A guide to getting an Indian SIM card as a tourist

6th January 2018

Travelling to India for many people can be a stressful and tiring experience – particularly if it’s your first time or you’re travelling solo.

In a world dominated by apps and social media, often the convenience of tapping something into Google, or the familiarity of scrolling through your news feed, can put your mind at ease more than you would expect.

Although I’m happy to go without data or WiFi for short periods, when I’m travelling on long journeys, laying on a beach or pulling into a new, unfamiliar destination, I find that being connected to the Internet really helps. No sooner can I use Google Maps to figure out where to go, or I can quickly update my Instagram account while I’m en route.

Mobile plans with data included are becoming ever-popular in India and it is possible, although perhaps not as straightforward as it could be, to get an Indian SIM card if you are a tourist.

So, for those of you who, like me, might disdain from admitting they are addicted to their phones and prefer instead to insist that having data is simply ‘convenient’, here is a guide on how to get an Indian SIM card with data for your travels in India as a foreigner/ tourist.

How to get an Indian SIM card as a tourist - spinthewindrose.com

Getting an Indian SIM card as a tourist doesn’t have to be difficult!


Before you leave India…

Make sure your phone is unlocked to any network before you fly to India. Usually you can just call your network provider to request this; sometimes there is a cost. I bought my iPhone X unlocked as I travel often.

What you need:

You will need to present various documents when you go to get an Indian SIM card. These are:

How to get an Indian SIM card as a tourist - spinthewindrose.com

Once you insert your new SIM card, remember to activate it!

Which network provider should you choose?

Jio, Airtel and Vodafone are the big three providers which offer the best coverage across the country.

Jio is only available to Indians so if you want to use it, you’ll need to make pals with an Indian citizen. There are discussions over who provides the best coverage between AirTel and Vodafone – from what has been discussed in various forums online it seems they are similar. In some areas you’ll be lucky to get a signal at all.

On my most recent trip to India, I had a Vodafone SIM card and I found I had 3G or 4G signal throughout my travels in Goa and Kerala – and, strangely, I had better coverage on Agonda Beach than in the town! Odd.

Where to buy your Indian SIM Card

Surely it makes the most sense to get your SIM card as soon as you step off the plane, right? I thought the same, but a quick check through the posts in the India Backpackers group on Facebook persuaded me to wait and find a local shop instead.

Beware that prices at the airport can be more expensive!

Many people reported paying two to three times the price when they purchased a SIM card at the airport compared to those who bought elsewhere. Many people who bought from the airport also said that their coverage simply stopped working after a few days. Whilst this could be bad luck, this could be one of many common scams in India.

I personally did not experience any problems and my Indian SIM card worked perfectly throughout my time in India. I therefore advise you to go to a town near your destination (I went to Canacona in Goa) and buy your SIM there instead of at the airport.

Cost and Plans on your Indian SIM Card

For 550Rs (about £6 GBP / $8 USD), I bought a Vodafone SIM card which gave me 1GB data per day (1028MB to be precise), 1000 SMS messages and unlimited calls to other Indian numbers. This plan was valid for 3 months.

How to get an Indian SIM card as a tourist - spinthewindrose.com

Yep, that’s my phone number written on the back of the SIM card packaging

How to activate your Indian SIM card

Contrary to what I thought, your new Vodafone SIM card won’t work as soon as you put it into your phone. First you need to activate it – the vendor may well advise you of the following steps but if not, here’s what to do:

  1. Go to the shop, present your documents and pay for your SIM card.
  2. At 9pm the same night (or the following day, depending on what the vendor tells you), insert your new SIM card into your unlocked phone and restart your phone.
  3. Call 59095 and select option 1 to hear the instructions in English.
  4. You will be asked to enter your date of birth followed by the last four digits of your passport/identity document presented at the time of purchase.
  5. You may need to restart your phone again.
  6. You should then receive a text message saying “Dear customer, to activate your mobile Internet services, SMS START to 1925 or dial 1925 IVR. Data charges of 4p/10kB will apply on browsing without pack.”
  7. Go ahead and send START to 1925.
  8. You should then receive a message saying “Hi, Your request to activate internet (ref no. 2274336848 ) on 01-DEC-17 has been fulfilled. Internet usage without pack will be charged at standard rates.”
  9. Et voilà you are good to go!

Please note that the above is accurate for new Vodafone SIM cards, the set up procedure may be different for other providers. It is worth noting that you should set up your phone and sim in the same region as you bought it, as when you go to a different region you will be “roaming” and apparently this causes problems on activation.

How to get an Indian SIM card as a tourist - spinthewindrose.com

Passport? Check. Phone? Check. Indian SIM card? Check.

Have you been to India? Did you buy an Indian SIM Card?

I hope this guide helps – please share it with your friends travelling to India to help them too!

Thanks for reading and happy travels!

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on them and purchase something from the linked site, I’ll earn a tiny (and I mean tiny!) commission at no extra cost to you, which contributes to running this blog.

