Man in India balancing a package on his head, walking out on a dirt pier to board a small boat across a river
| |

Buying a SIM Card or eSIM in India

We may earn a commission from purchases you make after clicking links on this site. Learn more.

When I was growing up, I imagined India as an exotic land filled with tigers, elephants, and monkeys. When I finally got there I didn’t see any tigers… but I found plenty of monkeys, cows, and camels instead, along with incredible architecture, fantastic food, beautiful beaches, and warm, friendly people.

India is by far the cheapest country I have ever traveled in, but it’s also one of the toughest. This goes for the SIM card market as well. Prices are cheap, but getting one can involve an awful lot of bureaucracy.

As a result, unless you need a local phone number or are on a tight budget, I’d strongly recommend using an eSIM (discussed below) if your device supports it.


  • I recommend Vi or Airtel for most travelers who want a physical SIM
  • An eSIM from Airalo avoids all of the bureaucracy and paperwork

There are four main service providers in India, after a wave of mergers, acquisitions, and bankruptcies changed the market in the last few years. They all offer LTE and 5G is being rolled out, but not all have good coverage across the entire country.

The top two for market share and network coverage are Vi and Airtel, and most travelers should opt for one or the other.

There is immense competition, and prices for calls and data in India are some of the lowest in the world. Location will determine which provider is best: Airtel is typically regarded as having the best network, but that wasn’t always the case in my testing.

Every traveler I met was using one of the networks mentioned above. We’ve used both Airtel and Vi across the north, middle, and south of the country.

You’ll likely have quite different purchasing experiences based on where you buy your SIM card, and will get very different speeds with a given network depending on where you are at the time.

Both networks offer both prepaid and postpaid options, and neither do contracts. Prepaid is best unless you have an extended stay, since postpaid plans require a three-month commitment to start with. Postpaid is only slightly cheaper than prepaid.

Standard SIM cards are disabled after three months of inactivity, but cards for tourists expire after three months regardless. Whichever provider you go with, expect to receive several promotional texts each day, offering discounts on services you don’t care about.

Travel eSIM for India

If you need a working phone before you leave the airport (see below), and/or you just don’t have the patience to navigate the endless bureaucracy around buying a SIM card elsewhere, just use a travel eSIM instead.

Compared to the alternatives, being able to get set up before leaving home and connected by the time you’ve got off the plane is a real breath of fresh air.

That said, you’ll pay for that convenience: while it’s not expensive by global standards, data does cost more with a travel eSIM than the super-cheap rates you’ll get with a local SIM.

If all you need is something to tide you over for a few hours or days while you wait for your airport SIM to activate (or while you fill out paperwork in a phone store), though, it’ll still only cost five bucks or less.

For extended stays or larger data requirements, you’ll obviously pay more: there’s a comparison table in the Costs section down below with the latest prices. Of the companies I’ve used, I’ve found Airalo and aloSIM to be the cheapest options, but Airalo had better speeds.

Like most travel eSIMs, they’re data-only: you don’t get a local number. I use apps for everything from communication to transport these days, so the lack of a local number very rarely matters to me, but you might have different needs.

If you’re new to eSIMs, they offer big benefits to travelers in terms of how quickly, easily, and (often) cheaply you can get connected when you arrive in a new country. Most recent phones support them, and you can read all about them here.

How to Buy a Prepaid SIM Card in India

Buying a SIM card in India is, like many other things in the country, quite an experience. Depending on where you buy it and the whims of the person selling it to you, the process may be relatively painless, long and difficult, or completely impossible.

Buying an Indian SIM Card at the Airport

If you’re flying into an international airport, you’ll typically find a kiosk selling SIM cards in the arrival hall. On my most recent trip, my partner and I flew into Terminal 3 of New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi airport and there was an Airtel kiosk near one of the exit doors.

In the interest of writing this article, my partner bought a SIM from that kiosk while I decided to wait until getting into the city. The process at the kiosk couldn’t have been easier in terms of time and paperwork, albeit with a surcharge for the convenience.

SIM card kiosk at New Delhi airport, Terminal 3, with "airtel 4G: the smartphone network" written above. A line of people is waiting outside.
Airtel kiosk at Terminal 3, New Delhi airport

The brusque staff member took a copy of the passport and a photo of my partner with a webcam, asked her to sign a couple of pieces of paper, and sent us on our way with an assurance that the SIM would start working by 11pm that night (around twelve hours later).

That didn’t happen, but even if the process works perfectly, be aware that you can’t buy a SIM card at the airport and expect it to work straight away.

