How to get a local SIM card in India?

It is natural to be worried about connectivity during travels. Quite often it pushes people to purchase very expensive roaming from their countries. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t recommend using an international sim card in India unless you have to do so due to certain commitments. In fact, there are so many advantages of choosing Indian sim.

The local SIM Card in India gets you an entry to important services in the country: shopping, ordering taxis, food delivery, maps, internet – you name it. Secondly, the connectivity is really good in India. Thirdly, mobile data has become affordable in recent years due to the tough competition.

To give you an idea about the prices, back in 2013 I used to rip 230 INR (4.5 USD back then) to buy 1 GB of a 3G mobile internet that was transforming often into 2G outside of big cities. I used to block YouTube and other social media so the data can last longer. It was expensive for Indian standards and people mainly used mobile data for WhatsApp chatting.

Nowadays, in 199 INR (2.90 USD) you can get 1 GB of 4G speed network per day plus unlimited calls and SMS (if someone uses them. I think many travelers get a sim card in India for internet offers only).

As you can see, India is progressing really fast! In this post, I’m going to share with you how to get a Sim Card in India and what to consider while buying it. Here are some of the questions that I will cover:

  • From which local provider to buy a SIM Card in India?
  • Where to get a SIM Card in India?
  • Roaming in India
  • SIM Card for Jammu & Kashmir
  • Documents required to get a SIM Card in India
  • Other useful information about SIM Card

From which local provider to buy a SIM Card in India?

Many travelers ask me about the best sim card in India. Though there are three main connection providers in India: Airtel, Vodafone and Reliance Jio, the choice totally depends on your itinerary. If you are choosing one of the popular routes – Golden Triangle, Kerala, Goa, Rajasthan, etc – there is a vast coverage of all companies.

Read also: Popular India itineraries for the first comers

I had long experience with Airtel and Vodafone, but for the past few years, I have been with Airtel, mainly because of their offerings and plans. Plus I tested the network connectivity from North to South, East to West and was happy with the coverage except some mountain areas. If you go to smaller towns in Himalaya, surprisingly Jio has a much better connection there.

In some remote areas of Jammu & Kashmir (Nubra Valley), Himachal (Spiti Valley, Tirthan Valley, etc.) and Uttarakhand (Valley of Flowers) there is still only BSNL (a state-owned telecom company) connectivity present and no internet. In the rest of the country, you are going to be fine with Airtel or Vodafone.

Where to get a SIM Card in India?

I recommend getting a SIM Card either from network providers directly or from reputed agencies in India itself. Recently, I’ve seen a few travel/tour companies that sell sim cards online and deliver it to you after landing at the airport in India. Knowing the registration procedure, I still prefer official network providers, especially if you come for a longer period of time.

For security purpose, getting a SIM card in India as a foreigner is not always a straightforward affair.

For an Indian citizen, the SIM is just a matter of bringing an Aadhar (a type of local ID card) to the provider and instantly getting a number. It is a bit more complicated for a foreigner, though there are a few ways you can go about it:

Indian SIM Card at the airport

This is the easiest way. Once you land in T3 IGI Delhi or Chhatrapati Shivaji Mumbai, Dabolim Goa head to the provider of Airtel or Vodafone in arrival section and take the SIM Card. You just need your passport, visa and a photograph to get a sim card at the airport.

In Airtel, the sim card price is 400 INR for foreigners, but it already includes talk-time, daily internet, and SMS for a month. From the second month, you can upgrade to one of the packages available online. The SIM is activated within 2-3 hours. Check-up both Vodafone and Airtel deals when you arrive and choose which suits you better.

The only downside of this method, that it is costlier than you can get in the city. In the end, you have to choose between cost and bureaucracy.

SIM Card Black Market in India

India is a country where you will find a solution to almost any problem. Sim card can become one of them if you are a foreigner arriving not by air, but through one of the land borders.

Story-time: Once I was coming to India from Nepal via Karkarbhitta. My first stop was Siliguri (it’s not a tourist city). I visited different phone provider offices to find out that I can get a card only if I provide 3 local contacts in Siliguri.

Well, I’ve lived in India so I have contacts, but what about foreigners who come here for the first time? In any case, the office people rejected my contacts from Delhi. One man overheard my conversation with customer service and he was kind enough to provide his phone number as a reference on the form.

I thought I’m sorted, though next day my card again didn’t work. I called the office and they requested my ID card. While I told that my passport represents my identity abroad, the customer care still insisted on local ID. I sent a scan of my ID card which by chance was on my computer. The officer told they can’t accept it since it’s not in English. (Daah, not all the world is English-speaking, our bad…).

