Includes information on business customs, travel advisory, visa requirements, and other aspects of international travel.
India is a diverse nation with 28 States and 8 Union Territories, and dozens of major languages and cultural groups. This diversity gives rise to a variety of business customs. One common factor is that personal relationships are very important. Building a strong personal reputation, establishing rapport, and cultivating goodwill are essential to establishing contacts and strengthening relationships in India.
In India, meeting times and schedules may not be followed as strictly as in the United States. It is not uncommon in India for people to arrive late, and last-minute cancellations for business events and meetings are possible. When arranging itineraries in India it is important to build flexibility into your plans.
A handshake is typical upon meeting, although some Indians may use nameskhar/namaste, a common greeting involving pressing your palms together with fingers pointing upwards and accompanied by a slight bow (note: this is especially true during the pandemic). Small talk at the beginning of a business meeting is common, and may include questions about family or even one’s salary. At meals, it is considered polite in India to inquire about dietary preferences, as many Hindus (who form the majority of India’s population) abstain from beef, Muslims abstain from pork, and Indians of many religions are vegetarians.
The business card ritual is not as formal in India as in other countries, though it is essential to carry a supply of presentable business cards. When offering your card, both hands should be used. Receive cards with your right hand. Cards in English are acceptable; it is not necessary to print business cards in local languages.
Please see the U.S. Department of State consular information sheet for India.
All U.S. citizens visiting or residing in India are strongly encouraged to register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This free service allows U.S. citizens and U.S. nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. STEP automatically provides important information about safety conditions in country. Enrollment also helps the U.S. Embassy and family and friends to contact you in an emergency.
All U.S. citizens need a valid passport and visa to enter and exit the country for any purpose. Please ensure you have the correct type of visa for your planned activity in India. Many visitors, including those on official U.S. government business, must apply for visas at an Indian embassy or consulate abroad before entering the country. If you have an incorrect visa type, you may be refused entry and typically will not be permitted to change your immigration category (e.g., from tourist to work visa) once you have entered India. Indian visa regulations can change with little notice. Please note that the U.S. Embassy and Consulates General in India cannot assist you if you arrive without proper documentation.
As of July 2021, India requires all travelers to submit a negative COVID-19 certificate at least 72 hours before departure. More detailed information is available on the Embassy’s COVID-19 webpage. The government of India has resumed issuance of some visa categories, including business visas. A list of permitted categories for travel to India is available on the Embassy of India Washington, D.C. website. Entry requirements are also described on the Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) section on the Indian Bureau of Immigration website.
For the most current information on entry and exit requirements, contact the Embassy of India at 2536 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 939-9888, or the Indian Consulates in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, or Houston. Outside the United States, inquiries should be made at the nearest Indian embassy or consulate. General information regarding Indian visa and immigration rules, including the addresses and telephone numbers for the Foreigners Regional Registration Officer (FRRO) offices, can be found at the Indian Bureau of Immigration website.
Please carry photocopies of the bio-data page of your U.S. passport and the pages containing the Indian visa and Indian immigration stamps. If your passport is lost or stolen, copies will help you apply for a replacement passport and an exit visa.
U.S. citizens of Pakistani origin or descent are subject to further administrative processing and should expect additional delays when applying for Indian visas.
Tourists: In March 2020, the government of India suspended entry of tourists in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. All previously issued tourist visas/authorizations were canceled, and no new visas/authorizations have been issued. The government of India has not announced a date for the resumption of tourist visas, but changes may come soon. Upon resumption, U.S. citizens seeking to enter India solely for tourist purposes, and who plan to stay no longer than 60 days, may apply for an electronic travel authorization at least four days prior to their arrival in lieu of applying for a tourist visa at an Indian embassy or consulate. Please visit the Indian government’s Visa Portal for additional information regarding resumption of tourist visa issuance and the eligibilities and requirements for this visa type. Without the electronic travel authorization, visas are not available upon arrival for U.S. citizens. If you do not have a valid passport and visa, you may be denied admission.
Diplomatic and Official visas: Applications for official visa categories are accepted directly at the Indian Embassy and Consulates in the United States. All U.S. government employees, including military personnel, must obtain country clearance for travel to India. Once you have received your visa, check it carefully to ensure that the visa type and number of entries is appropriate for your travel plans.