If you need data to call an Uber or navigate to your hotel, you’ll need an alternative to tide you over. I used a Surfroam data SIM for this purpose on my first visit, but just went with a travel eSIM (above) for my entire stay on my next trip.

While the Airtel kiosk at New Delhi airport is apparently usually quite reliable, it wasn’t in our case. The SIM didn’t start working that night or the next day, and it ultimately took three phone calls from our guesthouse owner to the kiosk to get it up and running.

If the same thing happens to you and your Airtel SIM isn’t working after 24 hours, you’ll need to call or return to the place you bought it from to sort things out. Other stores, even official ones, won’t be able to help.

For the airport kiosk in New Delhi specifically, you’ll need to provide your name, along with the phone number you were assigned and your receipt number. All details should be on the receipt, but if you need their phone number, it’s 99586 41785.

Once the line is enabled and you have signal, you may need to call 59059 to activate the service. An automated voice will ask for details like your date of birth and the last four digits of your passport number.

After that, you can either call the airport kiosk again to get your call/text/data package added immediately, or wait a few hours for it to “automatically” happen.

Buying an Indian SIM Outside the Airport

If you choose to buy your SIM card outside the airport, you’ll be rewarded with lower prices, greater choice, and extra bureaucracy.

As a general rule, it seems that outside the airport most tourists will have an easier time buying Vi SIM cards than Airtel ones. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be easy, of course, just typically a little less painful.

In my case, my guesthouse owner asked if I’d purchased a local SIM as we checked in, and offered to take me to the nearest store to do so. A few minute’s walk away in our South Delhi neighbourhood, the small Vi store had three staff members working, and we were seen straight away.

Most of the paperwork was filled in by the staff member, who also took a copy of my passport and a head-and-shoulders photo of me. My guesthouse owner needed to give his address and phone number, then provide the verification code that was sent to it.

I also had to provide my father’s name and address, despite it being in New Zealand. There’s no verification, so don’t feel the need to be entirely accurate if you don’t want to be.

After choosing a plan and paying for it, the staff member put the SIM card into my phone, and it started working immediately. All in all, the process took about 15 minutes to complete.

Note, though, that it would have taken much longer, and been much more difficult without such a helpful guesthouse owner. If you’re planning to do the same thing yourself, I’d highly recommend booking a place to stay where reviews mention assistance with buying a SIM.

Or, as I feel like I’ll say many times throughout this article, just use a travel eSIM instead.

Small store in Goa, India, with signs advertising a range of services including money exchange, phone calls, travel agency, and SIM cards.
Store in Goa selling everything from SIM cards to gasoline in water bottles.

If you choose to go it alone, one thing to watch for with smaller unofficial stores is being sold a SIM that’s already active.

This means it’s registered to someone else, and you’ll have no idea when it will expire. We’ve heard of people buying cards like these and having the card stop working within a week, with no way of retrieving any remaining credit.

Prepaid SIM and eSIM Costs

Cell service is extremely cheap in India, although costs will still vary noticeably depending on whether you buy your SIM at the airport or not.

Buying at New Delhi airport, the Airtel SIM and call/text/data bundle cost 900 rupees (~$11). This included 1.5GB of data and 100 domestic texts per day, plus unlimited domestic calls, valid for four weeks.

Assuming you can get through the paperwork barriers, buying the same bundle elsewhere costs 299 rupees. You’ll also need to add whatever the vendor feels like charging you for the SIM card, likely somewhere in the region of 50-100 rupees.

My Vi package also cost 299 rupees. For that, I had the same 1.5GB data and 100 domestic SMS per day, plus unlimited domestic calls, valid for four weeks. I paid 51 rupees for the SIM card itself, for a total of 350 rupees (~$4.50).

Many other packages are available, and you can check the latest offers online (Airtel, Vi).


As I say, of the various travel eSIM companies out there (or at least the good ones), Airalo and aloSIM usually have the best prices for India. They’re not the only option, though: I’ve compared many others in the past, and here’s how the best ones stack up .

Validity Period

  • 7 days

  • 15 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

Data Amount

  • 1 GB

  • 2 GB

  • 3 GB

  • 5 GB

  • 10 GB

Price (USD)

  • $4.50

  • $8

  • $10.50

  • $15

  • $25

Validity Period

  • 7 days

  • 15 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

Data Amount

  • 1 GB

  • 2 GB

  • 3 GB

  • 5 GB

  • 10 GB

  • 20 GB

Price (USD)

  • $4.50

  • $8

  • $10.50

  • $15

  • $25

  • $40

Validity Period

  • 7 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 45 days

Data Amount

  • 1 GB

  • 3 GB

  • 5 GB

  • 10 GB

  • 15 GB

  • 20 GB

Price (USD)

  • $5

  • $12

  • $15

  • $26

  • $30

  • $35

Topping Up

As a tourist, topping up is best done by finding one of the many little shops that sell credit packages in cash transactions. These packages are priced by the networks, so shop owners can’t really rip you off.

