‘Get India Ready’-Guide
There are many questions our guests often ask before they travel in India but are not worth an entire article for our Discover India Section. In the following article we are trying to answer as many of those as possible. That covers money exchange in India, getting a sim card and wifi in India, what to pack for India, dressing appropriately for India or avoiding giving offence in India and more. It is basically a ‘Get India ready Guide’. If we missed the answers for your questions, get in touch with us.
Should you carry money with you or withdraw it in India?
India is not a complete outback country. You can widely withdraw or exchange money. However, for your travels we would recommend a combination of the following:
Carrying a reasonable (but not too large amounts) in hard currency
USD, CAD, Pounds, Euros, AUD, SGD etc are very easily exchangeable. Banks, travel agency desks, and hotels often exchange foreign currency and give you cash in INR. This is especially true of big cities. Tourist towns will have a money exchanging option on every street. Hotels or travel agency desks will usually offer a better rate than banks. Sometimes there are also jewellery shops doing money exchange but those options are not so obvious to a traveler. So ask the receptionist or driver for the best options around.
Also, if you are shopping or paying hotel extras they often accept foreign currency (7 out of 10 instances). At the airport only exchange a small amounts of money as rates are the worst there (100 USD/EUR ideally, not more).
Withdrawing with your ATM/Debit/Credit Card
ATMs are very easy to find now, even small towns have multiple ATMS. This is certainly a safer option, in fact most widely used.
Remember – Indian ATMs charge a fee of INR 100 – 150 (USD 3/ EUR 2 approx)) per transaction. In addition your home bank could charge you a fee.
The maximum amount Indian ATMs discharge is between INR 15000 – INR 25000 at a time (USD 300/450 – Euros 250/350). If possible, always carry a back-up card. Per withdrawal you can only get INR 10000 but you can go again after that. Often our guests have been in a situation where one card would not work at any Indian ATM. This is because smaller regional banks don’t accept International cards. Go to the national banks like HDFC, Kotak, ICICI, IndusInd or YES Bank or international ones like HSBC or CitiBank. It’s recommended to withdraw larger sums at one go.
They seem to be waning in popularity. However, they can be exchanged fairly easily. Some hotels accept them. If not you can find a nearby bank or an authorised agent.
Credit Card Payment
Credit cards (outside of big cities) find very limited acceptance. Upper-end hotels and restaurants will accept credit cards.
Sometimes (and often in Kerala) shops will allow you to swipe your credit card to ‘withdraw’ money with a small fee. They make a fake purchase of for e.g. INR 5000, charge you a small fee and give you the cash.
Carry your credit cards, they can come in handy. But understand they will not be accepted widely.
Should you get an Indian SIM-card? How is the internet connectivity in India?
Internet connectivity while traveling within India is fairly easy to find but can’t be taken for granted. You cannot expect smaller hotels/hostels to have wifi. However, in general you will not be too far away from an internet or wifi source. If you feel the need to be constantly connected you can get an Indian SIM card with data volume.
Purchasing a SIM card in India/buying an inexpensive handset
First, it is not absolutely necessary to have an Indian number while traveling. Having said that it is useful to have a phone and an Indian SIM card. Also for us to reach you any time in case there are any issues.
You need the following to get a SIM card (please carry before hand):
- A passport sized photograph (ideally with 2 copies)
- Copy of your passport
- Copy of your visa (very imp)
Prepaid (pay as you go) SIM cards are available everywhere. Typically each street would have a store that sells SIM cards. You will not miss the ‘Vodafone/Cell phone recharge/Airtel’ boards. Just tell them that you want to purchase a new SIM card.
The hotel reception will always be able to point you in the direction of the closest store to get a SIM card. If you first arrive in Delhi, you can purchase a SIM card and an inexpensive handset at the airport itself.
A SIM card usually is free or costs under INR 100. Recharging it with credit worth INR 500 is sufficient. If you do not have a phone, basic phones can be purchased for about INR 2000 (USD 40, euros 30)
Be prepared that it can take a couple of hours until the SIM card gets activated.
Travelling with a smartphone
If you have a smart phone, and intend on carrying it to India, it comes in handy. Your smart phone can become your wi-fi device and you can send e-mails back home or to us when you are in a wi-fi area. Some of our guests even subscribe to an international roaming data plan.
We’ve had a lot of guests that did not bother buying an Indian SIM card, as long as they could send/receive emails from their phone. It honestly works like a charm and helps us to provide you with out best service.
