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I will be traveling to India in a few weeks and wondering about some (non-cash) electronic payment systems that are:

  • widely accepted for daily purchases
  • available to use by foreigners without a local bank account

I have heard about PayTM. I assume I need a local phone number to use this (and also I have read that it will take some time, maybe weeks, to get a mobile number activated, and then it will only be valid for 3 months).

Will I have any problems using PayTM as a foreigner without a local bank account? How can it be recharged?

Somebody mentioned using Ola or Uber for cabs. But I have read that Uber either needs to be linked to a PayTM account, or you must pay in cash at the end of the trip.

Does Ola accept payment with foreign credit cards?

Are there any other apps that can be used to make purchases without using cash where credit cards may not be accepted?

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TL;DR; as of 2019.04 for groceries find a supermarket and use Visa, MasterCard or Maestro.
For anything else rely on cash. To take out cash find ATM and use Visa, MasterCard or Maestro 'without conversion'... Do not expect any 'western' mobile payment systems to be available...

I have been for 4 months now in India (2019.01-2019.04) mostly in Goa, however, I took a train to Nepal (Goraphur) and back, had stopped in Mumbai and New Delhi for a day, plus took a train from Kotch to Goa, so info is across few states (India is huge and I have no clue if following applies to all of the regions in country).

To buy tickets on Indian rail website online I had to use Revolut no other card (Barclays Visa, ING Maestro, Swedbank Mastercard) would work.

In major cities in supermarkets I have used the cards mentioned above and had no issues whatsoever, also in Goa (Colva) Kadgar SuperMarket I have used ING Maestro without a problem - this is the most cost-effective way to buy groceries. Find a supermarket and use Visa, MasterCard or Maestro.

For pretty much anything else, you will need cash. I was able to find ATMs around all train stations I have been to (don't remember if Kochi had one). I didn't take cash there though so no idea which of the cards would be accepted and not (I had train travel planned out with small denominations beforehand). However, in Goa all ATMs I have used would take my Maestro no problem, so one might assume it should work elsewhere too. If you are offered by ATM to 'do conversion' when taking out cash always say 'no' or you will be hit +5 Eur on 10k rupees...

I couldn't find anywhere where I could use Samsung Pay, Google Pay and similar 'western' mobile payment systems (could be I didn't explore enough in New Delhi).

Hope this helps.

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Warning: outdated answer

This answer was written during the 2016 Indian banknote demonetisation crisis, and many parts of the answer was written with that in mind. Moreover, there is extremely rapid technological and economic advancement in India, so everything else in this answer is also likely to be less and less accurate as time passes. I no longer live in India, and I will not update this answer as things change.


widely accepted for daily purchases

This doesn't exist in India. There is lots of talk of starting to use systems so that people can give and recieve payments with their smartphones, but nothing has become widespread yet.

In larger cities and towns, some of the larger shops and businesses accept payment cards, but the great majority of businesses do not. This becomes even more true in smaller towns and rural areas, in which cash is typically the only way to pay.

One of the reasons for this is that Indian banks impose fees on card payments, and the business has to pay them. Of those that do accept cards, some don't accept foreign cards.

I use PayTM myself. I think you do indeed need an Indian number to use it. And you need an Indian payment card or internet bank to load money into it. You might be able to load money into it at an office by paying cash, but that would defeat the purpose (cash being hard to get.)

Moreover, PayTM is not very widespread as a payment method in shops. It's slightly more common in big cities, but not really something you can depend on.

My advice: Bring a foreign payment card (VISA or MasterCard/Maestro) with low fees on it and use it when you can. And get as much cash as you can somehow. You simply can not travel in India without cash. You can also bring some US dollars with you, to be used when paying large amounts. It might not be that hard to convince people to accept them for payments, given the current situation here. You might not get change on them, though. But they are great for emergencies.

Yes, getting cash is tricky these days. But ATMs are starting to open now. You may have to stand in line for a while when you find an ATM that is open, but it's worth it to get the cash. A friend of mine with a German debit card stood in line the other day. There was a limit of 2000 per person, but she actually managed to do 8 withrawals and thus get 16.000. Appearantly the system didn't stop her from making multiple withrawals since she had a foreign card. For more advice on getting cash, see this related answer.

  • You mention USD, but is this somehow more acceptable in comparison to GBP or EUR? – ksav Nov 28 '16 at 17:06
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    @ksav All three are acceptable, but USD is preferred and most widely accepted. – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica Nov 28 '16 at 17:42
  • You should update your answer given that the cash shortages are over. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Dec 6 '17 at 14:32
  • @JonathanReez I no longer live in India, so I'm not up to date on how things have changed there. Obviously, the part about cash being hard to get is almost certainly not true anymore. Anyway, I added a warning to the answer. – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica Dec 6 '17 at 14:50
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In India, if you have a valid and accepted ID proof (your Passport), you can get a working SIM within a few hours especially Airtel. Airtel is one of the leading operators in India so connectivity with that would not be an issue. There are other options as well that are mentioned here: What is a good Indian SIM for south to west coast (Kochi to Goa)?

Once you get a working mobile number, you can create a Paytm account for that number within minutes. Payments using Paytm are accepted almost everywhere in cities and towns. If you go hiking or to a remote village, then it's quite possible they won't be accepting Paytm as well. Also, payments using Paytm require a running data connection, which may not work in remote areas as well.

Loading your payTM account with money can be done electronically using credit cards. However, Foreign credit cards are not supported as per the PPI (Prepaid Payment Instruments) guidelines issued by the Reserve Bank of India

For Taxis, you can use payTM for Uber. Given the limitation of putting money in payTM account, I suggest you use your existing Uber account. If you already have an Uber account linked with your credit card (doesn't matter which country you are living in) then you can use the same Uber account in India as well. The payments for that will be deducted from your currently linked card in INR and foreign exchange charges will be applied.

Talking about Ola cabs, it supports Ola money, the last time when I checked(in February) it did not accept international credit cards.

  • So... what's the use of PayTM for foreigners if they can't top it up?.. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Oct 10 '18 at 15:23
  • I gave the detailed answer as the OP mentioned payTM and he wanted to know how to open an account (without Indian sim) he also asked if he could top up the payTM wallet with international credit card. How payTM is useful for foreigners or not is not being asked here and that is one of the reasons I explained the workaround for using taxis without payTM wallet (which was also asked in the question). There are a lot of people who travel to India and they ask a local for help in recharging their payTM wallets. Since, this is not official I didn’t find it worth mentioning. – Arpit Bajpai Oct 10 '18 at 16:41
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    But it is always possible and that’s the reason I explained the account opening process. There is also an option of going to the PGI retail outlet where one can top up the payTM wallet but they aren’t very easy to find. – Arpit Bajpai Oct 10 '18 at 16:43

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