That said, it’s always a good idea to check your balance after you buy the top-up, and while still in the presence of the vendor.

Each provider has a code for checking your balance — with Airtel, for instance, dialing *123*11# returns a message showing your remaining data, voice, and SMS credit.

Xoom topup screen

Most options for topping up your credit online required a local credit or debit card. The only one I found that allowed me to use a foreign card was It’s owned by Paypal, and I was charged a $0.99 USD service fee.

That said, new payment options are being added regularly: it’s worth at least trying the Airtel and Vi recharge pages to see if your card works.

Get regular updates from the world of travel tech and remote work

News, reviews, recommendations and more, from here and around the web

Coverage and Data Speeds

Vi and Airtel

Cellular service areas are divided into nearly two dozen “circles” in India, aligning roughly with the different states. This matters less than it used to, as call, text, and data bundles now apply countrywide.

You’ll still need to remember to turn data roaming on when leaving the area where you buy your SIM card, however.

I found that on an Android phone with a Vi SIM, I was prompted to enable data roaming when first moving to a different state, and it worked fine from then on.

With an iPhone using Airtel, my partner got “No Service” every time we crossed into a new state, even with data roaming enabled. To get things working again, she’d need to manually select an Airtel network each time.

4G/LTE service is widely available throughout the country, although speeds aren’t necessarily particularly fast.

In Delhi, for example, I found LTE download speeds to be much faster with Vi than Airtel. Upload speeds, however, were faster with Airtel. Coverage was available throughout the city, although data stopped or slowed to unusable levels now and again with both providers.

We had equally variable speed and service elsewhere in the country, both on this trip and earlier ones. If you’re staying in one place for a while and are struggling to get reliable service with one provider, it may be worth buying a SIM from the other and switching between them as needed.

That’s assuming you can handle going through the purchasing process a second time, of course!

Screenshot showing Airtel LTE speeds in Delhi, with 7.13Mbps download and 3.03Mbps upload
Airtel LTE speeds in Delhi
Screenshot of Vi LTE speed test in Delhi, showing 28.1Mbps download and 1.7Mbps upload.
Vi LTE speeds in Delhi

Airalo and aloSIM

Most of the time when I compare Airalo and aloSIM in the same country, aloSIM has the faster speeds, often by quite a lot. That wasn’t the case in Delhi, however, despite them both using the same (Jio) network.

I ran speed tests with first aloSIM and then Airalo from the same place in the city, a minute or two apart. As you can see, speeds were dramatically better with Airalo: aloSIM’s upload speed in particular was unacceptably slow.

Screenshot showing speed test results for aloSIM eSIM in Delhi, India, with 11.1Mbps download and 0.17Mbps upload.
aloSIM LTE speeds in Delhi
Screenshot of speed test of Airalo eSIM in Delhi, India, showing 56.5Mbps download and 2.01Mbps upload.
Airalo LTE speeds in Delhi

Check out our guides to SIM cards and eSIMs in 70+ other countries here.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. one reason traveling to India is such a pain. i don’t know why they make it so difficult. what is a tourist sim card? never heard of it. why is it hard to get a tourist sim card as a tourist if that is what they are designed for?

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      Yep, it’s a far cry from buying tourist SIMs (or for that matter, normal SIMs) in most other countries, that’s for sure.

    2. Avatar Keir Briscoe says:

      They call it a tourist sim card because it expires in three months. Normal sim cards will only expire if the user does not keep them valid through regular use. As for you question on why it’s hard to get a tourist sim card? The only answer I have is welcome to India.

    3. I feel your pain. But as an Indian once living in Dubai, it was hard even for me to get a SIM card in a city that I was visiting and didn’t have a permanent address in. It was the Mumbai attacks that made the government have laws to keep people safe and reduce the chances of SIM cards getting in to the wrong hands.

    4. Avatar S Patttel says:

      The additional paper checks (beuraucracy, if you may) to get hold of a fresh SIM is to do with national security. Terror outfits could get hold of the SIMs easily if there were no additional checks.

      With passport (or driving license) and paperwork at least the owner of the SIM is traceable in case some untoward activity is planned via that phone. In the past this has helped the law enforcement agencies a lot.

  2. India faces what no other country has faced with till date. Terrorism!

    Getting all these details to ensure that if that number is used by someone for any unlawful activity, they know who it was.

