India - Commercial Guide
India- Business Travel

This section includes information on business customs, travel advisory, visa requirements, currency, language, health, local time, business hours and holidays, acceptable business etiquette, dress, business cards, gifts, temporary entry of materials and personal belongings,

Last published date: 2020-08-25

Business Customs

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 across India. One common factor is that personal relationships are very important. Building a solid personal reputation, rapport, and goodwill can be helpful to connect with contacts and deepen relationships.

Business visitors may find the tips below helpful.

Meeting times and schedules are not always followed as strictly as in the United States.  It is not uncommon in India for people to arrive late and sometimes there are last minute cancellations for business events and meetings.  When arranging itineraries in India it is important to build flexibility into your plans. 

A handshake is typical upon meeting someone, 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.  Small talk at the beginning of a business meeting is common and may include questions about family.  At meals, it is considered polite in India to inquire about dietary preferences, since Hindus typically abstain from beef, Muslims typically abstain from pork, and Indians of many religions are vegetarians.   

The business card ritual is not so formal as in countries like Japan.  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, and it is not necessary to print business cards in local languages.   

Travel Advisory

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) at.  This is a free service that allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  STEP will then automatically provide you important information about safety conditions in the country.  Enrollment also helps the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency and can help family and friends contact you in an emergency as well.  If you are a Facebook user, you may also wish to “like” our page to receive additional information about American Citizen Services in India.

Visa Requirements

All U.S. citizens need a valid passport and valid Indian visa to enter and exit India 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 the incorrect visa 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 the country.  Indian visa regulations can change with little notice.  Please note, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates General in India cannot assist you if you arrive without proper documentation. 

Many Indian visas may be obtained in the United States through Cox & Kings Global Services, the Government of India’s visa contractor.  You may review the information on the Cox & Kings Global Services website to determine your purpose for travel and the most appropriate visa category.  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) 939-9806 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 administrative processing and should expect additional delays when applying for Indian visas.

Tourists: 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 e-Visa website for additional information regarding the eligibilities and requirements for this type of visa.  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 type of visa 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.  A FRRO office contact list is available online listing local offices.  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 have to file an online application for exit permission.  Generally, you will be fined and, in some cases, may face prison time.  Visa violators seeking exit permission are requested to file an online application at https://boi.gov.in/content/online-registrationProcessing of an exit visa under these circumstances may take considerable time with decisions made on a case by case basis.

U.S. Companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons to the United States are advised that security evaluations are handled via an interagency process.  Visa applicants should go to the following link(s):  State Department Visa Website

Currency

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, and many accept international debit and credit cards.  Visa, MasterCard, and American Express credit and debit cards are widely accepted at shops, restaurants, and hotels.  However, transactions with taxis, markets, and small street shops may require cash.  You may find it useful to keep some cash in rupees.   Check with your card issuing bank about international transaction fees.

Digital payment options like Google Pay, Paytm, and PayPal are widely used but often require local phone numbers or local bank accounts to work.

Traveler’s checks can be cashed at most money exchange counters, hotels, and airports.

Telecommunications/Electronics

As a business traveler you have the option of carrying your own country’s SIM card and use it in India but getting an Indian SIM card has its advantages.  An Indian SIM card will help you save on hefty roaming charges if you use your own country’s SIM card.  India has the cheapest mobile data in the world with the average price of $0.26 for one gigabyte (GB) as compared to $6.66 in the UK and $12.37 for the same amount of data in the US.

It is advised to visit your local phone retailer to get your phone unlocked before leaving for India to make it compatible with Indian SIM cards.  Alternately, you can purchase a new handset in India for local usage.

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 the e-visa if you are using one
    • 2 x Passport Photos
    • Proof of address of the country you live in -utility bill or official government document such as a drivers’ license to display your home address.    
    • Proof of address in India (where you are staying or visiting)

Prohibition on use of "satellite telephone service" in India

The use of satellite phones is not permitted in India unless prior approval of Department of Telecommunications is obtained.  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 Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Inmarsat Satphones, excluding BGAN system, can be used by the Government, Corporate Houses, Members of the Mountaineering Expedition and other such categories with prior permission from DoT.  Iridium and Thuraya Satphone service is not permitted in India.  Tata Communications Limited, India, may be approached in case of necessity to use satellite telephone services in India.

In case satellite phones are brought into India without prior approval from DoT, the equipment may be confiscated by the Customs authorities per existing procedures till the time the owner/holder of the satellite phone is able to produce a license issued by DoT. 

Wi-Fi: Although speeds vary, virtually all hotels are equipped with internet and Wi-Fi.

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 U.S. appliances.

