As reiterated, foreign travel for Indian passport holders are always not that easy. Necessarily and certainly not in case of the United States. I am sharing some suggestions and tips based on my experience related to Visa, Money and Travel modes etc. I hope you find it useful.
I do not wish to repeat things that can be found on other blogs or the official website, but reiterate some tips. US Visa process is pretty efficient in India and is issued just 2 working days after the interview in most cases, however, appointment wait times are not that short. From my personal experience usually, Delhi has the longest one, perhaps also because of the number of applications. So apply early.
If using the NEFT as a mode of payment, please do remember that you do not have to do anything on your part, and the unique Beneficiary Code issued to you automatically updates your payment in the system in your name in the system.
Regarding DS 160, most have the queries if changes can be made or not. A new DS 160 can be filled online and brought along with Old DS 160. Please do remember that it is fine if an old DS 160 details were used at the time of booking appointment, as Personnel at Visa Application Centre can update the same.
Since there is a limitation on the number of times appointment schedule can be changed which is perhaps three at the moment, it is a wise decision to not miss your chances. One tip that I would like to give you is that if you do not appear on said date for OFC, it is likely that you would receive a call from VAC, and your system is again ready after 8 PM to fix a fresh appointment. It is also wise to check the appointment availability at late night hours or in the early morning, for an earlier appointment date. People fix and cancel appointments, as per their convenience, allowing others to book the said place.
I have taken the risk of arriving without a single penny, but please arrive with at least 50 dollars in cash. It seems to be a common suggestion, however, the reason for stressing it here is that in case you are planning to withdraw money from an ATM at the airport, you may be in a trap. The traps are Travelex ATMs that have replaced the Bank ATMs at JFK and many other places. The rates are a disaster, with several fees added to it. At least 50 dollars with enable you to get out of JFK Airport by Airtrain, that costs just 5 dollars that too at Jamaica Station where the Airtrain connects the normal metro.
Once you are in the city, you have several options, and rates on Debit Cards were excellent on all the ATMs, only the withdrawal fee varied ranging from 2.5 dollars to 5 dollars.
On my second trip in October this year, I used my SBI Credit Card for all the purchases in Chicago and Minneapolis in absence of a sufficient balance on my savings account. I found that though a credit card is a good option but a slightly expensive one. It seemed to me that I was paying slightly a higher difference as compared to what I was paying while I used cash withdrawn from ATMs using my debit card. Probably Credit cards without fees may be a solution to it.
Indian nationals may note that debit cards issued by Indian banks even if an international card would not work if it does not have an EMV Chip on it, as per the instructions issued by Reserve Bank of India. It happened to me once while in Indonesia and someone I know while on the visit to Cambodia.
Some banks in India are marketing the FOREX Cards. I have not used it so I cannot suggest much on that but banks certainly would not deal with customers at the inter-bank rate. Hence, rates offered to its customer for reloading currencies may not be same to the forex rates bank deals with Visa or MasterCard. All other rates would be same irrespective of the fact whether the card is a debit card or a forex card.
Mobile connection –
It is a better idea to come with a pre-activated SIM, with some talk time and data usage plans. This may sound absurd to many, including me. But some learn it the hard way. It is known that Wi-Fi internet is available in most hostels abroad, even more common in the United States, where open Wi-Fi is available in Public places like markets and parks. Despite that there may be cases when the Public Wi-Fi is not accessible and you may need a Wi-Fi to search online rates for some of the utilities which are significantly cheaper than the offline rates. Most importantly, free Wi-Fi internet at the US airports in most cases does not work.
Travel to the United States-
For privileged nationalities, transit airports are not that much of a problem. Others may be required to have a transit visa. However, travel to the US via European airports may not be a problem, since you already have a US Visa and are travelling to the US. One thing to note while booking an air ticket is that it does not include a domestic sector of any country or that of the Schengen area and the airports are being used only for transit purposes.
As suggested, always book your flights in advance, though I had once done that just few hours in advance while leaving for New York from Delhi. Most important reason for it apart from the fare is to avoid getting bumped, in the case of a overbooking. Secondly, flight bookings made in less than 24 hours departure time does not allow making a request for a special meal. Flights leaving Indian airports always have additional vegetarian meals, so it is not a problem on this segment. Air India would in any case, have vegetarian options whether you book it or not. But do not take a risk. Based on my experience, while on a trip to New York, the Munich- New York Lufthansa flight by coincidence had Pasta as one of the options. In fact, I was informed by the flight attendant that they in any case,have some vegetarian/ vegan options on this route. This may be true of other routes to the US from Europe as well but I am not sure. For other special meals, pre-booking is essential.
Travel in the US –
In the United States, Amtrak Trains and Greyhound buses are two popular options other than domestic flights. Please keep in mind to look for online rates which are either cheaper or are same as the online rates. It is possible to book tickets of both trains as well as buses online and in advance and hence, you can have a ticket booked even before you arrive in the US. Once the promo fares disappear, trains and buses both may become significantly expensive.
In the case of Greyhound ticketing, please print your ticket in advance if you chose the option to get the same in your email as the same cannot be printed at the bus station in that case. Greyhound also provides an option to book online and pay offline at one of their listed partner stores. In normal cases, you may be required to pay an additional two dollars per ticket, but there is a way to save that money as well. If you book tickets online and choose to pay offline option, you would get a confirmation number and a barcode to be scanned at the partner stores. Just arrive with the confirmation number at the Greyhound bus station and make the payment in person only for the original ticket price. I do not have any idea if this norm is practiced but I have tried that once while in New York. This would not work however in cases where the bus station is far and cost of reaching there exceeds the money to be saved.