It’s been a long haul. I can only say that opening a bank account in India tends to be a frustrating experience. This is actually my fourth, as I’ve opened a new one each time I’ve moved. I hope it’s the last . . . I should be so lucky!
This one is with State Bank of India (SBI)—not my first choice of banks as it’s a government bank and located nearly two hours away from my village, but I happen to know a former regional director, so I figured that an introduction from him would cut through a lot of the red tape. Well, it should have, but. . . .
First time I went, I was was assured it would be no problem. “Oh, yes, you are a friend of SharmaJi. Everything will be just fine.” I filled out the form and left my photos and a deposit, planning to come back another day to pick up my passbook, etc. As I was about to leave for home, I got a call saying that they couldn’t open the account for some technical reason. So I went back and collected the deposit I had left. Later I called my friend and asked him what the problem was. He told me I needed some certain documents for address proof (initially they said I wouldn’t need them).
So I collected the relevant documents from my landlord and the village head and went back again. (Curiously, it turns out that I actually live in a village I had never heard of, which is adjacent to the one that the post office is in, but the village head lives two kilometers away.) This time the manager told me that he couldn’t open the account because I’m a foreigner without an Employment Visa. I showed him my Business Visa and explained that it was also a long term visa. He still didn’t believe me, so I had to haul out my registrations papers. That caused more confusion because I’m actually registered in another district (I refuse to pay the bribe to get it transferred). However, he finally looked up something and decided it might be OK.
By this time, of course, the original officer had lost my application so I had to fill out another one and get more photos taken. He assured me it would be fine, so I again left a deposit. I was on my way to catch a train to Delhi, so I told him that I would pick up my passbook and debit card on the way back home.
Back a week later and . . . no account. This time it wasn’t ready because the computer couldn’t reconcile the fact of my being a foreigner with the type of account that was being opened. However, when I left, he gave me his word that it would absolutely be opened within the next day or two. Obviously, I was a bit skeptical, but it turns out he was right.
A few days later, I got a letter from the bank saying that they have finally opened my account! It only took a month. The first account I opened, in Delhi, actually took me at least twice that long, so it’s some improvement.
I went today and picked up my passbook. No checkbook, debit card or Internet banking yet. I’ll have to go back for those. I just hope it’s not a different trip for each one!
People on Tourist Visas are allowed to open an account for only six months, which seems hardly worth the effort, given the monumental amount of red tape involved. If you want to open a bank account, arm yourself with several photos, address proof (which may include a photocopy of the photo ID of your landlord), copies of your passport, visa and registration, and—for government-owned banks, anyway—an account holder to introduce you to the bank.