This story wouldn’t take place in a touristy city in India. Due to these struggles of foreigners, there is a growing black market where you have to pay roughly 10 USD extra and you get your prepaid SIM Card sorted. Personally, I don’t support this way of doing things… Such thinking led me to 3 weeks in India without any connection and mind you, sometimes I go to the villages and offbeat destinations (so good my parents don’t read this blog). Still, I think, it’s better to do things in the right way from the very beginning.

Your Indian friends SIM Card

If you have Indian friends and you do start exploring India from a less touristy city, ask them to help you get a number. It will save you from unnecessary hassle and stress. Nevertheless, I suggest asking only close people whom you know well to do that.

Note, there is no concept of a tourist SIM card in India in case you get super attractive offers somewhere in the local markets. Foreigners get the same local cards, but different application requirements, and validity. If not sure, check in local provider shops or on official websites – India is a digital country and most of the support teams (I got to deal with) are very responsive online.

Traveling to India for the first time? Read my detailed backpacking India guide.

Note: This post contains some affiliate links. If you purchase something using the link, I might or might not get a commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for reading this blog!

Phone unlocked and charging points in India

Getting an Indian SIM Card is half of the deal to stay connected. Before the trip, you need to ensure that your phone is unlocked (in other words, that it is not locked to a specific carrier and you will be able to change the SIM inside).

Secondly, you need to know more about plugs in India. You will need a plug D type adaptor. The good news, you can use it also in Nepal, Bangladesh and many other destinations in South Asia if you are planning an extensive trip in the region.

While in India, I also use standard European plugs (type C). If you have several flight interchanges in different countries and do not want to be confused about what plugs to use in different airports, there is a universal plug adaptor that covers over 150 countries.

Roaming and mobile internet in India

India is bigger than it seems to be on the map. It has 29 states, each state has its own language or dialect, local government, and connectivity. Every time, you cross the state border, the national “roaming” turns on.

How does it work? Internet packages are not subject to roaming charges in India (Yay!). Incoming calls or outgoing calls within the same network (e.g. all Airtel users) don’t include extra charges too, as a rule. If back in early 2010 it was easy to identify the operator by the first three digits, now you can switch the provider without changing the number, thus it became hard to say which network someone is using.

If you need a SIM card only for data, don’t bother with this. But if you plan to call a lot, consider purchasing a SIM card in the state, where you intend to spend most of your time. Alternatively, there are packages that include some talk time in whole India.

SIM Card for Jammu & Kashmir

Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is a state in the North of India, where only postpaid connection works. This measure was introduced for security purpose. If you are an Indian, I recommend getting a postpaid SIM Card from your base city in advance rather than from J&K. Verification of home address and other check-ups can last up to two days. You don’t want to waste time on talks with network providers during your travel.

As of now, foreigner tourists can’t get a postpaid SIM Card in India. Well, because post-paid connection presumes you have a permanent address of stay in India, which tourists can’t have. You can try getting a SIM Card through the travel agent. Some agents do provide this service. I recommend taking services from J&K agents as there is a better chance to clarify potential issues on spot rather than remotely on phone. Alternatively, try asking your hotel on spot.

There is also a black market for purchase/rental of SIM cards in J&K, but I do not recommend using it. Post-paid connections are registered on some local name and it’s hard to identify a genuine source of the card. The problems occur rarely (according to local sources and forums), but they do occur. Surprisingly, I received this advice from SIM Card seller himself when I was doing research for this post :D.

Documents required to get a SIM Card for foreigners in India

Beyond my struggles in several smaller cities of India, I went to several offices in Delhi, Mumbai, as well as asked in big airports. If you are a foreigner, you need to have the following documents to buy a SIM card in India:

  • Original Passport
  • Photocopy of passport and visa (big offices usually do it on spot by themselves)
  • Passport picture (2-inch x 2-inch)

Sometimes you can be also asked for:

  • Local reference number (take care to inform a person whose number you specify in the form. He/she will receive a call from the service provider)
  • Address proof in your country of residence (utility bill, ID Card, driver’s license)

In some towns, they ask up to three contacts. If you are a foreigner, explain you just arrived in the town. In most cases, common sense arguments work. Take a contact number from your hotel/guesthouse or a friend. The contact should be from the same city, where you are applying. I wasn’t asked for any in Delhi in CP or at the airport.

Note: In smaller towns, you need to insist that passport is your identity card abroad. Most of the European passports are biometric, so all the addresses and personal data is within the chip, not on the main page of the passport. In the end, an ID card is an internal document and it comes in the local language of the country, which is mostly not in English. It might take extra effort to explain.

