How to Obtain a First Time OCI Card for People Who Were Born in the USA Based on Both Parents’ Birth in India: Step-by-Step Guide

The Indian government has created a system whereby former Indian citizens as well as people of Indian origin may be eligible to get an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) Card. They have partnered with an organization called Cox & Kings Global Services (CKGS) to handle logistics for OCI cards, Visas and other documents regarding travel to India. As far as I can tell, they are not part of the Indian government. And they’re awesome. A while ago, like 10+ years ago the Indian government outsourced visa processes to a company called Travisa and they were on top of their game. They were responsive, easy to work with, and applying for a visa was easy.

Then things went downhill and now they’re looking better with CKGS. They’re not perfect though. The OCI card application website is janky looking and was a little buggy. And the whole merging of the CKGS’ application with the Indian government’s application is weird and seems like they just haven’t figured out how to make that seamless. But getting an OCI card is worth it so I went through with it. And once you get used to using it you can get through it. Also, whenever I had a question I called the number and was able to talk to someone. They were always helpful.

The way the process works is you start application by going to the CKGS website. This is important so I’m gonna say it again. You start the application on the CKGS website, NOT the Indian government’s website. Once you’ve completed all of the fields the application system will lwad you to the Indian government’s website, to complete that portion of the application. Then you have to merge the two applications together, which they walk you through. Then you have to submit the hardcopies of all the documents. You’re actually sending your OCI card application to CKGS. They pre-screen it and check for any missing documents. Once they have a complete application in-hand, then they forward it to the Indian consulate, to evaluate and issue OCI cards. The Indian consulate sends it back to CKGS to verify everything and then CKGS sends you your OCI card.

{Real Time Application Updates}

December 6: uploaded digital application to CKGS
December 11: shipped hardcopy application to CKGS express overnight via UPS
December 12: application put on hold for missing documents
December 14: application screening resumed
December 17: application handed over to Indian consulate by CKGS
December 18: passport returned to CKGS and shipped back to me via pre-paid UPS express envelope that I enclosed in my application. My OCI application will continue processing.
End February: I had my OCI cad.

{Table of Contents}

This article is long so here’s a summary of topics:

  • Why Get an OCI Card? The Benefits
  • Who’s Eligible for an OCI Card?
  • Things That Could Impact When You Apply for an OCI Card
  • OCI Card Costs
  • Summary of the Application Process
  • How to Get Help from CKGS
  • Time and Cost Saving Tips on Completing the Application
  • Info and Items You’ll Need Before You Start the Application
  • Providing Proof of Indian Origin
  • List of Documents You’ll Need to Submit
  • How to Get a Document Notarized
  • What is CKGS?

{Why Get an OCI Card? — The Benefits}

  • You never have to apply for an Indian visa ever again. Your OCI card is your visa.
  • You can stay in India as long as you want without notifying authorities
  • Parity with NRIs in financial, economic and educational areas (cannot acquire agricultural land nor plantations)
  • You can work in India (with some restrictions on type of work) including opening a professional practice (as long as meet the requirements), without requiring a work visa.
  • You can open a bank account in India
  • You can purchase property in India
  • Parity with Indian nationals’ entrance fees to national monuments, parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and museums.
  • Other benefits that you can read about here.

{Who is Eligible to Get an OCI Card?}

As of the time of publishing this article (December, 2018) , here are the eligibility requirements.

{Things That Could Impact When
You Apply For an OCI Card
}

Application Processing Doesn’t Start Until They Receive The Hardcopy Application. The application has a digital version that you complete through the CKGS website _ Indian government’s website (in that order) and once you complete both of those, you have to send a hard copy of your application to your local CKGS Center. They will NOT start processing your application until they receive the hardcopy version.

Note: you do not have to send in original documents (except your passport) – send copies. Make sure they’re GOOD copies, legible, good resolution. If a document was in color, I sent a color copy.


Parting With Your Passport. You have to submit your passport along with the hard copy of your application. The actual passport, NOT a copy. So if you have any plans to travel internationally within 1-3 months, you might want to hold off on applying for an OCI Card.