    This complicated/extra vigilant process is for safety of travelers and citizens alike. It most likely began after terrorists attacked their parliament house!

    Having said that, I am dreading traveling to India next month and the exercise I’ve to go through to get a sim card.

    1. Avatar Keir Briscoe says:

      I never got any confirmation but my thought on the complications of getting a sim was because of terrorism. That being said it was super easy to get one in Anjuna, though I did have to wait 48 hours to activate it.

    2. Avatar S Patttel says:

      AGREED !
      Terrorism has caused Indians the loss of lives in the past of 2 prime ministers, and countless citizens. Its absolutely essential for Indian security agencies to keep a grip on terror outfits with sleeper cells operating to disrupt the normalcy and mutli-culturalims and multi-religious fabric of India.

      These checks for SIMs are no more different than airlines banning liquids on planes, or US banning laptops and mobiles on planes to-and-from certain countries.

      There are several other checks you should be braced for:
      1. Cinema halls too do not allow much handbags (bomb blasts in civilian areas in cinema halls in the past)
      2. Other crowded places may have similar checks e.g. Xray machines while entering Railway stations or that of the Delhi Metro.

  3. sim card problem is disaster its a bloody big problem to get it so many things you have to follow up, you need to have local address or an indian residence must be your withness so it will take 2 days to get it on air, sometimes youget crazy it takes a week, its nonsense stupid prosedures lots of paper you need to sign and give them 1 passport copy and photo fill up the locL and home addresses …

    1. Avatar Keir Briscoe says:

      Yes it is a hassle to get a sim card there. As an alternative I found that most places have free wifi. All you have to do is ask for the password, and be willing to a accept relatively slow connection.

  4. Yikes! This all seems super complicated. Will be traveling to Goa and Kerala soon. Any recommendations on what sim card to get?

    1. Avatar Keir Briscoe says:

      Josh. When I was in Goa I got my !dea sim fairly easy. There was a 48. Hour wait before it activated though.

    2. Hey Josh!
      To avoid national roaming, you may opt for BSNL. They have begun giving good offers on data as well as usual calling balance. However, you may face some challenges with it in remote areas. Airtel, Idea work great too but are slightly pricey. and will have national roaming.
      Having a local identification is important so that the sim does not end up with notorious people. You may ask the people at the hotels you shall stay at to provide you with local IDs. Getting a recharge is fairly simple once you have the sim running. You need to visit the websites of the respective carrier or can even visit small shops that may have recharge vouchers.

  5. As far as I know, your positive experience in Goa has to do with the fact that you bought the SIM card in this state. No matter which carrier you decide to use, buying the cards in Goa just seems to be so much easier than anywhere else in the country. The only logic I can see behind that is that Goa basically lives of tourism.

    In Delhi or Mumbai it’s still pretty much impossible to get a SIM card without a local sponsor, as far as I know.

    1. Avatar Keir Briscoe says:

      I agree with your reasoning that Goa is so easy because of the tourism. And you are correct. I went for the !dea card only because in my particular area that one seemed to have a better connection. People I talked to using other carriers in Goa also had fairly a simple signup experience.

  6. Avatar Lynda Fox says:

    Thank you Keir; I am travelling to Delhi in a few weeks just for a short time so I really don’t want all the hassle of trying to get a sim. Your posts have clarified a lot and made up my mind for me that I will for the first time in my life take a roaming package from Australia for this trip. Probably by the time I did get the sim over there and get it up and running it would be time to come home!

    1. Avatar Keir Briscoe says:

      i’m glad I could help. Have a great time in India!

    2. Avatar Gopal Murti says:

      I am a Canadian citizen of Indian origin. I have a house too in New Delhi and also sort of dual citizenship. With all that I had great difficulty getting a SIM Card in New Delhi. Having a house in New Delhi was not enough. Airtel wanted the proof that I own that house. And the proof was any electricity, water or telephone bill on my name and with that house address. I had none of the such documents. All bills for that house come on my sister’s name who stays there. So, it was really tough. Anyway, I am going to India in July 2017 again and hope to do better this time. May be I will go to Reliance this time. Best of luck.

  7. Hi Keir

    Do you know anything about purchasing an international sim for use in India? We’re going in December and spending time in both Rajastan and Kerala.

    1. Avatar Ian Keith says:

      I bought my sim card after customs at Kochi airport in Kerala activated within an hour

      1. Avatar Keir Briscoe says:

        Great to know. I was in several airports and none would sell sim cards. Thanks!

