Back when Rachel first wrote about how to get a SIM card in India, the process was much more complicated and getting tourist SIM cards wasn’t done as much. Of course today people get them more often, so with the help of Jules, our resident India expert, we’ve given this guide a much needed update! Read below for all your options of staying connected.
Tourist SIM cards are such a game changer when it comes to travel. Back in the day (aka less than a decade ago), you either needed to get a cheap phone for local calls and then hope you find WiFi either in your hotel or some random cafe to use your own phone. Nowadays, you just make sure your phone is unlocked, and you can top up or recharge with credit as you please!
Do I Actually Need a SIM Card or Data for India?
We’re assuming you’re asking this because you either a) are hoping there’s enough places with WiFi that you can just rely on that or b) you’re hoping to somehow be a true intrepid traveler and go off the grid while discovering the beauty of India.
Well for those wondering about WiFi, you’re definitely going to need some sort of data at least as back up. While many places do offer WiFi, you never know how strong it’ll be or if something could happen that causes it to go out during your visit. Also, chances are, you won’t have access to WiFi while you’re on the move. Having data of some sort lets you check maps, double check the timings of trains and buses, and look up reviews of restaurants or hostels you might be dropping into last minute.
Also, you still might want to have a phone number available because you never know when you need to give it out. Rachel used her number on fliers when she asked for a ride share from McLeod Ganj to Amritsar and got loads of calls which saved her both time and money.
For those that are hoping to be the next intrepid traveler, chances are you’ll just make yourself more miserable getting lost or not being able to contact anyone. Plus having some sort of connection or ability to call will help keep you safer in India.
How to Get a SIM Card in India
They change the rules on how to get a SIM card in India often, but as of now, you can get one as a foreigner as long as you have an address to list.
What You Need to Get a SIM Card
An Unlocked Phone
First, you need a phone with a SIM slot. Pretty much all phones have at least one these days. In fact, if you’re due for a new phone, check out Android options as they often have 2 SIM card slots vs. Apple’s one. This means you can keep your original SIM card in with your Whatsapp and usual apps going whilst putting the new Indian SIM in the second slot and using the data from this SIM card to run the phone.
An important point to note, even if you have one or two SIM card slots, your phone needs to be unlocked. In many places this is automatic, but check with your phone company first. Last we checked, US phones don’t come unlocked unless you purposely buy one that way.
If You Can’t Unlock Your Phone
The easiest option is to look into Trabug (more on that below), but you can also buy phones in India on Amazon.in and they can be delivered to your hotel/hostel within a few days.
There are phone brands on Amazon called Oppo, Redmi, Xiaomi, Infinux – all relatively cheap and good quality phones. Have a look before you start your trip to see whether it is better to buy it before your trip in your home country or in India once arrived.
2×2 Photograph & Passport Copy
In order to apply to get a SIM card, you need a copy of your passport, a 2x2inch photograph, and, of course, there will be paperwork at the shop you buy it.
Which is the best SIM card in India?
It’s honestly hard to say because it depends so heavily on the area. For example, IDEA was non-existent in some areas of NE India, but worked great in Mysore for Rachel. It’s all dependent on the area and it’s very cheap to change SIMs if necessary so don’t worry too much if yours doesn’t work well at first.
Some bigger brands are: Jio, Airtel, IDEA, and Vodafone but, again, depends on the region!
Prepaid or Postpaid?
In India, SIM cards are sold as “prepaid” or “postpaid” – prepaid is topping up before you can use it, similar to pay-as-you-go and postpaid is basically a monthly contract which you pay for at the end of every month. Depending on your length of travel in India, prepaid is recommended and is likely to be less paperwork.
Where to Buy SIM Cards
These days, most airports now sell SIM cards at arrivals. Usually they will have a little bit of a higher price.
If you don’t want to buy one at the airport, your best bet is to go to an authentic shop and not just a reseller. Go somewhere recommended by a local or seems popular.
Warning: If a shop doesn’t ask for paperwork, passport information, or a 2×2 photograph, they aren’t planning on submitting anything and your SIM will only work until the company realizes someone is using it and turns it off. Go somewhere else!
Basically, the company is supposed to check the address and phone number you list, call and see if you really are there. This is why it’s so hard for foreigners to get SIMs that last, and why three of Rachel’s were turned off after a couple of weeks… even one that she bought IN THE MAIN OFFICE of Vodafone. It’s one of the many scams of India.
Also just know that sometimes SIM cards are “recycled.” They’re still fine; you just might get a few random calls from a stranger and also expect to receive lots of lovely phone calls in Hindi trying to sell you something.
How much do SIM Cards in India cost for foreigners?
The perfect thing about SIM cards in India is that they are CHEAP. Some places give them out free, and some make it a little harder to get. In fact, the government used to give them out for free to tourists (though they don’t anymore).
