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Guide to Cell Phones in India - How to use your foreign cell phone in India

Having a cell phone while traveling does provide some of us with a sense of security and it is great to be able to stay in touch with family and friends.  Use your foreign cell phone in India and avoid paying long-distance and roaming charges for use of your foreign cell phone. Some companies sell global SIM cards and also rent cell phones for tourists and businessmen visiting foreign countries. If you have a unlocked dual, tri or quad band GSM cell phone that can work on 900/1800 MHz You can use your cell phone in India without paying roaming charges to your foreign phone company.  To use your phone in India, buy a new prepaid Sim Card (available at most phone retailers all over the country) The cost of the Sim Cards is approximately Rupees 100. The Sim Card will give you a new local phone number. The retailer you buy the Sim Card from will also install it for you free of charge and within a short time you have a working phone with a new local number. Roaming is already activated and the phone allows you to make local as well as international calls. When you are ready to leave India simply revert back to your original foreign Sim Card. I have found that sometimes long distance rates for calling overseas are cheaper when using cell phones from India. A new phone has recently been released in India that is capable of working with two Sim cards simultaneously. Details at the bottom of the page.

Best Sim Card in India - Which Sim Card to buy?

Airtel Sim Card Some of the cell phone companies, to entice customers to buy their Sim cards offer promotional packages such as including a number of minutes of talk time or offering a longer validity time before recharging is required.  I bought a Sim card in Mumbai for Rupees 100 on February 8, 2011 with a validity of one year from the date of purchase. Even today! towards the end of the year 2014 a few weeks ago during my visit to India I found the prices of SIM cards to still be in the Rupees 100 range, works out to about a dollar and a half.

How to use your cell phone in India

Once you have installed your new SIM card in your cell phone you will have a local Indian phone number. Cell phone numbers in India usually have ten digits. While previously phones were activated immediately on insertion of SIM card. Now it takes about 24 hours for the SIM card to be activated.

How to make Local calls from cell, mobile phones in India

To call any land-line phones in India. Dial the relevant STD code (STD code is similar to what is called the Area Code in USA/Canada) followed by the number. India Sim Card Packet For example to dial a Delhi land-line phone number you must first dial the Delhi std code, which is 001 and then dial the phone number you are calling. If you need to call a number that is less than 10 digits, then it’s a land-line number and you will have to dial the STD code before the number. For example: To call phone number 23454321 in Delhi you need to dial 01123454321. Here 011 is the Delhi code. To dial other cell phone numbers you can just dial the full 10 digit cell phone number and area codes are not required. Calling Indian cell phone from foreign countries: To call any Indian cell phone from overseas, you only need to dial India's country code (91) followed by the cell phone number. There is no need to dial the city std code when calling a Indian cell phone number.

Free incoming calls to your cell phone in India

The way cell phones work in India is slightly different from some of the western countries. In the

United States or Canada, if you had no money left in your prepaid cell phone your cell phone

would not allow you to receive or make calls until money was added to your cell phone account. 

However, India has a different system. Most cell phone companies in India allow free in coming

calls to their SIM card users. So even if you have no prepaid time left for your phone and cannot

make outgoing calls, you can still get incoming calls. The only condition is that the validity

period of your SIM card should not have expired.

For example if your Sim card is valid for another month and your prepaid account balance is nil, you will not be able to make outgoing calls until you add money to your account. However as your Sim card validity has another month to go, you will still receive calls on your telephone and use it for incoming calls until your Sim card validity runs out. Free incoming call syndrome seems to have caught on amongst many cell phone users. Apparently this is a cheap way to have a cell phone and get others to call you as incoming calls are usually free in India.  My taxi driver in Delhi said he had no money on his Sim card for the last three months. He continues to get free incoming calls until the expiry date of his sin card validity. Here again he smiled and told me that before the expiry date he will spend about Rupees 100 to recharge his Sim card and then his Sim card validity will again be extended for another six months to a year.  Most SIM card these days have a lifetime validity with the condition that at least one out going call is made every 90 days! When deciding on which Sim Card to buy, one needs to check what is important to them. The longer validity of the Sim card or other bonuses like more talk time, offered by the phone companies try to sell their Sim cards.

How to get a new Sim card in India for your foreign cell phone.

Visit a phone Sim card retailer. Most retailers carry Sim cards for all the major GSM phone companies. Major companies are Airtel, Hutch, Idea. Vodafone, MTLN & BSNL. Most companies now have their own outlets, foreign passport holders should visit the company store rather than independent retailers. This is advisable because a photocopy of passport/visa is required. Select the Sim card of your choice. Cost of Sim card with a new local phone number for India is approximately Rupees 100 to 125. (Less than US$ 3 using exchange rate of Rupees 60 for 1 US$) Take a photo copy of the first page of your passport (the pages showing your details and photograph) or drivers license. This photo copy is required by the cell phone companies as proof of identity. DO NOT GIVE YOUR ORIGINAL PASSPORT, LEAVE ONLY A PHOTO COPY WITH THE RETAILER FROM WHO YOU BUY THE SIM CARD Fill out the Sim Card purchase application form that will be provided by the Sim card retailer, ( name, address etc.) As proof of identity use the photo copy of your drivers license or passport. Dealer will install the Sim card you purchased in your telephone and you will have a local phone number immediately. (Some outlets due to changes in identification laws now need about 24 hours to activate your new number.) Add prepaid calling time to your new number in the amount you wish to. Additional call time can be added as you desire during your stay in India. The phone retailer you buy your Sim card from should be able to explain the various choices and denominations of prepaid vouchers for phone. PLEASE NOTE: The recharge coupons that are sold have three components, "Call time," "Processing Fee" and "Service Tax".  For example, if you are buying a Rupees 500 talk time voucher for your phone. Don't be deceived into believing  that you can make calls worth Rupees 500.  Check exactly how much of the Rs 500 actually goes towards giving you call time. The call time varies between different amounts of recharge money spent. Also when buying recharge coupons for cell phones in India keep in mind the validity of the recharge coupon.

