Image by Ramesh Lalwani, CC BY 2.0

First Time in India? How to Get a Prepaid SIM Card as a Foreigner?

This post from our travel writer based in India, Rohit Agarwal, is very useful for travellers needing to get a SIM card in India. We found the process a bit daunting when we were there in November, so these hints are very useful. Thanks Rohit!

All set for a holiday to India!
Of course you like to stay in contact with your family and friends back home, so while planning your trip do not forget to pack a handset that does not restrict you to one service provider. Certain makes and models of handsets are restricted to use SIM cards of particular service providers or are locked. This could be a strong barrier to cheap communications during your trip, so it is a good idea to pack an unlocked handset which is either dual, tri band or quad band so it can work in India.

Image by Ramesh Lalwani, CC BY 2.0
Image by Ramesh Lalwani, CC BY 2.0

There are certain things to note while you hunt for a prepaid SIM card in India.
1. Documentation
To purchase a prepaid SIM card, you will need to provide the following documents:

  • 2-3 coloured passport size photographs,
  • A photocopy of your passport, specifically the page containing your personal details,
  • A copy of your Indian Visa,
  • Proof of your stay in India – a letter from the Hotel or guest house confirming your stay as a guest, and
  • A photocopy of the proof of address for your place of residence back home.

On providing the above set of documents you should be able to access a prepaid mobile service in India.

2. Which service provider should you choose?
There are a range of mobile prepaid service providers available in India such as Airtel, Idea, Vodafone, Reliance, BSNL & MTNL. Apart from the ease of availability, also consider good network coverage and data connectivity. Though all the service providers boast of good network coverage, the challenge is to provide uninterrupted 3G and 4G connectivity. The larger carriers here are Airtel, Idea, Vodafone and Reliance. If you travel  to rural areas or inland regions, then MTNL or BSNL would be the best option as they have better coverage in these areas.

3. SIM cost and running expenses
Buying a SIM will cost you somewhere between 150 to 250 Indian Rupees, and you may need to pay extra to recharge it. Recharge options are customised for different parameters like local calls, STD calls, ISD packages, data packages, SMS packages, etc. When you choose the recharge option consider convenience and optimal usage that suits your needs. Recharge choices also come with validity options. Packages are available for day, month and even annual use. You should be very cautious while selecting these packages. On average, an international call is charged at approx. Rs. 7 per minute and an international SMS might cost you Rs. 5 per SMS. On the other hand, calls or SMS within India would cost you around 1 rupee per minute or 1 rupee per SMS. Also, many coffee shops, bus stands, museums and hospitals provide free Wi-Fi access.

4. Calling from an Indian prepaid SIM
To make outgoing calls from your Indian prepaid mobile service to any city within India, you need to dial the STD code of the city when dialing a fixed line number. If you intend to make a call to a mobile number within India, you need to dial +91 (country code for India) prefixed to the 10 digit mobile number. Similarly while making an international fixed line call, dial the country code + area code + phone number, and for an international mobile number call dial the country code followed by the mobile number.

Many airports in India have kiosks or desks that provide you with prepaid SIM cards. If you have all the required documents handy, using this facility at airports would be a viable option for all foreign travellers looking for a means to connect back home.

Edited by Martin Drury

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