Some important tips for FIT (Foreign Independent Traveler) in India
India is a vast country with a population size of more than 1 billion and comprising all experiences in geography with mountains in North, deep valleys in East, desert in West and beautiful beaches in South. The 28 states of India are 28 countries in reality, with varied culture, language and people.
Most travelers from foreign countries prefer to book an organized tour, but of late, there has been a rise in independent travelers as well. Some feel that one can experience the real flavor of India at his own pace in the tranquility of solitude. Some guided support may be sought as and when desired, which essentially means that one can be among the real people instead of know-all tour operators and guides all the time. There would be no air-conditioned bus from one place to other; but he can explore things himself.
In such cases, a traveler needs to plan well in advance and prepare of checklist of do’s and don’ts. A little pre-planning can make the trip a lot smooth. Our current blog series is primarily targetted to provide some key information to travelers from foreign countries.
General Important Things
At least a week or two before your trip, make a list of what you’ll need to take with you. Make sure yourpassports are current and that you have enough prescription medications to last through the trip.
Government of India launched a scheme of Tourist Visa on Arrival (TVoA) in January 2010. Currently, it is single entry visa for a short period with a validity of 30 days strictly for the purpose of tourism and a tourist can come to India only twice a year on this visa. Citizens from 15 countries are cover under the TVOA scheme – Finland, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia. The fee for the visa on arrival is $ 60 (Sixty USD) or equivalent amount in Indian Rupees per passenger (including children). It is important to note that persons holding diplomatic or official passports are not eligible to avail this facility.
All other visitors will need a valid visa beforehand. A Tourist Visa, generally valid up to 6 months, is given to those visiting India for tourism or other non-business related purposes. Plan your visa application in advance. Although a tourist visa for up to six months is usually easy to obtain, you still need to be aware that there are certain bureaucratic requirements which you should check before you apply – and remember that they get updated continuously. A very unusual condition that has been introduced recently is that your photo must be 2” by 2” in size – sending a photo with different dimensions would lead to rejection. It is best to apply via a professional visa agency that will sort out the documentation and submit the application on your behalf.
Pet in the Flight and Hotel
Unfortunately, India is not a particularly pet-sensitive country. Pets are not generally allowed in domestic planes, trains, public transport and hotels. In case of domestic travels via air, it is best to check in advance whether your pet is permitted on board. In domestic flights of Jet Airways, Air India and Jet Lite, your pet (dogs, cats, household birds and other pets) can travel in the cargo hold, when properly crated and accompanied by valid health and vaccination certificates. The pilot should be informed in writing prior to the flight that there is a live animal in the cargo hold and he would adjust the temperature suitably. Pets below 10 weeks of age are not allowed to travel by flight. The charge for your pet traveling on the aircraft depends on the weight of your pet and differs from airline to airline. If your flight doesn’t allow your pets with you, you would need to send it through cargo to the port nearest to your destination.
Similarly, in hotels too, guests are not usually allowed to bring in their pets. It is always better to check with hotel agents about their policies towards pets. The best option is to book your stay in vacation homesor homestays in India, which are more caring approach towards pets.
India can be viewed as a conglomerate of 28 countries and 7 union territories, so different is one region from the other in terms of geography, climate, culture, food habits, festivals and rituals or anything that you can think of. India is the world’s largest democracy with a population of more than 1 billion people and still there is large divide between urban and rural centres. Hindi is widely spoken in most of the states. English is the only widely spoken foreign language in India.
In southern part of India, the literacy rate is quite high and most people can speak English including drivers, local guide or operators and hotel staff. However, it is difficult for people to communicate in other languages like French, Spanish, Italian, German, Japanese, Chinese etc.
Local people love to offer greeting with folded hand and say NAMASTE (Hello). They say DHANYAVAD or SHUKRIYA (Thank You) and MAAF KIJIYEGA (I am sorry). However, shaking hand is not a problem now, except with women in rural areas. Indian Business Culture is quite different from the west. You can get information from the presentation:
Importance of Religion
Indians are very attached and sentimental about their religion. There are 6 prominent religious creeds in India – Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism. Foreign visitors always receive a warm welcome at religious places and get local assistance from the tourist centres in the respective premises. It is important to show respect to the religious orientation and beliefs. It is also easy to make some good friends through this. Foreign Independent Travellers (FIT) can learn local culture and customs, taste local food and can get exposure to the true India.
Foreign exchange is easily available in most big cities. Visitors can exchange foreign currency at airports and hotels too. However, it is better to check with a couple of banks or financial institutions to make sure that you get the best rate. Foreign currency (dollars, pounds, euros, etc) is accepted in most upmarket places and tourist spots but it is better not to rely on them. Remember that exchanging money is very bureaucratic and requires your passport. Also, if you have any surplus at the end of your trip, it may be costly and difficult to exchange back to your home currency – so don’t go around with much more than you need, and try to spend your rupees before you go.
One good option is to withdraw money from an ATM. India has a big network of ATMs now – MasterCardand Visa. State Bank of India (Largest Public Bank) and ICICI Bank (Largest Private Bank) have the largest spread of ATMs in the country. Visa, Visa Electron, Master, Cirrus and Maestro cards can be used in all the SBI and ICICI Bank ATMs. Many other ATMs operate with international credit cards. They are available 24Hrs. For local currency, the maximum withdrawal limit is Rs. 25,000 ($550) a day using international silver card and Rs. 50,000 ($1,100) a day for the international gold cards. It is possible not to get caught in small towns without adequate cash, as the ATM network is quite good in most cities.