They do their best to return your passport to you within 10 working days of when they receive it, but it’s possible it could be longer. When you ship your hard copy application, you will include two UPS return shipping envelopes and they will use one to return your passport to you ASAP and the other envelope for your OCI card which will take longer.

{OCI Card and Application Costs}

$305: Application
$108: shipping 3 UPS overnight envelopes (outbound sending application to CKGS + two empty return envelopes for CKGS to send back my passport + OCI Card). This is where you could reduce your application costs.
~$15: 2 passport photos + digital photo
~$15: affidavit notarized
$1.39 per page + convenience fee: any docs you have to upload after submitting your application. I had to pay additional fees because there were items they wanted that I didn’t include in my original application. I didn’t forget them, they didn’t ask for them originally so I had to submit them later.

Overall the process cost me about ~$455.

{Summary of the Steps For Getting an OCI Card}

The application for a first time OCI Card can be broken down into these steps:

  1. complete the questions on the CKGS website, then download and print the completed application. Once you start an application, you’ll be given an OCI WEB REFERENCE NUMBER (not to be confused with an application ID, nor a payment receipt number). That number is important as it’s how you will re-login to the CKGS website.

    Note: Answer ALL of the questions carefully and correctly.  You cannot go back to a previous screen once you click submit. And if you don’t answer all of the questions, it could result in your application being delayed or rejected.

    Think Back To College Application Days. Remember when you were applying for college or grad school? The application is you — on paper. Your job is to get in the admission’s directors head and make your case as to why you’re the ideal candidate. Filling out an OCI Card application is similar.  They need to verify that you are of indian descent + they need to verify your identity and that of the person or people whom you are claiming eligibility from. So give them all of the info they’ll need to make that easy for them to verify. Anticipate their questions.

    Example: when my husband applied there was a delay because CKGS had a question about his application. They thought there were missing documents. His father is Indian but wasn’t born in India, therefore never had an Indian passport. The CKGS people put his application on hold, saying he didn’t submit his father’s Indian passport. If he had anticipated that they’d ask for that, he could have included a note in the application. This doesn’t require being omniscient but it does require to be thoughtful and thorough.

  2.  

    So any documents that you can provide them to help them connect all of those dots – the better. Any documents that you don’t provide and they have to reach out to ask you causes delays.

     

    Every person’s situation is unique. Things like where you were born, where your parents and grandparents were born, your/your family’ relationship to India, ties to other countries, marital status, and other factors influence your OCI card application. Based on your responses, the system will tell you what documents and info they need from you.


  3. Once you’ve completed the CKGS portion of the application, they will redirect you to complete the questions on the Indian government’s website. You might have to answer some of the same questions again.

  4. upload your digital documents in PDF format, to the Indian government’s site.

  5. pay the application fee on the Indian government’s site.

  6. go back to the CKGS website to link your CKGS application to the Indian government’s application.

  7. download the documents you’ll need for your hardcopy application sent to CKGS: the document checklist, affidavit, payment receipt, shipping barcode, Additional Particulars Form. Affix your passport photo to the OCI application. You’ll see the outlined box for it. DO NOT tape nor staple the photo. It must be glued on.

  8. Ship or mail the printed version of your application to your CKGS Center. The application system will tell you the address for your local center.

  9. Wait. They will get in touch with you with status updates and if any documents are missing. You will be able to upload digital copies of any missing documents into the CKGS website. I found them to be really good with the status updates.

{Getting Help From CKGS}

If you need assistance, I found the CKGS representatives really helpful. Call the number on their website. To get through the automated system you’ll need your application ID number. You can find this on your payment receipt. The application ID # is different than the Web Reference Number. 

You can check the status of your application by logging into “My Account” on the CKGS website and also sign up for text message notifications of your application status.

Time. It can take anywhere from 4 weeks to 3 months for you to receive your OCI card. This is because the cards are made and come from India and each application center receives about 100 applications per day.

