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How to Get a SIM Card in India (for Foreigners)

Girl using a phone - Delhi, India - How to get a SIM card in India

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f you are a foreigner, getting a sim card in India can get a bit challenging. Things are improving, though, and in 2018 buying an Indian SIM is easier than it was in 2013. But still – knowing how easy it is to buy a local SIM card in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia or Vietnam – it may seem like an unnecessary hussle. And you should be prepared that it usually takes at least a few hours (sometimes – days) until your mobile number will be activated.

How to get a SIM card in India? You’ve 3 options – buy a regular prepaid SIM card from a shop, buy a “second hand” SIM card (someone’s else SIM card) or get an Indian tourist SIM card.

Do You Need a SIM Card in India?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Unlike many other countries finding a free (or paid) public WiFi can be a challenge in India.

Unless you have an Indian mobile number. Because often times in order to connect to WiFi in India you need to enter your… Indian mobile number. KFC? McDonalds? Free WiFi by Google in train stations in India? Yes, also there you first have to have an Indian mobile number, because otherwise you simply will not be able to connect to the internet.

How to Get a SIM Card in India

Let’s talk about 3 of the most popular options of getting an Indian SIM card for foreigners.

1. Getting a Tourist SIM Card in India

If you’re arriving in India through one of its largest airports, it isn’t during the night, try and look for a tourist SIM card counter. This is your best bet to get an Indian SIM card easy and quick. They definitely have one counter at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. And they are planning to have one also at the rest of the airports offering e-visa facility.

To get a tourist SIM you’ll need to show your passport, e-visa and that should be it.

Will you be able to get a SIM card if you have a regular Indian tourist visa not e-visa? I’m not sure. Having spent in India so much time, I wouldn’t be surprised if you can’t get, same as if you will be able to get it without any problems. If you can’t, go for the regular SIM and try to buy it also while you still are the airport.

Speaking of the tourist SIM cards, it’s still something very new in India.

In 2017 Indian governemt started an iniciative with the aim of making a process of foreign tourists getting an Indian SIM easier.

The plan was that you will be able to get a prepaid SIM card from state-run telecom operator BSNL at the international airports in India offering e-visa facility. These are the airports where you are allowed to fly in from abroad if you have an Indian e-visa.

Basically there are two types of Indian visa – a regular visa, one that you apply for at the embassy or via tourism agency, and you get it glued into your passport before the trip, and e-visa, which you can also apply for online. And with e-visa there is this rule, that you can arrive in India only through one of the designated airports and seaports, where they have e-visa facility.

In reality getting a tourist SIM card in India rarely is easier than getting a normal prepaid SIM card.

Indian girl taking a selfie

2. Getting a Regular Prepaid SIM Card in India

You’re lucky if you’re arriving to Delhi international airport, because there you can always without any hussle buy Airtel prepaid SIM, which is one of the best SIM in India. Airtel, Vodafone – Idea and Jio (Reliance) are 3 of the biggest and also best mobile service providers in India. And in Delhi, unless you’re arriving at night, you can also get a tourist SIM.

Which is the best prepaid SIM card in India? I’ve used Airtel and Vodafone, while traveling all the way across the country, and I’ve been satisfied with their services.

Why You Should Buy a SIM Card at the Airport

Not at all airports you can do it. But if you can – do it. Especially if you are arriving in Delhi.

Because this way it’s much easier.

At the Airtel counter in New Delhi airport you may only have to show your passport with visa in it and pay for the SIM. And that’s all.

Don’t Overpay for the SIM

Beware, though, that paying in other currencies not rupees you may overpay. Sometimes –  a lot.

So better exchange some money first.

In May 2018, one of my friends paid 800 rupees for an Airtel’s SIM at their Delhi airport store.

Another friend on the same day, at the same shop, for the same SIM paid 20 USD (~1500 rupees). And another – 20 EUR (~1700 rupees).

How to Buy a SIM Card in India

If you haven’t got the SIM at the airport, go to the nearest (better – biggest) mobile operator store.

