How foreigners can get a local sim card in India?

Posted on October 24th, 2019 by Ganesh Gopakumar


Traveling to India ?  For taking some medical treatment or taking a vacation? Well, getting a sim card in India would be the biggest nightmare. It used to be a herculean task which is a bit simplified now. 

Whatever it may be, you probably need a sim card in India to stay connected. From using data for navigation to making calls to your hospital, a sim card in India is absolutely necessary. 

In olden days, you needed to visit the official stores of the network provider with 2 passport sized photographs and your passport. In major cities, the retail shops link with the official stores and make it easier. But the activation took about 10 hours since the retailers had to send the documents to the stores for verification.

The procedure involved providing your photographs, passports and your address of whichever country you are from. In addition, you needed to provide a local Indian number and also a local reference.

From August 2019 everything has changed and you can get a sim card much easily. 

How to get an Indian sim card in 2020?

  • Visit a local retail shop selling sim cards with your passport and visa.
  • Provide them a few details such as the hotel in which you are staying.
  • The retailer takes a photograph of you at the shop.
  • Provide them with a local mobile number and reference (which still remains a difficult procedure for foreigners).
  • The sim gets activated within 1 hour.

Documents required for foreigners to get an Indian sim card

  • Original Passport
  • A copy of your Visa

Photographs are not required as they will take a live picture of you at the store.

Major Network Providers in India

  1. Airtel
  2. BSNL
  3. Vodafone
  4. Idea
  5. Reliance Jio

Things you need to note:

  • BSNL is run by the government of India, so it would be difficult to get a sim. Even Indians have a hard time getting one for themselves!
  • Vodafone and Idea: The two network providers have recently merged. Their networks are also expected to be merged in the near future. So getting the sim card of either one of them is more or less the same.
  • Jio is a young network that provides only voLTE based 4G services. So be sure to check whether your phone has voLTE before you buy a JIO sim. Phones without voLTE can still use the sim with an application ‘Jio 4G Voice’ which however is an added burden. The app needs to be connected all the time or else you won’t even receive incoming calls. Buy Jio only if your phone is the latest or falls under the category of ‘premium phones’.

How much should I pay for an Indian sim card?

The charge of a sim card is around INR 250. 

These sim cards come with 42 GB data and unlimited local calls for 28 days out of the box.

 Some retailers unofficially charge an extra amount. Make sure you don’t pay anything more than INR100, that too as a tip. There are incidents were foreigners being charged INR 2500 for a sim card taking advantage of their ignorance.

International calls are usually made through WhatsApp, Skype, and other applications. But in case if you need to call an international number you can ask the retailer for an international rate cutter plan. For example, the call cost to Bangladesh is INR 6.99 by default but by using a call cutter plan it gets reduced to INR 1.99, which is around 70% discount!

What is the validity of the sim card?

The sim cards have lifetime validity. But if your sim is inactive for a period of 90 days it will automatically get disconnected. So possibly you may need to take a new SIM card during your next visit (unless you visit India too frequently!).

Which service provider to choose?

India is the country which provides the cheapest cellular service. All of the operators have a similar tariff.

 In India, you can get 42 GB of data for a month at just under USD 3!

1 GB of data costs USD 6.66 in the UK and USD 12.37 in the US, says a study, in which 230 countries were included.

Also, all these service providers have excellent pan-India coverage.

So the bottom line is, you can go for any of the networks and you won’t regret.

In other words, the best sim card is the one you get first.

Where can you get a sim card?

  1.  Airports

    With the new rule, outlets of major network providers should be seen at major international airports by now. Check out the arrival section and there is a high chance that you will find an outlet there.

  2. Sim delivery services

    Nowadays in big cities, you can find services that deliver sim cards to your hotel room at a reasonable price. This is much easier as you don’t need to wander in search of shops.

    Get SIM card delivered to your hotel

  3.  Retail stores

     With the new rule from August 2019, you can officially get an Indian sim card from a local retailer by providing your passport. You should also have a local reference and mobile number, which is a bit difficult. You can rely on your hotel to help you with this.


  4.  Official Stores of network providers

    You can get a sim from the official stores of network providers across the country. There is at least one official store in all cities and towns.

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