Foreigner Registration Requirements: In addition to having the appropriate visa upon arrival, all foreigners visiting India for more than 180 days, or those on Student, Medical, Research, or Employment Visas, are required to register with the closest Foreigners Regional Registration Officer (FRRO) within 14 days of arrival. General instructions for registration by foreigners in India are available at the Indian Bureau of Immigration website.
Overstay and Visa Violations: If you overstay your Indian visa, or otherwise violate Indian visa regulations, you must file an online application for exit permission. Generally, you will be fined, and in some cases may be imprisoned. Visa violators seeking exit permission are requested to file an online application. Processing of an exit visa under these circumstances may take considerable time, and decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
U.S. Companies that require travel of foreign employees to the United States are advised that security evaluations are handled through an interagency process. Visa applicants should go to the State Department Visa Website.
The currency used in India is the Indian Rupee (₹). Other currencies are not commonly accepted. There are Authorized Foreign Exchange dealers in most big cities, and banks will also change your currency if you have time for the paperwork. ATMs are widely available, but not all accept international debit and credit cards. Visa, MasterCard, and American Express credit and debit cards are accepted at shops, restaurants, and hotels. However, a variety of vendors and businesses cannot process payments with international cards. Also, transactions with taxis, markets, and small street shops often require cash. You may find it useful to keep a significant amount of cash in rupees, and in small denominations. Digital payment options like Google Pay, Paytm, and PayPal are widely used, but often require local phone numbers or local bank accounts. Traveler’s checks can be cashed at most money exchange counters, hotels, and airports.
If your phone is unlocked, buying an Indian SIM card will help you save on roaming charges. India has the cheapest mobile data in the world, with an average price of $0.68 for one gigabyte (GB) as compared to the world average of $4.21. You may also buy a phone in India for local use.
There are four major mobile phone operators in India - Reliance Jio, Airtel, Vodafone Idea and state-owned BSNL/MTNL. You can buy a SIM card at the airport, or from an authorized dealer. You need the following documents to buy a SIM card:
- Photocopy of your passport and the original document
- Photocopy of your visa and the original document
- Photocopy of your e-visa, if you are using one
- 2 passport photos
- Proof of address of the country you live in (e.g., a utility bill or official government document such as a driver’s license
- Proof of address in India (where you are staying)
Warning: Prohibition on use of satellite telephones in India
The use of satellite phones is illegal without prior approval from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). Anyone carrying an unlicensed satellite phone is likely to face heavy fines and detention. The use/operation of any telegraphic services/devices, including wireless, in India is regulated by the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. Per existing guidelines issued by the DoT, Inmarsat Satphone services, excluding BGAN systems, can be used by the government, corporate houses, members of mountaineering expeditions, and other such categories with prior permission from DoT. Iridium and Thuraya Satphone services are not permitted in India. Tata Communications Limited, India, may facilitate satellite telephone services in India. If satellite phones are brought into India without DoT approval, the equipment may be confiscated by the Customs authorities until the owner/holder of the satellite phone is able to produce a license issued by Indian DoT.
Wi-Fi: Most hotels and many cafes are equipped with wireless internet.
Voltage: Voltage in India is 220 volts, and plugs are Type C and D. You will need a voltage converter and plug adapter to use American appliances. Power can be unreliable in India, and outages are common even in hotels and shopping malls.
Phone Dialing: Placing phone calls in India can be complicated, especially between landlines and cell phones, and when making international calls. The following dialing instructions may be useful:
India country code = 91
AC = Area code
CC = Country code
Caller in USA to Indian Cell Phone
 + 91+Local Cell number
Caller in USA to Indian Landline
 + 91+AC+Number
Indian landline to international number
Indian landline to Indian long-distance
Indian Landline to Local Cell Phone
Local cell number
Indian Cell to India Landline
Indian Cell to Indian Cell
Local cell number
Indian Cell to Indian Cell (in another city)
Indian Cell to International long distance
To and From India
As of July 2021, international commercial travel remains suspended. However, there are direct “bubble” flights between the United States and India on Air India and United Airlines that go to New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad. Flight times are 14-16 hours. Getting to East India from the United States requires a connection, with more and faster options typically through Europe or the Middle East. Travelers from the West Coast might consider going through Seoul, Tokyo, or Singapore.
