After receiving a request for a post about how much it costs to travel in India from a reader of my Facebook Fan Page, I decided that such a post was a great idea. So here we go…
India is commonly known as one of the least expensive destinations for travelers, especially for budget travelers. Prices here can often seem shockingly low for anyone who has spent much of their time in North America or Europe, and even for those who have traveled to other regions of the world, India usually seems like an incredible bargain.
But just how much of a bargain is it?
For those of you on the tightest of budgets, you could survive here in India with a daily spending limit of $15 USD per day. This would enable you to stay in low-end budget hotels, to eat simple meals at local eateries and to utilize local and government buses, as well as 3rd Class trains to get around.
If you can manage $25 USD per day, you’ll be able to travel in significantly more comfort as you’ll soon see below. And for those who can spend more than $25 per day, your experience could involve the occasional 1st Class train, nicer budget hotels and a wider variety of eating options.
At the moment, the exchange rate for Indian Rupees (Rps) is:
$1 USD = 54 Rps
1 Euro = 71 Rps
1 GBP = 88 Rps
1 CAD = 55 Rps
1 AUD = 57 Rps
1 NZD = 44 Rps
And now, in order to provide a more thorough breakdown of the costs involved with a visit to India, here’s some additional information:
When it comes to India, just about every traveler will need to secure a visa before they arrive. This can usually be done at any Indian Embassy or Consulate abroad although, certain Embassies/Consulates sometimes will not provide a visa unless you are an actual resident in the country where the Embassy/Consulate is located. But for the most part, at least in my experience, most Indian Embassies and Consulates will issue tourist visas.
Of course, given that this is India we are talking about, getting a visa is often not the most straightforward of processes. There are usually several types of visas available (3-month, 6-month and for US Citizens only, a 5-year and 10-year tourist visa) and they usually cost different amounts depending on your nationality.
Also, if you are a citizen of the USA, Canada, UK or Australia, and you are applying for an Indian visa while in your home country, you must apply for that visa through the official visa outsourcing company that the local Indian Embassy or Consulate has contracted with.
– US citizens must use Travisa Outsourcing
– UK citizens must use VFS UK
– Australian citizens must also use VFS Australia
– Canadian citizens must use VFS Canada
– For other nationalities, just check the visa requirements on your local Indian Embassy website
Just to give an example of potential costs, for US Citizens, the 6-month multiple entry tourist visa costs $76 USD (including processing fee) and the 5-year tourist visa (which I obtained this time around) costs $166 USD. But again, prices differ for all nationalities.
So you get your visa…now it’s time to pay attention to the fine print.
First, your visa is valid from the date it is issued, not the date you arrive, so if you obtain a 6-month visa on March 1st and you don’t travel to India until May 1st, you will only have four months to spend inside the country.
Second, for most nationalities these days, once you leave India, you cannot return for two months. Even if you have a 6-month tourist visa, and your visa is still valid, you still cannot come back to India once you leave until two months have passed.
The only exceptions are if you are traveling to Nepal or Sri Lanka. In these cases, you can obtain a Re-Entry Permit at any immigration office in India that will allow you to visit these neighboring countries and then return to India without having to wait the two months. Re-Entry Permits usually cost around $30 each.
*The following countries can now receive a 30-day, single-entry tourist visa upon arrival in India: Finland, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Laos, Myanmar, Indonesia
While there are some hostels that offer dorm rooms for as low as 50 Rps per night, budget hotels are more than plentiful and quite inexpensive as well, making such accommodation my accommodation of choice while here.
For the most part, in just about any town or city, you can get a somewhat grubby private room with a private bathroom in a budget hotel for around 300 – 500 Rps per night. In some locations you can find such a private room for 150 Rps and in others, especially Mumbai, you might have to pay closer to 1000 Rps per night if you want a room with walls that reach the ceiling and mattresses that are thicker than a piece of cardboard.
Here’s some more details about what kind of accommodation exists in India:
Dorm Room: As cheap as it comes at around 50 – 100 Rps per night, poor conditions, questionably clean toilet facilities, usually men-only
Budget Room: For 250 – 500 Rps per night you get a large bed with thin (often hard) mattress, sparse furniture, dirty walls, plug outlets that spark, somewhat clean private bathroom, sometimes with hot water shower (available during set times)
Deluxe Budget Room: 500 Rps – 1000 Rps typically gets you a more spacious room, with 24 hour hot water, more comfy mattress, television, some furniture and more of a ‘hotel feel’
Deluxe Room: For 1000+ Rps per night, you can get a nice room, usually still with some marks on the walls and less than sparkling bathroom, but with proper mattress, more furniture, perhaps a desk, large television, air-conditioning and hotel staff that are significantly more attentive
India is a dream when it comes to food, as you can barely walk two meters without facing another street stall or restaurant serving up some kind of snack or dish that you suddenly want to devour. Whether it be samosas, pakoras, lassis or momos, whether it be North Indian or South Indian cuisine…it is all so very tempting.