  8. Keir Briscoe Keir Briscoe says:

    Hi Adrian. Sorry I’m not familiar with using an international sim in India. However I was using my T-Mobile sim card from the US while I was in India and it worked fairly good. My T-Mobile plan gives me free data and text in many countries. I did find that the service was typically at 2g speeds when using that card but it worked.

  9. Avatar Martin Gray says:

    On your page that talks about “Buying a SIM Card in India” you have incorrectly spelled the name of the archaeological site of Vijayanagara as Vihayanagara (using an H instead of a J).

    The Wikipedia page for the ruins of Vijayanagara is:

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      Thanks for pointing that out — fixed now!

  10. Avatar BeckerKutumb says:

    Great info. So, can any of this be done online prior to touchdown? Are there sites or services that allow me to land with a card in hand?

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      I don’t know of any reputable companies sending Indian SIM cards overseas, sorry. If you don’t want to deal with the paperwork in-country or roam with your provider from home, maybe look at international SIM cards instead. They’re more expensive, but less hassle. You can find our recommendations here.

    2. Avatar Keir Briscoe says:

      I didn’t look for any sim cards that way. However I already had a T-Mobile sim card from the US. The plan I have through them gives me unlimited international data and text. This sim worked if there was signal available but it was slow. Around 2G speeds.

  11. Hey Keir – did you ever look into getting a wifi dongle as an alternate to a SIM? If I’m just looking for data/a wifi connection, would it be easier to get one of those rather than go through the SIM process?

    1. Avatar Keir Briscoe says:

      Hi Emily. Yes I did look into the wifi dongle option. They are available on (Indian Amazon like site), and in stores. However, the purchase of a sim is still required. The sim can then be inserted into the dongle or a phone. I opted to just get the sim card for the phone. Then if I needed internet on my computer I turned on the phone’s hot spot.

  12. Hello,
    We will be in India for a month and are looking for recommendations for acquiring a SIM card while we are there. What are the averages prices, and are there companies that you would recommend? TIA

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      The answers to your questions are in this post. As mentioned, company recommendations and therefore prices depend on where you’re going, and we can only advise on the places we’ve been.

  13. If you are traveling to India on eVisa, you will now receive free Bsnl SIM card on arrival to India. BSNL is state run provider with much wider coverage even in rural areas and among the cheapest however the service quality depends on location.

    I think it’s good to get this SIM to remove the hassles of attaining SIM otherwise. It comes preloaded with 50mb data but recharge is easy.

    1. Thanks Mark. I mentioned this change earlier this month – it’s definitely a good thing for travelers, since the purchase process has typically been so difficult in the past.

  14. The Indian Government has made it difficult to get a SIM card due to terrorism. However Unregistered SIM cards are available fairly easily and cheaply in the black market. Any terroist methinks would go for these instead of providing his passport details or proof of address.
    So the only ones getting hit is the over billion Indians who have to jump through bureaucratic hoops in order to get a SIM card.
    The Indian government can keep every citizen under surveillance by making strict identity requirements on SIM cards, they wish to know the person they are listening in to, intimately, even the colour of your anus.
    There is a move soon to link the Aadaar card to sim. The Aadaar card is a biometric card linking your iris and ten fingerprints to a central computer. This is being increasingly required from all Indians to get services and documents like a driving licence bank account, airline or railway ticket, pay tax etc..
    Thankfully this Aadhaar card is not required from tourists but down the years don’t bet on it…you may have to get one made at an Indian Embassey or Consulate before being issued with a visa. It will be your identity card in India and you will no longer be required to provide proof of identity once you get this all encompassing biometric card issued by the Indian government.

  15. Very recent update. I arrived in Delhi yesterday and picked up an Airtel sim at the airport. It was a pretty easy process – they take a copy of your passport, take a photo of you and then fillin the form for you. Took less than 10 mins. I went for 5 GB data-only at 1,150 ruppees for 30 days….I assume I could get cheaper elsewhere but I like to get these things sorted early.

    The only slight inconvenience is that it takes a few hours before you can activate the service (actually the next morning for me), which you do by dialling a number then entering the last 4 numbers of your passport followed by your date of birth. It was much, much quicker than the e-Visa process at the airport 😉

    I also saw a Ministry of Tourism brochure offering free pre-loaded SIM cards that you could pick up somewhere in the airport (on the BSNL network)…I had a driver waiting so didn’t avail myself of this and so can’t say whether this is a good deal or not.

