Money & costs
On the financial front, India pleases all pockets. Accommodation ranges from simple backpacker lodgings to sumptuous top-end hotels, with some appealing midrange possibilities that won’t bust the bank. A delicious array of eateries at all prices means you can fill your belly without emptying your moneybelt, and it’s possible to zip around economically, as well thanks to the country’s comprehensive public transport network.
As costs vary considerably nationwide, the best way of ascertaining how much money you’ll require for your trip is to peruse the relevant regional chapters of this book. Be prepared to pay more in the larger cities such as Mumbai (Bombay) and Delhi, as well as at popular tourist destinations during peak season.
In relation to sightseeing, foreigners are often charged more than Indian citizens for entry into tourist sites (admission prices for foreigners are sometimes given in US dollars, payable in the rupee equivalent), and there may also be additional charges for still/video cameras.
When it comes to bedding down, hotel tariffs are usually higher in big cities (especially Mumbai) and tourist hot spots and may also be influenced by factors such as location, season and festivals. Given the vast differences nationwide, it’s misleading for us to pinpoint a countrywide average accommodation price. If you’ve got cash to splash, some of India’s top-end hotels are among the world’s finest, but be prepared to fork out at least US$200 per night at the better properties before even getting a whiff of room service. Surf the Web for possible internet discounts.
So how does this all translate to a daily budget? Given the vast accommodation price differences across India, it’s impossible to arrive at one neat figure. However, as an example, in Rajasthan you can expect to pay roughly between US$20 and US$25 per day if you stay in the cheapest hotels, travel on public buses, do limited sightseeing and eat basic meals. If you wish to stay at salubrious midrange hotels, dine at nicer restaurants, do a reasonable amount of sightseeing and largely travel by autorickshaw and taxi, you’re looking at anywhere between US$40 and US$65 per day.
Eating out in India is sizzling-hot value, with budget restaurant meals for as little as Rs40 (even less at the more basic street eateries), and usually from around double that for a satiating midrange restaurant feed. At the more suave urban restaurants, main dishes generally hover between Rs150 and Rs350 to which you’ll need to add the cost of side dishes, such as rice, and (usually) a tax of 10% to 12.5%.
Regarding long-distance travel, there’s a range of classes on trains and several bus types, resulting in considerable flexibility vis-à-vis comfort and price. Domestic air travel has become a lot more price competitive over recent years thanks to deregulation and good internet deals. Within towns there’s inexpensive public transport, or perhaps you’d like to hire a car with driver, which is surprisingly good value if there are several of you to split the cost.
The Indian rupee (Rs) is divided into 100 paise (p), but paise coins are increasingly rare. Coins come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 25 and 50 paise, and Rs 1, 2 and 5; notes come in Rs 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 (this last bill can be hard to change outside banks). The Indian rupee is linked to a basket of currencies and its value is generally stable.
ATMs linked to international networks are common in most towns and cities in India. However, carry cash or travellers cheques as backup in case the power goes down, the ATM is out of order, or you lose or break your plastic.
Remember, you must present your passport whenever you change currency or travellers cheques. Commission for foreign exchange is becoming increasingly rare; if it is charged, the fee is nominal.
Modern 24-hour ATMs are found in most large towns and cities, though the ATM may not be in the same place as the bank branch. The most commonly accepted cards are Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus, Maestro and Plus. Banks in India that reliably accept foreign cards include Citibank, HDFC, ICICI, UTI, HSBC, the Punjab National Bank and the State Bank of India. Away from major towns, always carry cash or travellers cheques as backup.
Bank impose higher charges on international transactions, but this may be cancelled out by the favourable exchange rates between banks. Reduce charges by making larger transactions less often. Always check in advance whether your card can access banking networks in India and ask for details of charges.
Note that several travellers have reported ATMs snatching back money if you don’t remove it within around 30 seconds. Conversely, other machines can take more than 30 seconds to actually release cash, so don’t panic if the money doesn’t appear instantaneously.
Always keep the emergency lost-and-stolen numbers for your credit cards in a safe place, separate from your cards, and report any loss or theft immediately.
Major currencies such as US dollars, UK pounds and euros are easy to change throughout India, though some bank branches insist on travellers cheques only. A few banks also accept Australian, New Zealand and Canadian dollars, and Swiss francs. Private moneychangers accept a wider range of currencies, but Pakistani, Nepali and Bangladeshi currency can be harder to change away from the border. When travelling off the beaten track, always carry a decent stock of rupees.
Whenever changing money, check every note. Banks staple bills together into bricks, which puts a lot of wear on tear on the currency. Do not accept any filthy, ripped or disintegrating notes, as these may not be accepted as payment. If you get lumbered with such notes, change them to new bills at branches of the Reserve Bank of India in major cities.
Nobody in India ever seems to have change, so it’s a good idea to maintain a stock of smaller currency. Try to stockpile Rs 10, 20 and 50 notes; change bigger bills into these denominations every time you change money.
Officially, you cannot take rupees out India, but this is laxly enforced. However, you can change any leftover rupees back into foreign currency, most easily at the airport (some banks have a Rs 1000 minimum). Note that some airport banks will only change a minimum of Rs 1000. You may require encashment certificates or a credit-card receipt, and you may also have to show your passport and airline ticket.
Credit cards are accepted at growing numbers of shops, upmarket restaurants, and midrange and top-end hotels, and you can also use them to pay for flights and train tickets. However, be wary of scams. Cash advances on major credit cards are also possible at some banks without ATMs. MasterCard and Visa are the most widely accepted cards; for details about whether you can access home accounts in India, inquire at your bank before leaving.
You’ll need to call someone at home to transfer the money, and a hefty fee is added to the transaction. To collect cash, bring your passport, and the name and reference number of the person who sent the funds.
Private moneychangers are usually open for longer hours than banks, and they are found almost everywhere (many also double as internet cafés and travel agents). Compare rates with those at the bank, and check you are given the correct amount. In a scrape, some upmarket hotels may also change money, usually at well below the bank rate.
All major brands are accepted in India, but some banks may only accept cheques from Amex and Thomas Cook. Pounds sterling and US dollars are the safest currencies, especially in smaller towns. Charges for changing travellers cheques vary from place to place and bank to bank.
Always keep an emergency cash stash in case you lose your travellers cheques, and keep a record of the cheques’ serial numbers separate from your cheques, along with the proof-of-purchase slips, encashment vouchers and photocopied passport details. If you lose your cheques, contact the Amex or Thomas Cook office in Delhi.
To replace lost travellers cheques, you need the proof-of-purchase slip and the numbers of the missing cheques (some places require a photocopy of the police report and a passport photo). If you don’t have the numbers of your missing cheques, Amex (or whichever company has issued them) will contact the place where you bought them.