Yours shouldn’t be more than Rs 150 at baseline. You don’t want to add too much money to top up your credit if you’re traveling around the country. If you’re traveling in one state for a longer stretch of time, we’d put around Rs 500 of credit. Otherwise just add Rs 100 or 200 at a time because you might wind up wanting to buy a new SIM in a new state (more on that next).
Either way, there are shops on every corner if you need to top up. Sometimes you can top up on line. Typically, you need an Indian bank account for this, but sometimes international credit cards are accepted.
Also keep in mind when looking at the different options, that you’re probably going to want a bigger data plan and not just a calling and SMS plan.
Roaming in India: What to Know
You know how if you have a cell service in the US and you go to Canada, it’s considered “roaming,” which meant a much larger phone bill if you were calling or using data abroad? It’s also like that in India, though obviously not as pricey as going to a different country. Wherever you buy your SIM is considered its “home state” and anywhere you else you go will be roaming. So if you buy your SIM card in Goa, for example, you’ll be considered “roaming” in Rajasthan.
This is why you don’t want to top up too much. You can compare prices, but it often might be much cheaper to just buy a brand new SIM per state you visit and add 100 or 200 rupees of credit. Plus, like we said above, the best cell service per country seems to change by state, so that could be another factor if you use data often. However, it is much less waste and paperwork to keep the same SIM throughout your trip and top up as you roam through different states.
Don’t Want to Deal with Getting a SIM? Try Trabug
Trabug is a Travel Phone and Wifi Hotspot service. It honestly might be a great alternative if you’re worried about getting your phone stolen or breaking it on your trip. You can see the damage or theft breakdown costs here.
If you check out their site, there’s a video explaining all that they do and it’s changed quite bit from when Rachel first heard of them.
The Travel Phone
- Cost: $5.99/day
- Data: 2.5 GB daily at 4G
- Calling: 250 minutes daily domestic
- SMS: 10 daily domestic
- Incoming calls and texts are free
- Max: 80 days
This is an actual smartphone they’ll mail to your accommodation for you to pick up. The phone comes loaded with popular apps as well as Trabug’s own curated tips for India as well as recommendations and things like the closest ATM. They even have audio tours uploaded.
Apps on the Travel Phone Include:
- Travel: Google Maps, Uber, Ola Cabs, IRCTC Trains, Trabug Currency Converter and Delivery, Trabug Travel, Trabug Emergency Services
- Social Media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, GooglePlus
- Communication: Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, Hangouts, Skype, Google Translate
- Other: Youtube, Chrome, FM Radio, and more
If you need more apps added, you can contact Trabug up to 7 days before your rental start day to request them.
- Cost: $3.99/day
- Data: 2.5 GB daily at 4G
- Devices: Up to 5
- Max: 80 days
If you don’t think you need calling or SMS at all, you may just want their pocket WiFi instead. The nice thing too is that you can have up to 5 devices connected, so if you’re with a friend, you could each pair up your phones and laptops (though 2.5GB will go fast if you’re only using your hotspot).
You can add on:
- More Data
- International Calling
- More Texts and Data
Just contact them to add any of the above after you book.
Additionally, shipping is $9.99 per device for delivery and return pickup, but it’s free if you your rental bill is over $50.
You will also be asked for a security deposit before they ship the product to you, and this will be refunded within 10 business days of your return.
Another nice thing with Trabug is that you won’t have a change in charges for roaming in India like with a SIM card; it’s all included in the base price of $5.99/daily.
How to Order
Keep in mind you must have an e-Visa to qualify for a Trabug phone. For more on that, check this post.
Once you have an approved e-Visa, you’ll just need a scan or clear photo of your Passport ID pages.
If you need to cancel your trip, you can get a 100% refund up to 6 days before the start of your rental period. After that it goes down to 50%.
And there you have it! All you need to know about getting a SIM Card in India and staying connected. Let us know if you have any more questions.
For More India Travel Planning Guides:
Check out some of these posts to help you continue planning your trip to India:
Trip Planning Tips
- The 30 Best Places to Visit in India
- Travel to India Made Easy With This Step By Step Guide
- 100 India Travel Tips You HAVE To Read
- 10 Tips for First Time Travel to India
- How to Get an India Tourist Visa
- Travel Insurance for India
- How to Get a SIM Card in India
- How to Book a Train in India As Foreigner
- Do You Need a Filtered Water Bottle For India Travel?
- How to Dress in India: the Ultimate Dos and Don’ts
- 10 Travel Essentials For India
- Men’s India Packing List
- The Only Backpacking Through India Packing List You Need
- One Month Backpacking India | Itinerary, Hostels, Tips
- My Guide: the BEST Itinerary for India
- Kerala Backpacking Tips & 10 Day Kerala Itinerary
- Have The Perfect Rajasthan Trip By Copying This Two-Week Itinerary
- Goa One Week Itinerary for the Beach Lovers and Foodies