Ask Me Anything: Should I Come to India With the Recent Demonetization Money Issues?

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.

People freaked out. It didn’t seem real.

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.

goa monsoon this is india

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.

This is India! 99picking 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.

make money travel blogging

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.

 

2016-12-13T23:04:07+00:00

About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Hippie in Heels, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Hippie in Heels has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.

28 Comments

  1. sikhar December 13, 2016 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    Just incase it helps, you can use mobile wallets like paytim. Now a days in the cities even small vendors are accepting that.

    • Rachel Jones December 13, 2016 at 11:07 pm - Reply

      The problem is foreigners can’t use paytm – We can open an account but only Indian cards can add money so you have to somehow pay the Indian person for doing that recharge for you.. but there’s no cash to do so.

  2. Nicole December 14, 2016 at 5:44 am - Reply

    I left India just 2 days before the demonetisation. It sounds like an absolute riot! Although I cannot help but have a chuckle at people doing pooja to ATM machines lol. Thanks so much for sharing this- I bet it will help so many people out.

    • Rachel Jones December 15, 2016 at 3:27 pm - Reply

      Thanks Nicole, that’s great you got out in the nick of time. Luckily Goa is very relaxed and people aren’t freaking out. I’ve seen some crazy video footage of panic at ATM’s in the North.

  3. Christina December 15, 2016 at 6:19 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this article, Rachel! My boyfriend and I are coming to Goa in mid-February for a month or more, and trying to navigate this situation has been difficult from the outside. Everything you’ve posted has been really helpful!

    • Rachel Jones December 15, 2016 at 7:50 pm - Reply

      Fingers crossed by then it’ll be nearly normal! At least it will be better than now.

  4. Julie December 17, 2016 at 3:57 pm - Reply

    It’s been kind of an experience dealing with demonetization since I arrived a month ago. I arrived after 45 hours’ traveling and stood in line for over an hour to get Rs4200 (about seventy bucks at a terrible rate!) Then I stood in another line for one of two working ATMs at the airport (Delhi International – biggest in the country!) but it wouldn’t read my card. Nothing like flinging yourself into India with less than a hundred bucks and no idea if/when you can get more!

    Next day, I ran around trying to change money or just find an ATM that was in service but if it was working the line was crazy long (hours). The foreign exchanges (aka Thomas Cook, etc) were out of cash. I quickly learned Western Union offices had closed shop as had most of the ersatz ‘money changers’.

    The day after that, I found a bank that would change $70 for rupees and it only took three hours. On the same day I found another bank that changed all of my cash for rupees (yay!) The very next day the government restricted banks to changing only Rs5000 PER WEEK, so I skated in under the wire on that one. I really feel sorry for the people who arrived after that “minor” change. Still did not find a working ATM.

    The day after that, I presented myself at the concierge desk of the fanciest 5-star hotel I could find and asked them where they were sending their customers. I was directed to an ATM across the street (out of cash). I was directed to another ATM in the building next door – also out of cash. Same deal at the next three. I found two working ATMs after that – one was only accepting deposits (boo) and one had a line down the block. I stood in line but that ATM wouldn’t read my card either. So I completely struck out over four days.

    So I left Delhi with quite a bit of cash in my pocket (30,000 in new 500 notes) but no idea if my ATM card was working in India. When I got to Goa, I promptly paid the apartment owners rent for a month, and my yoga teacher got another big chunk, and the proprietor of my favorite beach shack got the rest (I thought I would just go ahead and pay him in advance to put the money into circulation and to stop worrying about securing such a large amount).

    The ATMs in Goa have been less…what’s the word – frantic? I found a SBI ATM where the wait was only 30 minutes and I was able to use it six times in a row before I got kicked out of the booth by the guard. I came back a couple of days later and used it twice again. I’m one of the lucky ones – my bank doesn’t charge me an ATM fee and I found an Indian ATM that didn’t charge me one either. People I know have been complaining their bank and the Indian bank charge them a total of Rs360 for a Rs2000 withdrawal.

    Of course, ATMs only give Rs2000 notes which are difficult to use in small shops unless you buy A LOT. They just don’t have the change! A couple of shops have started issuing fiat currency so they at least have something to give people, even if you can only use it at the same shop.

    A traveler acquaintance of mine was able to open a bank account (with three trips to the bank and some special finagling of rental documents) so he’s sorted. I’d love to but I don’t have a lease (aka – an address for the bank) and my landlord hasn’t filed the appropriate paperwork.

    As for using Uber – nope! Does not exist anywhere remotely close to where I am. Taxis and buses are cash only. Beach shacks – cash only. Most shops don’t have POC machines and the ones that do have a minimum purchase requirement (usually Rs300-500). If anyone is reading this – it is possible to get a good meal in a sit-down restaurant for Rs250, including main course, side of rice/naan, and a beverage but the circles of a Venn diagram of places that will take your plastic and places in which you can eat a full meal for Rs250 just don’t touch!

    Also – better hope the power doesn’t go out, the internet is working and your international credit card is both accepted by the merchant’s POC machine AND not blocked by your bank! If the stars align, you’re golden. If not – This Is India! so carry some emergency cash.

    I hang at a beach shack frequently and the proprietor turns away people all day who are looking to use “old” notes, get change when they spend new notes, or just to change foreign money so they can buy something. It’s really frustrating for business people when they can’t sell you what you want.

