I did a lot of research on India prior to arriving, however my personal experiences are only from a small area in southern India. Northern India may be drastically different as far as the information provided below.
Before you go…
Travel Document Requirements
- Passport – required
- Visa for Business – required
- Visa for Tourism – required (read more about how to acquire a tourist visa here)
- Visa for Transit – required
- Hep A
- Hep B
- Chicken Pox
- Measles, Mumps, Rubella
- Japanese Encephalitis
- Malaria (prescription pills)
- Check out this post for more information about vaccines.
Customs and Culture
Hindi and English are the official languages
Larger notes were recently taken out of distribution. There were a lot of problems immediately after, however they seem to have cleared up. ATMs are easy to find in most cities and towns. I recommend paying with larger rupees whenever you can as a lot of vendors will want exact change. When you exchange money, ask for smaller bills.
Tipping in India is pretty uncommon. Outside of restaurants, it’s not even expected. Tipping 10% at restaurants or to guides worked well for me. Read here for a more in depth explanation of tipping in India.
Men – men can dress normally in India
Women – Women should be careful not to show too much skin on their legs. Long skirts and pants are best. Tops are more lenient as belly tops are somewhat common in India. You should be fully covered even at most beaches. I went to a few beaches where men were swimming in trunks, but women were fully dressed in regular clothes and didn’t get in the water.
Shoes – You may be asked to remove your shoes in some places including temples.
- Medical care is available in most populated areas and occasionally meets Western standards. Medical care in rural areas is very limited.
- Air pollution is a large problem in many of the major cities of India. It is best to consult a doctor before leaving if you are a child, over 65, have lung problems, heart disease, diabetes, or work outdoors.
- Food – Food poisoning is somewhat likely to happen in India. I got sick once during my month in India and it was at a really nice resort. I heard a similar story from another traveler who got sick from food at a nice resort. The best advice is not to eat raw veggies or fruits that have been washed in the water. Only eat at busy food carts and restaurants to ensure the food is fresh.
- Water – Water is not safe to drink, however I had no problems brushing my teeth with it. I did get sick once in India, and I believe the cause was a sweet lassi with ice. It was at a nice resort, so always be careful when ordering drinks.
Emergency Phone Numbers (like 911)
- 112 (if calling from a cell phone)
- 100 for police
- 102 for ambulance
- 108 for ambulance (in South India)
- 101 for fire
- Driving – Vehicles drive on the left hand side of the street.
- Walking – Look both directions before crossing the street even if you have the right of way. You will rarely find a cross walk and sometimes intersections don’t even have lights. Follow a local across the first few times and eventually you get the hang of it. Always stop for motorbikes as they will rarely stop for you.
- Uber – Take Uber everywhere! Seriously, it’s half the price of any cab. It’s the best way to avoid scams in India. I’ve never loved an app as much as I love Indian Uber. Plus a 45 minute ride is like $3.
Mostly, I experienced “friendly scams.” Someone showing me around and then expecting a big tip. Cabs demanding more money halfway through a ride (with a smile on their face) claiming they didn’t know how far the destination was. Tuk-tuks trying to take me to stores to shop (they get a commission). It was also super aggravating but I never felt in danger. This is the first country I’ve been to where someone being extra nice was suspicious.
- Taxi drivers and train porters may take you to an overpriced hotel, unwanted tour, offer unwelcome purchases, or extend cab rides.
- Tuk-tuk drivers will offer a free ride if you stop at a store along the way. Just say no. The store will pressure you into buying something and the cab gets a commission (making the items you purchase more expensive)
- Someone may drop money or squirt something on your clothes as a distraction for theft.
- Drugged drinks or tainted food may be given to make you more vulnerable.
- Vendors may sell items that are not the quality promised (especially when shipping the item).
- You may be offered money for privately transporting gems or gold in which you leave a deposit and are paid upon arrival in your country. This usually results in arrest.
- Someone may call your family members back home for funds to release you from jail. Your family should call the embassy for accurate information before releasing any funds.
- The state of Arunachal Pradesh
- The Andaman Islands
- The Union Territory of the Laccadives Islands
- Portions of…
- The state of Sikkim
- The state of Himachal Pradesh
- The state of Uttarakhand
- The state of Rajasthan
- The state of Jammu & Kashmir
- The state of Manipur
- The state of Mizoram
- The state of Nagaland
- Swimming – Exercise caution when swimming in open water. Some areas contain strong undertows which have caused drownings
- Wildlife Safaris – Safety standards vary. Ask tour guides and operators if they are licensed. Keep a safe distance from animals at all times.
- Cell Phone Service – I bought a Vodaphone SIM card with 1GB for 300 rupees ($4.50)
- Related books – Holy Cow! An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald
- Toilets – Generally you will encounter western style toilets, however squat toilets are common in public places. It’s pretty easy to use one but I recommend rolling your pant legs up before squatting as the ground is usually pretty dirty. Sometimes you will need to pay to use public restrooms so always have your wallet on you. Toilet paper and soap are not usually provided, so always have tissues and hand sanitizer with you.
Embassies and Consulates
This post originally appeared on www.fulltimeexplorer.com