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Here is our practical information for travelling in India including visa requirements, security concerns and recommended vaccinations. We suggest you also consider your home country’s travel advice for India. See here the British FCDO travel advice, here the US State Department and here from the Australian government.
Please note that Sampan principally operates in West Bengal, Sikkim and the North East “seven sisters” (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura). Some of the information below may not be relevant or correct for those travelling to other regions of India.
Unless you are a citizen of India, you will need a valid visa to enter. You will also need a passport valid for six months after your arrival date and at least two blank pages. COVID-19 vaccinations and COVID-19 tests are not required to enter India. There are strict rules on what you can bring into India. Additional travel permits are required to access certain regions of India.
You need a visa to travel to India, unless you are an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholder. The Visa on Arrival facility is only for Japan, South Korea and the UAE. All others need to apply for a visa before travelling to India.
Make sure you get the right visa for the purpose and duration of your travel. For example, a tourist visa or business visa for the required number of days. Find out how to apply for a visa from the Indian Bureau of Immigration (also see below). Depending on your requirements you may be able to apply for:
Note that all children travelling on their own passport require their own visa. Overstaying on a visa is an offence. Make sure you leave the country before your visa expires or get an official extension if needed. Those of Pakistani origin are subject to administrative processing and should expect additional delays when applying for Indian visas.
Brits, Americans and Australians are all eligible to apply for an e-visa as are most countries of the EU. See here all the nationals applicable to apply for an e-visa and some common FAQs. This is the only official website to apply for an e-visa to India: https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html
When travelling on an e-visa, you may arrive at 29 designated airports, including Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, Guwahati and Bagdogra. You may arrive from five designated seaports: Cochin, Goa, Mangalore, Chennai and Mumbai. You may depart from any of the Indian Immigration Check Posts (ICPs).
If entering India via one of the above, an e-visa is the most convenient visa for most travellers to India.
For the e-Tourist Visa (30 days), applicants should apply no sooner than 30 days prior to arrival, and no later than 4 days prior to arrival. Note that you will be able to enter India on your 30 day visa for 30 days from the date of the visa’s approval. Therefore, do not apply for your 30 day visa too early, otherwise it may expire before you arrive. Once you arrive, you then have 30 days to travel in India.
Immediately after you submit your e-Visa application, you will receive a confirmation of submission of your application. This will be sent to the email address provided by you while filling out your application form (see below). Your e-Visa application may take 72 hours or more for processing (normally it is less). You will be updated about your visa status (granted or rejected) via email. Check the status of your e-Visa application by visiting the website: https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/ and clicking on ‘Check your Visa Status’ tab.
For e-Tourist Visa (30 days), you will be able to travel in India for 30 days starting form your date of arrival in India. Double entries will be granted within the e-Visa validity period stamped on your passport. Your first arrival must be between the date of visa issue and expiry.
For queries about your e-visa, you can contact indian-evisa[at]gov[dot]in or +91 (0) 1124 300 666.
You can see a sample e-visa application here. The application website is not smooth and has bugs. It is recommended to avoid punctuation when filling out the form.
In the online application form, you will be required to submit certain information. This includes (but is not limited to): port of arrival, expected port of exit and expected date of arrival. Additionally: full passport details and your parents’ names, nationality and dates and places of birth. You will need to fill out the expected destinations to be visited and details of any previous trips to India. These details include an address you stayed in on that previous trip and the destinations you visited. You will be asked for your previous (or current) visa number, type, place and date of issue. If you do not have these details to hand, just write “n/a”.
You will be asked your profession. If you are in the media or armed forces, we recommend being vague and opting for “freelancer or businessman/woman”.
You will be asked whether an application of yours to visit or extend a visit to India has ever been refused. If the answer to this is yes, you will likely be denied an e-Visa and need to apply for a traditional stamp visa in your passport. You will be asked which countries you have visited in the last 10 years. You will be asked to enter the contact details of a reference in India. If travelling with Sampan, please contact us regarding this.
You will then be required to upload a passport photo (i.e. a photo of your face, clear with a white background, JPEG, 10 KB – 1 MB, no less than 350 pixels height / width). Also a copy of your passport photo page with personal details (PDF, minimum 10KB and maximum 300KB). Finally, you will click through to make payment for the visa. Payment amount is dependent on the type of visa you are applying for and is non-refundable. Note that the website is glitchy and sometimes payment doesn’t work. In our experience Safari and Firefox work better than Chrome.