Phone Dialing: While telecommunication service is generally adequate in India, knowing what digits to dial can be a little complicated, especially between landlines and cell phones, and when making international calls.   The following dialing instructions are worth keeping handy:

AC = area code

CC = country code

Caller in USA to Local Cell Phone                           [011] + 91+Local Cell number

Caller in USA to Local Landline                       [011] + 91+AC+Number

Local landline to international number               00+CC+AC+Number

Local landline to local long-distance                       0+AC+Number

Local Landline to Local Cell Phone                 Local cell number

Local Cell to India Landline                     0+AC+number

Local Cell to Local Cell                            Local   cell   number

Local Cell to Local Cell (in another city)                 0+Cell number

Local Cell to International long distance              00+CC+AC+Number

 

The country code for India is 91

Major Indian city area codes:

Ahmedabad       79

Bengaluru          80

Chennai             44

Delhi                  11

Hyderabad         40

Kolkata               33

Mumbai              22

Pune                  20

Transportation

To and From India

As of August 2020, international travel remains suspended. However, there are direct flights between the United States and India on Air India and United Airlines that go to either New Delhi or Mumbai.  Flight times are 14-16 hours.  Getting to South or East India from the United States requires a connection, with the most and (often) fastest options through Europe.  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 will help alleviate the inconvenience and uncertainty of obtaining secure transportation during these hours. India has five domestic airlines including - Air India, GoAir, IndiGo, Vistara and SpiceJet.  Most global travel aggregators such as Expedia, Cleartrip, Yatra and Make-My-Trip can help in booking domestic tickets for travel within India. 

Within India

Traffic in India moves on the left.  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).  You should exercise extreme caution when crossing streets, even in marked pedestrian areas.

When regular transport is needed, many foreign visitors to India hire a car and driver.  This is highly recommended over driving one’s self.  A wide range of car services are available in India.  Car services like Uber and its Indian counterpart Ola are widely available.  Some car services provide cars chauffeured by women.  To drive in India, either a valid Indian driver’s’ license or a valid international driver’s license is required.

Hiring a car and driver is the preferred option for business travelers in India since driving in India is an art that cannot be mastered soon.  Most business travelers choose an air-conditioned vehicle with a driver who can assist in navigating and also help in translation (if needed).  Most hotels or any travel agent can help you arrange a car for hire.

When you are on business travel in India it is not advisable to travel by train since it entails   significant advance planning and travel time. 

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 is both customary and wise.  Buses are not recommended as travel options.

Language

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 who speak limited English or none.  Even for those who do speak English, the American accent can be difficult for some Indians to understand, and Americans sometimes struggle with the Indian accent.  Patience, a sense of humor, and rephrasing what you want to say slowly and clearly can often overcome such difficulties.

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

Health  

The quality of medical care in India varies considerably.  Adequate private medical care that meets many international standards is available in major cities, but elsewhere adequate medical care can be limited or unavailable.   

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: Highly specialized cases or complex emergencies may require evacuation.  Singapore and Bangkok, Thailand are frequent destinations.  For a public ambulance anywhere in the country, call 102.  The national emergency number is 112.  Private ambulance services are also often available.  Because of ambulance delays due to traffic congestion, 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.  But significant upfront payment may be waived by hospitals that have existing cashless agreements with major international insurance providers.  Regardless of the ability to pay, all hospitals are required to provide emergency stabilization. 

Medical Insurance: Make sure your health insurance plan provides coverage overseas.  Be aware that U.S. Medicare does not apply overseas.  Most care providers overseas only accept cash payments.  See our webpage for more information on insurance providers for overseas coverage.  Supplemental insurance to cover medical evacuation is strongly encouraged. 

Vaccinations: Be up to date on all vaccinations recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  If you transit through any part of sub-Saharan Africa, even for one day, you are advised to carry proof of yellow fever immunization.  For those arriving from Sub-Saharan Africa or other yellow-fever areas, Indian health regulations require evidence of vaccination against yellow fever.  If you do not have such proof, you could be subjected to detention and 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 that typically spans 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. 

Dogs and bats create a high risk of rabies transmission in most of India.  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, immediately clean the bite for 15 minutes and seek urgent medical attention. 

Air Pollution: Air quality is a significant problem in many major 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 beer or wine, hot tea and coffee are considered safe.  Generally, avoid eating undercooked food, unpeeled fruit and vegetables, or food where good kitchen practices are not guaranteed.  Consult your doctor about being prepared with drugs like Imodium (loperamide) to alleviate the symptoms of diarrhea. 

Local Time, Business Hours and Holidays

India has one-time zone five and one-half hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).  It has not adopted daylight savings time and uses standard time year-round.   Therefore, 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 daylight savings time and ten and a half hours ahead of Washington, D.C., during standard time.

The standard six-day working week is Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m.  to 5:30 p.m., with a half-day on Saturday.  However, in some large cities such as Mumbai, businesses start working earlier to avoid congested traffic while commuting.  Lunch time break is of 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 12:00 noon on Saturdays.  Few of the state and nationalized banks follow alternate week Saturday off.  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.  Bank employees take their lunch break in batches so that the business is not affected. 

Most holidays in India, except for a few national holidays, are regional in nature.  Central Government Organizations that includes public service offices, industrial, commercial, and trading establishments have about 16 holidays as a combination of national and gazetted (mandatory, state-level) holidays.  India celebrates 3 national holidays on fixed dates of the year.  In addition, mandatory 14 gazetted 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 inadvertently contain prohibited items.  U.S. citizens have been arrested or detained when airport security officials discovered loose ammunition (even spent individual bullets, casings, or souvenirs) or weapons in their luggage.  If you are found to have loose ammunition or bullets 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 the Central Board of Indirect Taxes & Customs website for more information