We leave for India tomorrow!! Here’s a recap of the epic preparations. Hope we thought of everything. If not, we certainly made a good effort.
Photos – Passports, Visas, even SIM card rental (!), require an “official” head shot. And no, the photos you take at arm’s length on your iPhone, or the pictures shot on your laptop using PhotoBooth will not cut it. They have very precise rules about expressions, background, dimensions, etc. Just visit any CVS/Walgreens and they’ll get you setup for about $10.
Passports – Mine expired a week before being told I needed to go abroad. A rush order was put in. Not cheap.
Visas – Made a few pilgrimages to the Indian consulate in Houston. The process was a bit complex though. First, we had to obtain letters from my company stating that I was, in fact, being sent there on official business. The office in India had to send a similar letter stating that they were expecting me and that I wasn’t relocating there for employment (they frown on people coming to their country in search of employment). My wife, meanwhile, had to wait until I got my Business Visa approved before applying for an Entry Visa, which also required a copy of our marriage license, which of course we lost years ago. Add: one trip to the county courthouse.
Copy Your Docs! – Make a photocopy of your passport/visa as well as a scan. Then email yourself the scanned files.
Vaccinations – We waited too long to do this and missed out on a few key vaccinations. Typically one needs to get started 4-6 weeks prior to departure. Nonetheless, we have now been inoculated against Polio, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Typhoid, and Hepatitis A. We also received Malaria medicine, which we started taking yesterday, and will continue taking for the next month. Malaria can lay dormant for weeks before it strikes! For more info on all of this, start here: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/india.htm
Travel Insurance – One of the doctors we visited scared us into purchasing trip health plan. If, for example, we become deathly ill in Kerala, they’ll cover all the expenses and even fly us out of the country at no cost. This actually happened to a friend of ours and wow, it’s not cheap (think: $45,000). Cost: $40.
Health Safety – The rather extensive list of no-nos includes: drinking water unless boiled, eating uncooked food, buying food from street vendors, brushing your teeth with tap water, swallowing shower water. We’ll be using bottled water for brushing our teeth, shaving, etc. Plus we’ll be using baby wipes frequently. You should only drink sealed (check seal) bottled water or boiled tea/coffee. That said, the risk of illness is extremely high so we’re also bringing a course of antibiotics for each of us.
Local Currency – Rupees, currently at about 55 INR to the US dollar. We bought a stack of Rupees at the local bank. They needed time to get it though, so best to call ahead first.
Embassy Notification – Another recommendation from the doctor. Registering with the embassy lets them know you’re in the country in the unlikely event they need to evacuate citizens from a particular area. It’s free, so why not? https://step.state.gov/step/
Portable Hygiene – Steph cleaned out the neighborhood drugstore buying everything from baby wipes to Imodium. Better safe, right?
220 Electrical Convertors – The US is one of the few 110 nations. Good to have these.
Airplane Pillow, Socks – 14 hours at a time, the flight will SUCK. They actually make Deep Vein Thrombosis socks! We bought two pair.
Unlocked GSM 900/1800 cell phones – Since I’ll be working while Steph is roaming (i.e., shopping), we thought it might be a good idea to be able to reach one another. The US operates on 950/1900-band cell networks; most other nations use 900/1800. Found a $29 Samsung 900/1800 GSM phone on Amazon, bought a pair of them. With these, we can get local pre-paid SIM cards (from the hotel) to make domestic (India) calls. That’s what “unlocked” means: it supports SIM cards. These phones can be used just about anywhere too, so next time we hit Paris we’ll have cell access.
Skype Credits – Loaded up on Skype credits so that I can call home. It’s shockingly cheap to make international calls on Skype. Find me @alienintheheights.
iPad, Movies for iPad, iTouch, Podcasts – “The Hunger Games” and “Darjeeling Limited” in the queue on Steph’s new iPad 3, among others. Podcasts: This American Life, The Moth, and APM’s The Story. On the other hand, I’m leaving my gorgeous 17″ Macbook Pro at home. It’s just not worth the risk. Crappy company laptop, you’re going to India!
Headphones, Headphone Splitter – Skip the garbage they supply on the flight. Bring your own and if you have devices (computer, ipad, ipod), bring a splitter.
Prepare to be uncomfortable — Yes, we’re flying economy. At that, the RT flight cost around $2000 per person. I will covet the lucky (rich?) bastards in Business Elite, with their reclining bed-chairs, power outlets, and private sponge baths. Hoping the travel pillow is useful. If not, I have but one word: Xanax.
Airport Pickup – We emailed the hotel and arranged for a taxi to be waiting. Much better than suffering the hustlers who prey on naive tourists. The good news, we finally get our name on a placecard attached to a smiling man in a suit. Cost: 2900 INR. A bit high, but it’s a long way from the airport to the hotel AND it’s 3:30am local time. Poor guy.
Gifts – If you’re going to be seeing friends or co-workers, it’s always polite to ask them if they need something from the US. I did and got a prompt response “Yes, a 1TB portable harddrive. But only if it’s not too much trouble.” 🙂 Purchased and packed.
Bravery – Have enough for the flight. Refills to be added later.