In January 2017, Jamie and I set off travelling around the world – this is our story: www.30somethinggapyear.com
One of our first major challenges travelling was how to get Indian rupees. A fluctuating pound sterling meant we’d held off getting currency as long as possible but when visiting UK travel money shops, the Post Office or banks it suddenly became apparent that whilst easy to get mainstream currencies like US dollars and Australian dollars, getting rupees was impossible.
Why can’t I get rupees in the UK or USA?
The Indian rupee is a heavily regulated currency meaning you cannot by law take rupees in or out of Indian. As such tourists must purchase rupees on arrival.
To make matters worse at the end of 2016 the Indian government scrapped the popular five hundred rupee R500 and one thousand rupee R1000 notes in a bid to combat fraud, money holding and other crime. The sudden removal of billions of rupee notes from the economy has led to massive cash shortages across the country and restrictions on how much currency you can withdraw each day from banks, ATMs and money changers.
How do I get rupees when I arrive in India?
There are a couple of options for getting your rupees when you arrive in India.
The first is at traditional money changer in the airport such as a bureau d change. Both Delhi and Kolkata airport had a couple of agents after customs/ passport control – those inside the terminal only sell foreign currency, they do not sell rupees. With the ATM out of order this was our only option to get money for a taxi (taxi cost R1,000 from Kolkata airport to the city centre). Be prepared for paperwork (so keep your plane ticket stub) and a terrible exchange rate – we changed USD at 60 to the rupee vs an official rate of about 72.
Be warned, when we transferred through Delhi there were no ATMs inside the airport, at Kolkata the first machine was outside in the arrivals lounge and didn’t work. Tourists across India have reported huge queues in recent months, a cap of R10,000 (about £105) on daily withdrawals and poor rates and high bank charges for using your debit/ credit card abroad. Indian ATMs are also a relic of the 1980s and my experience to date is that UK bank cards often don’t work!
The third option is an informal money changer on the street around your hotel. Whilst convenient there are risks of being conned with out of date notes so be careful. They offer a better rate that the bureau d change of around 65 rupees to the USD or GBP 78. Note, what they really want is $100 bills and offer an exchange rate up to 68 rupees for larger US denominations, something I wish I’d known after specifically bringing smaller $1 and $5 notes.
The fourth option, and by far the best exchange rates is using a money transfer service like Azimo (www.azimo.com) which enables you to easily send money to yourself for cash pick up using your UK debit or credit card cards. The Azimo mobile app let me order £400 worth of rupees at a rate of 83.78 and just a £1 fee. The cash was available to pick up in one hour from the local branch of Muthoot finance. Be sure to bring your transfer number and passport.
Can I use the ATM to withdraw rupees in India?
In short, apparently it works for some people but to date my Halifax and HSBC cards haven’t worked and the India ATMs resemble a 1980s arcade computer game – so be careful.
How much cash do I need in India?
It’s worth planning how many rupees you need for your travels in India. We’re on day four of our trip and working on around £25/$30 per day for our 5 week trip. Bottled water costs as little as R20 = £0.25, a plate of curry around R240 = £3, while a 45 minute taxi from the airport cost R1,000 = £12.50. Unless a seasoned traveller or seriously short on cash I wouldn’t recommend braving local transport on day one – R1,000 felt steep but after a long flight and navigating the traffic chaos the spend was worth it.