  16. I arrived in Goa yesterday and it has proved to be impossible to get a SIM card in nothing less than one week for activation. You first need all the expected things; passport and visa copy with a photo and also details of a reference, i.e. Guesthouse or hotel. Apparently since yesterday however these documents need to be checked and it will take one week for the card to be activated. I didn’t see an option of picking up a SIM at the airport, which is something I usually do, so if there’s that option then my recommendation would be do it! My next stop is going into one of the retailers in the city to see if they can do this any quicker. I expect not so a week of local wifi from bars and restaurants, hotel etc… Good luck! 🙂

  17. Just sharing if it helps anyone. I landed in Bangalore international airport and couldn’t find a prepaid or go phone store. It seems there used to be one but has been removed. Anyways, i just managed that evening on WiFi (when available) and visited an Airtel store the next day. They had a simple prepaid package of INR 345 + INR 25 (SIM) ( ~7 USD) which comes with 1 GB data per day, unlimited calls for 28 days. LTE (4G) works provided the handset supports, i was using a Nexus 6P and it worked like a charm. They did ask for a photo, ID, address and a local reference phone number. For tourists, be ready with a hotel reservation, it should help. The SIM was activated the same evening and i had to recharge the FRC package (345) and was ready to go the same evening. If you are planning on traveling to many states in India, it would be considered as National roaming and you might want to add national roaming package for calls.

  18. Buy Vodafone…. I prefer that.. if u are looking for good coverage and high speed data u can choose Vodafone… Because I have a 3G smartphone and I got 5.3 Mbps in 3g phone and I had jio. I put jio sim in modem. I got 2.2 Mbps.. that sim is 4g. so jio is waste. Choose wisely.

  19. Avatar Shubham Chugh says:

    Hi ! Everyone
    Indian government has referred this query and now on new delhi airport you can get a activated simcard in association with bsnl loaded with RS 50 and 50 MB of data
    but this facility is only available for those coming with e-visa !

  20. Not sure about other airports, but there is Airtel counter just after baggage and customs within airport especially for tourists. Due to national security and terrorism, this rule of id was introduced in India and is very important to nab the criminals.

  21. I bought Sim card in Delhi airport without any problem. When I traveled in Kerala, I bought one at a small shop in the city. All I need were passport size photo and copy of passport.

  22. Avatar Chandrasekaran says:

    I am planning to visit to Chennai during October 2017. Any body have any idea for SIM card store available in Chennai international arrival airport. Thanks ina davnce.

  23. I arrived in the Mumbai international airport with an eVisa.
    The only available phone counter was Airtel. I have my own pocket wifi device so I just wanted to buy a data SIM card. The guy quoted me Rs 5500. I wanted 14 days coverage. He said I get 2Gb per day. He was a little shifty saying my device was locked and if I wanted his, I refuted that and said I’d used it in a couple of countries and also said he hadn’t even tried putting in the sim yet howcan he say it was locked. Anyway he took a copy of my passport, fiddled with a SIM card that he took out from a pack. He made a few calls using the sim. He filled the paperwork for me. All I did was kept on asking him how long it will take. He said “2 mins”. It took 20-30 mins. He got the pocket wifi to work and I had immediate connectivity.He gave me the red pack that presumably contained the sim. I asked for a receipt and he stuffed around trying to get a blank receipt and wrote down the price. I asked him for assurance of usability throughout India for 14 days and 2 Gb per day. The 2 guys confirmed. I have a feeling I’ve been duped …it was late so my brain wasn’t working.

    My hope is that it will work for the 14 days! I think I paid at least 5 times too much but at least I got immediate activation and connectivity.

  24. Hi there, thanks for this article. I am very interested in the free SIM card offered by the Indian government. I have tried finding more information about this but almost no-one in India seems to be aware of this new initiative, not in hotels, not at the embassy. Is it real? Did anyone of you actually get it? And if so, where at Mumbai airport can we get it? We have e-visa. Many thanks!

    1. I don’t have any further details for you beyond what’s in the post right now, but one of our writers is heading to India next month and will likely try to pick up one of these free SIMs on arrival at Delhi airport. I’ll update the article afterwards if there’s anything new to add.

  25. Avatar Robyn Mczgown says:

    I wish I head read this article before going through the last 3 days of dealing with Airtel. The free government SIM card would have been an amazingly simple bonus.
    Airtel provided us with a SIM card and after waiting the required 24hr connection time, we found our our SIM card is already in use. So back we go for a new one. Again after the 24hr connection wait time, we realized that our new SIM card wouldn’t let us make phone calls or text. So back we go to airtel – who told us to take a token and wait our turn.
    We went to Vodafone around the corner and we’re signed up and connected after 2.5 hours.
    The time spent waiting in the queue in these stores really taxes your patience. But the guys in Vodafone gave us some dewali chocolates. How nice is that!