Mobile SIM and Internet
International travelers used to face numerous problems due to lack of reasonably priced connectivity options. The availability of international SIM cards has resolved the concerns for making long distance calls from foreign base. On the other hand, global data cards have provided a cost-effective option for accessing internet with a pocket-sized device. Both postpaid and prepaid data cards are available in the Indian market. Traveler can buy a prepaid internet data card (data traveler) and can enjoy a seamless internet connection throughout India, except Jammu & Kashmir state, enjoying high speed connection everywhere, except big cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai where the speed could be marginally low due to congestion.
There are three key options for pan India connection – Reliance Netconnect, Tata Indicom Photon and Airtel Wireless. Normally, a data card costs around Rs. 2,000 ($45) and has several different tariff plans, ranging from Rs. 100 ($2.5) to Rs. 1500 ($35) (unlimited).
A mobile phone connection is one of the cheapest options in India. An Indian prepaid SIM Card, together with a tri-band unlockedGSM cell phone, will allow you not only to have a local cell phone number for India but enjoy local rates – that too, without a contract. You can purchase a prepaid SIM card by submitting photocopy of passport. There are many cell operators in India. Incoming calls are free in the city where you buy the number. However, one need to pay roaming charges in the other cities for both outgoing and incoming services. It is advisable to purchase a SIM card from the city where you are planning to stay for a longer time. Traveler can also use calling cards, such as Matrix.
Bargaining for Souvenirs in India
You may have heard about bargaining for souvenirs in India. This is reasonable, and in some ways, expected. If you visit an upmarket tourist shop, for expensive items, it is fair to bargain as much as is possible. However if you visit a small store or street trader, whereas they may be willing to bargain with you, please remember many exist on poor pay, some around $15 a day, and every penny saved represents lesser money for them, so don’t bargain them out of existence. A rough guideline is that a fair price is about half the price you’d pay in more affluent countries. If you are pushing them beyond, perhaps you are being unfair.
In Delhi, you can buy handicraft and arts materials from Delhi Haat or from States Emporium at Connaught Place.
Eating and Travelling in India
The Indians generally use their hands for eating, and at best, may use a spoon. Use of knives and forks is not common. Most authentic restaurants have hand washing rooms. If you want such cutlery, and are in such a restaurant, ask for two spoons. It is not a bad sign to visit a restaurant without knives and forks – some of the best and most authentic restaurants with the most elite food are primarily for the inhabitants of the region, who are familiar with the taste of high standard local food. Of course, hotels and restaurants with western cuisine will have full cutlery, and most places will find a knife and fork for you.
Allow time for traffic
Car ownership is on the rise in most Indian cities. However, due to the limited expansion of road network, congestion is common. If you want to travel in urban centres, avoid the rush hours. Try to start early (7:00 – 7:30 AM), or in the late morning (11:00 AM onwards) or in the evening (7:00 PM onwards) or go on weekends, if you want a fast ride. If you are not fussed then of course, it does not matter, but budget the extra time (sometimes hours) to reach your destination. Do not plan a mad dash to an airport or train station. Keep in mind that if on Sunday afternoon it took half an hour, it could take two hours on Monday morning.
Precautions for the Traveler to India
In India, especially the South, insects such as mosquitoes can be very irritating if you are not careful. Don’t sleep with windows open. Close windows at around 6:00 PM, and keep them closed all night. Otherwise, even if there is insect repellent, you may be kept awake all night with insect bites.
Remember not to keep sweet food out too long as it may get invaded by ants. Instead of opening your window, use air conditioning, if available, or fans in your room. When you pack, it is advisable to keep some toilet tissue, and carry this with you, as it is slightly unpopular in India.
Bring your medicines in case you are on some medical regime. Most other necessities, if required, can be obtained by visiting an appropriate store. Of course top class and expensive western style hotels will have most of these facilities, but it is always better to be prepared when you are staying elsewhere.
Emergency Numbers in India
Indians are very hospitable and if you ask for something, they will take great trouble to help you, but it may be time consuming. Just be patient, help will be on hand. Calm down and remember that not everything can be done immediately.
It is important to note key numbers – Police (100), Fire Brigade (101), Ambulances (102), National Toll Free Trauma Care number (108) and Railways Inquiry (139). To call police from GSM mobile phone, people need to call 112.
Registration with Foreigners Registration Officer (FRO)
A foreign national, especially in case of FIT, visiting India should register himself with Immigration Cell, New Delhi.Foreigners visiting India on long term (more than 180 days) Student visa (S) (including those coming for study of Yoga, Vedic Culture, Indian system of dance and Music), Research Visa (R), Employment Visa (E), Missionary Visa (M), Medical Visa (M) or Medical Attendant (MX) Visa are required to get themselves registered with concerned FRRO/FRO within 14 days of his/her first arrival, irrespective of the duration of their stay.
It is mandatory for all properties for accommodation in the state to submit a Form C to the Registration Officer (Copies of Form C can be obtained, from any FRO on application) for each foreign national staying with them within24 hours of their arrival. The Commissioner / Superintendent of Police of Cities / Districts are the Foreigners Registration Officer.
If the passport of the foreigner is irrecoverably lost, he should report the same to the nearest police station, and obtain a copy of the First Information Report (FIR) in the case of theft or a certificate if it is lost otherwise. The foreigners should obtain new passport/emergency certificate from their embassies in India. Before leaving India, the foreigner should seek an exit permit from the Chief Immigration Officer or from the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Officers and produce the same at the point of embarkation.
In India electricity voltage is 220. You will not find adaptor very easily at all the places. It is advisable to carry the convertor if you want to use 110 or 240 voltage equipment.
We, at The Other Home, endeavor to making your stay in India a memorable and convenient one. Do get in touch with us and allow us to design your travel plan for you.