Most international flights to India from the U.S. arrive and leave either very early in the morning or late at night. An airport pickup organized by your hotel is advised. India has five domestic airlines: Air India, GoAir, IndiGo, Vistara, and SpiceJet. Global travel aggregators such as Expedia, Cleartrip, Yatra and Make-My-Trip can help in booking domestic tickets for travel within India.
Road traffic in India is on the left. Road travel in India can be hazardous, especially at night. Several U.S. citizens have suffered fatal traffic accidents in recent years. The safest driving policy is always to drive conservatively and assume that other drivers may not respond to a traffic situation in the same way drivers would in the United States. Be prepared for vehicles that run red lights and merge directly into traffic at yield points and traffic circles. Use your horn or flash your headlights frequently to announce your presence. It customary to do so.
As a pedestrian, it is important to be alert while crossing streets and intersections, especially after dark, as traffic is moving in the “wrong” direction (i.e., from the left). Vehicles regularly drive in the opposite direction of traffic, and you should exercise extreme caution when crossing streets, even in marked pedestrian areas.
When regular transport is needed, it is recommended to hire a car and driver. A wide range of car services are available in India, and most hotels or travel agents can help you arrange a car for hire. Car services like Uber and its Indian equivalent Ola are also available. Some car services provide cars chauffeured by women. An Indian or valid international driver’s license required to drive in India.
Travel by train entails significant advance planning and can be slow and is therefore not recommended for business travel. Buses are also not recommended for business travel.
India boasts dozens of languages and thousands of dialects, but English is common. Most businesspeople will speak English fluently. However, during your stay you should expect to encounter many people who speak limited or no English. The American accent can also be difficult for some Indians to understand, and Americans may likewise have difficulty understanding the Indian accent. Patience, a sense of humor, and rephrasing what you want to say slowly and clearly can often help bridge the communication gap.
Most official signs are trilingual using the local language (if not Hindi), Hindi and English. One exception is Tamil Nadu, where signs are in Tamil and English.
The quality of medical care in India varies considerably. Adequate private medical care that meets international standards is available in major cities, but adequate medical care can be limited or unavailable elsewhere. Healthcare facilities, particularly in major cities, are still in the process of recovering from the strain experienced during the second COVID-19 wave in May 2021 and may not be able to provide the care U.S. travelers require. All travelers are urged to obtain insurance that covers the costs of medical care and medical evacuation back to the United States or a third country. U.S. citizens traveling to India should review the Embassy’s webpage containing the latest information about COVID-19 conditions across India. U.S. citizens who travel to India are strongly urged to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before travel, and to take personal health safety measure to protect themselves. This includes practicing social or physical distancing, cleaning hands with soap/hand sanitizer, wearing masks, and avoiding crowded areas with poor ventilation. Face masks are almost universally required to be worn in public, especially in urban areas, indoors, and on public transportation. These regulations are strictly enforced, and failure to adhere to mask-wearing norms is likely to result in a fine.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as food and water safety, insect bite protection, and malaria information may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747). For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad can be obtained from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Emergencies: For a public ambulance anywhere in the country, call 102. The national emergency number is 112. Private ambulance services are also available. Because of ambulance delays due to traffic congestion, a taxi or private car may be necessary. For foreigners, upfront payment by cash or credit card is often required by hospitals prior to services or treatment. However, significant upfront payment may be waived by hospitals that have existing cashless agreements with major international insurance providers. Regardless of one’s ability to pay, all hospitals are required to provide emergency stabilization. Lists of medical providers grouped by major city and state are located on the U.S. Citizens Services section of the State Department’s website.
Highly specialized cases or complex emergencies may require medical evacuation. Air ambulances are costly and can be cost prohibitive without travel insurance. Prior to COVID-19, Singapore and Bangkok were typical medical evacuation points. However, due to travel bans placed on travelers departing India, U.S. citizens facing an emergency may have to be evacuated directly to the United States for specialized care.
Medical Insurance: Ensure that your health insurance plan provides coverage overseas. Most U.S. medical insurance plans do not cover care provided outside of U.S. states. U.S. Medicare does not apply overseas. Most care providers overseas only accept cash payments. See the State Department’s webpage for more information on insurance providers for overseas coverage. Supplemental insurance to cover medical care and evacuation is strongly encouraged.
