This is the question of the month: ‘should I come to india with the demonetization’. I get asked this daily, so am addressing it here in the hopes to help you plan during these tourist issues with demonetization.
I wrote about the recent demonetization here in India on my This is India post when it happened, back on the 8th of November. Please read that to get an idea of what happened here. If you’re reading this, I assume you already know a bit about what happened.
Basically the Government announced with no warning they were taking away 500 and 1000 Rs. notes. That is like taking away $10 and $20 bills in the US (if 50’s and 100’s didn’t exist!).
They are the two biggest denominations. Bam, gone. 86% of the countries’ money taken out of circulation.
Why did they do it?
To fight “black money”. They thought people would have to put their money in accounts and then would HAVE to pay taxes on it.
They also thought that more than 50% of Indian currency is counterfeit, so they were taking it out of the system.
We were told we could go to exchange our money at the banks, but there were limits on how much each day. They said we could deposit it to bank accounts.
So many issues arose:
- Many people in India are illiterate, some have no birth certificates. They can’t open bank accounts. Most couldn’t even get to a bank.
- The bank lines were LONG. There are 1.3 BILLION people here and if all ATM’s were open, 200,000 ATM’s in the country. They guess only a quarter were open.
- New reports said people were dying in line. People were sleeping in line for DAYS according to the news.
- No one had change for the new 2,000 Rs note. With 500’s and 1000’s out of circulation, the next biggest note is 100 (just over a dollar) while 2,000 Rs. is about $50. Clearly an issue with change and people got scared and starting hoarding 100 Rs notes.
- The ATM’s needed recalibrated and were closed for days after the announcement. When they opened we could only take 2,000 Rs at a time. The lines were long and money ran out fast. Hours wait for just $30 dollars.
- People could only exchange a certain amount a day but were sending their staff to wait in lines to exchange more. Apparently they didn’t think of this, and so after a week announced they were going to start marking people with special ink to see if they’d already exchanged.
- Gangstas be Ganstas… they know ways around and everyone knew it. They were sending other people to exchange their money. It made the lines even longer. Let’s be honest their money is in real estate and gold anyways, unless it’s abroad.
- Tourists were stranded. People canceled trips. People went home. Tourists actually showed up at the Taj Mahal the day it happened with old notes and got turned away.
- In rural areas, people misunderstood and some even hung themselves according to the news.
So what HAS been happening here in India?
It’s all the news is talking about.
They said it would be sorted in a week and then the amount you could take out of the ATM would be upped to 4,000 Rs. per day. Guess what, it’s been over a month and that hasn’t happened.
It’s still 2,000 Rs and less than half the ATM’s in India are even recalibrated. Of the ones that are recalibrated, most aren’t open.
At the time it was announced, I thought wow this is crazy but if it works cool. But it’s a month later and no one seems to know what is going on.
Also, this is the land of bribes. So, all these people who had hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, hidden from the tax man, were screwed if they took it to the bank as during this time the % paid was increased to punish those that cheated.
Many have bribed bank officials to launder their money and take all their old notes for new. Every SINGLE DAY I see articles where police all over India are seizing huge amounts of money in new Indian 2,000 rs notes because they are bribing bank officials.
Gangsters are getting busted with the equivalent of 1 million USD in NEW notes. Their old money is worthless, so why not bribe? They’ve been raiding banks catching people.
So far they have seized 160 crore of NEW notes ($25,600,000 USD) in raids all together. These are just the people who have been caught.
People are protesting this.
In the cities, chaos ensued many times. Security guards fired shots in the air to calm people down. People were getting abused by guards. Videos of these are being shared all over Facebook.
Reports say it’s going to be months before things settle down. There isn’t enough cash at the RBI (reserve bank of India) according to some reports- but it’s hard to know what to believe and even the Government keeps changing the rules.
Apparently airport exchange centers had ran out of money, and many banks.
The new 2,000 Rs. note is too big which is why the ATM’s need recalibrated.
People are doing poojas to ATM machines.
Then came… a second announcement.
The Government said from the beginning you have until Dec 30th to exchange your old money. That made sense so people in the rural areas had time to get to a bank. Not to mention they may have had thousands in cash and you could only exchange so much each day, although you can deposit as much as you want. Some people can’t open accounts to deposit (and most banks are so busy they are telling people NO there is no time to open an account).
People rushed to the banks right away causing crazy long line. The PM announced asked people to please not rush to the banks and wait to help the lines shorten, saying you have until Dec. 30th… don’t rush!
Suddenly on 24th November the Government announced it was the LAST DAY to exchange money in a seriously confusing move since people were promised they had until the 30th Dec. Some were waiting patiently to exchange only to be left with old notes they were forced to deposit (but don’t have bank accounts). They did this hoping more people would open bank accounts and not just exchange.
Another scam started happening. Because they banks are SO overworked with people trying to open bank accounts they aren’t doing their research (or are being bribed not to). So, people with black money are opening an account under all fake credentials. There’s only a certain amount you can exchange each day but you can deposit as much as you like. They are then sending people each day to take out as much money as the limit allows in fresh new bills. They can get their money out before anyone notices the account was fake – therefore, not paying at tax on it. Axis Bank got busted with this when they found 44 fake accounts which were holding 100 crore together (15 million dollars) – but they can’t catch them all.
