Getting a SIM card in India | India Travel Tips
In the past I’ve struggled with SIM cards in India. They’ve always felt tricky to get and stay active, but maybe in retrospect, they weren’t. They simply took additional documents to apply for them and a little research and knowledge of how it all works.
In India so far, I’ve probably had a total of two guesthouse hotels that have actually had internet. However, the wifi was often very spotty. There are internet cafes in some heavily touristed areas. You’re paying very little for your time, but often you’re bound to an ancient cafe computer. There are even STD shops where you can make local calls.
For a travel blogger like myself, getting a sim card in India was a no brainer. I need to stay connected.
So I thought I’d do with a video on getting an Indian SIM in India.
How much does an Indian SIM cost?
I got an Indian SIM data plan that cost me 1,081 rupees. I spent around 50 or 60 rupees onto my talk time. Altogether that was the total I spent on my one SIM and a data plan. And that was for a 10GB at 3G speed plan. It’s actually unlimited internet, but then after 10GB, it slows down to 2g… and god knows what else.
The SIM was active for 28 days, which is almost a month. After that, it would need to be renewed.
If I used up all my 10GB (at 3G ) before 28 days and wanted to refresh it, then I would just need to pay for another plan.
Where can you buy your Indian SIM?
Travelers can get their SIM cards from little shops and street stores. Even if it looks a little shady and hole-in-the-wall looking business, as long as you see signs touting SIM or mobile providers and plans, it’s a mobile shop. Even the official service provider stores will tell you that you can go to any one of those shops to buy a SIM plan or get your SIM card “topped off” (aka get minutes added onto them).
Common SIM Issues & problems
Sometimes, vendors will sell you a used SIM, which means, a few days to a couple weeks later, your SIM may shut off earlier than it’s expiration date. This is a common issue for travelers to deal with. Combined with the fact that India is a large country and mobile networks may not have strong signals in certain regions, whether you’ve got a used scam or a weak signal, it’s never quite clear. But it is stressful to deal with, if you’re running back and forth to vendors and saying “Why does my SIM not work?’ It’s especially stressful when you’ve moved to a different city only to find it has shut off.
In the past I’ve had one SIM shut off at least three times. I even went directly to a Vodaphone store to get my SIM reactivated after it shut off. Vodaphone reactivated it and then it still shut off! So clearly, I’m not a fan of Vodaphone.
However, this time, Vodaphone was the only nearby option I had in my Kolkata location and knowing an Indian SIM’s ability to mysteriously shut off, I decided to go directly to an official Vodaphone store (vs. a street vendor) to buy my SIM card. I was flying back out of Kolkata at the end of my trip, so in essence, I wanted someone to yell at if it experienced the same issue.
This time around, my Vodaphone SIM worked well without a hitch! It did have weak signals in certain areas northeast of Kolkata, like Darjeeling and Sikkim… and absolutely no signal for a day in Varanasi, but otherwise, it worked fine. However, you do have to be a little cautious of everything in India. Vodaphone did slide in an extra service charge on my plan. I wondered why I was burning through my call minutes so quickly, despite making few calls. I later discovered through an Indian friend who’s worked at his father’s mobile shop, that Vodaphone signed me up for a Caller Tunes service, enabling music to play for incoming callers at a slightly higher minute-rate value! Sometimes, it’s hard to trust “official” stores.
And that’s why it’s good to make Indian friends!
Either way, whichever vendor you use, make sure they ask for all the documents I’ll list below. These documents are mandatory in order to be registered with the service provider and the government. If a vendor does not need your official documents to get a SIM, expect your SIM to shut off or go wonky.
Which mobile providers are good in India?
Airtel is the number one provider for a lot of India. Vodaphone and Idea are also leading providers. BSNL has good coverage for rural areas, I’ve heard. If you’re staying in one particular region, you might find which provider has the strongest coverage for it. With Vodaphone, the moment I hit Darjeeling and north of it, the signal wasn’t consistent.
So far, these three top brands are GSM networked. So if you have a CDMA phone, they might not work with that. Just do your research before you buy a SIM.
What documents do you need to get an India SIM?
Getting an Indian SIM is easy and not. You’ll need to present official documents:
– You’ll need your passport, so they can xerox a copy of your information page.
– They’ll also want to xerox a copy of your visa. I went with the e- online visa on arrival visa, which is a simple stamp. This might throw some Indians off. The longer term tourist visa is like a sticker the size of your passport page.
– Two passport photos preferably 2 inches by 2 inches.
– You will need a contact name, phone number and address in India. My hotel, they gave me their business card, the name of the front desk receptionists and a copy of the receipt of my first day’s payment.
How long does it take to activate?
Expect to wait, at the least, a day. Initially I went in, paid 5 rupees for my sim card and presented all my document to them. That was around 6:30 at night.
And then in the morning my card started to receive a signal. By midday I went back to the store where I got to recharge my minutes, where I had rupees for talk minutes as well as, a data pan. That’s where I told them what data plan I wanted. That was the way I was told it had to happen.
All that was activated at least by 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
For more on Staying connected through your phone, mobile hotspots, mifis and internet sticks, read here.