Most destinations have plenty of wi-fi cafes (it is usually bait to bring customers in) and you can connect and send and receive e-mails.
Cyber cafes are easily available too. It would be safe to assume that you would be close to an internet connection virtually every other day. However, the wifi connection might not always be a strong one or many people use it at the same time. Skype or streaming movies is not always possible.
Having an Indian Sim card is useful, but you can circumvent it. In our experience, having an internet device, especially a smart phone with international roaming or an internet device like your tablet to send and receive e-mails is most useful.
What should you pack for your trip in India?
This is not a comprehensive check list. None the less, it contains some useful pointers that might come in handy while you pack.
Travel light, if possible carry a back pack. However, a suitcase will not be a problem.
- Sunscreen/ Sun block is important. Between October and June we get long days of sunshine with hardly any rain. While you can buy an extra tube of sunscreen in India, at times it is hard to find and you do not have a lot of options. It is also expensive.
- Sunglasses, hats, caps, light cotton scarf for the summer.
- Think cotton and light fabrics. Pick your most comfortable and light wear.
- For a two week trip you want to try and carry about 7-8 pairs of T-shirts, more so if you are going to visit Mumbai, Goa or Kerala. As it can be humid you tend to sweat a lot.
- Laundry is very easy and get be done through all hotels so you won’t need to bring your own detergent. You can always buy cotton t-shirts or cotton kurtas in India.
- Electronics, Ipods, Ipads can be useful; wi-fi connection is fairly easy to find. Remember to carry a converter for the charging point. Try and avoid carrying a laptop.
- Unless, you are heading to nightclubs in Delhi and Mumbai, you will not have too many opportunities to party. So avoid or carry only one pair of party clothes. Goa is very relaxed with what you wear to party but you can’t wear short dresses everywhere as a women.
- Good to carry a couple of rolls of toilet paper. Invariably hotels have toilet paper and can be purchased easily. Trains will not have toilet paper, or if you stop at restaurants on the highway.
- A light pullover and scarf for A/C coach train or bus travel is recommended, as the air conditioning can be quite strong and cold.
- Basic toiletries are very easy to restock in India
- Personally, we like to carry a small or thin towel when I am traveling. All hotels will give you towels. At less expensive hotels, towels can be old and stained.
- Hand sanitizer is handy, India can be dusty
- Small case of medicines, for an upset tummy, motion sickness, head ache.
If traveling between late November to late February (Winter in India):
- North India, in particular Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, Rajasthan and the foothills of the Himalayas can get pretty cold in the winter. Mid December to Jan end being the coldest. Night time temperatures can drop to 8 to 12° C (50° F). Indian hotels do not offer any heating.
- Do carry some warm clothing if traveling during these months. Light gloves, something to cover your head and ears, a jacket/pullover
- Day time temperatures would still be pleasant and the sun is always out towards the afternoon.
- In South India, the hill stations of Munnar and Thekkady can get cold at night (again 8 to 12°C (50° F) at night)
- If you travel to the very north into the mountains you will need to be prepared for snow from November until end of March
If traveling between Mid June to Mid September (Monsoons in India):
- Rainfall in Mumbai, Goa and Kerala can be quite heavy. Carrying an umbrella and rain coat is recommended.
- Rainfall in the North of India is not as heavy. It is still good to carry both an umbrella and rain coat.
- Clothes and floaters that can dry quickly are a must.
- A mosquito net and mosquito spray. Good quality mosquito nets are hard to find in India.
How can you dress appropriately in India?
As a woman:
- In general try to stick to comfortable t-shirts and pants or skirts that are about knee length and longer. You could wear shorter shorts and skirts if you are traveling in a group or with a guy. Strongly avoid the same if you are traveling alone or in smaller towns.
- Tank tops are best avoided. Showing your legs is still alright, not your tummy. As far as possible avoid low neck and transparent t- shirts.
- Sleeveless shirts again don’t get a strict no but apply the same rule as for short shorts.
- Goa and the beaches of Kerala you can wear just about anything you would wear to a beach back at or closer to home. At the other beaches of the country we would suggest to avoid bikinis or at least wear a shirt and shorts above it.
