Firstly, lets cover the question – Do I need to get a sim card when backpacking around India?
My answer – YES!
I know you might want to come to India and be more disconnected than you are at home and not have internet to constantly scroll and be on social media, but that’s what the aeroplane mode on your phone is for, you can switch off your internet anytime but honestly, having internet on your phone as a backpacker to India is so handy and so much safer.
Why? The WiFi situation in India is pretty good but when backpacking India having internet on your phone makes it easier to book accommodation and transport wherever you are, it makes it easier to call your hotel or hostel if you’re lost, it makes it easier to check the status of your train, it makes it easier to work out what the Indian dishes are on menu, it makes it easier to stay in contact with locals and other travellers you make friends with, and it makes it much more easier to avoid a lot of the old school scams in India, because so many of these do not work when travellers have internet!
Convinced? Ok let’s get into it.
You may have heard or you may have read online that getting a sim card in India as a visitor / traveller / foreigner is hard. Really hard!
It’s hard because often you need an Indian number to give to the phone shop, but if you’re a foreigner in India trying to get a local sim so you have a number, you do not have an Indian number to give them do you!
However after getting 2 sim cards in India myself in 2 different places in 2 different ways I can tell you that it is not that hard and it seems that the bad stories of getting a sim card as a foreigner in India are just another way that people seem to make India sound scary and hard, but it isn’t and it doesn’t have to be!
That and the fact that things are changing in India fast! It may have been hard 1 or 2 years ago to get a sim card but it’s getting easier, just like a lot of things when backpacking and travelling around India.
1) Ask your hostel to help.
This is the simplest way and the easiest way but it’s also the most costly as they will add on a commission. However when I arrived in India in Mumbai worried about how to get a sim card, when I saw that my hostel Backpacker Panda in Colaba (which I fully recommend) provided the service of getting a sim card, I jumped at it without even going to ask around the shops.
They told me they’d call the ‘sim card guy’, the guy turned up and offered me a 28 day or 90 day prepaid sim card, reception copied my passport and visa, I gave him some passport photos, signed a contract (more on all of this below) and within 24 hours my 90 day prepaid Indian sim card was working with more data than I ever needed (and I use a lot of internet). So so easy.
The draw back to this is that I did pay a lot more because of the middle men, I paid 1500Rs for 3 months which is much less than what I paid in England for one month and it relived me of all stress so for this I didn’t mind paying extra. Going direct I could have got this for 500-800Rs depending on the place and the plan.
2) Go to a small independent shop.
I would actually avoid going into an actual Vodafone store or Airtel store which is how I initially assumed you would get a sim card as this is where you’ll likely be asked for more information like an Indian number and Indian address to register your sim.. which you do not have.
Instead go to a small road side shop which seems to dabble in everything phone related and look out for signs that say they sell sim cards. This is what I did in Kochi and it was so easy. If you have trouble finding one be sure to ask your accommodation for help.
I asked for a sim, he gave me a card of the options. He copied my passport, I gave a passport photo, I filled in the contract, handed over the money (which was a much better price than my first time), put my sim in 1 day later, called the number he gave me to verify it was me using my passport number, and I had internet!
3) Ask an Indian Friend.
If you happen to know someone in India that you’ll be seeing when you arrive, they can help you too. Once you have paid for the sim there are no regular payments that need to be paid so no need to worry about them having money come from their account. They can give their details for a sim for the length of time you need and give you the sim once it’s working.
There are a few different phone providers in India. Vodafone, Airtel and Jio are the big ones and it’s said that certain providers work better in certain areas of the Country which I found to be true.
I started off with Vodafone and whilst it was great in Mumbai, Rajasthan, Delhi, Agra & Varanasi, it wasn’t that great further North in Dharamshala and Rishikesh, it was terrible in Goa, and ok in Kerala.
I got my second sim card in Kochi in Kerala and the guy was just selling Airtel and said this one was the best, and it was better in South India than my Vodafone sim was.
Let’s face it though, India is a huge country and there’s no way one sim provider can cover everywhere perfectly, but at the same time if you’re travelling all over you can’t keep switching sim cards either. I’d say just get whichever one you can, but if you plan to only visit the South or only visit the North, ask the shops or hostels which provider they recommend based on their knowledge.
The other option you get is the length of time. So far I have only come across sim cards which are 28 days, 60 days and 90 days. But generally as a traveller to India, one of these will be perfect for you, and if you stay for longer like I did (4 months) you can buy the longest one and then get another afterwards.
Make sure your phone is unlocked.
No matter which option you go for (unless it’s the Indian friend option) you’ll need a copy of your passport and visa. You could bring a copy from home but I believe they need to see the entry stamp which you won’t have until you arrive so you’ll have to get a photocopy of your visa and passport when you land in India.
Many places in cities will offer photocopying services and your accommodation can probably help too. Failing that, some of the phone shops will copy it for you.
Either way, when you head out to get a sim card make sure you have your passport on you and the copy if you have one, without your physical passport you won’t be able to get a prepaid sim card in India.
Secondly, 1-2 passport photos are needed, again if you have these at home, bring them with you. If not and you land in a city, you’ll find somewhere to get some photos done and then you can take the next steps of getting your sim.
Do not get a sim card at the airport. It’s likely to be a lot harder and cost more money, wait until you arrive in your first destination. Most Indian Airports have free wifi anyway.
You are buying a prepaid bundle and sim card for your requested amount of time, once you have paid the amount up front no more payments are needed.
Your sim card will take 1-2 days to activate, once you can see the signal bars you’ll have to call a number provided to you by the person who sold you it and enter some of your passport details.
If you’re not staying in the city where you got your sim card for much longer, get the name and number of the person who sold you it so if it doesn’t activate you can call them (off someone else phone). This will also help ensure you’re not scammed (not that I’ve heard of that but it’s always worth being cautious).
If your sim card does not activate properly go into one of the providers official store and ask them to help you.
On that note, make sure you see them open up a new packet with the sim inside and you see it in it’s original plastic packaging so you know it’s new.
You will be asked to fill your details out on a contract form, sign in a few places including on the photocopy of your passport and visa, and on the passport photo of you which will be attached to the contract, this is normal.
Local Indian sim card’s are connected to travellers passport and I believe that when you leave the Country the sim stops, so if you get a 90 day sim, go to Sri Lanka or Nepal for a few weeks and then go back to India within the 90 day range, don’t expect the sim card to work when you get back.
You will get so so many calls and messages from your provider, sales companies and god knows who else, there is a way to stop these though and that is to call 1909 and select your preferences or text START 0 to 1909.. you’ll thank me for that one!
Finally, India’s sim card plans are so crazy cheap with so much data! Most Indian people on full plans say they have so much internet they don’t know what to do with it! So make sure you use it to download those YouTube videos and Neflix series for the long journeys!
Now you know how to get a sim card in India, do you want to know about common scams to avoid? I found most of these can be avoided because you have a local sim.
What about your itinerary, do you need any help planning your itinerary for India?
Need to book accommodation in India? We recommend using Booking.com as we love the huge range of accommodation and flexible booking options.
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