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.
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 6S 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:
- Photocopy of your passport (and the original document)
- Photocopy of your visa (and the original document)
- Proof of address in the U.K. (utility bill or official government document i.e. drivers’ license)
- Proof of address in India (where you are staying)
- And of course, money!
- Note: If you have an e-visa, you may be asked for a photocopy of your entry stamp in your passport. Usually there will be a photocopying shop close by or the phone shop will be able to create one – just ask them where is best to get one if they say that it is required.
Which provider to 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
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 scams common in India.
I personally did not experience any problems and my SIM 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 Plan
For 550Rs, I bought a SIM card which gave me 1GB data per day (1028MB to be precise), 1000 SMS messages and unlimited calls to other Indian numbers. This offer was valid for 3 months and this was with Vodafone – I haven’t been able to find this information on their website though.
As far as I am aware, Airtel offer pretty much exactly the same plan, here’s a link to their website.
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:
- Go to the shop, present your documents and pay for your SIM card.
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.
Call 59095 and select option 1 to hear the instructions in English.
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.
You may need to restart your phone again.
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.”
Go ahead and send START to 1925.
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.”
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.
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!
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