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Travelling to India? Check out our guide to finding the best prepaid SIM card

Reduce your roaming rates by using a local SIM.

If you’re planning a trip to India, a top tip for keeping down costs is to switch to a local SIM card. Take advantage of better tariffs, plans and deals to dramatically reduce your roaming rates. India has some of the cheapest SIM card options in the world, but the coverage can sometimes be questionable. You can get 1GB of data from India’s top telco provider for about INR180, that’s just $3.60. So, whether you’re a short or long-term traveller, you can save money by comparing your SIM card options on finder.com.au.

Prices last updated 13 Sep 2017
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Telco providers in India

There are four main telco providers in India: Airtel, Vodafone, Idea and JIO. Both locals and travelers use SIM cards from all four networks, and they can be trusted whatever plan you choose. According to OpenSignal’s coverage map, India has a strong network coverage around the main cities and towns. Other areas are unfortunately weak, and in some country areas it can be difficult to find a signal at all.

About India’s telco providers

India’s operators offer some of the best roaming rates anywhere in the world and sell prepaid credit, which allow users to take advantage of cheap offers and deals. All networks offer customers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services. Locals call their SIM cards “SIMs” or “Chips” and there are rules and regulations when purchasing them. Passports must be shown to buy the SIM cards and they have to be registered before they can be activated. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores and approved resellers, and credit can be picked up from the same retailers, along with supermarkets, newsagents and kiosks displaying the provider’s logo. Below, we have broken down all the providers in India and exactly what they can offer you during your stay there.

Airtel

Airtel is the largest operator in India with the largest market share. It offers customers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores and approved resellers, and credit can be picked up from the same retailers along with supermarkets and corner stores. Your passport must be shown to purchase the SIM card, and your details must be registered against the phone number before use. Prepaid SIM cards can be picked up for INR50-INR100, and come with that same amount of credit. Please note that the SIM card will not be active immediately, it will take a little time for your details to be processed by the SIM provider.

The following packages can be added to 3G/4G SIM cards.

INR1,0983GB
INR1,7495GB
INR2,2497GB
INR3,24910GB

There’s a selection of other deals and promotions available, however the offers change on a monthly basis so it’s better to check the official provider website for their latest deals.

Airtel’s APN: airtelgprs.com, and website: http://www.airtel.in/

Vodafone India

Vodafone is the second largest provider in India. It offers customers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores and approved resellers and credit can also be picked up from the same retailers, supermarkets and corner stores. Your passport must be shown to purchase the SIM card, and your details must be registered against the phone number by the retailer. Prepaid SIM cards can be picked up for INR50-INR100 and will come with that same amount of credit. Top-up amounts can also be picked up in the following denominations: INR105-INR1,000.

Vodafone offers “Flex” plans which will allow uses to carry over unused credit and use as a base package to add other plans. The following base deals are available:

325 FlexINR119
700 FlexINR199
1,200 FlexINR299
1,750 FlexINR399

The Vodafone U SIM cards are also for sale and are valid for 28 days:

  • Starter packs:
    • U Small 150MB + 150MB night (midnight-6am) INR85-INR90
    • U Large 1GB + 500MB night (midnight-6am) INR180-INR190
  • Reloads:
    • U Small 150MB + 150MB night (midnight-6am) INR99-INR106
    • U Medium 300MB + 300MB night (midnight - 6am) INR169-INR179
    • U Large 1GB + 500MB night (midnight-6am) INR280-INR301

Vodafone’s APN: www, and website: http://www.vodafone.in

Idea Cellular

Idea is the third largest provider in India and will soon be merged with Vodafone. 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services are available. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores and approved resellers. Credit can also be picked up from the same retailers along with supermarkets and corner stores. Your passport must be shown to purchase the SIM card and your details must be registered against the phone number before you can use it. Prepaid SIM cards can be picked up for INR10 but packages must be added to activate.

Prepaid SIM packs can also be bought for INR180 and they include 1GB of data and cheap local and international calls. Check with the retailer at time of purchase as these deals change from time to time.

Idea’s APN: internet, and website: http://www.ideacellular.com

Jio

Jio is one of the smaller providers in India. It offers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores and approved resellers and credit can be picked up from the same retailers, supermarkets and corner stores. Your passport must be shown in order to purchase the SIM card, and your details must be registered against the phone number before you can use it.

The "Chan Dhana Dan" prepaid SIM card can be picked up for INR309 which comes with the following: unlimited local calls, 84GB (capped at 1GB per day), 100 SMS per day. There are also international call add-ons that can be purchased to dramatically reduce the rates charged for calls back home. Check with the retailer at time of purchase as these deals change from time to time.

Please note: The network can become overcrowded, which in turn will cause speeds to slow down and issues can arise which affect Internet and call quality. Despite the problems, the prices are extremely good and very competitive.

Jio’s APN: jionet, and website: http://www.jio.com

Some top tips from finder.com.au staff:

  • Bengali, Assamese, Bodo, Dogri and a few other local languages are spoken in India. English is the main foreign language.
  • Locals call a SIM card a “Chip” or “SIM”.
  • Ask the retailer to set up the SIM card for you, since they will know how to do it. If not, follow the instructions we have highlighted above or go to the official operator website to get advice.
  • Get to the shops early to receive better assistance and avoid the crowds!

TripAdvisor tips for the best SIM cards and where to buy them

While it’s well known for reviews, booking hotels, flights and holidays, TripAdvisor also has many user comments that can help guide you through what SIM cards have been tried and tested in India.

Here are some top tips from TripAdvisor users:

“Take either the Airtel or Vodafone SIM card. Both work fine. Preferably take one from the gallery/outlet nearest to your hotel so that you can follow-up with them in case it doesn't get activated within a day or so. Generally it takes 24 - 48 hours to activate. There are plenty of options and data plans available so choose accordingly.”

“I would suggest having your travel agent sort this out for you. It will take a couple of days to get the number activated. If you have your phone bring it with you, an unlocked GSM with multi band will work.”

“Airtel and Vodafone have some really good offers available. I would recommend using a local SIM card while you’re there because they are very cheap and it’s no hassle really.”

Pros and cons of India’s top telco providers

All networks require you to have a SIM-unlocked, GSM-compatible phone. To double check you have this phone, contact your provider before you set off on your travels.

Pros:

  • Good value for money
  • Prepaid credit when required
  • No in-store contract needed
  • Could be compatible with your current phone

Cons:

  • Some areas can suffer from bad coverage
  • No devices offered with the SIM card packages
  • Can only be used on SIM-unlocked GSM phones
  • Registration rules can slow down the activation process

More questions about finding the best SIM?

Q: What about other providers in Ireland?

A: There are several MVNOs, including Aircel, Reliance, Telenor India, BSNL, DoCoMo and MTNL which offer good deals. Check the latest options before purchasing your SIM card.

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