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Unlike in the UK and most of the European countries (where one can buy a SIM over the counter in any of the shops), getting a SIM in India is a tedious process. One has to provide a copy of ID proof (both photo ID and an address proof) and then wait couple of hours, sometime one day to get the SIM activated. This doesn't seem to be a concern for an Indian resident as we can wait.

I am looking for information from tourists/visitors outside India who were on a short visit (tourist/business) and managed to get a cell connection. I would like to keep this information handy so that I can share it with my friends when they visit India.

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i'm guessing the checks are in place ever since the massive security breach(s) where terrorists communicated via untraceable sim cards bought off the shelf –  rs79 Apr 26 '12 at 13:26
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These checks are there since the beginning. I got my first SIM way back in 2002 and I remember waiting for 2 days to get my SIM activated after giving all the documents. –  Prashanth Apr 26 '12 at 14:13
    
Don't go for Vodafone. I spent 8 hours going back to the same shop 3 times during 3 days, for them to finally activate my sim card, and and the service was crap. They gave me more than 8 times false information about the activation timings and process. I had to shout for my money back. I never experienced such a bad service in any other place in the world. –  user5021 Mar 25 '13 at 9:36
    
I would recommend buying SIM before the trip, as it may take time to find a local one. I go for international Travelsim card. I purchased mine from the website (travelsim.com), so when I landed, it was ready for use. What is also good, prices are not so high and they have great 24/7 support center. It does not expire fast, also compatible with any phone. Just make sure your phone is unlocked. If you have any questions, you are welcome to ask :) –  user8774 Oct 11 '13 at 23:55
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4 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Most airports in India have counters at arrivals, right after Customs, where you can pick up SIM cards very easily -- at least by Indian standards.

In Delhi Airport T2, I used to be a regular at the Bharti Airtel booth, which would take your digital photo (or bring 2 passport photos to speed things up a bit), copy your passport, fill out the necessary forms in triplicate (address of hotel accepted!), and send you on your way with a SIM within 15 minutes. Usually the SIM was activated before I reached the hotel, although sometimes I had to wait until the next day until everything worked, and the cost of a starter pack with a decent plan and fair wodge of credit was on the order of Rs 500.

I haven't been back since T3 opened, but this thread from late 2011 at Thorn Tree indicates that the booth is in the new terminal as well and operating exactly the way it used to.

Also, you don't need to use the airport booths to get a prepaid SIM, I managed to talk my way into buying one off a random little shop in Chennai once. Took a little more sitting around though, since most places like this have never seen a foreign passport before, and those passport photos will be obligatory.

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Where exactly in Chennai was this little shop? I've already given up trying to get a prepaid SIM card in Chennai... –  hooray Aug 28 '12 at 6:39
    
Do you know if it's possible to buy a flat rate data plan (GPRS/3G) with your sim card? –  grm Sep 2 '12 at 10:38
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@hooray: Some hole in the wall near Anna Salai near the Courtyard Marriott. Why exactly are they refusing to register you? –  jpatokal Sep 3 '12 at 1:37
    
@jpatokal: I tried at a store in the City Centre Mall and they told me that only postpaid cards are sold in India. Then I tried at another store near the same mall and the guy there told me that there is a lot of bureacracy for foreigners so the sellers just refuse to sell the cards to outsiders and sugested me to try to ask for a SIM card at my hotel. So I did, and the hotel told me that they could get it for the guests in the past but they don't do it anymore because of bureacracy. I will try at the place you told me. –  hooray Sep 3 '12 at 3:32
    
That was in 2009, so I'm not sure if things have changed, but good luck! –  jpatokal Sep 4 '12 at 1:21
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At the moment there seems to be country wide shortage of Sim cards. Everywhere i tried I got "No" then I found one at a small booth in Mylapore (near Sri Ramakrishna Matt).

Had to provide a copy of my passport, a photo of me (70R for 8 in photoshop) AND a letter from the hotel stating I was a resident (they have them pre-typed so are used to it).