{Time and Cost Saving Tips on How To Fill Out
The Digital and Hard Copy Application}

You can’t go back: Each screen in the online application has a set of questions, and a submit button at the bottom. Once you click submit, you cannot go back to edit nor add answers. So make sure you read and answer each and all questions thoroughly and correctly before advancing to the next screen. If you skip questions and hit submit, you won’t be able to go back.


All digital documents uploaded to the CKGS website must be in PDF format, except for the passport photo.


The passport size photo required, CANNOT be your current passport photo. It MUST be a different photo that was taken within the last 6 months. At first I thought I could take a photo of myself at home and resize it to their specifications, but as I read the application instructions I saw that the two hard copies of that same photo that I had to ship in my hard copy application MUST be printed on glossy, photo paper. So I just went and got passport photos taken. They gave me a digital version + 2 printed copies. I had to resize the digital version myself after I got home. It cost around $15.


For the printed version, that you’re going to send to CKGS, do NOT print the sheets front and back. Each sheet should be 1 sided.


DO NOT cut down the copy of your driver’s license, to the size of the license. Leave it on the 8.5×11 sheet.


Print each sheet on white, 8.5×11 paper, single-sided.


Every person’s situation is unique. Things like where you were born, where your parents and grandparents were born, your/your family’ relationship to India, ties to other countries, marital status, and other factors influence your OCI card application. Based on your responses, the system will tell you what documents and info they need from you.


You can submit your application online and pay by credit card, this is the most efficient way to apply. Alternatively you can apply in-person. Schedule an appointment through the website to come in and submit the application in-person.


The advantage of applying in-person is that they might review your application onsite and they can tell you if you have any missing info. BUT whether or not they will do that is just based on time. If they have time they will if not you’ll just be dropping it off.


If you live close to the center, maybe it’s worth it. I sent mine in via UPS and they got in touch with me the same day they received my application, to notify me of missing documents – pretty fast.


You can ask your friends about what documents they submitted etc. but DO NOT interpret that to mean that’s what you’ll have to do as well. Other peoples’ applications have NO bearing on what you’ll have to do.


Personal checks are NOT accepted. You must pay with a bank draft.

{Four Confusing Aspects of CKGS Website Clarified}

Definition of “My Account:” The website clearly states I’m on “My Account” but according to the representative from CKGS you aren’t actually in “My Account.” You’re just in the submitting information stage. You don’t have an account until you’ve submitted forms.


Temporary ID: when you start an application but have not submitted it, you will be emailed a TEMPORARY ID/Web Reference Number. That word “TEMPORARY Number” is very important because it means you haven’t actually submitted an application, it means you’ve only started an application.


Logging Back Into Site When You’ve Started An Application But Haven’t Submitted It: You don’t have to complete the application in 1 go. You can logout and the info you’ve saved will still be there. When you want to login again the login page is confusing because you need to login to the area for temporary IDs, when you haven’t actually submitted an application, you’re still working on it.


Document Checklist vs. Forms. In step 1 of the site it gives you a list of documents and forms that you may or may not need. Read that, it’s useful but in Step 3 called “Forms” is where you’ll get the final, full detail of what documents you need to upload and what, if any, need to be notarized before uploading.

In step 1 it will say that you need to submit a notarized affidavit saying that you have original documents and are submitting copies in lieu of originals. But like me, you might be wondering where you’ll get the affidavit document from? It’ll be in step 3 “Forms”. You will download it, print it, and take it to your local place to get it notarized.

{Things You’ll Need Before You Start 
The CKGS Application}

I suggest you gather at least the details and info below, BEFORE you start the application because if you don’t, you won’t get very far with the application.

Don’t waste time gathering a bunch of other documents besides the ones mentioned below, at first. Go ahead and start an application on the CKGS website, complete the questions and when you get to the Forms section, that’s where you’ll see exactly what documents you’ll need and figure out how to organize them to upload to the system. Their system is one step at a time. You won’t know what documents you’ll need until you complete the questions.

