Needed documentation for your Prepaid SIM Card

The experience of buying a prepaid SIM card in India as a tourist can range anywhere from a breeze to an obstacle course. However, if you come prepared with all the required documentation, there's no reason why it should be too troublesome.  

So, to make buying a prepaid SIM card easy, follow these simple pointers:

  1. Make sure you have an unlocked phone, which basically involves configuring the phone to work on any network. Most modern phones only work with the carrier you bought the phone through, although you can pay extra and buy an ulocked phone.   
  2. Make a copy of the photo / name page of your passport, a copy of the Indian visa page in your passport, and a passport sized picture as well. You will need to present these, along with your original passport document,  to the SIM vendor.
  3. Get proof of where you're staying in India. If you're in a hotel, you should be able to get a letter from the frontdesk verifying that you are indeed staying there. 
  4. Proof of residency in your home country. Not all passports have a home address listed, so make sure you take something "official" looking with you, along with a few extra copies. NOTE: Vendors don't seem to require this particular piece of information, per the latest comments from members. Proof of residency in India seems to be quite sufficient. 

Where to buy your Prepaid SIM card

 Buying a prepaid SIM card. By arijitchaki
Most international airports in India have counters where you can buy SIM cards. These counters are usually located right after you clear customs. For the most part, if you have the above documents in order, you should be able to get your card in fifteen to twenty minutes after you fill out the required documentation.

If you don't get one at the airport, you should be able to get a prepaid SIM card at a local, independent cellphone dealer. You make get some reluctance from the shopkeeps though, as the new security requirements that the Indian Government has put in place make it quite bureaucratic for the vendors to comply. However, if you have all the documents in place, it will make it much easier for them and will lead to less hassle.

The Indian Government has recently put in restrictions that puts a 3 month limit on prepaid SIM connectivity for foreign visitors to India. Cellphone vendors cannot sell SIM cards with longer than 3 months validity. 

NOTE: As of November, 2012, there has been a significant tightening of regulations around the purchase and activation of SIM cards. Specifically, the Airtel sites at the airports state that they will no longer selling SIMs at the airport. Additionally, the Airtel offices are saying that it will take at least 4 days to activate a SIM card once purchased. Reliance has also reported a similar delay in the activation of new SIM card purchases. 

However, the latest testimonials from India Mike users seems to indicate that it is still possible to get SIM cards activated within 24 hours. 

Robert The Red's post on Jan 11, 2013 says: "Arrived in Delhi late last night. Bought SIM card at airport Airtel booth for Rs550. Needed picture of self. Was activated about 4:30pm next day. Had to call to confirm details of registration before general activation. It does work now and I hope it continues to work. Have Rs224 credit total."

Emelle64 later that day reported the same: "Our experience in mid-December was pretty much exactly the same as Robert the Red except we didn't buy the SIM card at the airport. We bought it at an Airtel kiosk in a little mall-type place in Saket. We went one day and it was activated the next day. The instructions were that we could activate it the next day once we received a text but my husband couldn't figure it out so he went back to the kiosk and helped him do it. We asked our hotel and they sent someone with us to the Kiosk. My husband can't remembers how much it cost (sorry!) but he thinks maybe around $10 (so 500 rupees sounds about right.) He did need a photo and (I think) a photocopy of his passport and visa."

Which Prepaid SIM card should you buy

Some of the more popular networks in India are as follows:

  • Airtel: the most popular network in India and has the best coverage for the metropolitan areas.  
  • Vodafone: the second most subscribers in India, and one of the better networks for metropolitan coverage.
  • Reliance: another large carrier in India, which offers both 3G and 4G connectivity. 
  • BSNL and MTNL: state owned telecommunications providers that may be a better option if you're travelling away from the major cities, as their coverage is better in the more remote areas. 

How much will it cost

Costs will vary from provider to provider and depending on which city you buy your card in. In general, though expect to pay about  350.00 for a SIM card with 3 months validity. Calls to US and Canada cost around  7.00 per minute, with texts to the same countries costing around  5.00 each. Texts to Indian cellphones are a lot cheaper and range around  1.00 each. 

Roaming charges also apply if you are in a different state than the one you bought your SIM card in.  This means you will be charged a bit more per call, locally it may be ₹1.50 a minute instead of ₹1.00 a minute, but you will also be charged per minute when you answer your phone as well. On the positive side, the roaming charges don't seem to apply to data, at least not for Vodafone.

One quirk to be aware of when roaming is that the amount you pay to refill talk-time or data on your phone may differ when you are roaming.  So if you bought your SIM card in Mumbai and go to Delhi, the vendors in Delhi may not know what the correct refill amount is for a Mumbai SIM. This is less of a concern for talk-time, as the default will be to just add credit to your phone, but can make it more challenging to recharge a data plan. So always make a note of how much your original recharge cost in the place you purchased your SIM. This is certainly the case for Vodafone, but may also happen with other providers. 

Making a call using your new Prepaid SIM card

Calling a landline: To call a city landline number from with an Indian SIM card, you will need to dial "0", the standard code for that city, and then the number. If you're dialing a number in Mumbai for example, you would dial 022  and then the number.

Calling a cellphone: If the cellphone is in the same home network or city you are currently in, you can simply dial the mobile number. So, if you're in Delhi and you're dialing a Delhi number, you would dial any local mobile number direct even though you bought the card elsewhere. If you're calling a mobile phone outside the home network add a '0' in the beginning.