Bring with you:

  • A passport & a photocopy of it;
  • A photocopy of your Indian visa;
  • A passport size photo;
  • A proof of your home address (maybe it’s written in your passport; or you can show some bill).

Fill in a lengthy form.

You will also need to tell your Indian address (can be your hotel) and have a reference in India (can be your hotel; their phone number). If you’ll be writing your friend’s address and contact details instead, if your friend isn’t from the same city, be prepared that at some places they may tell you – no, you need a local reference from this city.

Pay for the SIM & services you’ve chosen.

Get a SIM card.

When buying a SIM card in India, make sure to ask (if you aren’t told) how to activate the SIM.

Sometimes they will tell you to wait a few hours, then call some specific number and follow the instructions (you might be asked to enter last digits from your passport number, for example; this is how you activate Vodafone SIM in India). Other times – you will have to wait longer until making the same first call. Mostly you should be able to get your SIM activated on the same day or on the nearest working day.

The longest we’ve waited was 6-7 days, and that time our SIM’s weren’t activated.

Once we spent more than a week trying to find out what’s wrong with our SIM cards, why they have stopped to work and getting new ones. Read that story here.

How Much Does a New SIM Card Cost?

SIM card price in India can start from as low as 100 rupees. Depending on what services you choose.

For instance, in May 2018 I bought a SIM card from Vodafone India, and it cost me around 600 rupees. But it included unlimited mobile internet (up to 2 GB every day) for 3 months. The best deal I’ve had in any country around the world. I did use that SIM for all these 3 months, and I really had these 2 GB every day.

Tourists sitting and looking at The Golden Temple - Amritsar, India

3. Buying a “Second Hand” SIM Card

While I wouldn’t recommend this, especially if you need a SIM for more than a couple of weeks. Sometimes it may be your only option to buy a SIM that someone else no longer needs. Where to buy? Ask around.

Because getting a SIM card in India isn’t always a straight forward process like in Malaysia or Thailand. Sometimes and in some places it may seem impossible. Been there, experienced that. In 2018 in Bhubaneshwar we visited 5 Airtel’s stores, in the end spending around an hour in the last and biggest one, and then we waited, and waited, but even after 3 months our SIM cards aren’t activated.

Why I don’t recommend this? You never know how long the SIM is going to work. You may put 10 bucks on it, and the next minute it may stop working. Something very similar happened to us with our normal SIM cards. And also that you don’t really know who was the previous owner. So people you don’t know may be calling you all day long.

Max Validity of 3 Months

For a longer while there has been a rule in India that a SIM card sold to a tourist is with a maximum validity of 3 months.

We didn’t know about it at first. Because no one told us. And then, surprise, surprise, one day our SIM cards stopped working and no one even at the store knew why.

Is this rule still valid? I don’t know.

I thought yes. Because a few months ago I was buying a SIM from Vodafone India. I told them I’ve a 1-year visa, and may stay for the whole year in the country. They said OK at first, we will give you a prepaid SIM for 1 year. But then told me, that unfourtunately there is no such an option and after 3 months I’ll have to buy a new SIM card.

I’m not in India anymore. It’s been almost 6 months since the day my SIM was activated, and it’s still working. Without recharging it even once.

Best SIM Card in India

Which is the best SIM card in India? Best SIM card in India for internet?

India is huge. Accordingly there is no one best mobile operator in India. If you’re on a short vacation and will be spending most of your time in one place, any SIM will do the job. Simply ask at your hotel what they are using, and get the same. If you can get it, of course. For example, Jio (Reliance) is very popular in India, but you can’t be their customer or buy their prepaid SIM card, if you aren’t Indian.

If you will be traveling around or staying in India for a longer while, I recommend you to choose either Airtel or Vodafone – Idea. Compare what they are offering and choose what suits you the best. BSNL also can be an option, if you get their tourist SIM.

Buying an Indian SIM Card Online

Some companies now offer you to buy Indian SIM card online.

Currently we don’t have experience with it.

Have you been in India? Did you buy a local SIM card in India? What was your experience?

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