India is a diverse nation with 28 States, eight Union Territories, and dozens of major languages and cultural groups. This diversity gives rise to a variety of business customs. One factor common among them all is the importance of personal relationships. 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 in which the palms are pressed together with fingers pointing upwards accompanied by a slight bow. This greeting has become more common 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 abstain from beef, while Muslims abstain from pork, and Indians of many religions are vegetarian.
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 and 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 helps the U.S. Embassy, as well as family and friends, to contact you in the case of an emergency.
All U.S. citizens need a valid passport and visa to enter and exit India for any purpose. Please ensure you have the correct type of visa for your planned activities in the country. 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 in India are unable to assist if you arrive without proper documentation.
Updated information on the COVID-19 pandemic can be found 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 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, D.C. 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 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: Please visit the Indian government’s Visa Portal for information regarding tourist visa issuance and the eligibilities and requirements for this visa type. Visas are not available upon arrival for U.S. citizens without an electronic travel authorization. You may be denied admission if you do not have a valid passport and visa.
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 receive your visa, check it carefully to ensure 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 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 refer 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 needed. 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 as compared to the world average of $4.21. 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
- Two 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; and
- Proof of address where you are staying in India.
Warning: Prohibition on use of satellite telephones in India: The use of satellite phones in India 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 and operation of telegraphic services or devices in India is regulated by the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. Per existing guidelines issued by the DoT, Inmarsat satellite phone services, excluding BGAN systems, can be used by the government, corporations, members of mountaineering expeditions, and other such categories with prior permission from DoT. Iridium and Thuraya satellite phone services are not permitted in India. Tata Communications Ltd. may facilitate satellite telephone services in India. If satellite phones are brought into India without DoT approval, the equipment may be confiscated by customs authorities until the owner of the satellite phone is able to produce a license issued by the Indian DoT.
Wi-Fi: Most hotels and many cafes are equipped with wireless internet.
Voltage: Voltage in India is 220 volts. Plugs are Type C and D. You will need a voltage converter and plug adapter to use U.S. appliances. Power can be unreliable in India and outages are common even in hotels and shopping malls.
Phone Dialing: 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 phone to India landline
Indian cell phone to Indian cell phone
Local cell number
Indian cell phone to Indian cell phone (in another city)
Indian cell phone to international long distance
To and From India
International commercial travel has resumed after having been suspended in July 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are direct flights between the United States and India to a variety of cities, including New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad. Flight times are 14-16 hours. Getting to Eastern India from the United States requires a connection, with more and faster options typically through Europe or the Middle East. Travelers from the U.S. West Coast might consider going through Seoul, Tokyo, or Singapore.
Most international flights to India from the United States arrive and leave either 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. 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 customary to do so in India.
As a pedestrian, it is important to be alert while crossing streets and intersections, especially after dark, as traffic is moving 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.
It is recommended to hire a car and driver when regular transportation is needed. 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 automobile transportation services provide cars chauffeured by women. An Indian or valid international driver’s license is required to drive in India.
Travel by train entails significant advanced planning and can be slow. It 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 and most businesspeople will speak English fluently. However, during your stay you should expect to encounter 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. 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 pandemic 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 and 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 hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747). Information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad can be obtained from the World Health Organization.
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. Singapore and Bangkok are typical medical evacuation destinations.
Medical Insurance: Ensure that your health insurance plan provides coverage overseas as most U.S. medical insurance plans do not cover care provided outside of the United 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 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 additional 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, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema; people with heart disease or diabetes; and 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 is 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. You may wish to travel with drugs like 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. 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 goods for exhibitions and trade 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.
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 and Customs website for more information.