SIM cost R250 and a 2GB one month allowance @ R449. In total R700 for card and 2GB Took a few days to get activated though!

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I've just got an airtel sim card, and the process was similar to how rlesko described. Short answer is that for Airtel, you need a recent-ish passport photo, a photocopy of your passport details page, a photocopy of your visa, a photocopy of something official with your home address on, and the originals. Should take about 30 minutes to get the sim card and have it work, add another 15-30 for 2G internet.

As things differed slightly to @rlesko's case, I'll let you know how it went for me so you've another data point. Before heading to the store, I got a photocopy taken of my passport details page, and of the visa page, and ensured I had a recent-ish passport photo. What I didn't have was anything official about where I was staying, or my home address. This proved to be somewhat tricky.

When I got to the shop (a small independent Airtel dealer), the owner was a little reluctant to sell me a prepaid simcard, as he though it'd be a lot of work and I wouldn't have the documents needed, but with the help of the taxi driver I convinced him I had all the required copies and originals, so he relented. He checked the copies and the originals, then we hit a snag. He wanted my home address from my passport, but a UK passport doesn't have your home address in it. I offered my driving license, but that wasn't what he was expecting. The passport did have the emergency contact details for my family in it, so the eventual solution was to nip a few doors down, photocopy that page too, and then put my parents address from the contact details on the application form... I think it would've been easier with a photocopy of my driving license to start with perhaps, or maybe a letter from the hotel confirming I was staying there so I could have used that address as the home address. Putting the hotel address down as the current address wasn't a problem, and that bit wasn't checked.

Having got the copies in order, there was a form to be filled out, with some confusion as my passport doesn't have my father's name on it, which was a required field, and the addresses weren't in the right format. Eventually got that sorted, signed the form and copies, and the SIM activated quickly. Got a hard sell on the amount to top up, basically wasn't allowed to go for the cheaper ones, but nothing too unusual there as a foreigner. The shop owner ensured I could make a call and the topup had worked before I left, then added 2G internet for me by text a little later. It all works, and I can text, call, and I'm posting this on 2G!

During all this, people were coming in and topping up their phones, which involved saying their number, it was typed into a phone, they checked, text came through to them and the shop owner, then they paid and were gone. Seemed quick enough! But did delay the sim card buying a bit as we kept stopping so that topups could be quickly sold.

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I've already got several Indian SIM cards since the beginning of my trip and it's quite easy and fast. Recharging, though, is a whole another story.

So, to get a, let us say, Airtel SIM, which is free, you just go to any Airtel shop, fill out the form (only one, no copies) and give them one of you passport photos and a copy of you passport and Indian visa (everything just one copy). You get a SIM card which is activated in 15 minutes up to 4 hours (absolute maximum). The most time it took them to activate one of mine was 1 hour and 45 minutes.

And yeah, just write an address of any hotel where you stayed, they don't check it anyway.

For getting a SIM card for mobile internet, the process is exactly the same but you also have to buy a dongle (approximately 1900 Rp) and activation is done immediately if you want a 2G plan or you can wait 15 minutes to 4 hours for 3G (recommended). Airtel's mobile internet apparently has pan India coverage which is true but they don't have 3G available everywhere and in the Andamans speeds are so painful. But data plans are pretty cheap with 10 GB for 1250 Rp now, which is pretty cool.

EDIT: Or just buy a SIM card in the street from the resellers. No paperwork, no trace, no problems (I guess).

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I will not recommend buying SIM cards from resellers. Those could be stolen SIM cards, and you never know for what police will be after you. If you are lucky, it will be just a stolen mobile, on the other hand, it could also be one that belonged to a murder victim. –  rest_day Apr 26 '12 at 22:17
    
I know, I thought of that but the thing is you're not buying it for long term use and there is no way Indian police will chase you because of it. But still, I wouldn't recommend it either, it was merely a suggestion. –  John Doe Apr 27 '12 at 2:13
    
Don't be too sure - timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/… :) –  rest_day Apr 30 '12 at 23:26
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protected by Mark Mayo Oct 12 '13 at 0:03

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