Money in India
The currency in India is the Indian rupee (sign: ₹; code: INR) (रुपया – rupaya in Hindi and similarly named in most Indian languages, but taka in Maithili and Taakaain Bengali and Toka in Assamese). The rupee is divided into 100 paise. 5 rupees 75 paise would normally be written as ₹5.75.
Common notes come in denominations of ₹5 (green), ₹10 (orange), ₹20 (red), ₹50 (purple), ₹100 (blue), ₹500 (yellow) and ₹1,000 (pink). It is always good to have a number of small notes on hand as sometimes traders and drivers do not have change. A useful technique is to keep small notes (₹10-50) in your wallet or in a pocket and keep larger notes separate. Then it is not obvious how much money you have. Many traders will claim that they do not have change for a ₹100 or ₹500 note. This is often a lie so they don’t end up with a big bill. It is best not to buy if you do not have exact change.
The coins in circulation are 50 paise, ₹1, ₹2, ₹5 and ₹10 (recently introduced). Coins are useful for buying tea (₹5), for bus travel (₹2 to ₹10) and for exact change for a car rickshaw.
Indians generally use lakh and crore for 100,000 and 10,000,000 respectively. Although these terms originated in Sanskrit, they have been so deeply adopted into Indian English that most people are unaware that they are not standard in other dialects of English. You may also find a non-standard, though common in India, placement of commas when writing numerals. A crore rupee is written as ₹1,00,00,000, so place a comma after three digits first, then after every two digits. This format may confuse you until you start thinking in lakhs and crores, after which it will seem natural.
Changing money in India
The Indian rupee is not officially convertible, and a few government shops will still insist on seeing official exchange receipts if you are visibly a foreigner and try to pay in rupees rather than hard currency. Rates for exchanging rupees abroad are often poor and importing rupees is theoretically illegal, although places with significant Indian populations (e.g. Dubai, Singapore) can offer decent rates.
Outside the airports, you can change your currency at one of the many currency exchange points, including banks.
Most ATMs pay out ₹40,000 for each transaction. State Bank of India (SBI) is the largest bank in India and has the most ATMs. ICICI Bank has the second largest network of ATMs and accepts most international cards for a small fee. International banks such as Citibank, HSBC, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, ABN Amro and Standard Chartered have a significant presence in major Indian cities. It is always worth having bank cards or credit cards from at least two different providers to ensure you have a backup available in case a card is blocked by your bank or simply does not work at a particular ATM.
In many towns and cities, credit cards are accepted in retail chains and other restaurants and shops. Small shops and family-run shops almost never accept credit cards, so it makes sense to have a moderate amount of cash on hand.
Maximum Retail Price – MRP
When buying factory-packed food or drinks (e.g. lemonade, cola, etc.), always look for a stamp on the packaging. It tells you the MRP (short for Maximum Retail Price) and you can always insist on not paying more than this.
Costs in India
The cost in India can vary greatly from region to region and even in the same city, depending on the quality of the service or product, the brand, and so on. But usually India is not very expensive for the foreign traveller.
Middle to upper class travellers
₹ 5000, minimum, for a decent room in a good hotel with cable TV, air-conditioning and direct telephone; this price, however, does not include a refrigerator. Food costs at least ₹ 150 for a decent meal (at a market stall, not at the hotel), but there is no limit upwards. While bus transport costs about 5 ₹ for a short distance of about 1 km, a taxi or rickshaw without air-conditioning can cost 22 ₹ for the same distance. Radio taxis are available in all major cities in India and the prices range from ₹20 to ₹25 per kilometre, are GPS-guided, equipped with air conditioning and accept debit/credit for payment. They are a very safe way of getting around. So the total for a day would be about as below:
- Hotel: US$60 for a good place per day
- Food: 10 USD for a nice meal per day
- Arrival: 10 USD for taxis and buses together
Total: US$80 for a couple, US$70 for a person alone
Budget travel through India is surprisingly easy, with the savvy backpacker able to get by (relatively comfortably) on as little as US$25-35 per day. It is usually cheaper than Southeast Asia with a night in a hotel costing as little as ₹200-1,000 (although there is unlikely to be air conditioning or room service for that price). Beach huts in the cheaper places of Goa can cost around ₹800 per night. A meal can be bought from a street vendor for as little as ₹30, but in a restaurant you can expect to pay ₹200-300 for a beer or two. Overnight buses and trains can cost between ₹ 600 and ₹ 1,000, depending on distance and location, although an uncomfortable government bus (benches only) can be cheaper.
