India isn’t usually the gap year backpackers’ first choice destination. Maybe because of the onslaught of smells and dirt, or maybe it’s because of the horror stories of scams in India happening to travelers.
From jewelers, and cab drivers, to the cable man, I think in a year and half I’ve had every scam attempted on me that India has to offer.
Maybe if I warn everyone about them they won’t be afraid to travel in India. Some happen in places other than India too, but without further ado, here you go!
Before coming to India do not forget these two very important things:
- Travel Insurance. I use World Nomads which is what Lonely Planet recommends
- a VISA. You would be surprised how many people email me saying they showed up without one and got sent home. Click here to see what one you need and GET IT ahead of time.
- Also check out my complete guide to planning every aspect of your India trip from scratch. it’s about 5000 words and organizes content from over 400 articles on this site.
20 Common Tourist Scams in India (most have been tried on me!)
1. “Your hotel has moved places/burnt down/changed names” this most likely isn’t true and the driver is going to take you to his friend’s place and take a commission. On the way he’ll ask if you are hungry or need a pashmina. Anywhere he drops you on the way, he’s getting commission. Unfortunately, India is not the place to ask your driver to take you to the best local food in town he’ll just take you to his cousins’ place. If you get to know a driver and use him often, then you can start to build trust.
2. The SIM card scam: if you buy a SIM while in India, you need to fill out paperwork, give a copy of your passport, and a 2×2 photograph, which is one of the things I’ve told you which paperwork to have handy! If they don’t ask for all that, they are either giving you a used SIM meaning you’ll get calls all day from rando Indians, or they aren’t even planning on filing your paperwork which means your SIM you just prepaid 500 rupees on will shut off when it isn’t verified. As a tourist, it might be best to go straight to the main office of Vodafone, Idea, or whatever company you choose. Vodafone is the worst. They turned three of my SIM’s off!
If you want to avoid this get Trabug! Trabug is a travel phone that you can have shipped to your hotel in India. This phone has the internet and all kinds of India travel apps on it. It’s more expensive than a SIM, but SIM cards are sometimes a huge hassle for foreigners in India (plus if you have to buy an “unlocked” phone anyway, this is likely cheaper). You don’t want to be in India without access to the internet.
3. While driving in a taxi, if the police stop your car (and no one else’s) and tell you to pay a road fee, they’re lying. The cab driver might be a good guy and tell the cop no, which happened once, or he might be a bad guy and tell you he can’t go until you pay. You can either pay the “fine” or “fee” or “tax”, whatever they call it, or you can argue. In the end if the driver won’t go, and you’re going to end up paying. It won’t go to the road, it’ll go for his next beer. On the other hand, tolls are real and the passenger does have to pay.
4. The 5 extra cocktails on your bill. That itself isn’t the scam. You’ll tell them you didn’t order them, and they’ll say “whoops, that was another table!” They will say okay, let’s subtract that amount. The scam is the service charge of 15% and luxury charge of at least 10% was taken from the first and higher amount. Make them make you a new bill if it’s high enough to matter.
5. Giving your driver or shop owner 1000 rupees and waiting for change, just for him to say you only handed over 100. You just have to argue this one out but to prevent it, you should show it very clearly as you hand it over. Most times, in a scam like this if you involve people on the street the driver will turn honest very quickly.
this nice guy charged me such a low fare, I tipped him triple the cost of the ride, but not all drivers are this way
6. When taking photos or certain people or animals (like cows that are dressed up or elephants on the street), someone nearby is expecting a tip. It isn’t a law or anything, but if you don’t pay expect to be yelled at!
to sit on the yak is Rs 50, but you better hope he doesn’t take a step- who knows what they’ll charge for taking a ride on the yak!
7. The beggar’s milk and the children’s pens: When you think, “I won’t give them money and make the begging situation worse in India, I’ll give them what they need. I’ll go to the store and get them milk for their hungry baby! Or follow these kids to the store where they want pens for school!” The pens thing is big in Hampi and Kerala. The milk scheme is popular everywhere. The beggars and kids have deals with the stores and will return the product when you leave. It’s a sad scam because you are trying to help and get ripped off. Eventually, you get jaded in India and you your heart stops hurting for people… that’s when I know I need a little escape from the chaos.
Sorry cuties, you’re the best- but no pens for you!
8. “Pashmina? Cashmere? Only one thousand rupees!” Ok, you’ll never get real cashmere that cheap, so you know right away it’s fake. You can negotiate him down to 500 but you’re still overpaying for the product which is a fake silk/blend. You know what though, they are so beautiful it doesn’t really matter!
9. Buying a week or two long tour through an agent when you’re stressed is a bad idea. They will charge you a higher price for each leg of a driving route, and a higher rate than normal for each hotel, WHILE they take commission on each night’s sleep. Keep in mind local buses can get you from point A to B overnight for somewhere around Rs 300-700 no matter where you’re going. Don’t give into the temptation because of stress. I met loads of girls who paid for these “tours” (driver and hotel) and all paid more for two weeks than I did for three months with shopping my butt off!
10. Fake train ticket offices. These are tricky and happen all over the world but just use you best judgment. This was the worst one that (almost) happened to me in Delhi and made me want to punch a biatch!
11. Kids or “Holy men” putting flower bracelets or red string on your wrist while saying “it’s a gift!” It’s not a free gift; decline!
we got these from our kind massage therapist teacher in McLeod Ganj, no strings attached. Get it?