I hope you found this post helpful! Here are some others you might enjoy:

A guide to Solo Female Travel in India –

10 Day Kerala Itinerary –

Why Shimla should be on your India itinerary –

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How to get an indian sim card - spinthewindrose.com

How to get an indian sim card - spinthewindrose.com

10 responses to “A guide to getting an Indian SIM card as a tourist”

  1. Ben says:

    When I got my Vodafone SIM card in Tamil Nadu in December 2017 I did need passport photos to obtain my SIM card as a tourist. It was actually quite a hassle. I needed a local reference. It required going to the main Vodafone Store in Madurai. It took 24 hours for the SIM to be activated.

  2. Adrian says:

    There must be a better way! Well there is. I was lucky enough to stumble upon this company that saved me all the hassle Abby described here. They’re called Sim Raj. You buy their package before your trip and do all the paperwork etc and you just pickup your sim at the airport! It was really nice to get the sim the second I landed. Check it out Abby next time you’re in India!

    • Long S says:

      40$ is ten times price, i bought successfully from a local shop in Delhi only 400rs. I was very upset while trying at the airport about the required documents, but later i asked at some more shops all ask for the same so i know it’s government law so found this article and prepared all documents then it was easy.

      1.5Gb data per day, unlimited call to mobile and land landline for 30 days.

  3. It’s a very useful blog for tourists. I am reading your blog and I get the really helpful information. Great info share on this blog. Thanks and keep it up.

  4. Debashis Bagchi says:

    OCI Card Holder discriminated and harrasched in India: I had corresponded with Airtel Customer Service (121@airtel.com). According the Instruction from Airtel, I have prepared the my requierd Documents in Austria.
    I have visit Airtel Relationship Centre, 31, Park street, Kolkata 700016 on 11.012.2018. Airtel had refused to provide me SIM Card without reference local mobile number, which was confirmed by Airtel Customer Service (121@airtel.com).
    I had lot of Problem during my stay from 10.12.2018-12.01.2019 in Kolkata without indian Mobile Phone.
    TRAI and DOT guidelines the local reference number is mandatory to avail the new prepaid connection for foreign subscriber.
    If you immigrate with E-Visa, you can have SIM Card without Reference number, but if one born in India and OCI Card Holder must have Reference Number with verified and attested Identification and Residencial Documents by local Authority and indian Embassy!
    In last few years the indian Embassy has develope in favour of OCI Card Holder. Thatswhy I hope, if we demand indian Government together, the problem will be solved.
    Various representations had been received from Non Resident India (NRIs) and Overseas Indians and foreign nationals citing difficulties being faced by them in re-verification of their Indian mobile connections. I am not single incident.
    The difficulties arose because NRI and OCI do not have Aadhaar and nor were they eligible to enrol for the 12-digital biometric identifier.
    The DoT has also informed operators about the procedure for IVRS-based One Time Password (OTP) authentication of telecom subscribers whose mobile number is registered with Aadhaar. Which mean Reference mobile number is requird for Indian SIM Card.
    Industry body COAI said that while the new processes notified today would benefit subscribers, the procedure for NRIs and senior citizens was “complex”.
    “…the notified process for NRIs and senior citizens is still very complex and we would work with DoT to ease it for the consumers and subscribers,” Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) Director General Rajan S Mathews said in a statement.
    We (most OCI Card Holder) are disappointment over the telecom department only issuing an IVR-based process for OTP authentication.

  5. Priya Singh says:

    After reading your article, I checked out your website, and i really like your post.

  6. Eric says:

    My experience as an American with obtaining a prepaid SIM card in India. I have an unlocked GSM+CDMA iPhone 7, and am travelling in India for business.

    I asked at the information counter in the Mumbai airport and was told to not obtain a SIM card in the Mumbai airport as it was not my final destination. I was advised to get a SIM card in Indore, which was my final air travel destination. At Indore airport there were no SIM card vendors. I went to an Airtel store in an Indore shopping district. This was a modern Airtel-only shop nicely lit and furnished that only sold Airtel SIM cards and plans, nothing else. The shop had helpful staff that spoke English well enough to complete the task eventually.

    I was required to have name, address, and mobile telephone number of a local contact. This person was called to assure this contact information was valid. I also had to have my passport with Visa stamp and a paper copy of my eVisa. I was not required to have a photograph, as they took my photo while I was there. The process took a full three hours, as the information had to be input two or three times to overcome back-office rejections due to quality of the photos of the eVisa. Each time the data were submitted, there was a 30 minute to wait to see if the SIM card activated or would be rejected again. I was required to wait in the store until the phone was fully activated. The cost was 600 Rs (about $8.57 US) and includes unlimited talk and text and 1.5 GB of data per day (yes per day!) for a 30-day period. I paid cash.

    I was told this SIM card will work in all of India. So far, it has worked acceptably, and at this moment I have 4G connectivity at 28 Mbs up, 20 Mbs down.

  7. Juls says:

    Thank you so much.I got an idea.2020 March i will be travelling India for business purposes.

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I’m a travel-loving sustainability advocate, on a journey to live a low-impact lifestyle alongside seeing the world. I’m obsessed with my two dogs, secondhand shopping, and growing vegetables.