Finally, you will click through to make payment for the visa. Payment amount is dependent on the type of visa you are applying for and is non-refundable. We recommend opting for paying via State Bank of India (SBI) when given the option. You may wish to forewarn your credit card company. Note that the website is glitchy and sometimes payment doesn’t work the first time. If this happens to you, try using another browser.
In the early stages of your application process, you will receive a “temporary application ID”. It is crucial to take note of this as soon as it’s provided. Later, after submitting your application but before making payment, you will be assigned an “application ID”. The temporary application ID is to be used if you need to access and edit your application before it undergoes processing. The application ID is the number used for making payment and later checking the status of your application during and after it has been processed.
Note that if you accidentally submit crucial information incorrectly on your visa application (e.g. your passport number), you may still receive your visa but be turned away upon check-in at the airport. Ensure that all information is correct when submitting and when receiving your visa.
To enter India you will need a valid passport and a valid visa. Ensure your passport is valid for at least 6 months from your date of entry into India.
Your passport must also:
Whatever visa you are entering India on, make sure that this visa is checked by a human being upon check-in for your departure flight. Failure to have this visa validated at check-in, may result in delays later on i.e. at security or immigration. Be sure that you have hard copies of your visa.
You must travel to India with the passport stated on your visa. Should you need a new passport then you will need to carry both the old passport and the new passport at the time of travel. If you do not have the old passport, you will need to apply for a new visa with your new passport.
Passengers do not need to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 nor a negative test before travel. However, you must comply with instructions and surveillance measures when you arrive in India. This includes:
If you have symptoms of COVID-19, follow the instructions of national and local health authorities. This may include testing or being taken to a medical facility for isolation.
Keep hold of your boarding pass until out of the airport. You may be required to show it at immigration and once again when collecting your luggage from baggage claim.
There are strict rules about goods that can be brought into and taken out of India. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.
It is illegal to carry or export antiquities without a permit. Note that e-cigarettes and vapes are not allowed to be brought in nor used in India. It is illegal to possess and operate satellite phones in India without a licence. Prior permission is required to bring in equipment like radio transmitters, powerful cameras or binoculars into India.
Visitors must not bring any amount of Indian currency into the country. If you’re visiting India, you can bring foreign cash, travellers’ cheques or a bank card with you. It is possible to exchange or withdraw rupees once in India (see more below under “currency, cash and credit cards”). You must declare any amount above USD5,000 in notes, or above USD10,000 in notes and travellers’ cheques combined.
It is illegal to fly drones and other unmanned aircraft without official permission. It’s also illegal to photograph airports, military sites and dams. Some places of worship also prohibit photography, as do most museums.
Permits from the Government of India are needed for travel to Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. You will need to register yourself upon arrival at Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram. This is a simple process which takes place at the port of entry. If travelling with Sampan, ask for more details as to what is required of you if travelling to one of these states.
Sampan believes it is safe to travel, so long as travellers are responsible and take appropriate precautions. Travel advice from your home country should be consulted and appropriate insurance taken out.
Strikes or ‘bandh’ or ‘hartal’, political rallies and demonstrations occur and can become violent.
The risk is higher during elections and after the death of party or government leaders. Protests may also occur at short notice, especially around days of national importance. National days to take note of are:
General strikes, or “bandh,” often cause major inconvenience and unrest. These strikes can result in the stoppage of all transportation and tourist-related services, at times for 24 hours or more.
Note that the British government cautions: “terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and government facilities.”
Political turbulence in the North East of India, in particular Nagaland, has greatly subsided in recent years.
Nonetheless, note that the British FCDO advises against all but essential travel to the state of Manipur. This was upgraded in May 2023 due to violent clashes between two ethnic groups of the state, the Meiteis and the Kukis. Please contact us for more information about this and how it may affect travel to the state.
The US places the North East at Level 4 (their highest category warning). This is due to incidents of violence by ethnic insurgent groups which occur occasionally in the northeast.
Australia recommends visitors to reconsider their need to travel to the northeastern states of Assam (except for Guwahati), Nagaland and Manipur.
Sampan believes that travel to the North East can be undertaken safely and securely. We work closely with our partners on the ground to ensure that we are not taking any unnecessary risks. Our partners are not just Indians, but are from the states we are visiting i.e. Manipuris in Manipur, Sikkimese in Sikkim … etc. They are plugged-in to what is going on in their backyard and (in the worst-case scenarios) know what to do in acute situations. Please contact us if you would like to understand more about the risks when travelling in the North East.
Petty crime, especially theft of personal property, takes place, particularly on trains, buses, at airports, and in major tourist areas. Pickpockets can be very adept. Travellers have reported having their bags snatched or the bottom of their handbags slit without their knowledge.
