One common rite of passage for long-term outsiders in India is a trip (or trips) to the FRRO. It is probably too much of India to throw on a newcomer, but many must visit within the first 14 days. Here is an overview of what the Indian FRRO is and why FRRO Registration might be important for you.
What is the FRRO?
The Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) handles all the services related to foreigners living in India.
Do I have to register?
It depends on your visa and how long you plan on being in India. Your printed Indian visa may mention if you need to register and under what terms. If your visa says you must register, then you should. Otherwise, you can follow these guidelines:
Category 1 (Need to Register): If you are on an Employment, Student, Research, Project, or Medical (and attendant) visa, you must register regardless of the length of your stay (provided the visa is valid for at least 180 days).
Failing to register is illegal and can get you in big trouble when you try to leave the country (up to 5 years in prison and a fine upwards of Rs. 10,000).
Spouses should come to the FRRO to register. No one under 16 is required to register, but consult your local office before leaving the kids at home as rules can vary and some offices require children 12 and over to sign in person.
When should I register?
If you are in Category 1, you should register within 14 days of arriving. If you are in Category 2, you can register anytime within your first 150 days.
Pakistan and Bangladesh nationals must register within 24 hours. Afghan nationals must register within 7 days. Sri Lankans also have special terms that should be researched beforehand.
If you miss the deadline, you a liable to pay a fee (currently Rs. 1395) when you do register.
Where is the FRRO?
FRROs are located in Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Dehradun, Goa, Gurgaon, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Kozhikode, Lucknow, Mumbai, and Thiruvananthapuram. If you live outside of one of these areas, you can register with the nearest Superintendent of Police (SP) or Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), but it is advisable to travel to the nearest FRRO.
Most FRROs take applications from 9:30 – 1pm. After 1, they do not accept new applications, but remain open for those already in line.
Why should I go to the FRRO?
The FRRO provides three major services for foreigners:
1.) Registers your presence, issues a residence permit (RP), and registers any change of address
2.) Extends or converts certain kinds of visas
3.) Grants exit visas
Exit visas are for people who came into India without a visa (like a child born or adopted here), people who have overstayed their visa, or people who are in the extension process (usually just a simple paper slip in this last case).
Why do I need a residence permit (RP)?
The residence permit is a very important document that proves you are legally allowed to reside in India. It is used for getting your shipment from customs, setting up a bank account, getting a PAN card, getting a driving license, setting up an internet connection, and most importantly, leaving the country.
Your registration permit is specific to a certain location that should be in the same vicinity as your work. For example, even if your company has a registered office in Mumbai, you should not register in Mumbai if all of your work is going to be at their Bangalore office.
You are required to inform the FRRO if you will be away from your residence for more than 8 weeks, or if you officially change your residence. The residence permit is extended along with your visa. When you don’t need the RP anymore (leaving India for the last time), give it to the Immigration Officer at the airport.
If you do not yet know where you will reside within the first 14 days, register using your hotel/guest house address. Once you have found a place to live, go back to the FRRO and complete a change of address.
Can’t I just get an agent to do all this for me?
Agents are not allowed inside the FRRO, so you must do it yourself. If you rely on agents for everything else, consider this a badge of honor for braving the Indian bureaucracy. There is an exception for medical patients.
How many times do I have to register?
You only have to register once per visa. If you need to extend a visa, you will need to go back to the FRRO to renew it.
What should I expect when I go?
(Every office is different, but most follow something like this:)
First, go online to fill out the application form and set an appointment.
When you arrive, you will wait in line to see the Scrutiny Officer. This is like the triage line. The Scrutiny Officer takes a printed checklist of all the documents you need and gives an initial screening of your documents.
If he/she thinks you have everything in place, you are sent to the Duty Officer who gives you a token to see an actual agent at the counter. If the Scrutiny Officer thinks you are missing documents, he will give you the required checklist and send you back home. If it is for a small form you can get quickly, you may try to plead with the Duty Officer to still give you a token, but he is not obligated to do so.
Your token will tell you what place in line you are and which window you should go to. While you wait, make sure your documentation appears in the exact same order as the checklist the Scrutiny Officer gave you. Just because the Scrutiny Officer allows you to get a token does not mean that your request will automatically be approved. That is up to the agent (and subsequent superiors) you meet with later.
The wait for the FRRO Officer can be very long. It is ok to leave and come back, but do not be late. Once your token is called, the agent at the window will examine all of your documents in detail. Their job is to find any mistakes or missing documents. If they find something, they will let you know and tell you to fix it and come back. If everything is in order, they will process your request.
Processing can be done on the same day for easy requests like change of address. It can take weeks in the case of extending a visa. If you or your spouse is Chinese it will take extra time as these requests must be processed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in Delhi.
How do I make the visit as painless as possible?
The FRRO is a place of many horror stories, but can also be a place where you are pleasantly surprised at the efficient service you get if you follow the rules.
1. Show up early. Most offices usually start seeing people around 9:30am based on the numbered token system. The smart choice is to show up at least around 8:30am to get a low number. Don’t assume that because you have a token, someone will come and get you and invite you in when it is your turn. Sit near the door, be alert, and don’t let someone get in front of you.
2. Plan for two trips. Even if you follow the information given here perfectly, there is a great chance that there will be at least one thing wrong. Set your expectations low. If there is something missing, have the officer write out clearly what is missing and ask if you can skip the Scrutiny Officer the next day. The most likely scenario is that you will spend 4 hours there on the first visit and 3 hours on the second. If you do it in less time than that, celebrate!
3. Bring extra copies. It’s a bad feeling to sit in line for 3 hours and then be turned away because you are missing one copy of something. 3 copies of everything is a good rule of thumb, along with the originals.
4. Signed, Sealed, Attested. All copies of your personal documents should be self-attested (signed). All copies of corporate documents should be signed, stamped, and sealed. See How To Please the Babu for more help. Anyone who signs a document for you should also mention their contact details on the document and give you a copy of their identification proof (passport, PAN card, voter ID card, etc).
5. Just the right amount of information. At the FRRO, you may find that the Scrutiny Officer doesn’t require a certain document you brought. (Different locations can sometimes require different documentation.) Only give the officer what they specifically request and keep the rest of the documentation with you until they ask for it. There is always a chance they may find a fault with an ‘additional’ document you didn’t need in the first place.
6.) Be patient and friendly. Your approval can potentially be very subjective given the mood of the person you are speaking with. If you sit down in a fluster because you have been waiting for three hours and are very rude to them, you are not likely to get the best treatment back.
7.) No doesn’t always mean no. Remember that Grey is White in India and the rules can be up for interpretation if the situation demands it. The more you present yourself as an amiable, India-loving foreigner, the better your chances are to not have to come back for any small errors. If they initially reject a certain document, don’t get up immediately and sulk. Explain the situation, ask if it is absolutely necessary or if there is an alternative, but don’t be a jerk about it either.
Everyone has their own FRRO story – what’s yours?
Image Credit: Nicolas Mirguet on Flickr