Getting a mobile phone in India is very easy and you can walk into any store and walk out with a GSM phone in minutes, depending on your budget. You will notice mobile vendors even in the airport terminal as you land in India. Unlike in most Western countries, mobile phones are not locked to the frequency of a single mobile service provider. If you have a dual, tri band, or quad band phone from your native country that works on 900 MHz or 1800 MHz, all you need to do is get it unlocked so that it will work in India.
A dual SIM phone can meet your requirement easily, as all you have to do is insert a new prepaid Indian SIM card into the additional slot. If you’re planning to use a mobile phone in India only for voice calls and messaging, without accessing the Internet, then buying a phone in India is another option as a range of affordable GSM phones is available (prices starting from $25). Of course, getting a GSM smartphone is slightly more expensive. Make sure that you buy it from the mobile phone service company or an authorized reseller. Avoid buying a phone from a street vendor (irrespective of the price) as it could be stolen property, which could land you into a lot of trouble. In addition, it would have no warranty if it were to stop working.
Wifi, even in the major cities can be painfully slow or intermittent. Of course, you can’t rule out the sense of insecurity you get, in case you are not connected. No auto-rickshaw driver can take you for a ride and hailing a radio cab or calling your hotel or travel agent can save you a bundle. Not to miss the social media updates that can add spice to your trip.
However, getting a local SIM Card in India is not as easy as getting a mobile phone is.
Due to security concerns, getting a SIM card in India requires foreign customers to furnish a lot of documents before you can get connected.
Here’s the list!
- Original Passport
- Photocopy of your passport
- Photocopy of Indian visa
- Local Indian Address - Address where you will be staying
- Proof of your permanent home address in your native country
- Passport size photograph
- Local reference name and phone number (For instance, you can’t apply for a SIM Card in Delhi with a reference in Mumbai – it has to be a local number).
Once your documents are in place, head over to the mobile network’s store. Finding a store in your immediate vicinity or with easy physical access is recommended, as chances are you may need to head back there if your connection doesn’t come through.
There are multiple mobile service providers in India, but the three biggest are Airtel, Vodafone, and Idea. Network and service quality varies with each region. For instance, Airtel works well in the North & mid-India region, whereas Idea provides better service in the South. Reliance JIO has recently launched but its not easily available and the services are currently limited.
You will be presented with a lengthy application form but may require the help of a sales person to point out to you which parts of the form you need to fill as the form can be quite intimidating.
Your local reference will get a call from the network provider within 24 hours of submitting the documents. They will have to verify their name and confirm that they know you. It is possible that only one phone call is made to the local reference and in case they miss that call, you may have to wait for a day or so get the call again. It is also possible that you may have to repeat the entire documentation process with a different number as your application may be rejected and then you’ll have to wait for another two days.
Once the network has called your local reference and your phone becomes active, it should display a signal. You then need to call the activation number (59059) from your phone and confirm the name and address details as provided at the time of applying for your SIM card.
Within 15 of your details being successfully verified, your SIM card should be active. Now you will have to go back to the shop and top up or recharge your phone with the data and voice plans that you desire.
Make sure that you are in the same area in which you bought the SIM card for the activation to go through. For instance, if you bought the SIM card in Delhi, you cannot complete the activation if you have travelled outside of Delhi. It has to be done within the same area it was issued.
Let’s familiarize ourselves with certain terms before we discuss calling plans. India is divided into multiple zones, called “circles” (roughly along state boundaries). Government and private players run local and long distance telephone services.
Zeroing in on a calling plan is entirely dependent on your intended usage. If all you require is a local calling plan, i.e., to call within the local region or “circle”, you’ll probably find a dirt-cheap plan to meet your needs. But if you need to call anywhere within India, then you need to get an STD (subscriber trunk dialing) or long distance plan activated as well. You may need to load up an international calling pack also, which may vary with the choice of country to call.
Traveling around India, outside your circle of SIM card issue, you will generally be considered to be ‘roaming’. You should still be able to use your phone, but making and receiving calls will be more expensive. Ask the sales executive at your local provider’s shop to help you pick out the plan that suits you the best.
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