.
However, things seem to be open once more and life has returned to a fairly normal pace.
As always, if you have questions, please leave a comment. Safe travels!