Blocking your caller ID in India will disable out-going calls in India

If your foreign cell phone has a setting that blocks your user ID being transmitted (your cell number being displayed to the person you call) your cell phone will not work in India unless you turn this setting off in your phone. I found this out the hard way when my cell phone would only accept calls and not allow me to dial out. As soon as I changed my settings, the phone was back to normal and worked fine.

Unlocked Phones

Remember that your cell phone will work only if it is unlocked. Most cell phone companies when they sell their phones to subscribers want them to stay with their company and usually have their phones locked so as to prevent subscribers from switching phone companies. If your phone is locked you cannot use a Sim Card of an Indian phone company unless you get the phone unlocked. This can be done by speaking to your foreign phone company and getting them to unlock your phone or getting it unlocked by a technician in India. There are some web sites that also claim to unlock GSM cell phones for approximately $10. I personally use a Nexus phone and this smart-phone comes unlocked when you buy it from the Google play store. If you own a Nexus phone then it will definitely work all across India. I have used this phone on many occasions in India, USA, Canada and Europe and it works very well. However many new models are in the market now and buyers should shop around to find what suits their needs and budget. Buy cheap mobile phones in India for your vacation Those who have a locked foreign cell/mobile phone also have the option to buy a phone in India during their visit.  A basic phone will now costs as low as $50.

Buying Second Hand Cell Phones

Cell phones are refereed to as Mobile phones in India. If you wish you can always buy a second hand GSM phone in India. As new

models come out so frequently now the older models prices have dropped considerably and second hand phones are available at

most dealers selling Sim cards. With the right shop owner you may be able to sell the phone back to them when leaving the


Almost every kind of cell phone is now available in India. Some models are even cheaper in India than overseas prices. I find that low end phones are cheaper in India. To give you an example:  Nokia 1100 GSM900/1800 Retail price in Delhi Rupees 1900. (Cost in USA $65.) Sony Ericsson P990i GSM900/1800/1900/UMTS Retail price quoted in Delhi Rupees 36,500. (Cost in USA $650) DO NOT buy a cell phone from strangers who approach you on the street. While walking down on a street near Flora Fountain in Mumbai last year I was approached several times by people wanting to sell cameras or cell phones at very low prices. These phones have no warranty and may be stolen. So if you wish to buy a second hand cell phone, buy it form a store that will install the Sim card for you and let you test the phone before you make the purchase. CAMERA CELL PHONE WARNING: Some temples and tourist attractions like museums, aquariums have a policy of not allowing cameras into their premises or charge extra to allow cameras.  Cell phones with cameras sometimes become a problem. Authorities are aware that people take pictures with cell camera phones where cameras are not permitted. Some places will not allow you to enter if you have a camera phone.  In the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir when we went to see a Hindu temple. One member of our party who had a camera phone had to leave it at the gate. Cell phones without a camera were allowed in. COUNTRIES USING GSM900 & 1800 CELL PHONES SIMILAR TO INDIA Afghanistan      Albania                      Algeria Austria                             Australia                    Belgium Bulgaria                          Czech Republic           Democratic Rep-Congo Denmark Please Note: While the countries listed above use the same SM cell phone frequencies as India. Cell phones should be unlocked so that Sim cards provided by Indian cell phone companies can be used. If your cell phone is locked by a phone provider in your home country you will have to get it unlocked if you wish to use it in India.    Article continues on next page:                       

Sim Card Restrictions for Tourists in India.

As of September 2012, The Government of India has issued a directive to mobile phone service providers that Sim cards for mobile phones that are purchased by tourists should not have a validity beyond the validity of the Indian tourist visa held the purchaser of the Sim Card. The maximum validity of a Sim card should also not exceed three months at a time regardless of the duration of the visa. Documents required to get a Sim Card in India by foreign tourists are copies of: Passport, Indian visa, Photo of applicant, Local address of the place of stay, signed application for Sim form.
Deactivation of Mobile SIM cards in India due to non-usage As per new regulations issued on 21st Feb 2013 by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). The mobile connections of prepaid consumers shall not be deactivated for any period of non-usage less than 90 days. Even if there is no usage for 90 days and the prepaid balance amount is Rupees 20 or more, the SIM cannot be deactivated. When there is no usage beyond 90 days, then the SIM card provider can deduct Rupees 20 from the prepaid balance every 30 days until the SIM is used or the prepaid balance falls below Rupees 20. Once the balance falls below Rupees 20, the SIM card can be deactivated by the carrier. Usage can be a telephone call or text message or even data usage. Sim Card India New Rules 	Taiwan 	Tajikistan        	Tanzania             	Thailand 	Turkey   	Uganda                        	Ukraine 	United Kingdom  	 Uzbekistan   	Venezuela  	El Salvador                	 Estonia 	Finland                             	France  	 Namibia   	Netherlands 	Nigeria                             	Norway                       	 Philippines 	Portugal           	Romania                      	Russia 	Singapore                        	Slovak Republic            	Slovenia 	Somalia                           	South Africa                 	Spain 	Switzerland   	Sweden
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