Vaccinations: You should receive all vaccinations for India recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For those arriving from Sub-Saharan Africa or other yellow-fever areas, Indian health regulations require evidence of vaccination against yellow fever. Without proof, you are subject to detention and/or quarantine.
Malaria risk varies depending on the time of year and areas visited. Transmission occurs throughout the year and is highest following the monsoon season from June through September. Please consult the CDC for more information.
Dengue fever presents significant risk in urban and rural areas. The highest number of cases is reported from July to December, with cases peaking from September to October. Daytime insect precautions such as wearing long-sleeved shirts and mosquito repellent are recommended by the CDC.
There are many feral dogs in India, including in major cities. Dogs and bats create a high risk of rabies transmission in most of the country. Vaccination is recommended for all prolonged stays, especially for young children and travelers in rural areas.
Avoid feeding monkeys, as they can also transmit rabies and other serious diseases. If bitten, clean the bite for 15 minutes and immediately seek medical attention.
Air Pollution: Air quality is a significant problem in many cities in India. Consider consulting your doctor prior to travel regarding how seasonal smog and heavy particulate pollution may affect you. The air quality is typically at its worst in the winter. Anyone who travels where pollution levels are high is at risk, but those at greatest risk include infants, children, and teens; people over 65 years of age; people with lung disease such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema; people with heart disease or diabetes; people who work or are active outdoors. Current air quality data can be found on the Embassy’s Air Quality page. The data on this site are updated hourly.
Food and Drink: Only ice-free bottled water, soft drinks, and hot tea and coffee are considered safe to consume. Avoid eating undercooked food, unpeeled fruits and vegetables, or food from restaurants where proper sanitary practices are not guaranteed. Stomach upset is very common for travelers to India, and you may wish to travel with drugs like Imodium (loperamide) to alleviate the symptoms of diarrhea. Indian pharmacies are well-stocked in urban areas and can provide a variety of medications without prescription.
Local Time, Business Hours and Holidays
India has one time zone five-and-a-half hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Because it has not adopted Daylight Savings Time and uses Indian Standard Time year-round, the time difference between India and the United States varies depending on the time of year. India is nine and a half hours ahead of Washington, D.C., during Eastern Daylight Time and ten and a half hours ahead of Washington, D.C., during Eastern Standard Time.
India’s work week is Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with a half-day on Saturday. In some large cities such as Mumbai, businesses start working earlier to avoid congested traffic while commuting. Lunch breaks are typically 30 minutes, usually between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.
Banking hours for cash transactions are 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on weekdays, and 10:00 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Some state and nationalized banks follow an alternate Saturday off schedule. In major metropolitan cities, several foreign and Indian-owned banks provide 24-hour banking services. Customers can visit the bank at any time during the bank’s working hours to conduct businesses.
Most holidays in India, except for a few national holidays, are regional in nature. Central government organizations that include public service offices, industrial, commercial, and trading establishments have about 16 holidays as a combination of national and state holidays. India celebrates three national holidays on fixed dates of the year. In addition, 14 mandatory holidays are issued every year by each state based on local festivals and prevalent religious and linguistic demographics. U.S. companies are advised to check for regional or national holidays through local contacts before arranging business meetings and travel plans.
Temporary Entry of Materials or Personal Belongings
All goods entering India are subject to customs inspection and clearance. An individual must be in India and is usually required to be present during the customs clearance process. Most household goods and personal effects are granted tax and duty-free entry provided they have been used and in the individual’s possession for a minimum of six months.
Indian customs authorities encourage the use of an ATA (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission) Carnet for the temporary admission of professional equipment, commercial samples, and/or goods for exhibitions and fair purposes. ATA Carnet Headquarters, located at the U.S. Council for International Business, 1212 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY, 10036, issues and guarantees the ATA Carnet in the United States. For additional information call (212) 354-4480, or email USCIB for details.
Before traveling to or from India, you are urged to inspect all bags and clothing thoroughly to ensure they do not contain prohibited items. U.S. citizens have been arrested or detained when airport security officials discovered loose ammunition (even spent cartridges, casings, or souvenirs) or weapons in their luggage. If you are found to have ammunition on your person or in your bags, you could be charged with violation of the Indian Arms Act, incarcerated, and/or deported from India.
Consult India’s Central Board of Indirect Taxes & Customs website for more information.