I will be travelling to India as a tourist at the end of this month. I have heard about long lines at banks, and I was wondering whether I would have any trouble getting money from an ATM as a tourist. (I would certainly prefer the convenience of an ATM to carrying around U.S. dollars to change.)
ATM withdrawals will be capped, so you will only be able to withdraw around INR 2500 ($36 US) a day from an ATM. (This limit might change - as Andrew says, the situation is fluid). Additionally, each withdrawal using a foreign card can have around a $7 fee.
Depending on your timing and the area, ATMs might have a queue, on average around 20 people. Moreover, the ATM might give you one note of INR 2000, which you would have difficulty finding change for.
- Use your credit card as much as possible to pay ahead of time.
- Download and use taxi apps like Uber, Ola and Meru.
- Paytm is a popularly accepted payment app, but it does not accept foreign cards. Perhaps a friend can load one up for you with up to Rs 10,000.
There are other ways to get cash as well - sending it to yourself online via Western Union for one. Try and avoid using local 'fixers' or touts who offer to change cash for you.
Update: As of late January 2017, the situation has mostly normalized. The withdrawal limit at ATMs is now at Rs. 10,000 a day and 24,000 a week, and the only other inconvenience is finding change for the high-denomination Rs 2000 note.
Uber works very well in India and you can use the card you already have connected to the app, but it will charge in rupees. I recommend using Uber, most of the time its actually cheaper than what Autos will charge a foreigner, and I have been ripped off by Ola drivers. Just make sure that your phone will work in India (T-mobile is great FYI). I would also recommend, bringing a credit card and debit card that don't charge foreign transaction/withdrawal fees, as these add up fast. There are many places that are still affordable (hotels, fancier restaurants) that accept cards.
I lived in India this summer and had a very easy time using surprisingly little cash. As for the limits on the ATMs, you will probably just need to go to an ATM once ever day or two depending on your cash expenditure. Clearly, finding one that can provide will be a struggle though.
Also it is not recommended to carry around USD to exchange as exchange rates are fluid and it is easy to get very ripped off. Not a smart way to travel. There are some countries (Mongolia for example) that will take foreign currencies (USD and RMB) at a better for you exchange rate instead of local currency. They are willing to do this because they can use the foreign currency there as well. I have not found that India is not one of these countries and especially now, exchanging money is even more costly for people and they will be inclined to charge you more the "service".
I was planning a trip there for the holidays to see family and scratched it... if possible probably a good idea if you are going purely as a tourist. If you do go, travel smart, get cards with no foreign fees and use a cell phone plan that will cover you abroad. Maybe expand your budget a bit to cover "emergency meals" at nicer restaurants with you cards.
Go into a bank and get a cash advance on your Visa or MasterCard debit card. You can do the same from a credit card, but they charge interest from the moment you get the cash (so 1 to 2% if you pay the card off right away).
The advantage of a cash advance is you can get more than what ATMs will dispense, but the exchange rate will be determined by your bank at home same a purchase would be so you won't get what the India bank has posted.
You will need your passport with you when you go to the bank. And not all banks will offer Visa or MasterCard cash advances, you may have to ask around.
Yes, you will have a lot of trouble.
For starters, there's an officially imposed cap of about INR 2000 on ATM Withdrawals per day. Now, given the fact that INR 2000 is barely USD 30, you can easily imagine that amount won't get you too far in a day. Especially as a foreign tourist.
Now, add to this the fact that anecdotally, about 9 out of every 10 ATM machines I see on the street today are "Out of Action".
And the few ATMs that do have cash have an average queue of anywhere from 20 to 50 people in front of them.
Travellers checks etc. aren't of much use either because the banks are themselves low on cash. So expect difficulties there too. What's worse is that most ATMs and banks too are issuing INR 2000 denominations which are unwieldy to use for most purposes or to get change for.
In my opinion your best bet is:
- Minimize the use of cash. Use debit / credit cards for most high value purchases
- Try to get money changed at Cash Bureau during your travel or before you land in India if that's an option
- For small transactions try to go for Ola / Uber etc to avoid wasting your cash on taxis etc
- Use cash as a last resort only where you really must.
- Proactively think through what your major expenses will be and try to plan so that as many as possible can be eliminated from cash to electronic. e.g. Buy Rail tickets online, hire online cabs etc.
- Try your hotel desk for cash exchange. They might save you the hassle of other options.
The situation is fluid. I was there two weeks ago. On arrival I used the ATM at the upscale hotel (no line), but by the end of my stay it was empty. The site I was working at had its own ATM, with a block-long line, and it always ran out before everyone got there.
The only ATMs I would expect to be stocked are airside, and I am not sure there are any such. The landside ones at BOM were also empty.
There are long lines and a lot of ATMs are closed. Also, there is currently a limit of 2000 per card per ATM per day. However, the other day my friend with a German card was able to make eight withdrawals at one ATM in five minutes with a single card and thus get 16.000. As for why that was possible, I can only speculate that the limit system didn't work for foreign cards. It's difficult to predict all this, though, everything is always changing.
I would certainly prefer the convenience of an ATM to carrying around U.S. dollars to change.
I recommend you bring a fair amount of dollars just in case. ATMs are extremely unreliable right now, and you want your eggs in as many baskets as possible.
The way it is now, I'd bring a decent amount and guard it carefully. The ATM situation is pretty terrible these days.
I went in October and left just after the ATMs were disabled in November for the switch in currency. I went to a Wells Fargo bank and did an exchange (had to order the currency) so I had some rupees prior to going for taxi etc.
Just make sure you do not get the old currency 1,000 rupee and 500 rupee notes as they will be worthless to you. Try to get as small of notes as you can. 20 rupee notes are best. The large 2000 rupee note you will have issues also as many people do not have change for it.
I hope this helps