The official currency is the Indian Rupee (Rs). The import and export of local currency is prohibited. Yet even with this rule, it is possible to order a starting fund of Rupee notes from most major banks. With the availability of ATM’s, currency exchanges and wide acceptance of credit cards, the need to have any local currency before arrival is extremely low.
The import of foreign currency is unlimited. However, amounts exceeding US$5,000 or equivalent in cash, or US$10,000 or equivalent in traveler’s checks must be declared. The export of foreign currency is allowed up to the amount imported and declared.
For up-to-date currency exchange rates with the Rupee, visit XE Universal Currency Converter.
Small Bills and Coins
Nobody in India ever seems to have change. Travelers will have to scavenge like never before to find enough change to last a multi-week journey through the country.
The Rupee (Rs) is divided into 100 paise (p), but paise coins are increasingly rare.
Bills (Bold denominations are what you need most)
Available in Rs 1000, 500, 100, 50, 20, 10 & 5.
Rs 1000 are hard to break for everyday purchases but the front desk of most hotels can make change with a simple request. Smaller bills are dispensed like the rarest object on Earth, so tourists will have to turn on their charm to get Rs 10′s and 20′s.
Available in Rs 1, 2 & 5 (With rare exceptions, 25 or 50 Paise coins will not be seen)
How does the newbie tourist in India find coin or small bills when many restaurants and shops round up to avoid giving exact change?
1. Frequent chai stalls, STD/ICO booths, and of course the local markets where it’s easy to pay by Rs 100 note and receive exact change. Cha-ching.
2. If a merchant asks, “Do you have Rs 2?” for a Rs 22 soda, simply tell him no in order to receive the proper change. Small bills and some coin. Cha-ching!
3. Stopping at temples? Ask the shoe attendant if he is willing to sell some coin or exchange small bills for a larger. Cha-ching.
4. Doormen at hotels deal with small tips as well as bathroom attendants. As above, ask to buy small amounts of their change. Cha-ching.
5. Traveling by car/driver? Mention how hard finding change seems to be to a driver. If he doesn’t offer, ask him if he could possibly find change overnight in exchange for a Rs 50 note. Cha-ching.
Other opportunities exist and travelers should not be afraid to ask for exact change when merchants round up. Rs 5 notes are rare, and typically beat up. If received as change, ask to have swapped for a coin instead.
Widely accepted, tourists can exchange checks at banks, larger hotels and money exchangers. The most widely accepted currencies include US Dollars and Pounds Sterling. Travelers may experience a refusal to change certain brands of traveler’s checks. The good news is, their competition next door is most likely happy to accept it. Be sure to ask what the exchange rate is up front as popular brands such as Thomas Cook consistently offer below market rates. Local drivers and/or hotel employees will have names of a preferred money exchange offering the highest rates, but they may require a tip for their efforts.
A valid passport is required for the exchange of currency or traveler’s checks.
Once you’ve arrived in India, you’ll want to find an ATM in short order. Money flows like water through tips, taxis, buses, food and hotels. Many businesses will accept US currency for payment but try to avoid this as hassling over an agreed exchange rate can be tiresome and ATM’s typically offer the best exchange rates automatically. As a rule of thumb, carry cash or travelers checks as backup in case the power goes down, the ATM is out of order, or a card is lost, broken and/or stolen.
The most commonly accepted cards are Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus, Maestro and Plus.
Canara Bank | State Bank of India | Bank of Baroda
Punjabi National Bank
Both banks accept my cards with no hassles. The ATM locations are 99% operational as opposed to the smaller, local banks whose machinery is often out of service. Both banks only charge $2 transaction fees, a bargain compared to just a few years ago. And a big plus, both banks have branches throughout the country. Tourists are sure to find a Canara, SBI or Bank of Baroda even in the most remote towns.
A majority of ATM locations provide guard service posted just outside the door. This is nothing to be suspicious about.
If your card(s) doesn’t work at the selected bank’s ATM, do not fret. Most likely their system is not part of your bank’s system. Simply seek out another bank, or one of the two recommended above, before contacting your bank for troubleshooting.
Some ATM’s have been reported to snatch back money if not removed within roughly 30 seconds. But generally machines can take more than 30 seconds to actually release cash. No need to panic if the money doesn’t appear instantaneously, the roar of the rather antiquated machines tells users it’s at least trying to fulfill the order.
Using the ATM
Most locations offer one machine per enclosed room. Indian courtesy is to wait outside until any customers inside are finished.
State Bank of India (SBI) machines are a little quirky upfront. Slide your card into the flashing light slot, hold for a second and then remove. If done correctly, you’ll be prompted to enter your PIN. If done incorrectly, an error message will display and the machine will in short time reset to the default screen.
1. Both banks ask for your PIN.
2. For cash withdrawals, press withdrawal.
3. Next you’ll be asked which account to withdraw from. Select “Current”, not checking, not savings.
4. Enter amount. Both banks allow up to Rs 10,000 maximum withdrawal each time. Canara used to cap out higher but has since brought down their limit.
5. Retrieve your cash, receipt and card (Canara only).
6. Secure your withdrawal in the appropriate wallet or pouch before exiting the ATM stall.
Always keep the emergency lost-and-stolen numbers for credit cards in a safe place. A preferable spot would be with travel documents stored in luggage but always separate from wallets, money pouches or purses. Report any loss or theft immediately.
Ripped, torn or badly damaged currency is not accepted in India for payments of any kind. Merchants, taxi drivers, restaurants, and hotels will try to pass off ripped Rupees to unsuspecting tourists. Be sure to check individual bills when change is received. If you’re handed one of these sad bills, simply ask for a replacement while showing the rip. Indian banks allow for ripped/torn currency notes to be exchanged for valid Rupees. Keep your eye on your money or else someone else will profit.
Money Safe Travel
Keep your money, credit cards and passport safe with my favorite trip accessories. The undercover neck pouch is worn around the neck and then tucked into a shirt. Usually made of nylon or silk, this pouch is rather comfortable and fits without bringing attention as long as it’s not too stuffed. The adjustable strap allows for comfort fitting based on preference. To avoid any chance of forgetting important items, I move into this pouch the night before my trip. It’s easy to access needed identification for the airports and easily removable to tuck into my bag once on the plane. Eagle Creek makes one I recommend for several reasons:
•Side vertical zipper slot long enough to hold any currency notes and traveler’s checks.
•Fold over flap with velcro closure and top zipper. Inside the small zipper slot, I can store my credit cards and hotel business cards
•Under the velcro flap, slip in slot for my passport.
•Behind this slot, a full length slot where I store any other important documents, usually back-up US currency.
Once in India, I switch my money, passport and credit cards into a waist wallet. Once again made of nylon for comfort, this wallet comes with two different color loops which slip over a belt. The different loops are meant to blend in better with any color belt worn. Once attached to a belt, the wallet is tucked into pants or front pockets. I prefer tucking into my waist as it deters an opportunity for someone to quickly come up and slice the loop if sticking out of my pocket. This wallet has just enough room to hold any size currency and several credit cards or business card size items. A passport will fit but not as comfortably. Although I have not run into theft issues thus far, being prepared is still important. These wallet/pouches roll up or fold easily allowing them to be stored into any bag no matter how tight room might be. Magellans.com has a large selection of travel pouches both for the neck and waist. Both styles are offered in tan and black. Leave your wallet or purse at home by giving these a try.