    It’s not all doom and gloom. Things ARE getting better with time but slowly, as all things in India happen. A working ATM here, a shorter line there, a shop with change for 2000. The money crunch IS easing, more notes are in circulation, people who had stashed cash at home for emergencies have built up their reserves again and are back to buying (some) things. You can always use Amazon.in to have stuff delivered using your card. But it’s an adjustment and it’s not quite as cheap and, well, India was never “easy” but it’s not as easy as it was before demonetization, so set your expectations accordingly.

    Lastly – as Rachel suggests – check with your bank before you leave your home country to see if they have any rupees. I called four different banks (my tiny credit union and three national chains) and checked with a couple of foreign exchanges before I left (the kind that send you the cash in the mail), and checked in person at foreign exchanges at four different airports on my way, and not one was able to provide a single rupee. YMMV. Good luck, traveler!

    • Rachel Jones December 19, 2016 at 6:45 pm - Reply

      Thank you for sharing all this valuable information! It’s very helpful.

  5. Basavaraj December 24, 2016 at 9:28 pm - Reply

    Found uselful

  6. Victoria December 30, 2016 at 10:45 pm - Reply

    Hi Rachel,
    Apologies if this is obvious but I’ve just skimmed through your article and, admittedly, I haven’t read the links. I’m coming to Mumbai and Goa for a wedding in March, just for a week; if I bring my currency with me (order and collect in the UK) will that be okay or is there a limit on what we can bring in?
    Thanks in advance
    Victoria

    • Rachel Jones December 31, 2016 at 12:04 pm - Reply

      Victoria, I don’t think there is a limit of what you can bring in but I’ve been hearing it’s nearly impossible to get they money while abroad now. I think that by March things should be somewhat normalized as even now the lines are getting shorter at least in Goa.

  7. Jim January 5, 2017 at 6:36 am - Reply

    Hi Rachel,
    Hope everything in Goa is going well. Thank you for the wonderful information you have provided on your website, it’s very useful. My partner and I are arriving in Delhi on 8 January 2017. We are concerned with the repercussions of accessing Rupees while we are in India. I have managed to get some rupees in Australia from one of our banks, thank god. We are staying 3 weeks and would like to know if the situation has improved?
    Also is the 5000 rupee limit per week in foreign exchange for tourist on note transactions in banks or does it include currency transactions from atm’s as well? Does the limit also apply when making currency transactions with non bank official exchange dealers?
    Would it be wise to rely on Australian dollars or do I need to change our dollars into US dollars? Any information you can provide would be very helpful and much appreciated, thank you.
    Cheers.

    • Rachel Jones January 5, 2017 at 2:39 pm - Reply

      It has improved a bit. They upped it to 4,000 Rs per ATM transactions which is a huge help. The 5000 limit is only for exchanging foriegn notes. It does not include transactions with non-bank official people (but does include all airport place, thomas cook etc).

  8. John Watts January 19, 2017 at 12:37 am - Reply

    Hi Rachel
    We are planning to come to India Feb. 18th, but we are wondering how the currency supply has been lately. I have been checking the news and it looks like it is getting better. What do you see there? Thank you

    • Rachel Jones January 19, 2017 at 7:49 pm - Reply

      It’s gotten much better. Many ATM’s are still closed but the lines aren’t so long anymore. You can now take out 4k Rs at a time.

  9. kelsey hayden January 19, 2017 at 12:59 am - Reply

    Rachel! I came across your blog & am SO glad to have so much guidance! I am coming to India in March, and will be traveling alone. Have there be any updates since you wrote regarding the ATM situation?

    • Rachel Jones January 19, 2017 at 7:49 pm - Reply

      It’s gotten much better. Many ATM’s are still closed but the lines aren’t so long anymore. You can now take out 4k Rs at a time.

  10. Charlotte February 13, 2017 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    Hi Rachel,

    I’m arriving in Goa on 5th March for 10 days (super excited!) but wondering about the cash situation now. What would you recommend? I know you said Goa takes card but I don’t want to use it all the time because of the fees! Would it be best to bring cash in with me?

    Thanks for all your recommendations by the way – can’t wait to relax and explore!

    C

    • Rachel Jones February 14, 2017 at 2:58 pm - Reply

      Hey Charlotte – things are pretty much back to normal these days! No more worries :)

  11. Joaquin February 16, 2017 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    Hi Rachel, me and my partner are flying next week to Northeast india, to Arunachal Pradesh exactly. Do you have a clue about how are things there now regards money?

    • Rachel Jones February 16, 2017 at 6:09 pm - Reply

      Things are better now in Goa and in most cities but I am unsure about rural areas. From what I’ve read, it’s back to normal.

  12. elisemicheals March 26, 2017 at 4:30 am - Reply

    Hey Rachel!! Coming to India tomorrow and just stumbled across this article of yours! Any update on the money situation/tips for easier money exchange?

  13. elisemicheals March 26, 2017 at 4:31 am - Reply

    Okay well I’ve just read things seem to be back to normal-Does that mean just take cash or bank card and exchange in the airport is the best way? How much money do you recommend on withdrawing?

  14. Kabryn April 16, 2017 at 7:39 pm - Reply

    Hi Rachel! I am coming to India in 10 days. Does it all seem about back to normal? Would you recommend I show up with rupees or are the ATMs reliable at airports now?

  15. Giulia June 6, 2017 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    Any news? I’m going to travel all over India for months, starting in September. This whole thing started way back in 2016, so I’m wondering if things have settled since then. The last thing I want is to struggle with money!

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