Traveling in India is challenging and exciting! The sizable subcontinent of over 1.2 billion people is diverse, to say the least. And it has a reputation for testing the nerve of first-time travelers.
For a softer landing, get to know a little more about the planet's second-most populous country before you go. Veteran travelers will confirm: no matter how many times you've been, you can never be fully prepared for what India has to show you!
- Official Name: Republic of India
- Location: South Asia
- Time: UTC + 05:30 (9.5 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time; Daylight Savings Time is not observed)
- Country Phone Code: +91
- Population: 1.32 billion (per 2016 census)
- Capital City: New Delhi (population: 26.5 million per 2016 census)
- Primary Religions: Hinduism and Islam
- Drives on the: left
Indian Visa Requirements
For now, only citizens from Japan are granted a visa on arrival in the airport. All others must obtain travel authorization before arriving. The best way to do so is to apply electronically on the Indian e-Visa website.
Although the Indian e-Visa system put into place in 2014 is a giant leap over the old nightmare of applying on paper, the system is still far from streamlined.
The e-Visa is valid for 60 days after arrival and can be applied for twice in a calendar year. The duration cannot be extended once in India. If you wish to travel in India for longer, you'll have to get the "old" visa by applying at an Indian consulate before you arrive.
Prices for an Indian e-Visa are based on nationality. The price for U.S. citizens is US $100 plus a bank processing fee for the payment.
Money in India
- Official Currency: Indian rupee (INR)
- ATMs: Easily found in tourist areas
- Credit Cards: Only accepted at large hotels, some shopping malls, and for online bookings. An additional fee may be added if you pay with credit card.
- Tipping: Expected in some scenarios. Service charges are often added onto the bill at some hotels and restaurants.
- Coins: Technically, 1 Indian rupee is broken down into 100 paisas, however, all but the 50-paisa coin has been demonetized. You won't typically have to worry about such small amounts while traveling in India.
Staying consistent with the country's penchant for paperwork, receipts in India can be bewildering. Many include a breakdown of various service charges and taxes levied — at different rates — for food, drinks, and services. Prices in small shops should be inclusive of tax, however, hotels, bars, and restaurants will most likely tack on additional charges. For bigger purchases, always ask for an itemized receipt in case you are entitled to a VAT (government tax) refund in the airport upon departure.
ATMs in India are fairly reliable, although machines located in small towns may often run out of cash or have long queues after payday.
Tip: Large banknotes (the 2,000-rupee note) can be difficult to break; many people simply don't have enough cash to provide change. Enter amounts into ATMs strategically to receive smaller denominations, horde your small change when possible, and use large banknotes at bigger establishments where you won't cause them a lot of stress to find change.
In 2016, surprise demonetization of the 500-rupee and 1,000-rupee banknotes created chaos. The 500-rupee denomination has been replaced in 2017, and a new 1,000-rupee banknote is expected to follow.
Electricity in India
- Power: 230 volts / 50 Hz
- Outlets: EuroPlug (round with two prongs); type "D" and also type "M" (round with three prongs) sockets are seen.
Despite a history of British rule, outlets in India don't follow the same configuration used in the United Kingdom (square with three prongs). Outlets vary from place to place, with newer tourist establishments offering universal outlets that accept all the popular types of plugs — thankfully!
You'll probably need a plug adapter to connect to power while traveling in India. Most electronics with a charging transformer (e.g., laptops) or USB-charging (e.g., mobile phones) will already work at 230 volts. You will need a power converter to step down the voltage if you bring a hair dryer or some other device that doesn't adapt to the voltage.
Power in India can be "unclean," meaning that sags and surges may travel the lines and damage electronic devices. Be mindful of the frequent power outages, and try not to charge your electronic devices unattended.
Getting Around India
India isn't just big, it's huge! Changing regions means taking either a domestic flight, train (the most popular option), or a bone-rattling, long-haul bus.
Once in a new town or city, you'll have an abundance of transportation options — and offers — from taxi drivers and auto-rickshaw drivers, the Indian equivalent of a tuk-tuk. Driving in India can be a real challenge; hiring a private car with driver is a better option than renting a car.
Accommodation in India
There is a surprising amount of paperwork involved with checking into hotels in India. Visa and passport information needs to be recorded and photocopied.
Accommodation ranges from the grungiest $5 budget guesthouses to lavish hotels, many with an old, colonial-era flair and staff that are helpful but often overly attentive.
Tip: Always ask for a receipt when extending or paying your hotel bill halfway through your stay. A popular scam involves the front desk "losing" track of your earlier payments.
When to Go to India
India experiences two monsoons each year with heavy rainfall and plenty of scorching hot temperatures between.
Although India is large and natural features can affect weather, the months between June and October are considered the wettest time to visit as the southwest monsoon cools down the country. July and August are the rainiest months.
October is generally regarded as the start of the busy season as rains let off and more tourists begin to arrive in November.
Snow in high-elevation places nearer the Himalayas such as Manali can block mountain passes as early a October.
Communicating in India
The official languages in India are Hindi and English.
A staggering array of languages and dialects are spoken across the Indian subcontinent. Interestingly, the only place on the planet with more languages than India is Papua New Guinea!
But don't worry too much: English is spoken widely throughout India. English is used by the government and is the language for conducting business. Once you become more accustomed to the rate and rhythm of the English spoken in India, you'll be able to communicate more easily as you travel throughout the country.
Even with the prevalence of English, knowing a few words in Hindi (especially the correct way to pronounce namaste) will come in useful and can enhance your trip experience.
Perhaps the most famous cause of miscommunication for foreigners traveling in India is the Indian head wobble. Depending on the context, the fun gesture can be used for everything from saying "yes" to showing gratitude, acknowledgement, or saying hello!