And luckily, for the traveler, most of this food is quite economical and so you can try as much as you wish (at your own risk of course…I’m not responsible for cases of Delhi belly!).
Here’s an idea of what it costs to eat in India:
Samosas or Pakoras from a street vendor – 10 – 30 Rps
Sweet Lassi from a lassi stall – 20 Rps
Plate of 4 Tibetan Momos – 10 Rps
½ kg of Bananas – 25 Rps
Thali (meal consisting of a vegetable dish, dhal, rice, roti and more) – 80 – 150 Rps
Dish of Matter Paneer (Peas & Cheese Curry) – 40 – 100 Rps
Dhal and Rice – 40 Rps
Chicken Tandoori (½ chicken) – 120 Rps
Butter Naan – 15 – 30 Rps
Masala Dosa – 50 – 100 Rps
Chai from a chai vendor – 5 Rps
Egg Sandwich from a street stall – 15 Rps
You get the idea…it doesn’t cost much to eat in India. And even a filling meal at the rooftop restaurant of a nice hotel in a touristy town will probably only set you back around 200 – 300 Rps per person.
As some may be aware, Indian cuisine varies quite a lot depending on the region and actually, what many of us know as Indian food is generally only found in the north of the country. The food of the south is of an entirely different variety, with items such as dosas, uttapams, idlis and more to be found on the menus.
For vegetarians, India is ideal with the majority of restaurants being ‘Veg-Only’ considering that a significant portion of the population is vegetarian. With that said, there is no shortage of restaurants that serve up chicken dishes and even mutton (lamb) can be found in most places as well.
However, with the incredible diversity of vegetarian dishes available in this country, few meat eaters that I know of actually end up missing meat while here as the vegetarian dishes are usually quite delicious and filling.
By now, it should come as no surprise that transportation, whether by bus, train, taxi or even flights, are also quite affordable.
Let’s look at the options…
Trains: Train journeys in India are more than transportation, they are complete experiences that are usually a memorable part of any traveler’s adventure here. If you want to truly rough it, you could travel in 3rd Class (no assigned seat, unbelievably crowded, people sleeping on the floor or in the luggage racks) from Delhi to Udaipur, a trip of around 12 hours, for as little as 50 Rps. If you want to move up to the much more popular 2nd Class Sleeper (assigned seats and beds, but no compartments or privacy, full open cars), you could travel the same distance for around 350 Rps. And if you want to experience 1st Class, you could choose the lowest level – 3A – which comes with a more comfortable bed, sheets, pillow and blanket, air-conditioning, plug outlets and a curtain to block off each section) for 1000 Rps. You could pay even more for 2A and 1A, the highest levels of 1st Class. But in general, if you stick with 2nd Class Sleeper, you’ll be able to travel around this great country for just a handful of dollars per trip while having a chance to meet and interact with all of the locals sharing the car with you.
Buses: Buses naturally vary in quality and you can use either government-run buses or private buses. Government-run buses are usually cheaper and they can either be quite decent or truly painful. However, the quality of private buses can vary as well and so that extra premium you paid might not get you much in the end. Unfortunately, it’s a gamble as there is rarely any way to know ahead of time what kind of bus you’re getting for your money. In terms of cost, a normal government bus (bench seats, no A/C, lots of stops, can be super-crowded) from Delhi to Dharamsala, a journey of 11 hours, will cost around 500 Rupees, while a private bus (with reclining seats, A/C, limited stops and no more passengers than the number of seats) costs around 750 Rps for the same journey. In some states, you can actually purchase a ticket for a ‘bed’ on long-distance buses. These beds are located above the seats and are small compartments that usually have a sliding window on the outside and a sliding door or curtain for privacy on the inside. While the single beds are ridiculously tiny, the double beds are a great value, whether for one or two people. There’s enough space up there for two people and two backpacks and you just might get some sleep during the journey.
Long-distance Taxi: Between some destinations, you may find it easier to just take a taxi, especially if you are several people traveling together. Usually, this will get you to your destination more quickly and you can stop wherever you want along the way. In general, it costs about 8000 Rps for an 8-hour journey although taxi prices can almost always be negotiated. With that said, the safest way to organize a taxi is to use the official taxi stands located in most towns/cities where you will be able to see the official rate in order to ensure you are not being ripped off. On the other hand, if you wish to take it slow and stop at several places along the way, you might want to use a car and driver from a reputable local travel agent as they will be able to customize the journey and hopefully give you a good deal.
