Getting a SIM card in India | India Travel Tips
How do you get an Indian SIM card? is a popular question for travelers. In this day and age of social media, staying connected for safety, rideshare apps and Google maps, you want and need an Indian SIM card.
In the past I’ve struggled with SIM cards in India. They’ve always felt tricky to get and stay active.They simply took additional documents to apply for them and a little research and knowledge of how it all works.
Table of Contents: How to Get an SIM card in India for Tourists
- 1 Should you get a SIM card in India?
- 2 How much does an Indian SIM card and data plan cost?
- 3 How to Get an SIM card in India for tourists
- 4 What do you need to get an India SIM card?
- 5 How long does it take to activate a SIM card in India?
- 6 What are the best mobile providers in India for travelers?
- 7 What are common issues with India SIM cards?
- 8 Where can you buy an Indian SIM card?
Should you get a SIM card in India?
I’m writing and filming this from my Kolkata hotel, it does not have internet access (which is the one thing that is driving me insanely batty) and this is my third trip to India. In retrospect, traveling India, I’ve probably had a total of two guesthouse hotels that have had internet. The wifi was often very spotty. I have no doubt if I stayed at an upgraded or luxury hotel I would undoubtedly have wifi, but in India you’ll find a lot of budget accommodations and family run guesthouses.
If your hotel does not have are internet cafes in some heavily touristed areas. You’re paying very little for your online time, but often you’re bound to an ancient computer which runs slow. If you need to make phone calls, then you can head to your local STD shops where you make paid 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 how to get an Indian SIM in India.
And Indian locals would recommend it.
How much does an Indian SIM card and data plan 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 card 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.
How to Get an SIM card in India for tourists
What do you need to get an India SIM card?
Getting an Indian SIM is easy and not. 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.
– 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 a SIM card in India?
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.
What are the best mobile providers in India for travelers?
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 are common issues with India SIM cards?
The most common issue i’ve experienced with being a traveler is that some vendors 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.
At the time of this filming, 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. This is why it’s helping to have Indian friends!
Where can you buy an Indian SIM card?
Travelers can get their Indian SIM cards from little shops and street stores. Often, your hotel will direct you to the nearest SIM card shop and it may be a local dealer, who looks shady with a hole-in-the-wall looking business. Rest assured, as long as your hotel seems reputable and you see signs touting SIM or mobile providers and plans, it’s a mobile shop. This is where locals go, rather than going into town in order to walk into the commercial store, which will likely have a waiting queue.
Even official commercial stores of the service provider will tell you to go to any one of those local shops to buy a SIM plan or get your SIM card “topped off” (aka get minutes added onto them). But sometimes, you just want to feel safe and have everything explained. If so, then go to the commercial store.
The only places I would buy an Indian SIM card is the commercial store of the provider itself or a locally recommended small shop. I would never buy a SIM at a third party mobile store, only because they cost a bit more and i’m always uncertain about their reputation.
Traveling India for Beginners (Resources)
Finding quality budget hotel options in India can be a challenge. Read my tips for finding the decent budget accommodations in India.
Book your India trains and buses online
These days, online booking makes trip planning easier. So far, I’ve used 12Go Asia for booking my buses and trains in Thailand and they’ve only expanded their service to meet India! Otherwise, three best website booking engines that Indians use are here.