This is one of the more practical posts Rachel wrote as it something she was often asked about weekly. While she has a more general guide on how to handle money abroad, this one is specifically about money in India and how to handle rupees, the local currency.

With the help of Jules, our local Indian expert, we’ve added a bit of an update for 2020 to help answer all your rupee-related questions. Don’t worry, though, as Rachel originally said, this is a pretty basic post! Even in India, money is quite straightforward.

Still planning your trip? Check out our India ebook, born out of Rachel’s six years living and traveling through the country! It’ll help you plan every aspect of your trip all in one place!

Money in India: All You Need to Know

The 2016 Money Crisis in India

Back when Rachel wrote this post in 2017, India had just experienced a tourism disaster in late 2016 when the government announced they were pulling all 500 and 1,000 notes from circulation. She covered it here and had advice for visiting here. Of course, even back then, the issue had passed and was no longer a problem in India. The main result was that 1,000 notes were no longer valid.

Additionally, because of this money crisis, all over India a lot of places installed card machines. Today, it is a lot easier and acceptable to pay by card. Especially in restaurants, shops, cafes and other establishments. However, remember you will need cash for transport, markets, and other things along the way.

Two Types of Bills

Another point to remember is that after the introduction of the new 2,000, 500, and 200 notes came the newly designed 100, 50, 20 and 10. These are all a different set of colors as seen below and look a lot like monopoly money. Just to make it confusing for visitors, all the old notes, except the 500 Rs, are still in circulation and are valid.

Basically, there are 2 different possible notes for 100, 50, 20 and 10. You will get the hang of it and they are very clearly labelled with the amounts. Just watch out for the purple 100 and grey 500 as they can sometimes easily be confused!

How to Get Rupees BEFORE your trip to India

In order to prevent tax evasion, it’s nearly impossible to TAKE rupees out of the country. The max is 10,000 Rs.

In the USA, you can get rupees at AAA. Rachel’s parents got 50,000 Rs there before their trip to India. You can also order them through some banks but not all and, of course, many have different exchange rates.

In England, you used to be able to get Rupees at Thomas Cook. However, now you will have to call and ask your bank if they can order some in.

Some people will say that you cannot get rupees outside of India, but you can: Rachel has done it both through her small town bank and AAA in the USA.

Other than these countries, I do not have details further, but we would imagine it would be similar in Canada and countries in the EU. Check with your big travel agencies and also your bank as banks do exchange money, too. Don’t be alarmed if the wording is “buying foreign currency” as technically, that is what you are doing.

How to Get Rupees DURING Your Trip in India

In our opinion, there really isn’t any reason to stock up on rupees before you come. Rachel used to only ever keep around 10,000 Rs or less on her at all times in case she lost any or got robbed.

Banks/Cards to Use

The easiest things to do is to just go to the ATM and take out money at the airport. The fees are usually cheaper than exchanging at any of the foreign currency exchange counters. Bonus: If you use Charles Schwab, which is what Rachel used, they’ll reimburse you for any ATM fees and foreign transfer bank charges.

If you are coming from the UK then one of the best cards to have is Monzo. You can get the best exchange rate through here when paying by card and they waive ATM fees. The app that you should download for your phone lets you know exactly how much you have spent in your home currency literally a few seconds after payment or withdrawal. And if you are in a group and you all have a Monzo, it is a great way to keep tab on what everyone is spending and you can easily transfer money between each other.

Can you travel with foreign currency?

Rachel also used to travel with some US dollars in case of an emergency. Bring about $100 in $20s with you to save and put somewhere else hidden away. 

It is also very easy to exchange home currency notes to rupees. In most tourist places around India they have money exchange windows where you can usually get a pretty good rate – much better than at any airport. There will be a man with a drawer full of money who will happily exchange your notes. It is better to bring higher denomination notes. For example $5 and £5 are not commonly accepted everywhere.

Of course if you are going off the beaten track, to a hill station, a village or high up in the mountains then money exchange may not always be as common. So stock up when you can in cities. 

What is each bill worth and how much should I take out at the ATM?

As of the time of updating this post, May 2020, you can get the following bills/coins in India:

  • Coins: you can get lots of different coins here, but the largest, 10 Rupees, is worth 13 cents. I often leave any coins as tips when I travel.
  • 5 Rs bill (also a coin) = 7 cents
  • 10 Rs bill = 13 cents
  • 20 Rs bill = 26 cents
  • 50 Rs bill = 65 cents
  • 100 Rs bill = $1.31
  • 200 Rs bill = $2.64
  • 500 Rs bill = $6.59
  • 2000 Rs bill = $26.35

As you can see there is a huge difference between the 500 note and the 2,000 note which is the largest note. This is because recently the 1,000 note was taken out of circulation with no news that it would re-enter.

Because of this, it’s difficult to break 2,000 notes outside of fancy restaurants, supermarkets, and hotels. When you can, try to break this big bill so that you have smaller change. Having smaller change will also make it easier to negotiate when you are shopping.

Max to take out at an ATM

As we said, take out no more than 10,000 Rs rupees at a time which is the maximum amount you can take out at most if not all ATM’s. You could, of course, use the ATM twice in a row and take 20,000 Rs and pay the fee twice. We only recommend this if you have to do something like pay for a week-long hotel in cash. Otherwise, you don’t need to have that much on hand as 10,000 Rs will likely last you around 5-7 days in India. Here is a breakdown of my India backpacking budget so you know how much to expect to spend (I go for $20/day).

If you need a large amount of money, compare the rates from your bank ATM fees and foreign currency transfer fees to the fees of Western Union. Often, it’s cheaper to send yourself money on Western Union which is very simple in India and can be picked up at most travel agent offices.

And there you have it. All you need to know about money in India and how to travel with rupees. Let us know if you have any questions below!

For More India Travel Planning Guides:

Check out some of these posts to help you continue planning your trip to India:

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