Docs to Have Ready When You Start the Application:

a digital passport size photo of yourself. This CANNOT be the same photo in your passport. It has to be a different photo, 2in. x 2in. size, taken within the last 6 months, taken in clothes with non-patterned, non-white clothes, printed on glossy photo paper with a white background, less than 1MB. Note: these were the requirements as of December, 2018. You should double check the website and read all instructions very carefully.

Note: you’re going to need to submit 2 copies of that SAME passport photo in the printed version of your application. One copy, you will paste to the OCI application and the other will be used by the Indian government to create your OCI card.


Your USA passport info. On most US Passports, the issue location is a state only and not a city. At the time of publishing this article, they want you to input issue location as USDOS.


Your spouse’s passport info (if applicable)


Your grandparents’ names. The names of your great grandparents + parents OR your grandparents + parents. I had to ask my parents this info as I always referred to my grandparents as Baba/Dadi/Nanu/Nani and didn’t actually know their names.


Info about relatives currently living in India. names, address, and age of any relatives living in India. Don’t go overboard with this. If you have a million relatives in India just put 1-2 people.

{Providing Proof of Indian Origin}

I got confused on how far back I would have to supply proof of my family’s Indian heritage. In my case, both of my parents were born in India so I only had to supply their info – not my grandparents’ info as well.

Your requirements may be different based on your situation.

{Documents You’ll Need in Hard Copy and Digitized}

Non-notarized copy of the info pages of your US Passport + the endorsement pages. The endorsement pages vary based on the passport you have. Google “USA Passport Endorsement Pages” to find out what they are for your passport.


Non-notarized copy of your birth certificate, BUT it must have the apostille on it.


Non-notarized copy of your Driver’s License or an electricity bill that shows proof of address. Print on 8.5×11 paper. Do not cut down the sheet to the size of the license.


Non-notarized copy of your marital status certificates (if applicable). I included a copy of my old passport as well, showing my maiden name, since the application does ask if I ever changed my name.


Non-notarized copy of your parents’ Indian passports and their US Passports. See the CKGS website for latest requirements on exactly which pages you’ll need copies of.


If your parents are Naturalized US Citizens or other country naturalized citizens, non-notarized copies of their USA Naturalization Certificates that say “Former Nationality: India”.


If either or both of your parents or grandparents have an OCI card, you’ll need to submit a non-notarized copy of it for each family member that has one. Don’t s


If you ever changed your name, submit an old passport or driver’s license showing your previous name and you’re submitting your current passport + driver’s license or utility bill with your updated name.

You can assume that nothing as to be notarized unless they specifically tell you it does.

{Tip for Uploading Documents Into Your Application}

Below is what the screen looks like to upload your digital documents into the application. You will want to combine all documents for each section before uploading.

For example, your proof of Indian origin documents might include: your mom’s Indian passport and OCI card + your dad’s Indian passport + OCI card, each of their US Naturalization Certificates + each of their current US passports. That’s at least 10 pages worth of documents.

Their system won’t allow you to upload each of these documents separately. First you’ll have to combine all of those documents into 1 pdf (NOT jpg or png), and then upload it. If you have Adobe software to do that, great. If not, you can use this free tool, online2pdf.

OCI-Upload-Documents-India.png

{How Do You Get A Document Notarized?}

There are lots of places to get documents notarized like Mailboxes etc., FedEx, and UPS types of stores. Google “notary services in <your city>” and you should find some nearby. Depending on the number of documents, expect to pay $15-$20 per document.

{What is CKGS?}

Cox and Kings Global Services (CKGS) is an organization that the Indian government has partnered with for visa, OCI cards, and other documents required for travel to India.

{Conclusion}

I hope this article makes it easier for you and your loved ones to apply and obtain your OCI card. It’s a unique benefit, and worth it to invest the time and money to get (in my opinion).

It’s a onetime application, so that also makes it worth it to go through the trouble of gathering all of the documents etc. Plus this process will force you to digitize many of your important documents, which is a good thing to have anyway, right?

In this article we covered a lot of topics – details about the OCI application process that applicants need, but are hard to find,  and that your friends will forget once they’ve completed their applications.

Happy and safe travels to India and wherever else life takes you! Keep collecting those stamps in your PassportPages!

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