Announcement regarding tourists:
He also said that tourists can only exchange 5,000 Rs per week. That’s $73 dollars. You cannot travel India on $73 a week. They are taking passport details when you exchange, therefore you cannot lie around this.
picking up cashless hitchhikers is on another level these days! lol
The situation now:
Bank officials are being over-worked. They are being threatened. People are acting crazy in some cities. No one knowns when it will settle. Indians with money and bank accounts are not really affected. In Goa we aren’t affected AS badly.
Those without bank accounts and the uneducated are seriously affected by this. There are reports of people saying they can’t feed their families or send money home to them (for those men who work in the cities but families stay back in the rural areas).
The ATM lines in cities are far worse than in rural areas like here in Goa where I live. Most of the chaos videos we see in the news are from big cities. The worst here was a 1 hour line I stood in at SBI in Mapusa about a week after the announcement. Guards made sure no one was cutting in line.
These days in Goa, you can stand in line just 15 minutes IF you can find a working ATM. Most are not working.
Tourist Issues with Demonetization
Western Union is not an option as no shops can full-fill your money order.
In Goa, they take card so it’s OKAY here for tourists BUT in most small towns, restaurants tourists go to, do NOT take cards.
You have to also keep in mind, if you keep paying with card you are getting a lot of bank charges.
The places that take card are usually more upscale so you’re going to spend more money than you thought.
ATM’s that have money are often in towns which means you’ll have to get a taxi to get to ATM’s sometimes. Plus the ATM charges up to 200 Rs ($3). You can only take out $35 so it’s a lot for that little of money.
I have seen many articles urging people to wait to come here to travel until next year. I have to agree that this is a HUGE blow to India’s tourism and it’s making it extremely difficult for foreigners, but you can still come this year!
Indians with bank accounts can draw out more money at the bank than the ATM allows. But foreigners need about 1,5000 Rs. a day. You’ll be in ATM lines every day while you’re traveling here. This is the reality. In one month nothing has changed or slowed down here. No ATM’s that were closed have opened back up.
Many people have emailed me saying that Thomas Cook doesn’t have money to exchange. Mumbai airport didn’t have a working ATM when my friend came through 2 weeks ago. Money exchanges are saying they can’t take foreign currency.
What you can do to help make this work if you travel here this year:
- Bring USD or UK pounds. Some shops will accept these and try to change them when all this settles.
- Don’t exchange with the money men ripping people off giving horrible rates. You need to download a currency converter app.
- Be aware what the new 500 note looks like and DO NOT take old money as change. People are still trying to give tourists old notes. They are worthless for tourists.
- US citizens can order Rs. from banks in America. You will have to get 100 Rs notes and smaller ONLY. They won’t have new 500’s or 1000’s and the old money is worthless.
- Sign up to Cleartrip.com to book all flights, train tickets, and hotels. Use redbus.in to book buses. You have to sync foreign cards. Do this ahead of your trip.
- When you fly into India try to exchange as much money as you can (5,000 is the limit per week, no way around it). Go to multiple counters if they only have 2,000 at one counter. According to reports the airports have RUN DRY but give it a try.
- Hit up every ATM on top of that, while at the airport. You’ll need money just for the taxi even to leave the airport.
- At any ATM you can use your card more than once. Yeah, you might piss people off. If there are guards, they’ll stop you.
- You can set up a Western Union account. From there you can send money to people’s bank accounts in India. I have been paying as many people as I can this way.
- In big cities you can use Uber – but this isn’t everywhere.
- If a place says they take cards, double-check they take international cards. If they don’t you’re in a pickle if you’ve already used their service and your card doesn’t work.
- For more tips and resources check out Mariellen’s thorough post on this situation.
- Check out Anna’s post for even more tips on this situation. Hers is older, but there are some updates added at the bottom.
Overall, if it’s a question of should you come.. definitely!
You’re going to be annoyed by this situation.
You’re going to probably spend more money since places that take card are generally more expensive. You’ll also have to book hotels online so that means no negotiating price.
It’s going to add a headache on top of being in a country that is already difficult to travel and there is no easy fix I have to admit.
The best thing you can do is always be looking for ATM’s with small lines and taking out money every chance you get.
If you meet someone with an NRE (foreigners who live in India and have accounts) account, have them take out up to 20,000 Rs. NRE accounts don’t get taxes up to 20,000. I know this isn’t going to work for most tourists. You have to trust the person!
So you have the run-down now. I’m sorry to say that all I can do is prepare you for what’s going on. India’s tourist season ends in March and I think these problems will end around that time too. If they didn’t do this during tourist season, it would have been in the hot months and people really would have suffered in the lines, so I think it had to be done this time of year.
India and many Indians feel this had to be done to curb the black money problem. We are only visitors here, so have to try our best to accept it and move on. I can’t imagine running a country with this many people in it so obviously I don’t know anything about how it “should have been done”. What I do know is they have made many changes from the original announcement and it is not going as smoothly as it was explained it would. So, we can expect that this will take months and just be the way it is until more new money is in circulation. We can hope that this does good for the country.
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