  26. Avatar Martin Kratochwil says:

    Airtel rip off
    I bought a prepaid Sim in Varanasi. They told me it will work in the evening after 20h. But it didn’t work so I went back to the store and they changed the Sim – it worked, but after one week I got a sms and the Sim was switched off after. The airtel district store and the airtel Internet customers service were asking many questions, gave no answers and didn’t help.

  27. I dont buy the security angle. With nearly a billion sim cards out there and a million or so vendors it must be a doddle for even the amateur crook to get his hands on a SIM.

    India is the kind of place where officials think nithing of punishing a million innocent citizens just so they can block for a little while a handful of crooks.

    If security is the concern then all these checks are nether effective nor necessary.

  28. I arrived in Delhi and jumped in a cab. Asked the driver that I needed to visit a phone shop. He said it was no problem but it was not easy to acquire a SIM. However, that HE could supply an activated SIM! I gave him a 2000 rupee deposit and 1000 for top up. He pulled out a handful of SIM cards and gave me an Airtel one. He called someone to top it up and hey presto my iPhone was in business immediately! 🙂 Booked him for the return trip to airport 10 days later. He picked me up and on arrival at airport I returned the SIM and got my Rs. 2000 back. Moral of the story …. worth asking your cab/hotel if they can do this. For obvious reasons they don’t shout it off the rooftops, but quite a few offer this service according to my Punjabi taxi driver.

  29. I wish I had known about the BSNL option. Just returned home after being stuffed around by Vodafone. I bought 2 sims from a store, giving photo ID and a passport photograph and told it would be activated in 2 hours. Then emailed customer service a few days later when it was not activated, very unhelpful as they did not give any information. I was then told it may take up to 7 days.
    Still didn’t work after 7 days, called someone up and then got it to work by putting it into a local phone and getting it activated.
    After emailing about the second SIM, which I was told was not activated because store person had not submitted my documentation, I was told to wait for 3 business days for activation. I emailed again after 3 days when not activated, and was told to wait another 3 days.

    TLDR Vodafone service is terrible and be prepared for long delays in activation.

  30. Unfortunately, it seems like the free SIM at the airport is no longer an option. We stopped off at the India Tourism Development Corporation desk in the New Delhi airport and were informed that that scheme has been shut down.

    1. Hah, that didn’t last long! I’ll try to get some sort of official confirmation of what’s going on if I can, and update the post. Thanks for the info!

  31. I want to buy an unlocked phone to take to India and then buy a sim card there. I know the newer iPhones all have nano sims, and I don’t know what size sim cards are offered in India. Any recommendations on good unlocked phones that will be compatible there?

    1. You’ll have no problems getting nano or micro SIMs in India, so there’s no need to worry about that side of things. Our current recommendations for the best unlocked travel smartphones can be found here — if you’re more of an Apple person, then feel free to include the iPhone 8 or X on your list as well — they’re good phones, you’ll just pay quite a bit more for them.

    2. Vodafone unlocked mine for me for free. Not sure who your carrier is but might be worth asking them.

  32. I got a sim card at Vodafone in Mumbai (Bandra branch) this morning. Was pretty easy. Take your passport with your visa and a passport pic to give them. I paid Rs349 and get 2.5GB per day for 28 days. The sim doesn’t expire in three months like I’d heard. It just keeps needing to be topped up to stay alive.

  33. Avatar Roger & Amy Sullivan says:

    Just got an Airtel card Yesterday. We needed to provide copies of our passports and e-visas. ( They note the date the visa expires and correlate the expiration of your sim). We also peovided Passport photos and had to supply a local residence (the apartment we were staying in for the week) and a local reference which we found in our awesome Taxi driver for a nice tip ($15USD)

    We went to the closest Airtel store to our apartment and were told what we needed. Their passport verification system was down so they sent us to another store at 101,Oceanic Towers, Santhome, Chennai. On the way we talked our taxi driver into being our reference.

    We paid 50Rs for the Sim and another 199Rs for the for the first 28 days. We will top off with the same listed for another 28 days for another 199Rs. The Sime will expire on the same date as our Visa.
    Local + STD Calls – Umlimited
    Roaming INcoming calls – Unlimited
    Roaming Outgoing calls – Unlimited
    Local / national SMS – 100SMS/Day
    3G / 4G Data – 1GB/day

    We left with oour sims and after 4 Hours we inserted the sims into our unlocked phones. They found the Airtel network and we called our own numbers to verify the Information we submitted. (The last four of my passport and my birth year. The next morning the data top off was added and we were good to go.