As a man:
- A man can mostly wear anything without attracting a lot of attention. Longer shorts are advisable, also to protect you from the sun. But Indians can get curious and start laughing or staring if they see men in very short shots. (Does not apply to Goa)
In places of worship both me and women usually need to dress moderately and discreet, i.e. be covered at least with a short sleeve shirt and long pants. Usually they will give you a little robe to wear over your clothes. A small tip is expected. In Sikh Temples both genders need to cover their heads. Shoes need to be always removed before entering a Hindu temple. Even when you enter any Indian home for that matter. In general temples are more casual when it comes to dressing rules than mosques.
What is the Indian mentality like?
- Apart from the touts, Indians are nice and friendly people
- They are helpful, they are curious, they are every smiling, and they like to talk.
- If you spot a cute kid, it is OK to take a picture usually they will not refuse. They will smile back. Show them the pictures on the camera. They will be happy and excited.
- It is also OK to take permission and photograph women in saris.
- Do not hesitate to engage in conversations with Indians you meet. Once comfortable they love to talk. Often on a train you will make some Indian friends
- Indians love to eat and offer food to their guests. Of course you don’t have to eat everything but try to accept the offer whenever you feel comfortable, especially when you are interesting in a conversation with the people.
- You will find many Indians stare at you, especially young men and women. The main monuments of the country are also visited by people from small villages that rarely see ‘white’ people. As long as you don’t feel like in a dangerous situation be best advice is to accept and ignore.
What to do when India annoys you?
- You will face constant aggression of ‘my friend, please buy this, look at that’ etc in India. More so in the North. Be on your guard and can always say a polite no.
- Unless you are really sure about the reputation of a store, avoid buying things and asking the hotel to parcel and ship it back home. They will offer you this time and again. We’ve had a bunch of guests e-mail us that the package never arrived.
- Always count your change, often I have seen at Monument entrances the officials will try and fleece tourists by returning less change. At all instances, count you change.
- You will be asked this A LOT ‘Madam/Sir, please can we take a picture with you’. It is always innocuous, just curious Indians, perfectly safe, but our guests say it does get annoying when you are asked to do it a 50 times across the span of your trip.
- Needless to say, be very careful with the water you drink.
- A lot of our guests, completely avoid non-veg food in India, thinking it is unsafe. We believe, in a visibly nice restaurant or homestays it is OK to eat meat. Chicken is a better option because it’s widely consumed and more likely to be fresh. But, again be your own judge.
Do you need Vaccinations for India?
- Different sources have different recommendations for vaccinations for India. We don’t want to give medical advice as we don’t feel competent enough. Always talk to your doctor about it and get what is advised by official sources.
- From interacting with our guests, we know that some of our guests get all the recommended vaccinations while about 25-30% of our guests (and from western countries) take no or very minimal vaccinations. It is more of a personal choice!
- It is good to know that Malaria risk is only high during the monsoon months (June to Sept). The pills for prevention have very strong side effects but can be brought along for the case you get the symptoms. In the big cities you would be in good hands at the private hospitals.
Are there many Mosquitoes in India?
- If traveling during the monsoons, (June to Sept) mosquitoes can be a menace. We recommend carrying a mosquito net.
- Some hotels provide a mosquito net, some do not. It is usually difficult to buy mosquito nets in India.
- Odomos is a very popular and effective mosquito repellant that can be purchased easily at pharmacies in India
- Mosquito annoyance is much lower in non-monsoon months. Especially in the North.
- In Kerala, in and around the backwaters, mosquitoes can always be an annoyance
- A mosquito does not always mean malaria or dengue. If you’re bitten, don’t panic!
- The fabulous Yab Yum Resort in Goa has written a fantastic article on mosquitoes and Malaria. Check it out!
Will India Someday be in touch with you during the trip?
- We always love/try being actively in touch with our guests during the trip. You will probably receive phone calls or e-mails from us. Especially from your travel consultant or Aaliya, our booking super hero.
- Contact us at any instance during the trip. Our contact details are mentioned on the top of each Booking Voucher (hard to miss)
- When possible we love to meet our guests in Mumbai. It’s our home city and where our office is.
- Even if all is going smooth and you are enjoying your time in India, we love to have quick updates from our guests. (Hint: think of us when you are e-mailing family back home)
With India, one has to be patient. There are times it can be overwhelming, but in the end it all falls in place. As they say, ‘You love and hate India, in the end the love is far stronger’. Plan your trip with us to always have a strong travel partner on your side for any questions or issues before or during the trip. We will do our best to make your trip a memory of a lifetime!