image of State Bank of India sign

Money Matters

While credit and debit cards are becoming more reliably accepted worldwide, as are mobile and e-payments, travelers to India should still expect to pay in cash for some transactions, particularly when dealing with smaller businesses or in remote locations. Given that there is always a possibility for equipment glitches with electronic payments, having some cash on hand can help, regardless of your destination.

India’s currency, the rupee (INR, Rs) contains 100 paise (p) and is available in denominations up to Rs 2000. Travelers might also see monetary amounts noted in lakh or crore. Lakh represents one hundred thousand (i.e., Rs 150,000 can be written as 1.5 lakh rupees). Similarly, crore denotes ten million (Rs 150,000,000 can be written as 15 crore rupees).

Please also note that there are regulations on the amount of Rupees that can be imported and exported from India. Currently for non-residents, this cap is Rs 25,000, but the regulations can differ based on residency, country of origin, and destination. Please note that these rules change from time to time, and the rules can differ depending on Indian residency status and country of origin. See more about the rules for currency import and export (current as of January 2019) here.

India’s cash economy experienced significant change in November 2016 when the government pulled Rs 500 and 1000 notes out of circulation in an effort to fight corruption and counterfeiting. Replacing the now demonetized Rs 500 and 1000 notes are new 500 and 2000 notes. The demonetized notes are no longer accepted, so check any old currency you may have before bringing it on your next trip to India. Also note the state of the currency if you exchange money – ripped or filthy notes may not be accepted by vendors.

Check out the current exchange rate.

When exchanging currency, avoid unofficial exchanges, as authorities may request receipts of your exchange. Traveler’s checks are accepted by most hotels and banks, and they are best denominated in US dollars or Pounds sterling. While it can be prudent to exchange some currency before you leave the US for a foreign destination, it can be difficult to find a place that sells INR in the US. If you have a connecting flight between the US and your final destinations, you may be able to purchase INR in the connecting airport.

Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (BOM) in Mumbai and Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) in Delhi have currency exchange counters. Your hotel may also provide currency exchange services.

Banks and ATMs

ATMs are plentiful in large urban areas in India. Banks are typically open for business 9:00 am – 5:00 pm Monday through Friday, but hours depend on the specific institution.

Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted cards in India. ATMs at large and multinational banks are most likely to cooperate with foreign cards. Recommended banks are: Axis Bank, Citibank, HDFC, HSBC, ICICI, and State Bank of India.

Bank holidays in India vary by state - see bank holidays by regional office here. If you are planning to use chip and PIN cards in India, it is advisable to ensure your card has a magnetic strip, as many card readers in India still rely on reading the magnetic strip.

Sarah Harlan Zegeye
Assistant Director, Global Services
Office of Global Strategy and Initiatives