  34. Avatar khushwinder singh says:

    things has been changed dramatically after new Company came into the market called ” JIO ”
    offering everything for free and force other sim providers to do the same , buy any of the prepaid Sim , recharge 300-555rs for three month unlimited roaming + unlimited calls +1-2gb data daily for 84-90days ….

    1. While Jio has indeed shaken up the market in India with low prices and no domestic roaming charges, I don’t have any first-hand information about how difficult it is for foreigners to buy a Jio SIM. That, and OpenSignal’s reported slow data speeds on the Jio network due to congestion, mean I won’t be changing the article at this time. Good to know that even lower-priced options are available, though, and if any foreigner who has bought a Jio SIM wants to report back on the experience, it’d be great to hear about it!

  35. There’s a really simple solution to this problem no matter if you’re traveling in India, or anywhere else. Get Google Fi. Google Fi works in nearly any country. You don’t have to do anything, it just runs like normal and roaming charges are mere cents. Even better, if you’re traveling to a country that has restricted internet, like China, Google Fi gets around their firewall.

    So stop all this nonsense of running around to shops and wasting your travel time and just get Google Fi.

    1. Google Fi is great, and we talk about it regularly on the site. It’s only officially available to US residents though, so is useless to the majority of travelers. Even for those from the US, it’s only supported on a small range of phones despite a recent expansion of the program that added limited support for iPhones and a few other devices.

      While it’s very convenient, it’s also significantly more expensive than local rates in many countries, especially if you use several GB of data per month. Many Fi customers I know use it for their first days in a country, but still buy a local SIM after that to keep prices down.

      It’s unfortunately not yet the global panacea you make it out to be.

  36. My experience as an American with obtaining a prepaid SIM card in India. I have an unlocked GSM+CDMA iPhone 7, and am travelling in India for business. 02 Nov 2019.

    I asked at the information counter in the Mumbai airport and was told to not obtain a SIM card in the Mumbai airport as it was not my final destination. I was advised to get a SIM card in Indore, which was my final air travel destination. At Indore airport there were no SIM card vendors. I went to an Airtel store in an Indore shopping district. This was a modern Airtel-only shop nicely lit and furnished that only sold Airtel SIM cards and plans, nothing else. The shop had helpful staff that spoke English well enough to complete the task eventually.

    I was required to have name, address, and mobile telephone number of a local contact. This person was called to assure this contact information was valid. I also had to have my passport with Visa stamp and a paper copy of my eVisa. I was not required to have a photograph, as they took my photo while I was there. The process took a full three hours, as the information had to be input two or three times to overcome back-office rejections due to quality of the photos of the eVisa. Each time the data were submitted, there was a 30 minute to wait to see if the SIM card activated or would be rejected again. I was required to wait in the store until the phone was fully activated. The cost was 600 Rs (about $8.57 US) and includes unlimited talk and text and 1.5 GB of data per day (yes per day!) for a 30-day period. I paid cash.

    I was told this SIM card will work in all of India. So far, it has worked acceptably, and at this moment I have 4G connectivity at 28 Mbs up, 20 Mbs down.

  37. Avatar Eli Leshem says:

    Do not buy a sim from STAYCONNECT in Delhi!
    I bought at the airport in Delhi. $ 30 should be with 6GB for endless time.
    Did not work in Nepal, India, Bhutan.
    I contacted them and they did not return the money.

  38. Delhi Airport sim experience January 2020. Having read blogs before travel I went to the Airtel kiosk at T3 arrivals at IGI Airport. The 3 men were not customer friendly, ignored me while they talked, I was not given the sim deal I asked for and paid 615 Rs for a sim that would not work in the data voice and sms slot in my phone. Once the rude man had got the money he walked away, I didnt because I knew it wasnt recognised in the slot. One of the other staff took it out of slot 1 and put it in slot 2 that will not allow data use. It began a very unsafe and frustrating scenario for navigating Delhi and misinformation. At the mercy of info from any old wallah to say the least! I finally took it to Jaipur Airtel and they confirmed it was faulty and I bought a similar sim for 330Rs that worked and data all fine. On the way back through Delhi I tried to take the faulty sim back but the airport staff told me I cannot go into the arrivals area (to the kiosk). These people are crooks and there are many forums that warn people to count their change and watch the sleight of hand. Airtel in Jaipur were fabulous and the sim activated and working within 40 minutes, in contrast to waiting 16 + hours for the faulty sim to activate. I DO NOT recommend this hit and miss approach and buying a sim packet that had been opened and re-glued by the look of it. Solo female travellers beware of the very first scam you could encounter on arrival in India. These men at the counter are crooks.

Note that comments are manually approved, so there will be a delay before they appear on the site. Please keep them polite.