Traveling to India: What You Need to Know

Kid on motorcycle in India

In 2013 – 2014 we spent 5 months in India – cycling all the way across India for more than 5000 kilometers. And it was just our first visit to this interesting country. Are you traveling to India anytime soon? Continue reading, because in this article I’m going to share with you all the basic things you need to know, when traveling to India.

During our self organised cycling adventure we saw quite a lot from West and South of India. If we would travel all around the country, as we initially were planning to do, our route would be at least two times longer. India is THAT big country. During this adventure we learned how to deal with different kind of situations and learned a lot new about India.

Broken Bicycle - Traveling to India: What You Need to Know

That’s my bicycle (upside down and only with one wheel)

And here it is – a list of the basic things you need to know, when traveling to India.

Traveling to India: Visa, E-Tourist Visa

Indian e-Tourist Visa is what you need, if you are going to India for a maximum of 60 days (as of April 2017; before that visa duration was only 30 days).

If you are traveling to India for a longer period of time, then you need to apply for Indian tourist visa. And I would recommend you to do it 2 weeks or better a little bit more in advance. Response is received within 10 working days. But the Visa starts with the date of approval, so you will lose some time depending on when you are arriving to the country.

Tourist Visa is valid for 6 months. It costs about 60 EUR / 70 USD.

How is it for you? Check it out on the Indian Visa Registration Page before making any plans.

Traveling to India: Vaccination

If you plan to visit not only the largest cities and eat not only in fancy restaurants, it’s worth to think about vaccination. The usual recommended kit includes vaccinations against hepatitis A and B, typhoid, cholera and yellow fever. Consult a specialist before making decision!

If you are traveling to India for more than a couple of weeks, then you can also get some (or all) of these vaccines also in India. And in India they cost less. Significantly less, if we compare to Western Europe. But keep in mind, that you can’t take all of them at one time and it also takes some time till the vaccine actually “starts to work”. So in any case – plan for it at least a month and a half.

To lover a risk of getting Malaria (it’s not a big problem in most of India, though), in India buy a mosquito repellent cream. Local creams usually are better than the ones you can get in your home country, and they cost significantly less. And use it in places, where there are mosquitoes. It’s only my opinion, and I’m not a doctor.

Traveling to India: Money, Banks, ATM in India

Take your debit or credit card (Maestro card could be a problem) with you and you are ready to go. At the airport find an ATM and withdraw rupees, and that’s it. Remember, that most probably you will be charged not only for the money withdrawal, but also for money exchange. But it depends from what your bank chooses to charge you for.

It’s an easy way to get local currency, but all these fees can add up. There have been times, when I paid about 7 EUR to withdrawal 100 EUR. Not the best deal.

Another option – get a RevolutCard!

There are a lot of ATMs in India. If one is not accepting your bank card, go to the another. In large cities it may not be a problem to pay with credit card in quite a lot of places (especially in shopping centers and restaurants), but in rural areas cash is what you need, always.

If you are traveling like we did, when cycling across India (then our budget was under 10 EUR/USD a day) – eating like locals and staying at cheap hotels – you may end not using your bank card for payments at all. Only for cash withdrawals.

Money - Traveling to India

Money – Traveling to India: What You Need to Know

Traveling to India: Hotels in India

If looking for a cheap one, search for them near bus stations or railway stations. Or near city center. There usually are a lot of them in these places. And so the prices there are the lowest.

Cheap double room, not in a total s**thole, costs around 500 – 600 rupees. Very often for such a price we were living in pretty nice and neat rooms. Something much better will cost you about 1500 – 3000 rupees (20 – 45 EUR) per night. But, of course, it depends from the place. In Mumbai 1500 rupees will get you only one of the cheapest double rooms. In Delhi – much better room. In many other cities – even better room.

There are also hotels, usually cheap ones and usually in the biggest cities, where they do not accept foreigners. Most probably they will say “no rooms, no rooms”. Even if the hotel will look like completely empty. That might be a problem time after time and you may end up walking for an hour or two from one hotel to the next one, searching for a cheap room.

But only once for us it has ended the way, that we took a really shitty room for three times higher price than we normally paid. There just were no any other options.

Interesting fact: a sign hotel not always means, that there is a hotel. In fact, we must have passed by at least thousand such places, which were just restaurants. And we have visited about hundred of them in search for an accommodation. 

Traveling to India: Food in India

Is Indian food tasty or not? Is it really spicy or not? It’s different. There are Indian dishes, that I like, and there are quite a lot of dishes, that I don’t like. We all are different. To understand, if you will like Indian food in India, you will need to try it first. What I can say is, that in most of the places, especially the ones where locals are eating, Indian food doesn’t taste the same like Indian food in Europe.

Outside of the major cities more likely you will not have a choice between Western and Indian food. But in big cities you can find almost anything.

Prices in different places with totally different level of service may be almost the same. So even searching for some cheap dinner it’s more than worth to check out the prices also at that nice-looking hotel restaurant over the street. From our experience, even in more beautiful and nice places Indian food usually cost the same 100 to 300 rupees (1.5 to 4.5 EUR).

For safety reasons – choose places, where more locals are eating.

South Indian thali - Traveling to India: What You Need to Know

South Indian Thali – Traveling to India: What You Need to Know

Traveling to India: You Can Get Everything in India

In super markets they are selling everything. And, when you start paying attention to where it’s made, soon you realize, that a lot of it is made locally in India. And thus they can sell it for a lower price. For example, medicals are cheap in India, hygiene products are cheap, but brands are the same as you are used to in Europe.

The only thing, that was hard for us to find, were specific mountain bike part. There were few times, when we knew – nearest store, where we could find what we need, is only… 1000 kilometers away. That’ s because at least in 2013 – 2014 most of the bicycles in India were single speed.

Traveling to India: Prices in India

Everything that is packed has a price written on the packaging (it’s MRP – maxium retail price). In most of the cases, it’s the price you should be paying. Sometimes, with a discount, price may be even lower. But if someone asks you for more money, show them MRP on it and pay it. Mostly it will work.

It was a nice surprise for us to find out, that because of that everything has the same price also at the most of the touristy places.

Traveling to India: Mobile Service in India

Be ready to spend some time to get a prepaid SIM card. In 2017 it takes about an hour at the shop and then about half a day waiting for activation. In 2013 and in 2014 it was more like 2-3 working day process.

To get a SIM card you need to go to mobile operators customer service center, fill the form, show your passport and VISA, give 1 document-sized photo, you may be asked to provide a local address and local reference person. Your reference person may be your hotel administration, but it also may not work out, so a local friend (stranger from the street? Coucshurfing friend?) is a much better option.

After you get a SIM, you need to wait while it’s activated.

Vodafone India and Airtel are 2 of the best choices with widest network coverage. But prices for all operators are similar and low when compared to Europe. You can check prices on their websites – Vodafone India, Airtel.

Once our Indian mobile numbers were disconnected, and it took us about a week to get them back. Read more about our experience!

Indian mobile numbers not working

Do you still have some questions about traveling to India? Check out our other articles about India (we have a lot of them) and do not hesitate to contact us!

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.