It happened during our first trip to India, in the winter of 2013/2014. We were cycling across India, and then one day, after three months of traveling, we woke up and our Indian mobile numbers were not working anymore. That should be because of some mobile network’s technical problem, we thought, but it wasn’t.
Days passed, but our mobile numbers didn’t start to work.
And our mobile operator – Airtel India – couldn’t help us either.
As I’m reading now, in February 2016, from different sources online (India Mike, ZDNet, Padharoo), it’s a normal thing. Because foreigners, who are traveling to India, are issued SIM cards with validity of no longer than 3 months. I have asked few mobile operators in India, and they say that it’s related with a tourist visa validity period.
Here is how Aircel (not Airtel) answered my question:
OK, but with Indian tourist visa your maximum duration of stay in India is 6 months, not 3 months.
Anyway, that’s how it is. And let’s see, when and if our mobile numbers will be deactivated this time, because again we are planning to be in India for more than 3 months.
But now let me tell you our story, how our Indian mobile numbers were deactivated. And how it took us more than a week to get new mobile numbers in India.
Our Indian Mobile Numbers Stop Working
It’s January 15, Wednesday.
We wake up, eat our breakfast. And then we notice, that none of our mobile phones is connected to the network. Not mine, not Una’s and not even my brother’s. Ok… It’s probably some kind of short term technical problem with a mobile network. Probably. Not a big deal, we will survive without checking Instagram, Twitter and Facebook this morning.
Shortly before 7 AM we are ready to leave the hotel. But there is no one, whom we could ask back our 100-rupee deposit. Our phones are not working, and we can’t call them either. Ok, let’s go!
As we start to cycle window of the bus, which is standing in the yard of our hotel, opens. And someone spits out of the window. “This guy is receptionist working here, in this hotel”, says another tourist – Indian man, who is staying at the same hotel as we. Great! We get back our deposit, and off we go.
While cycling we check our phones time after time. But two hours later, when we see no changes, we start to think that something more serious has happened. And that’s when we understand – we will need to find our operator’s, Airtel, customer service center, and ask for help there. Only how to find it, if we don’t have internet on our phones and our navigation is working only partly?
Something strange has happened to offline maps on Viesturs’s phone. Since this morning navigation application constantly hangs up. We start it, it finds our location, and it turns off. Well, it’s better than nothing. Because Google Maps without internet now are useless, as there we see only highways and biggest cities, but nothing in between.
It’s extremely hot today. And there is no shadow for most of the time. But we want to find out what has happened with our Indian mobile numbers, so we just keep going. Until few more hours of cycling and 110 kilometres later we reach Udupi. On the map it looked like pretty big city. And it was our only criteria today. Because big city means higher possibility to find a customer service center and solve our problem sooner.
Udupi is organised and clean city for India, and here we find Airtel customer service center without any problems. But problems start later. Because they can’t help us there. More than one hour spent in the customer service center and without getting any closer to solution we leave.
At first they proposed that we go to Delhi, as that’s where we acquired our Indian mobile numbers. Ok, but Delhi is few thousand kilometers away… Isn’t there any better solution? Then this guy, working there, said, that we need to change our SIM cards. Because ours probably are broken. Does it really happen like that? 3 SIM cards just stop working at the same time? This is when I started to become suspicious, aren’t he just trying to get us away? Because I have worked for big telecommunication company, and I know how SIM cards are being activated, deactivated and how often there are this kind of problems.
After few more requests to simply check our numbers on their system, to understand, aren’t they deactivated – magic happens. Customer service representative of Airtel takes his phone and calls to Delhi office. Only it doesn’t help us either. I’m given the phone and after telling our story to several people (as everyone is just listening and afterwards forwarding me) I finally reach someone, who isn’t forwarding me to anyone.
What he proposes? He will call me next day. Yeah, good solution! Call me to my deactivated number! Can you email me, instead? Because my Indian mobile number isn’t working. No.
We use their free internet, on their computer, to reach out to Airtel on Twitter.
There is no WiFi. As there was not WiFi almost anywhere back then. Cycling for more than 5000 kilometers we had WiFi only once, in some random small hotel.
We leave and decide to look for help in next city, Mangalore. It’s much bigger. And we hope it means something good in terms of customer service as well.
Getting Back Our Indian Mobile Numbers
January 16, Thursday.
At 11 AM we reach Mangalore. Without internet and TripAdvisor it’s not that easy, but we are lucky and shortly after our arrival to the city, we find decent budget hotel in central part of the city. It’s a big hotel, surrounded by many more hotels. Nearby there is a big grocery store, shopping mall with cinema is in 5-minute walk, and down stairs we have internet café. Perfect!
We take a room for 2 days. Because we need to solve the problem with our Indian mobile numbers. And we want to get hepatitis A+B vaccine (3rd shot), too.
Later in the evening we try out KFC for the first time. On Twitter I send all the information Airtel is asking. And we go to watch a movie – Grudge Match.
January 17, Friday.
In the morning we watch another movie. Recently released, The Wolf of Wall Street, it is.
It’s 3 PM, no any news from Airtel today, and we go to look for some bicycle shop. We want to buy new bike stand for one of our bicycles, because old one broke. We get one. And on our way back we go into one hospital on the same street, to ask if we can get hepatitis A+B vaccine here.
What doctor suggests surprises us a lot. Go to some pharmacy, buy vaccine you need, come back and we will do the rest. So this is how you are doing it in India… OK.
