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Travelling abroad is not the exclusive privilege of the upper crust of society now. Even the middle-class Indians find it easier on the purse to travel abroad on holidays than within the country, thanks to fantastic offers from the travel industry. They often go on package tours. Easy on your pockets, but look out for these pitfalls...., cautions Advocate Anju D Aggarwal.
Foreign package tours are conducted by tour operators and travel agents. They provide you with all details about the itinerary in addition to arranging for facilities like airport transfers, accommodation, excursions, sightseeing, and may include even one meal. If you don’t have any relatives abroad, these tours are a welcome option as you’re fairly well looked after, and also they are both reliable and economical.
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- Tours going out of India are subject to the provisions of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA).
- You can go on a package tour if you are eligible to travel under the Foreign Travel Scheme (FTS) framed by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). Persons, domiciled in India and want to travel abroad, have to give their Permanent Account Number (PAN), the purpose of the visit and the duration of stay outside India to the income tax (IT) officer concerned.
- Those who have tax arrears are expected to obtain a tax-clearance certificate in form 30B from the IT department after filling in form 30C, to avoid any hassles at the airport.
- Before you register for a tour, check if the tour operator has a valid licence for this purpose. Under FEMA, no airline, shipping company, travel agent or any other person can book passages in India for foreign travel unless they hold a valid licence granted by the RBI.
- Before you sign the registration form given by the operator, read the small print carefully. Don’t get lured into a tour just because it is cheap. Ascertain the items included and not included in the cost. Also, clarify whether the cost includes luxury or economy class and air transportation between the respective sectors of the itinerary.
- Ask the operator for a list of items included in the tour along with the price list. This is because many tour operators don’t include beverages, tips, laundry, insurance, porterage, etc. in their fares.
- On a package tour, the operator generally helps you acquire foreign exchange. But, when it comes to securing other necessary travel documents such as a passport, visa and completing your emigration formalities, they will only assist you in securing them. If you argue with them, they will draw your attention to the registration form which mentions that obtaining a passport and visa shall be an individual participant's responsibility and that he cannot hold the operator liable under any circumstance for delay or refused documents.
- Acquaint yourself with the various formalities before booking a tour. For instance, you may have to be personally present for your visa and emigration clearance -- a point which the operator may forget to tell you in his hurry to make the booking.
- Find out the details like cancellation charges, and make it clear to the operator that in case your formalities are not completed by the stipulated date or if you cannot undertake the tour, you should be refunded.
- Usually operators take a major portion of the foreign exchange provided to an adult tourist by the RBI for a foreign visit. Although registration forms always have the line "route subject to change" written on them, sometimes just a couple of days before departure, or sometimes while on the trip, they may omit one or two cities. Or, some of the cities are put in the optional category, with additional charges.
- It may happen that the operator may have to leave out a place for some valid reason. The tourists should then prevail upon a pro rata refund for not covering the place. Sometimes, the extra foreign exchange, collected by operators in this way and even from the people who don’t eventually travel, is sold at a high premium.
- Some form of insurance is necessary while going abroad; and circumventing or overlooking this is false economy. The travel agent may guide you to a company offering comprehensive health insurance at a reasonable premium.
- When the health cover is taken, ensure it is of an adequate amount, and research the health costs and medical facilities of the places you are to visit. For eg, medical bills in the USA can be prohibitive.
- Passenger luggage is also not automatically insured against loss or damage and, as a rule, the airline's liability for such damage is limited in value. You can also go in for luggage insurance.
- See that the baggage identification tags attached to your luggage at the airport are for the correct destination. When reporting holiday losses abroad, get a report from the local police. Otherwise, you might have a problem validating your insurance claim and recovering your money.
- If your tour doesn’t take off or gets cancelled at the last minute or you feel you had a bad trip, complain to the RBI. It can revoke the licence of the operator, in case the charges levelled against him are found to be valid.
- Always remember, when you go abroad on a tour, you can enjoy the hospitality of a friend or a relative, but cannot take foreign exchange from anybody. Similarly, you can't lend foreign exchange. Nor can you gift it. Get the details before the journey.
- Foreign exchange has been allowed by the RBI for going abroad. If you have balance currency after your return, you must get it converted into Indian rupees through an authorised dealer such as a bank and obtain a certificate for the same, within a week.