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Difference between NRI, OCI and PIO

There’s hardly a country where Indians have not spread to. Be it Canada, Australia, the UK or Japan, you will always find a thriving Indian community abroad. These could be recent immigrants or families of Indians who settled many generations ago. However, did you know not all Indians or Indian-origin people have the same status? We will be briefly discussing the most popular Indian residency statuses, i.e., NRI (Non-Resident Indian), OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) and PIO (Person of Indian Origin).

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Who is an NRI?

You must have heard this term multiple times - in movies, in the news and even in some songs. NRIs or Non-Resident Indians is an umbrella term for all Indians living outside India. Usually, an NRI is a person holding an Indian passport but living outside India. As of now, over 30 million NRIs are settled abroad.


Understanding the residential status of Indians living abroad is important for correct taxation. Knowing their correct residential status is necessary to determine their taxes as per the 1961 Income Tax Act. Here are some key characteristics of NRIs:

  • NRIs live abroad but maintain strong ties to India, especially through financial and familial connections
  • They must adhere to the rules and regulations as per the Income Tax Act and FEMA (Foreign Exchange and Management Act)

Historically, the Indian diaspora has an impressive migration history. Specially after independence, several Indians migrated to other countries seeking better education, and employment opportunities. Their growth and contribution to the foreign as well as Indian economy led the Indian government to initate measures to facilitate easy ties to their home country.

Introduction of OCI and PIO statuses helped Indian diaspora to stay connected to their roots, acknowledging their needs and strategically leveraging Indian diaspora's financial and intellectual resources for India's progress.

What is the Meaning of PIO or Person of Indian Origin?

A Person of Indian Origin is a foreign citizen who has Indian roots. These people may have held an Indian passport at some point or are children or grandchildren of a citizen of India. To be a Person of Indian Origin, you must meet some conditions specified by the Central Government. Any person who meets one or more of these conditions can get the status of PIO:

  • Who at any point of time held an Indian passport, or
  • Used to be an Indian citizen as per the Citizenship Act or Constitution of India Act of 1955, or
  • Belonged to a region/territory that later became a part of India after independence (15th August, 1947), or
  • If they are children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren of Indian citizens or persons referred to in above two points, or
  • If they are a spouse (of foreign origin) of an Indian citizen or persons referred to in above two points

As per the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), citizens of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and any country specified by the Central Government can't be a Person of Indian Origin. Since 2015, all the people holding a PIO card are deemed to be OCI cardholders.

PIO Card Benefits

  • PIO card holders don't need a visa to visit India. This benefit is valid for 15 years from the date of PIO card issue.
  • If their stay in India doesn't exceed 180 days, they are exempted from FRRO/FRO registration. Those staying for over 180 days must register with FRRP/FRO within 30 days.
  • They get many economic, financial and educational benefits in India, including admission of children to various Indian educational institutions, housing schemes benefits, etc.

What Does OCI Mean?

OCI or Overseas Citizen of India refers to any foreign national who:

  • Was a citizen of India on or at anytime after January 26, 1950, or
  • Was eligible to become an Indian citizen on January 26, 1950 or
  • Belonged to a territory that became a part of India after August 15, 1947, or
  • Is a minor child of persons mentioned above.

Persons who have ever been citizens of Bangladesh or Pakistan aren't eligible for an OCI card.

OCI Card Benefits

  • OCI card holders are entitled to multiple entries in India for multiple purposes
  • They are also eligible for lifelong visas which lets them stay in India for any length of time
  • They have economical, financial and educational benefits in parity with NRIs, except the right to acquisition of plantation or agricultural properties

Key Differences between OCI and PIO

OCI and PIO have many similarities, however they differ considerably. Given below is a table to understand some key differences between OCI and PIO card:

Points of Difference OCI Card PIO Card
FRO/FRRO Registration Not Required Required if staying in India for more than 180 days
Visa Validity Lifelong from the date of issuance 15 years from the date of issuance
Reissuance New OCI card issued during passport renewal. Usually every time you renew passport until 20 years of age and once after 50 years of age. After 15 years
Indian Citizenship Requirements Must surrender their current citizenship & reside in India for at least 1 year after they have held an OCI card for 5 years Must surrender their current citizenship & reside in India for at least 7 years

Both OCI card and POI cardholders get certain visa privileges that help them form a closer connection with India.

Do OCI & PIO Card Holders Need Travel Insurance?

Travel insurance is highly recommended for both OCI or PIO card holders, especially when they embark on their journeys to India. It will provide necessary financial assistance especially if they suffer from any pre-existing medical condition or wish to stay for a long time.

Most travel insurers provide customisable travel insurance plans with value added services, perfect for OCI & PIO card holders. You can easily find something suitable for your travel plans on

Over to You,

Understanding the differences between these terms is crucial as many people use them interchangeably. Specially for people planning to move abroad for reasons like long-term employment, marriage, permanent residency etc., they must understand the nuances and implications of different residency statuses. We hope the article was able to pinpoint some of the key differences between NRI, OCI and PIO along with their necessity for Indian diaspora.

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*Price shown is for a 30 day trip to Thailand with 1 lakh dollar coverage for an adult of age 25 years

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