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Buying and activating a SIM Card in India

After that more than once that I was in a country for several weeks or even several months, I finally regretted not having bought a local SIM card, I decided that in India would not happen the same thing again.

While in other countries, the process is as easy as crossing the border or getting to the airport, take a free card with the phone number you like, charge the balance that you think convenient and start calling and using mobile data, in India it was not going to be that easy.


    Choosing company

In India there are three big telephone companies: Airtel, Vodafone and Idea.

Looking at the market share we will see that among these three all the business is distributed. While Airtel is the first with a 25% market share, Vodafone is second with 19% and finally Idea with 17%.

All three have very similar prices, but Idea is a little cheaper than the other two. To be able to recommend properly one of the three companies I should have spent several months there with a card of each, which I did not do nor I will be able to for now. But of course, I will tell you which one I chose, the reason and how it worked for me.


In order to choose a company, I decided to ask Couchsurfers, travelers and the friends of friends I had living in India. And the vast majority recommended me Vodafone. According to all of them, it was the one that had the best coverage both in rural areas and in big cities, and did not suffer sudden signal cuts like the other two did, especially Idea.

On the other hand, there are many smaller phone companies that should be cheaper but they did not recommend me too much. The only one that is new, and seems that may have a bright future, is BSNL.


    Functioning of the Indian telephone network

One of the things that surprised me the most when I bought the SIM card is when I was asked if I wanted to activate the Roaming. In general, Roaming is activated when you leave the same country where the SIM card is, but in India they have three kinds of calls: local, national and international.

National Roaming consists of being able to connect to all the sub-networks of the different states of the country. So if you plan to stay in the same area for a long time, you better buy your SIM card there.

When you change sub-network, you will see that nothing changes but you will pay slightly more for calls and text messages.

Fortunately, the mobile Internet has the same price nationwide, so you will not have to worry about it.


    Good prices

As I said before, I finally decided to get Vodafone and these are the prices they had when I activated my card in 2016.

Acquiring the SIM card cost me 100 rupees (1.3€) with 40 rupees in national calls and 250MB of 3G mobile data.

Eugenia exchanging the phone number with some women she had been talking to.

The minute of a local call was 0.8 rupees (0.01€!!) and each 3G recharge of 1GB used to cost 247 rupees (3.4€), but there were often offers and for 149 rupees (2€) you could have the same Gigabyte.

If you just want to have a connection to WhatsApp and not much more, you can use 2G packages. I do not remember the price now, but they were a lot cheaper.


    Activating the card

For how chaotic is everything in India, it must be said that activating a SIM card does not usually give too many problems. For a change, I had more problems than necessary, but if it were not so, it would not be me, and my trips would be much more boring I suppose!

The first thing you should do when you are ready to buy a card is to take with you:

  • A photocopy of your passport
  • A photocopy of your Indian visa
  • A passport-sized photo
  • Name, address and contact phone number of the place where you are staying

Once this is done, within 24-48 hours from the central office in Delhi they will contact the phone number you gave them to ensure that you are staying where you say and that you are who you say you are.

On the left, the Vodafone store where I bought the card and on the right the SIM package when I got it.

And this is where my problem came, and is that if that call normally occurs in a maximum of 72 hours, in my case not at all. I had to go up to four times to the store that had sold me the card so that after a week, they would call, confirm and give me the okay.

Once this is done, your phone will connect to the network alone and you will only have to dial a number that is printed on the card documentation and talk to an operator to end the activation.


    Attention with the fake cards’ business

One of the things that alerted me when I talked to couchsurfers and travelers about buying a SIM card was a very common scam in big cities. Since prepaid cards have a use limitation of several months, many foreigners who stay longer in the country must change it. When you go and buy a new one, sellers are left with the old card, which is voided.

So many times when someone else wants to buy a SIM card, they sell one of these that is inoperative, and they tell you that in a few days it will be operational. You go happy with your card and they break the documentation that you have given them. By the time you realize it, you’ve probably continued your journey and will not go back to complain about it.

To avoid this, I was told that, as far as possible, I should go directly to get the card from the official stores or from one of the street stalls recommended by someone.


    My honest opinion

Honestly, I could not complain at all about the coverage and speed of the mobile internet as they were much better than expected. After using the card for more than three months and in more than ten different states, we never ran out of coverage, whether we were in large cities or in rural areas.

In the only moment that I used to lose the connection was when some bus was getting kind of fast in mountain roads, and I could see that with other companies did not happen the same, but I do not consider it too important.

In general, I was very satisfied with the service offered by Vodafone and with the idea of buying a SIM card, as you should also know that to book trains in India it is absolutely necessary to have a prepaid card. Even if it’s only for this it will already be worth buying it!

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