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Best India SIM Card for Tourists

Best India SIM Card for Tourists

By CarolUpdated Aug. 16, 2021

If you are traveling to India soon and need to stay connected to friends, family, and fellow travelers while you are out and about then you will need an Indian SIM Card. Getting a local SIM card when traveling grants you access to important services in the country such as shopping, ordering taxis, food delivery, maps, and mobile data.

There are four main phone service providers in India. Among the four, Vodafone-Idea and Airtel are the two biggest providers. SIM cards can be bought in the airport or outside the airport by providing your passport, visa, and passport photo.

Quick Facts

  • Airtel is the leading carrier in India. Travelers can select a plan that gives 3GB of LTE data and unlimited calls within the country for as low as 300 rupees (US$ 6), with a validity of 28 days.
  • In most western countries, mobile phones are locked to the frequency of a single mobile service provider. It is useful to have a dual SIM phone or have your phone unlocked by your provider.
  • Buying SIM cards at the airport is the most convenient way to get one. You can typically find kiosks selling SIM cards in the arrival hall which are located almost immediately after you clear customs.
  • You will need to show your passport, visa, and passport photo to get a SIM card.
  • Indian SIM cards need to be activated by the provider on their network. This can take anywhere from a few hours up to 48 hours.
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Types of SIM Cards in India

You can choose between two types of SIM cards. One is the postpaid SIM Card where you pay for the services like calling and data after you have used them, usually at the end of the month. Another is the prepaid SIM card where you should pay first before using the services.

Postpaid SIM Card

A postpaid SIM card is one where the services like calling, data, and texting are paid after they are used. They cost more than prepaid plans and the bill is sent at the end of a month-long cycle. This type of SIM is not available for foreign travelers.

Prepaid SIM Card

A prepaid SIM Card is one where services like calling, data, and texting are paid in advance. Using this type of SIM Card is comparatively cheaper. However, there are some disadvantages such as need constant topping up and getting unwanted text messages.

Also, for Indians, the activation of the SIM card is almost immediate and is done through their ID number called Aadhar. For foreigners, the activation can take a long time. In some cases, it may even take up to 2 or 3 days.

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Which Company is the Best and Why?

There are four main service providers in India. They all offer 4G/LTE, but not all have good coverage across the entire country. The top two providers for network coverage are Vodafone-Idea and Airtel and most travelers should opt for one or the other.

Airtel is the leading carrier in the country, with over 300 million users. Travelers can select a plan that gives 3GB of LTE data and unlimited calls within the country for as low as 300 rupees (US $6). This is valid for 28 days from the time of purchase.

Other carriers have fairly strict requirements such as requiring foreigners needing to submit details of a local reference as well as their residence details within the country. Vodafone-Idea does not offer nationwide LTE coverage. If you use their service, there will be times when the connection will switch to 2G when traveling between states.

Phone Specifications

In most western countries, mobile phones are locked to the frequency of a single mobile service provider. You will not be able to insert another SIM or use it with another carrier unless you first get your phone unlocked by your provider.

Even if unlocked, your phone may still not work properly unless the GSM bandwidth of your phone is compatible. You will need a dual, tri-band, or quad-band phone that works on 900 MHz to 2500 MHz. Check first to see if your phone is compatible before buying a foreign SIM.

It is also useful to have a phone with dual SIM slots. This way, all you have to do is insert the new prepaid Indian SIM into the additional slot. Most service providers in India now offer micro-SIM cards.

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Where can I get an Indian SIM Card?

Buying a SIM card in India is quite an experience. Depending on where you buy it and the person selling it to you, the process may be relatively quick and painless or long and difficult. The best place to buy your SIM is in the arrivals hall of the airport although this is more expensive than buying a card outside.

Buying an Indian SIM Card at the Airport

If travelers are flying into an international airport, SIM Cards are available at kiosks in the arrival hall which are located almost immediately after you clear customs. Remember that you will need to provide your passport, visa, and passport photo to get a SIM Card.

The downside of this method is that it is more expensive than the SIMs you can get in the city. In the end, travelers will have to choose between cost and convenience.

Buying an Indian SIM Outside the Airport

Alternatively, SIM cards can also be bought from the stores or cell phone vendors in downtown areas and shopping malls. The procedure for activating the SIM is similar with both options. The benefits of buying a SIM card outside the airport are lower prices and more choices.

How Much Does an Indian SIM Card Cost?

When buying a SIM Card at the airport, Airtel typically charges 900 rupees (US$ 13). This price bundle includes 1.5 GB of data and 100 domestic texts per day, plus unlimited domestic calls which are valid for four weeks.

Buying the same bundle elsewhere will cost around 250 rupees. There is also an extra charge for the SIM Card, costing between 50 to 100 rupees. Internet packages are not subject to roaming charges in India. Incoming calls or outgoing calls within the same network do not include extra charges.

If you plan to make a lot of calls, consider purchasing a SIM card in the state where you intend to spend most of your time. Alternatively, there are some packages that include free calls throughout the whole of India.

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How to Activate Your SIM Card

The Indian SIM Card needs to be activated by the provider on their network. This can take anywhere from a few hours to 48 hours.

To complete the activation process, the owner of the SIM Card needs to call a number and answer several questions including date of birth and the last four last digits of your passport number. Different providers will have different numbers to call. For Airtel, it is 59059.

This process usually requires the phone to be turned on and off several times. This will all be explained at the time of purchase by the vendor.

How to Top Up Your Indian SIM Card

If you run out of credit on your phone, you might continue to receive incoming calls, but will not be able to make calls or send messages. Topping up the SIM can be done from a kiosk of the service provider at any location in India.

It is always a good idea to check your balance after you buy the top-up and while still at the vendor. Each provider has a code for checking your balance. With Airtel, dialing *123*11# will give you a message showing your remaining data, call, and SMS credit.

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