If you are traveling by train, lock your sleeping compartments and take your valuables with you when leaving your berth. If you travel by air, be careful with your bags in the arrival and departure areas outside airports. Be cautious about displaying cash or expensive items to reduce the chance of being a target for robbery.
Scams are common. These can involve fake tour guides, ATM and credit card skimming, and fraudulent access to government services. If you’re a scam victim, report it to the police to get an official report for your travel insurer.
Violent crime, especially directed against internationals, has traditionally been uncommon, although in recent years there has been a modest increase. Travellers should be aware that there have been reported cases of sexual assault, including rape, throughout India.
Sampan believes cases of crime against internationals to be much more infrequent in the northeast than in other parts.
We recommend all travellers to India to take out comprehensive travel insurance. Most standard insurance policies do not cover incidents which take place when travelling outside of your home government’s travel advice. Sampan recommends you consider insurers that can tailor policies to regions outside of travel advice such as battleface and Chubb. An ideal policy should provide comprehensive coverage, including unlimited coverage for medical expenses, hospitalisation, and other health-related costs. Typical policies also encompass compensation for lost baggage, personal money (often subject to limits), as well as coverage for trip delays and trip curtailment. We highly recommend considering a trip cancellation policy to safeguard against the rare possibility of having to cancel your trip last minute. It’s important to carry your insurance policy with you at all times during your travels.
For emergency services in India (police, fire and ambulance) telephone 112. You can also download the 112 India mobile app which can track your location to support response in an emergency.
Keep copies of your passport data page, visa and immigration stamp pages, with you and separated from the originals. Send copies to relatives at home and download copies of these documents to your mobile phone. If your passport is stolen, copies will help you apply for a replacement passport and an exit visa. If your passport is lost, tell the police immediately and get a police report. Replacing a lost visa, which is required in order to exit the country, may take four or five business days.
If travelling with Sampan, we will have copies of all your international travel documents. We will naturally be able to assist you in case of any incident, as will your guides on the ground.
Sampan recommends you speak to your own doctor for up-to-date and specific advice about health risks and necessary vaccinations. You should have appropriate travel insurance that includes sufficient health care.
Most travellers are recommended to be vaccinated against diphtheria, hepatitis A, tetanus and typhoid. Some travellers are recommended to be vaccinated against cholera, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, rabies and tuberculosis. Please check with your doctor what is recommended for you.
If you are arriving in India from Sub-Saharan Africa or other yellow-fever areas you must present evidence of vaccination. This is necessary even if just transiting through such places.
At least eight weeks before arrival, check the vaccinations and vaccination certificates you may need. For British travellers, we recommend referring to TravelHealthPro. If you are travelling with medication, please bring a copy of your prescription with you.
Local medical facilities may not be comparable to those you are used to, especially in more remote areas of India. In major cities, private medical care is available but expensive. The British High Commission in Delhi publishes a list of the most commonly used hospitals, including those with English-speaking staff.
We recommend that you avoid drinking tap water and try to avoid getting too close to dogs and monkeys.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined India has a moderate level of COVID-19.
If in India you have symptoms of COVID-19 and want more information, contact a registered medical practitioner (Sampan can help). Testing is available on demand from private laboratories. Testing arrangements vary from state to state, but there are a range of providers available. Contact local authorities for information on testing facilities. More details on testing labs are available on the Indian Council of Medical Research website.
You can call the Government of India 24-hour COVID-19 helpline or visit the Indian Ministry of Health website.
Mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever occur all year round. There has recently been an increase in the number of cases of dengue fever. The highest number of cases is reported from July to December, with cases peaking from September to October. Precautions such as wearing long-sleeved shirts and applying mosquito repellent are recommended.
Dogs and bats are a risk for rabies transmission in most of India. Vaccination is recommended for all prolonged stays, especially for young children and travellers in rural areas. Monkeys also can transmit rabies and herpes B, among other diseases, to human victims. Avoid feeding monkeys. If bitten, you should immediately soak and scrub the bite for at least 15 minutes and seek urgent medical attention.
Influenza is transmitted from November to April in areas north of the Tropic of Cancer (north India). Off-season transmission can also occur. Outbreaks of avian influenza (H5N1 virus) occur intermittently in the east and North East including West Bengal, Manipur, Sikkim and Assam.
India has three seasons: winter, summer and the monsoon. The summer can be very hot on the plains such as around Kolkata in West Bengal. The temperature is much cooler in much of the northeast. During the winter, temperatures can drop below zero in places such as Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. There is severe flooding in Manipur and Meghalaya during the monsoon. The east and North East of India is susceptible to earthquakes.