Flights: The number of budget airlines in India seems to be growing all the time and as a result, the fares are often remarkably low. I was just online yesterday checking out a few flights and I found a flight from Kolkata to Delhi for $75 USD, a flight from Delhi to Kochi for $85 and Delhi to Mumbai for $75. I even found a flight from Kolkata to Guwahati in the Northeast State of Assam for $50, a flight that would save a traveler about 20 hours of travel time. So, flights are worth checking out these days, especially for long distances.
Local Transport: When it comes to getting around towns or cities, you’ll basically have the following options…your feet, auto-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, taxis and local buses. And once you choose your method, it’s best to understand that you will almost always pay more than the local fare but with some confident negotiating you can usually keep the foreigner premium to a minimum. You might get lucky and find a taxi or auto-rickshaw driver who has and is willing to use their meter but chances of that happening are slim. The ticket collectors on local buses should quote you the normal fare, which should be very low, around 5 or 10 Rps per trip. And with cycle-rickshaws, you just reach an agreement and go from there…local fares on this method are absurdly low and even if you pay double that amount, it’s an inexpensive way to get around. In cities such as Kolkata and Delhi, you can also use the metro to reach many destinations, making local travel relatively hassle-free.
As with everything else in India, entrance fees are all over the map. The Taj Mahal costs 750 Rps for foreigners, the Red Fort in Delhi costs 250 Rps and the wonderful Bundi Palace costs 150 Rps. Some places might cost 5 Rps, others might cost 200 Rps, and many are free…there just doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern. One thing to note is that for many sites, there is a two-tier fee system where foreigners pay significantly more than Indians. Either way, the entrance fees are not too outrageous – almost always under $5 USD – and I can’t think of any place that is so overpriced that it’s not worth visiting.
INTERNET & MOBILE PHONE
The availability of internet for travelers in India has greatly improved recently, with free Wi-Fi now available at some budget hotels and at cafes that cater towards travelers. However, internet is often quite slow here and in many cases during my current trip, too slow to use at all. Another option is to purchase a local USB WiFi device from an Indian mobile network provider, but again, those travelers I met who had been using one were quite disappointed with the connection quality. In fact, their connections were usually much worse than the excellent connection I’ve been enjoying with my mobile WiFi router from Telecomsquare.com. So for those of you who really need reliable internet while traveling, you may want to check out Telecomsquare as well.
When it comes to using your mobile phone, India has now made it quite easy for foreigners to purchase a local SIM card. All you need is a passport photo and a photocopy of your passport and you can get set up at any mobile phone shop. On this trip, I bought a SIM card with the company AirCel. It cost me 100 Rps for the SIM card, 98 Rps for 1 month of unlimited data around the country and then I added 200 Rps worth of call/text credit. Not a bad deal at all.
Here’s a few more tips that I’ve learned during my many visits to India that might help you keep your expenses as low as possible…
– Bargain…for almost everything. Unless the price is listed somewhere, you’re generally free to try and negotiate a better price.
– If you’re at a stalemate while bargaining, politely decline the vendor’s final offer and walk away. You just might find that he’s suddenly calling you back, willing to sell you the item at the lower price that you asked for.
– Stay calm and friendly while bargaining as this is all part of how business gets done here. Anger won’t get you anywhere.
– Keep a small amount of money in one pocket and a larger amount in the other so that you don’t have to pull out all of your cash when paying for small items.
– When purchasing items from a normal shop (bottled water, packaged snacks, soap/shampoo, etc.) there is always a MRP (maximum retail price) printed on the package. This is the price that you should pay as these prices are set by the manufacturer, not by the shop owners, so be sure to check before handing over your money and never pay more than what is listed.
– There is no shortage of ATMs in India but do keep in mind that local banks charge 200 Rps per ATM withdrawal for foreign bank cards.
– Credit cards are sometimes accepted at higher-end shops and hotels but they usually add on a fee of up to 5% so make sure you ask before handing over your card.
– When checking into a hotel, be sure to ask if there are any taxes or service charges added onto the final bill. These extra charges vary greatly among hotels and sometimes, you can negotiate to have all of those taxes/charges removed. (Some restaurants also add on taxes and a service charge and I’ve managed to avoid paying these with a little negotiating.)
– Remember that no matter how much you pay for something, you’re in magical India, and that you shouldn’t let a little overpaying ruin your incredible trip!
I hope the above helps out those thinking about traveling to the subcontinent and as always, I wish you wonderful adventures ahead!
If you’ve been to India, or live there, do you have any additional tips/comments to share?