For first time travellers, getting to your hotel is, unfortunately, a challenge to overcome when you land in India.
You might already have that nervous feeling as you walk through the airport, but it really hits when you look out the exit door and see the organized chaos of India for the first time. This blog will ease that fear.
Before leaving the airport: SIM cards and currency conversion
Payphones & SIM cards at Indian airports
The large international airports that you’re likely landing at will all have payphones and telecommunications companies that you can buy prepaid SIM cards from.
Buying a prepaid SIM for your phone gives you a local Indian phone number. You can then purchase a plan with talk-time and data for your trip. It will cost you around $10 USD for a month worth of talk-time and data.
To buy a SIM card you will need to have with you two 2×2 inch passport photos.
Look for Airtel, Vodafone, or Jio stores at airports. They’re all good Indian telcos. Airtel or Jio are best. Vodafone’s network is patchy – they didn’t have a network in Jaisalmer last time I checked.
Tip: check with the store that you bought your phone from that it is “unlocked.” Some cell phones are “locked” to one telecommunications company and therefore won’t work with foreign SIM cards.
It can be hard to buy Indian currency, the Rupee (₹ INR), outside of India so bring with you some cash in a widely accepted currency such as US Dollar, Euro, or Pound.
Convert it at the airport so you have some cash in your pocket for your first day in India. Make sure the airport cashier gives you plenty of cash in small denominations.
You want lots of ₹100, ₹200, and ₹500 notes because rickshaw drivers and small stores never have enough change for the larger ₹2000 notes.
In fact, no one wants ₹2000 notes. You can use these at larger stores when buying smaller items to get change, but sometimes even they’re not happy and may ask you for smaller change. Banks will usually change these large notes for you (they change ripped notes too).
How to leave the airport and get to your hotel safely
If your hotel has an airport pickup, opt for it. They’ll have a driver with a sign waiting at a predetermined exit gate for you. Look for your sign before stepping out and if you can’t see the driver call the hotel to make sure he’s there.
If you’re going to get a taxi on your own, that’s where the fun begins. As you exit the airport towards the street you will be swamped by drivers who know you’re jet-lagged. Ignore everyone no matter how convincing they are.
There’s a better option: pre-paid taxies (and now Uber).
Before you exit the airport (you can’t re-enter once you leave!) look for a pre-paid taxi stand near the exit doors and use this. If you miss it, there is usually a rickety old building near the road which will say pre-paid taxis on it.
You need to tell the cashier the hotel you’re going to. It pays to have its address handy. The fares for each suburb should be displayed on the stand. The taxi stand will give you two receipts, one for you and one to give the driver so he gets paid.
Using the pre-paid taxi service avoids you getting scammed the second you land. But just in case, the driver still may use some common lines on you such as:
- “Your hotel closed recently, but don’t worry I’ll take you to another.”
- “Your hotel is not in a safe area; I’ll take you to a better one.”
- “Do you want to buy XYZ? I’ll take you to my friend’s shop now.”
Tell him firmly “No. Take me to my hotel.” This shouldn’t be much of a problem with pre-paid taxis. It will be with taxi and rickshaw drivers you hire from the street. More on that in the scams chapter.
If you’re outside the airport and need to ask where the pre-paid taxi stand is, approach a police or security officer and ask.
Are Uber and Ola available at Indian airports?
These days, I don’t know why anyone would not just use Uber or Ola when they arrive at an airport.
At the Delhi International Airport, Uber has its own pickup zone with Uber staff that will help you find your driver – it is a little chaotic at this pickup zone.
The only issue is to get to the Uber pickup zone you have to walk through all the scammy taxi drivers. The pickup zone is about 100m from the exit gates underneath a big car park.
But it’s the best way to get to your hotel as you’re given a fixed price and the entire trip is tracked.
You can complain to Uber if there’s any funny business like the driver driving extra slow to rack up the time taken metric and be paid more. Or the driver taking multiple wrong turns to increase the distance travelled metric. Both have happened to me on trips from the Delhi airport.
India Survival Guide Table of contents
- Travel Essentials: Before You Travel to India
- Arriving in India: Getting to Your Hotel & Airport Amenities
- Tourist Scams to Avoid in India
- Avoiding Fake Money & Ripped Notes in India
- Avoiding Bad Accommodation
- How to Bargain, Get Refunds, and How Much Rickshaws Cost
- Avoiding Counterfeit Souvenirs in India
- How to Be Street Smart in India
- Buses and Trains in India Explained
- Food and Drink Safety for Travellers
- What to Do If You Get Sick in India
- How to Deal with Air Pollution in India