India has three seasons. Winter is from October to February (temperatures from 0-22°C). The summer is from March to June (temperatures from 10-38°C). The monsoon is from July to September (temperatures from 9-35°C).
During the winter in the northeast, the temperature ranges from chilly to very cold. Higher altitude regions such as Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim drop to sub-zero temperatures. Lower altitude regions such as Tripura enjoy mild winters and pleasant temperatures. Kolkata’s winter temperature will range from 12-32°C. In Kohima from 2-24°C and in Imphal from 5-29°C. Note that even if these winter temperatures are comparable to home, internal central heating is not common in the North East. In Sikkim, the Himalayas in winter can best be viewed in October and November. December is usually too cloudy.
Weather in the summer varies, but can be particularly hot on the plains of West Bengal around Kolkata and in Assam, average highs reaching 36°C. These are the months most popular for the rest of India to visit the northeast, where it is cooler. Average daytime temperatures in Kohima and Imphal range from 16°C to 30°C. You will want a light jacket in the evening and should expect some drizzling rain as early as March.
The monsoon can be very wet – with regions such as Manipur becoming dangerous due to floods (see below). Have an umbrella, rain coat, boots or sandals appropriate for the wet, mosquito repellent and a waterproof backpack. Travel with the advice of a tour operator or local guide.
The two trekking seasons in the Himalayas are spring and autumn/fall. In autumn/fall there is less precipitation and the air is clearer for views and photography. However, in the mountains, weather can change rapidly. Be prepared for rain or snow. Temperatures will vary depending on the altitude. Daytime temperatures will probably range around 10-15°C. At night, it may get as cold as -3°C.
India can experience extreme weather events that can be hazardous to life and disrupt infrastructure, including buildings, roads and communications.
The following hazards exist throughout the year, especially above 3,000 metres:
There are no commercial mountain rescue services operating above 3,000m. In some border areas only the Indian Air Force can carry out air rescues. However, they are under no obligation to perform them and only carry out rescues during working hours.
The monsoon takes place from July to September. Monsoon rains can cause:
During the monsoon in the North East, leaches can be prolific. If travelling during this time, we recommend coming with long socks and boots that come up over your ankles to reduce the chance of a leach latching on to you. If a leach does attach itself to you, our guides are experienced in the best cause of action. But better not to get to that point in the first place, if possible.
Several parts of India lie on highly active fault zones. The entirety of the northeast is ranked 5 on a scale of 1 to 5. The most active are along the length of the Himalayas. Earth tremors are common in these regions and can cause landslides. Limited emergency response vehicles, equipment and medical facilities could increase the impact an earthquake has. The risk in West Bengal (including Kolkata and Darjeeling) is ranked as 4 out of 5.
During the day, it’s advisable to wear breathable cotton clothes, especially as the midday sun can be intense year-round. In the cooler months, a jacket or sweater may be needed for early mornings and late evenings. Layering is often practical, as you may switch from a t-shirt outside to air-conditioned environments, where ladies might appreciate having a shawl handy.
For touring, closed shoes or sneakers are recommended due to dust and dirt, but keep in mind that you’ll often need to remove your shoes when entering temples or religious sites. Cold marble can be uncomfortable on bare feet, and some temples allow socks.
In temples, it’s customary to remove shoes, and at Jain temples all leather items must be taken off. Women should aim to cover as much as possible, following the ‘to the elbow and to the knee’ rule, out of respect. Carrying a cotton shawl during sightseeing can be versatile, serving as an upper body cover or headscarf when needed. At places like Gurdwaras (Sikh temples), both men and women are required to cover their heads; if you’re not carrying appropriate headwear, it will be provided. Men should avoid shorts above the knee in temples.
In India, formal attire is not required, even in luxury hotels. Smart casual is typically suitable for evenings; jackets and ties are usually unnecessary. However we recommend men having at least one collared shirt – useful if entering a club. And we find in general dressing smart can get you better more respectful service. Some restaurants may have dress codes that disallow shorts or open-toed sandals for men.
India’s most-used network is Airtel with a wide coverage throughout the country. Jio is particularly good in the North East. Providers such as Vodafone have a much smaller coverage, especially in the North East. Tourist SIM cards can be purchased but it is necessary for the vendor to register you at time of sale. This will include taking a copy of your passport. This can be a long and laborious process. Ask us if Sampan can help you arrange a SIM card.