12. The last one brings me to the “Pushkar Lake Scam”. This one is cute. The Holy man will do a ceremony for let’s say an agreed Rs. 100. He’ll ask how many people in your family and bless them, each and every one. After he’ll say, “you misunderstood. 100 rupees per person in your family. Pay me 500 or I will curse your whole family!” Like I said, it’s a cute one. Pay Rs 100 and walk away. You can’t let people get away with things like that and they won’t follow you; you have the right to pay what’s fair and leave. Better yet, like one reader told me- “put the money in the donation box, the correct amount, like you’re supposed to!”
if you participate in a ceromony, and someone “gives” you this, you will need to pay them
13. “The Name Game” If there is a popular hotel or restaurant, you better bet there is another one with a similar or even the exact same name nearby. If it’s a popular place, you can bet your driver knows it. If he takes you to the wrong ones, he’s done it on purpose. It’s good to remember what the place looks like online!
14. Trick Question: Are pre-paid taxis at the airport always the best deal? NO way, Jose. Bombay, Delhi, and Bangalore all offer pre-paid taxis at obscene prices. A meter is the best deal but it’s almost impossible to get a driver near an airport to use one. You want to go to the GOVERNMENT approved pre-paid stand like MERU cabs and pay the Rs. 50 for a ticket for the driver. The driver will then meet you outside and will use his meter! Follow your GPS for shortest route.
15. Get a receipt if you pay upon arrival at a hotel. I have had a couple of places try to make me pay again at check-out swearing I never paid. This goes for more than hotels really; any tour you go on or anything you pre-pay for, get a receipt. If at check-in to a hotel you agree on a set price to pay later, get it in writing.
the rate was set… but he didn’t divulge that it was hourly, not final.
16. Someone coming up to you saying they want to give you directions, or help you find something, is going to ask you for money after. If you are in somewhere touristy like Varanasi and someone starts to tell you about what’s happening, they are going to DEMAND money after. As soon as they start talking, tell them you aren’t interested. They will say “no, no, I’m just being your friend”, but they aren’t. Sadly. If you want a guide, go for it, but work out a price ahead of time. Even airport employees will do this! I was yelled at in Bombay by an employee once he pointed out where the ticket printing counter was outside the airport- apparently he didn’t think that should be a free service. He followed me, yelling at me for about five minutes until I lost my cool and yelled back at him making another employee come over and I’m assuming he got reprimanded, but really, who knows?
cute kid followed everywhere in Jaipur and wanted a tip- it’s hard when it’s a kid
17. “Meter is broken, Miss”. OK, it’s not broken. In Bombay it’s illegal not to use a meter now (although near tourist attractions they will never turn it on for you). When you say you’ll tell the police, the invisible meter fairy always fixes the meter. Taxis that don’t use meter outside Bombay: agree on a price ahead of time. Show them the map on your phone if they do use a meter (even if it’s a fake map), so they go the shortest route. It will save you money and prevent anger issues.
18. Keep in mind, just because they are willing to use a meter, doesn’t mean that the meter is set appropriately! Just use your best judgement. You’ll get used to how fast the meter should run. If it’s going too quickly, call the guy out on it, threaten to tell the police, and leave. If you get to your destination and you KNOW the amount you should pay because you take it often, just give that much. The driver will not argue because they know what they’ve done. I’ve done it often when it’s a fee I know well. You can even say, “you must be able to tell that meter is broken, see how fast it went? I know you are an honest man, so you won’t charge me that price. You’re taking it to get fixed now, yes?” Since the guy knows he’s caught, it’s an out for him to take without being embarrassed and will prevent a fight.
19. If you hire a driver for the day and leave your bags in the car, first off take photo of the license plate and his information in the car. Secondly, don’t pay him until the end of the day and don’t leave your valuables in the car.
20. When you rent a bike or car, take photos of the damage already there and show them. Know that you take a chance of the renter stealing his own bike from you and then making you buy a new one. You could lock it up. I have never heard of this happening in Goa. We did rent bikes in Hampi and one tire blew- they made us pay 3,000 for a new tire. There wasn’t anything we could do.
If you will be spending a week or more in Goa (which I highly suggest) then do check out my $25 e-book. The Insider’s Guide to Goa is 170-pages long and will guarantee you have the best time in Goa, meet other travels, and chill at all the coolest places. Click here to purchase.
If all of this stresses you out, don’t freak out. You don’t have to travel India alone!
If you want to go with a group tour, there is one company I recommend: G Adventures. Lots of my readers have used them and loved their trips. I usually travel alone, but it’s not for everyone. Read up on the “truth” of traveling India alone.
Bonus tip: Hospitals in India are not above the small scams. When I was suffering from Dengue Fever, which has no cure & just needs platelets monitored, the hospital in Varanasi pushed me to get many tests down like a CT and chest x-ray that as a nurse, I knew I didn’t need. These are expensive even in India. Before your trip do yourself a favor and get travel insurance. You can go ahead and get the tests done that they suggest without worrying you are being ripped off or worrying that you actually do need the test. You can submit the claim later and get your money back. I’ve always used World Nomads.
In this post are affiliate links, meaning I get a small percentage of sales, but all opinions are my own! You can see all my travel resources on my “travel resource” page.
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