Tipping in India
In India, traditionally little or no tipping is done, and today tipping is uncommon outside of upscale restaurants, where up to 10% is appropriate. Upscale restaurants may charge a service fee of up to 15 % in addition to government taxes. Some restaurants have also started placing jars at the cash register for diners to throw some change into if they feel like it, but this is a rare phenomenon. Most clubs in India have a complete ban on their members tipping. Normally, no service industry except hospitality expects a tip. In India, it is forbidden for taxi or rickshaw drivers to charge anything above the meter.
Shopping in India
In India, you are expected to negotiate the price with street vendors, but not in department stores and the like. Otherwise, you risk overpaying by a multiple, which may be fine if you think it is cheaper than at home. Retail chains are popping up in most major cities and even in smaller towns, where the shopping experience is essentially identical to similar shops in the West. There are also government-run shops, such as the Cottage Emporium in New Delhi, which allow you to taste goods sourced from all over the country in the comfort of air-conditioned surroundings. Although you will have to pay a little more in these shops, you can be sure that you will not get cheap imitations. The harder you haggle, the more money you save. After a few tries, you realise that it’s fun.
Usually you will get a better deal when you spend more time in the shop.It is worth spending time getting to know the owner, asking questions and getting him to show you other products (if you are interested). Once the owner feels he is making a sufficient profit from you, he will often offer you additional goods at a price close to his cost, rather than the usual “foreigner’s price”. You will get better prices and better service if you buy many items in one shop than if you negotiate individually in several shops. If you see locals shopping in a shop, you can probably get the real Indian prices. Ask someone around you quietly, “How much would you pay for this?”
Also, you will very often meet a “friend” on the street who invites you to visit his family’s shop. This almost always means that you pay twice as much as if you had been in the shop without your new-found friend.
Baksheesh – a small bribe – is an incredibly common phenomenon. While it is a big problem in India, it can ease certain problems and remove some hurdles. Baksheesh is also the term used by beggars when they want money from you, and can refer to tips given to those who provide you with a service. Baksheesh is as much a part of the ancient culture of the Middle East and Asia as any other place.It derives from Arabic and means a small gift. It refers to both charity and bribery.
Packaged goods show the maximum retail price (MRP) directly on the packaging. This includes taxes. Retailers are not allowed to charge more than this price. Although this rule is respected in most places, you may have to pay more in tourist destinations or remote locations. This is especially true for cold drinks like Coke or Pepsi, where a bottle (300 ml) costs around ₹33-35, while the actual price is ₹30. Also remember that a surprising number of things do not come in packaged form. Check the genuineness of the RRP as shopkeepers may put their own sticker to charge more from you.
What you should look to buy
- Wood carvings: India produces an impressive variety of carved wooden products that can be bought at very low prices. Examples include decorative wooden plates, bowls, artwork, furniture and various items that will surprise you. Check the regulations of your home country before attempting to import wooden items.
- Clothing: It depends on the state/region you are visiting. Most of the states have their own specialities. For instance, silk saris if you are visiting Benaras, and block prints if for example if you are in Jaipur.
- Paintings: Paintings are available on a variety of media, such as cotton, silk or with frames. Gemstone paintings contain semi-precious stone dust so they have a glittery appearance.
- Marble and stone carvings: Common carvings are elephants, Hindu gods/goddesses. Compare several of the same type. If they look too similar, act tough as they are probably machine made.
- Jewellery: Beautiful necklaces, bracelets and other jewellery are very cheap in India.
- Pillowcases, duvet covers: Eye-catching and rich designs are common for cushions and duvet covers.
Designer brands like Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, Zara, A & F, all are available in upscale shops.