For first-time travellers to India, here’s what you need to consider before travelling: travel insurance, what vaccinations to take, how to apply for a tourist VISA, and what travel accessories should you carry.
I’ll take you through all of this so we can set you up for a successful trip to incredible India.
Should I take travel insurance for India?
For around $75 a month travel insurance is worth it. Most basic travel insurance policies will give you these benefits:
- Health and dental cover in case you get sick or injured.
- Theft cover in case something gets stolen.
- Baggage cover in case your bag gets delayed in transit.
- Family emergency cover in case you need to return home early.
- Trip cancellation cover.
Most insurers require you to purchase this insurance before you leave your home country. The only insurer I know that allows you to buy or extend insurance while travelling is World Nomads.
What vaccinations do you need for India? (incl. COVID-19 update)
There are some vaccinations you might want before you travel to India. Start the vaccination process with your local doctor six weeks before leaving as some vaccinations take multiple doses over a month.
The US Govt. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention recommends these vaccinations:
- Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR)
- Varicella (Chickenpox)
- Yearly flu shot
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Japanese Encephalitis
One other lesser-known vaccine you should consider is Dukoral. It supposedly provides up to 3 months of protection from travellers’ diarrhoea and 2 years against cholera. It’s impossible to know if it works. I have used it and still gotten sick. But it’s worth considering.
Here are the exact vacations I decided to go with before going to India for the first time in 2013.
- Typhoid (protection lasts 3 years)
- Dukoral (2 years cholera protection)
- Tetanus (10 years)
- Polio (10 years)
- Diphtheria (10 years)
- Whooping cough (10 years)
- Rabies (10 years)
- Hepatitis A (20 years)
- And I took Malaria protection pills with me.
I stopped bothering with Malaria pills, and I’ve been bitten hundreds of times by mosquitos over the years and never gotten malaria or dengue (although some of my local friends have suffered from these).
The most seriously I’ve gotten sick in India is from multiple bouts of food poisoning and COVID-19 during the first wave.
What about getting vaccinated for COVID-19 before going to India?
I’ve taken the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as India is, at the time of this update, going through a second wave.
The COVID-19 situation is still unfolding in India. But it’s safe to say, from my own experience with coronavirus in India, that it would be wise to be vaccinated before going too.
My experience with COVID-19 in India did have a positive ending when I was able to help Indians by donating plasma twice at Delhi’s world-class Plasma Bank.
How to get a tourist VISA for India
There are two VISAs available: an Electronic Tourist VISA (eTV) or a Regular 6/12/60/120-month Tourist VISA.
Electronic Tourist VISA (eTV)
This VISA is for single-entry visits of 60 days or less. You are limited to two eTVs a year.
The process is simple, you fill out this online form, upload a photograph and a scan of your passport, pay a fee, and then you receive the VISA by email to print and carry with you to India.
Regular Tourist VISA
This VISA is for longer stays over 60 days and up to 10 years. Beware though, for a lot of countries there is a maximum stay at any one time of 90 or 180 days.
The process is similar to the eTV VISA except you must fill and print out this online form and send it along with the below documents to your local Indian High Commission:
- Complete and printed online VISA form.
- Your passport with minimum validity of 6 months.
- VISA fee (usually paid via banker cheque).
- Two 2×2 inch passport sized photos.
- A self-addressed courier envelope.
Check Google for your nearest Indian High Commission and double-check their tourist VISA page. Sometimes they provide a checklist you can download to make sure you have all your documents in order.
Tip: keep photos of your passport and visa on your phone.
Travel accessories for India
I arrived in India with none of these things, but I quickly learnt their importance!
- Ditch the suitcase & change to a travel backpack: Suitcases are useless in India. The roads and footpaths are full of holes, dirt, and dust. Good luck wheeling your case around on these streets. Use a large 55 L backpack instead. When it’s on your back, there’s no dragging it through the mud, and you have both your hands free.
- A cloth to clean your shoes: Your shoes collect a ton of dust, dirt, and if you’re “lucky”, as they say in India, cow poo. Don’t let the muck build up. Bring a disposable kitchen cleaning cloth and clean your shoes each night with water. Leave it out overnight in your room to dry.
- Wet wipes, not toilet paper: Toilet paper is a weird shape to pack and ends up getting squashed and perishing. Wet wipes are easier to pack, you get more use out of an 80 pack, and they do a much better job where it matters.
- Carry flip-flops: When you get back to your hotel, you’ll want to remove your shoes so you don’t bring outside dirt and dust in. Leave your flip-flops (sandals) by the door to change into when you enter.
- Microfibre travel towel: I don’t use towels provided by budget hotels. People commonly use them to clean the muck off their shoes, and after all the stinky towels I’ve encountered I doubt they’re washed well. You’ll frequently see them drying on a dirty fence in the middle of busy roads. A half-sized travel towel is small and will do the same job as a regular-sized towel plus dry much faster. Most hotels have washing lines on their rooftops you can use.
- Sweat-wicking clothing: If you want to travel comfortably in summer what you wear will make a vast difference to how comfortable you are in 40 degrees. Use sweat-wicking clothing to achieve this. When summer comes, I’m thankful for my Dri-FIT t-shirts.
- Padlock: Some hotels use old-school padlocks to lock their rooms. Use your own instead, that way you know no one has access.
Learning the language
Speaking English in India is not a problem. Taxi drivers and store staff all know basic English. If you’re planning on being in North India for an extended stay of 3 or more months, then I recommend learning basic Hindi. It’ll make daily interactions more rewarding. Indians will greet you in return with broad smiles.
Language breaks down barriers. Scammers and touts will hassle you less when you reply to them “no thank you” in Hindi.
Introductory Hindi classes can be taken cheaply at community colleges and universities.
If you’re in the South, they don’t speak Hindi and English is the shared language across states, so just learn the local greetings as you move between states.
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