Turned out, that’s how they do it in India. Later on the same day we bought vaccines from the biggest pharmacy in Mangalore, one of the best pharmacies we have seen in our lives, and received them at the same hospital.
In the evening there is an answer from Airtel on Twitter. Your numbers are blocked, because your visas have expired. Wait, what? Standard Indian tourist visa is for 6 months.
I send pictures of our visas. I ask them to get in touch with Airtel office in Delhi, because there they photocopied our visas. It doesn’t help. Customer service representative of Airtel on Twitter proposes, that we go to Delhi ourselves. Really?
OK, we will get new SIM from another operator.
As we will learn soon, as easy as it sounds it may be a something really challenging in reality.
January 18, Saturday.
After paying for one more day in hotel we go out to buy new prepaid SIM cards.
We go to all mobile operators, and they all refuse to sell us Indian mobile numbers. Vodafone is asking for local contact person. Reliance isn’t giving mobile numbers to foreigners. MTS needs local reference like Vodafone. Tata Docomo – I guess; they didn’t like us.
Tata surprises us most. After we see, that Russian tourists are buying new SIM cards, we get in queue after them. Guy from Tata approaches us and asks for our hotel bill. And Viesturs goes after it. But as soon as Viesturs is away, that guy leaves, too. Viesturs comes back, and another guy working in the same shop refuses to give us new numbers. Because…. (10 seconds of silence) we don’t have any more SIM cards. Please, go to another shop! That’s what he says.
We go back to hotel. And I go to internet café, to ask Vodafone on Twitter about the options. Here I receive an answer, that our hotel administration can be our local reference. Strange, but in store that didn’t work out. Should we try and visit another Vodafone store? Maybe. Vodafone isn’t answering.
January 19, Sunday.
It’s Sunday and most of Vodafone’s stores are closed today. And I haven’t received any answer from Vodafone on Twitter anyway. So we can’t do anything today.
Good news, they have few new movies in nearby cinema. Which means we will have something to do, while staying in Mangalore and solving this mobile number thing.
January 20, Monday.
We go to another Vodafone store. And without success we leave it shortly later.
Here they agree, that’s normal, that we don’t have any friends or family members living in Mangalore, India, and so they write in our hotel administration as our local reference. They are not happy, that our hotel doesn’t have a mobile phone number. Persuasion is necessary at this point. But they let us to continue filling in forms. Until they realize, that there is no home address written in our passports.
No one in Latvia has home address written in his or her passport. Most of the passports of the world don’t have it.
But that’s how this ends. We will not get Indian mobile numbers, because our “passports are not valid”, that’s Vodafone’s answer.
Argh!!! Will we really need to leave India because of this crazy bureaucracy?
We go out of the Vodafone’s store. And here I notice one small shop, like million others in India, where they are selling mobile phones and accessories for them. I decide to try our luck here. Little bit than an hour later we leave this shop with new Airtel prepaid SIM cards. Best choice for travellers going across all India, that’s what seller says us and something we already know.
Apparently here our passport wasn’t that useless. And local reference… this guy himself helped us out with this part.
Your SIM cards will be active after two working days. Will they? Let’s see.
January 21, Tuesday.
I’m going down to reception of our hotel, to pay for one more day. And to go to internet café around the corner. Once I’m coming back from internet café, receptionist calls me. He tells, that some man was calling and that he was asking for us to come and put few more signatures. It’s something related with Airtel. Ok, I got it!
30 minutes later we are in the same place. We with Viesturs will need to bring new photos, but Una only needs to put a signature in two places. I’m just starting to think about photos (Were they bad? What? Do they ask for 2 photos if you are a man?), when I see our applications behind the seller. They are refused. Reason? Signature mismatch. Of course.
Turns out the guy forgot to ask us to sign the papers the day before. Later, probably thinking about the easiest way to solve this problem, he did it by himself. Well, it may have worked out fine. If only he would not mess up our signatures with a signature of our Indian visa issuer.
And as signature goes partly on the picture, here you have the reason, why we need new pictures.
We bring new pictures. We fill new applications. And we sign them ourselves.
Numbers will be active in 1 or 2 working days. Will they?
January 22, Wednesday.
Our Indian numbers are not active. If they will not work tomorrow, we will go to the shop.
We use this day to see more of Mangalore.
January 23, Thursday.
In the morning we go to visit another part of Mangalore, reachable only by ferry.
In the afternoon our numbers still are inactive. And so we go to “our shop” again.
Here the same guy checks our mobile phones few times, going through settings again and again. At some moment he calls someone. And later he says to us: “Your numbers will be active after 2 working days. Because you are foreigners, and it may take longer to activate number for foreigners.”
At 5:30 PM we go out for a walk. And then while taking a photo with my phone I notice – hey, I have mobile coverage now! My number is active! Yeah! Another half an hour later we all have our new Indian mobile numbers activated. An hour later Una and Viesturs has mobile internet, too.
January 24, Friday.
Finally, mobile internet is working on my phone as well. Success!
9 days, 2 cities, more than 10 visits to different customer service centers of Indian mobile operators, and we get our mobile service up and running again.
Author: Kaspars Misins
Kaspars is a long term traveler and a travel blogger from Latvia. He loves going on long walks, reading non fiction books and spending time outdoors. Together with his girlfriend Una they have been traveling – volunteering – working abroad since 2013. On We Are From Latvia they share their experience and things learned along the way.