If you are an Indian citizen, you just need your Aadhar card, local reference number, and a picture.

Take all these documents to the office of the provider. Then you will need to fill in the form on spot. It takes a minimum of two hours and a maximum of 24 hours to activate an Indian SIM Card.

If you are a foreigner, you will get the SIM card for the whole validity of your visa (if you get the sim card in a proper way). Once the visa expires, the SIM Card will be blocked.

Other useful information about SIM Card in India

  • Once you cross the border of any Indian state, your roaming will be on. The internet is not subjected to roaming charges, calling is.
  • You can top up your credit or purchase any package from official shop or ask local shops in the local markets. There are shops selling phone covers and accessories which can also activate a package for you. Indian citizens can do it online from the website of a provider.
  • If you are a foreigner, your SIM will be deactivated once your visa validity is over.
  • Note: when you top up your credit, communicate exactly to the seller what you need. If you pay cash without comments, it will automatically transform into your talk time. In case you need certain data option, ask the seller to activate it.
  • If you have a new phone, you need to activate 4G on your phone. It doesn’t happen automatically, thus I was using a basic network for the first two weeks till I found it out.
  • Personally, I recommend getting a SIM Card if you plan to stay more than 10 days or you highly depend on internet connectivity even during the short stay.
How to get a Sim Card in India? Practical guide with documents, connection options, network providers and other useful tips
Found it useful? Pin to share with others 😉

Though requirements slightly change every year, I hope this post will help you with buying a SIM Card in India. If you have other tips on the topic, feel free to share! I will be happy to add them.

18 thoughts on “How to get a local SIM card in India?”

    • It depends on your plan and provider, Kristen. I usually recharge once a month in one of the local shops as I have 28 days data plan.

      If you know approximately how much data you might need, I recommend checking suitable options on the official website of the provider you are using or visiting one of the offices).

  1. Hello,
    I’m a Malaysian. Arrived at Trivanamalai and seek for the India SIM card with all the service provides in their office. But all of them there turn around and said the current Indian government law has stopped providing the SIM Card because the current government suspect all current Tourist are Terrorist. Is this true? Please Check Out. Ways to improve in the year 2020.
    Best Regards.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience in Tiruvannamalai, Pragasam. Unfortunately, it is way more challenging to start in a non-common tourist destination for foreigners.

      There might have been a miscommunication about suspects. There are definitely many measures taken to provide the overall security in the country and telecommunication is one of them, but from my experience in several big International Airports/land borders, foreign visitors staying with me in the queue were treated with respect.

      Though it is challenging to get a SIM Card in India as a foreigner outside of big cities in a “legal” and straightforward way, the travel industry is very important for India. Let’s hope it becomes easier in the future even for travelers coming by land and starting from less common places to be connected and access basic travel needs from different states of this big country.

    • There is no picture facility as such, Kay (from experience of Delhi/Mumbai/Bengaluru). You need to take pictures with you in advance.

  2. Very helpful Natalia.. I am from Indian origin, go there every year, still the process is a mystery to me. Rules change and I have to live by the mercy of friends and family. Appreciate the info.

    • Thank you for feedback, Ravi

      I hear you there – India is huge and constantly changing (so we don’t become habitual to a certain way of things)! While I’m trying my best to share travel experiences to fill in some information gaps, I realize how it might differ from state to state) If you faced a challenge or met with a different procedure requirements in a certain state and/or airport, it will be interesting to listen to your experience!

  3. I was in India ,just last week and approached Jio Reliance office and several tele providers and all want Aadaar Card only. My passport and photo were not accepted.. The regulation has changed and quite impossible to avail a local sim card in India.

    • I’m sorry you faced this challenge, Kanesin. Would you mind sharing more details about the places you faced the issues to help other travelers in the future?

      While it is challenging to get a SIM Card as a foreigner in offbeat places in India, it is a quite fast procedure in international airports or big telecom offices in tourist destinations. I experienced a bit of both (e.g. when you get a working sim card the same day and when you struggle even to apply for the sim card for weeks in some places).

      Unfortunately, it is not possible to cover the whole geography of India due to the country size and different regulations in each state, but I keep an eye on big international airports and cities where most of the foreigners arrive to provide relevant information. The recent update was in July 2019.

    • If you get the card in UK it will still be a UK card subject to roaming charges abroad if I understood you correctly. I would recommend taking a local card on arrival to avoid extra charges. Have a great stay in India, Tracey!

Leave a Comment