Note that in more remote parts of the North East such as Nagaland and Mizoram, internet connection will not be strong. Complete power outages are common in Nagaland and Meghalaya.
The North East is fairly well connected to the rest of India with domestic flights via Kolkata and Guwahati in Assam. India’s extensive rail network reaches much of North East India but only just into Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Nagaland. Manipur cannot be reached by rail. Precautions should be taken when travelling by taxi or when using public transport.
In Sampan’s experience, Indigo and AirAsia are the two most reliable domestic airlines in India. Note that for most airports in India you need to show your ticket (soft or hard copy) and passport to enter the terminal. Have these handy. When you are travelling through an airport, allow enough time to complete check-in and security procedures. Allow time for transiting between flights if you need to change from international to domestic terminals.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of India’s Civil Aviation Authority. It was assessed as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
India has the third largest rail network in the world, and train travel in India is generally safe. Nevertheless, accidents and on-board fires are sometimes caused by aging infrastructure, poorly maintained equipment, overcrowding and operator errors. IRCTC.co.in is the official website to book trains in India, however usability is poor and it is difficult to register as a foreigner on the site.
When travelling by train:
Outside of major cities, security on public transport is limited, including on railways.
When using taxis or rickshaws, use official taxi ranks, pre-booked taxis or a verified app. Ride-hailing services like Uber and Ola are also widely available in India. You may find however that the drivers will ask for a higher price than that shown on the app. You may have to haggle. There are multiple taxi stands outside Arrivals at Kolkata Airport. Some can only be booked via App. Help-Line taxis is analogue and in our experience works fine.
Buses, patronized by hundreds of millions of Indians, are convenient in that they serve almost every city of any size. However, they are often driven fast, recklessly and without consideration for the rules of the road. Accidents are quite common.
Note that roads in Manipur, Nagaland and parts of Sikkim are of very poor quality.
The currency of India is the Indian rupee (INR). Officially, rupees are not allowed to be brought into the country by internationals. At Kolkata International Airport, there is currency exchange in the arrivals hall prior to immigration, but no ATM. You will have to go up to the departure hall to find an ATM. You may have to convince a security office to let you through without an outward ticket.
ATMs that accept international debit and credit cards are widely available in larger cities and towns. However, they’re harder to find in rural areas. Even in Kolkata, ATMs are often empty. You may have to try a few before you are able to withdraw cash. Some ATMs will not accept international cards. Many ATM vestibules are locked at night. HDFC and the State Bank of India (SBI) are the ones most likely to accept international cards.
Visa, Mastercard and AmEx are accepted widely in large cities such as Kolkata. Less so in smaller cities in the northeast such as Imphal and Kohima. Pre-paid cards such as Wise cards are also accepted in large cities. The Google Pay mobile wallet is widely used and is an efficient way of paying when outside the larger cities. We recommend downloading and ensuring it is successfully linked with your bank account. (Note that Google’s mobile wallet is not available to download in many countries.)
Costs when travelling vary from traveller to traveller. You will find that a meal in a nice restaurant will cost you about INR 500 (USD 6) in Kolkata. About half that when up in the northeast. Street food is much cheaper – a couple of samosas on-the-go is about INR 50 (USD 0.6). A beer from INR 250 – 450 (USD 3-5).
(While on the subject of booze, Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur are all officially dry states where alcohol is banned. Although, where there’s a will …)
In India the power plug sockets are of type C, D and M. See the below picture.
In India the standard voltage is 230 V and the frequency is 50 Hz. You can use your electric appliances in India, if the standard voltage in your country is in between 220 – 240 V. This is the case in the UK, Europe, Australia and most of Asia and Africa.
Yes. A 10% tip is usually expected for waiters and waitresses.
Guides will expect a tip. Sampan’s tipping guidelines recommend a USD 5 tip per day per guest for guides. If you decide to tip the guide, please also tip the driver (of car and/or boat) if you have one. We suggest you tip your driver half of whatever you tip your guide.
Homosexuality is legal in India. However same-sex marriage is still illegal. Indian society remains conservative. This includes attitudes to LGBTQ+ people, which can be less accepting than the West. There is a risk of harassment and discrimination, especially outside of big cities.
LGBTQ+ travellers should be aware that showing affection in public, for example, could result in unwanted attention. That is not to say that there are not vibrant and open LGBTQ+ communities. Kolkata Pride holds events each year in December.
While in India, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different than what you find at home. Despite legislation that all public buildings and transport be accessible for disabled people, accessibility remains limited. Roads, entryways, and buildings may not be passable for those with physical disabilities. Please contact us if you are looking to travel in India with a disability.