If you’re travelling to India, having the right SIM card can save you time and money. We review the best value SIM cards for using your mobile phone in India.
Each year, almost 2 million Brits make a visit to India. Whether it’s for tourism, backpacking or visiting friends and family, you’ll probably want to use your mobile phone whilst you’re there. This makes it easier to stay in touch with friends and family and for getting around (e.g. finding directions or calling a taxi).
Thankfully, it’s now really easy to use your UK phone in India when you get a Lebara Mobile SIM card for it. You can use the KEN3 voucher code at checkout to get 3 months half price, making it possible to get a one-month plan from just £2.50. This comes with international roaming in India at no extra cost so there’s no need to get a local SIM card on arrival.
In this article, we’ll look at the multiple ways to use your smartphone in India and the best value SIM cards for use whilst you’re there.
|Best India SIM Card:||Lebara Mobile (UK-based SIM)|
(includes 3 months half price with the KEN3 voucher code)
|Compatibility:||Works with most unlocked smartphones (including iPhone & Android)|
|Free SIM Card:||Get Lebara Mobile SIM card →|
|eSIM Alternative:||US$10.50 (~£8.60) for 3GB data on Indicomm (Airalo)
(data only plan, valid for 30 days, requires an eSIM-ready phone)
Using Your Mobile Phone In India
If you’re planning a trip to India, there are three ways to use your mobile phone whilst you’re there:
- You can roam on a UK-based SIM card. This is the easiest and the most straightforward way to use your phone in India. You’ll have a UK-based phone number (+44) and you’ll pay your UK mobile network for usage.
- You can buy a local SIM card upon arrival in India. This will give you an Indian phone number (+91), along with a larger allowance of data. However, it’s more hassle as you’ll need to buy your SIM card on arrival. You’ll also need to register and activate the SIM card, which normally takes about 24 hours.
- You can buy a data-only eSIM for India. You can get a data-only eSIM for India. This will give you a low-cost allowance of 4G mobile data to use in India. However, you’ll need to use your regular SIM card for calling and texting (for which your standard roaming rates will apply).
The following table shows a side-by-side comparison of the three options:
|Roaming on your UK SIM card||Buying a SIM card on arrival||Buying a data eSIM for India|
|Best for short-term & occasional visits to India.
||Best for extended trips & heavy data users.
||Best if you’re departing soon and want an eSIM quickly.
|You’ll have a UK-based number (beginning with +44).||You’ll have an Indian number (beginning with +91).||Data-only service. Use your normal SIM for calls (roaming fees apply).|
|We recommend a Lebara Mobile SIM. Get a plan from £2.50 per month with no contract & inclusive roaming in India.||Get a SIM card from Jio, Airtel, Vi or other local mobile networks. Prices vary by store & negotiation.||Get an eSIM from Indicomm (via Airalo). Plans start from $10.50/month (~£8.60) for a data-only service.|
|You’ll need to set up & activate your UK SIM card before you depart.||You’ll need to buy your Indian SIM card on arrival. Activation takes around 24 hours.||You can set up and activate your plan on any compatible eSIM-ready phone.|
|There’s no need to register your SIM card with the authorities in India.||You’ll need to register the SIM card with your ID, proof of UK address and proof of local address in India.||There’s no need to register your eSIM with the authorities in India.|
|Inclusive calls to both UK and Indian phone numbers.||Inclusive calls to Indian phone numbers only. Extra charges apply for calling UK-based numbers.||No calls. You’ll need to use your normal SIM card for calling.|
|You can continue to use your SIM card in the UK after the end of your trip.||The SIM card you buy from India will normally stop working after you return to the UK.||Your eSIM plan will expire at the end of the validity period.|
For most people, we’d normally recommend roaming on a UK-based SIM card as it will be a lot less hassle than buying a local SIM card in India. However, it can sometimes be worth getting a local SIM card in India if you need a Indian phone number (+91). Alternatively, it can work out better if you make lots of phone calls on your trip (more than 200 minutes) or if you need more than 10GB of data.
At present, Lebara Mobile is the best UK mobile network for roaming in India. You can get a one-month rolling plan from just £2.50 on Lebara when you use the KEN3 voucher code at checkout. This comes with international roaming at no extra cost in India (up to 10GB data, 200 minutes and 200 texts per month). There’s no contract and no credit check on your Lebara Mobile SIM card.
It can take a few days for your Lebara Mobile SIM card to arrive in the post (it’s normally dispatched on the next working day after you place your order). Therefore, if you’re departing for India very soon, a data-only eSIM with instant online delivery may work out better.
Through the rest of this article, we’ll look at the three options in more detail.
Roaming On Your UK SIM Card
The easiest and most straightforward way of using your phone in India is through international roaming on a UK-based SIM card. Although you might end up paying a little bit more, there are four major benefits to doing this:
- You can set it up before you depart. When you roam on a UK-based SIM card, there’s no need to find a phone shop on arrival and to negotiate with the staff there. You’ll also know your phone number in advance, making it easier to stay in touch with others.
- There’s no need to register your SIM card with the authorities in India. When you buy a local SIM card in India, you’ll need to register it with the government authorities. This involves providing a copy of your passport and your visa for India. You’ll also need to provide proof of your UK address, along with proof of your address in India (e.g. a letter from the hotel to confirm your stay there, or a letter of invitation if you’re staying at a private address). This registration process isn’t necessary when you roam on a UK-based SIM card.
- There’s no need to wait around for your SIM card to be activated in India. It normally takes about 24 hours for a new locally-purchased SIM card to be activated in India. In contrast, a UK-based SIM card will work straight away.
- You’ll be able to call both UK and Indian phone numbers using your plan. In contrast, most local SIM cards in India will only give you an inclusive allowance of minutes for calling inside of India.
Best India Roaming Deals
Lebara Mobile UK is our recommended network for roaming in India. On all of their plans, you’ll be able to use your plan allowances at no extra cost when you travel in India. Their plans are available on a one-month rolling basis, with no contract and no credit check required.
As a special offer for October 2023, you can get 3 months half price on all Lebara Mobile plans. To benefit, you’ll need to enter KEN3 as your voucher code at checkout. With this offer, you’re able to get the following plans from just £2.50 per month:
for 3 months, then £5/month
for 3 months, then £7/month
for 3 months, then £9/month
for 3 months, then £10/month
for 3 months, then £15/month
for 3 months, then £20/month
for 3 months, then £25/month
for 3 months, then £30/month
The international minutes on your Lebara Mobile SIM card can be used for calling India and 41 other countries.
When you’re using your UK allowances in India, there’s a fair usage policy of 200 minutes, 200 texts and 10GB data. Beyond this, you’ll pay a surcharge of 10p/minute, 10p/text and 5p/MB. You can see the full terms and conditions on Lebara’s website for more information.
You’ll get 2G, 3G and 4G coverage from Vi (Vodafone Idea) when you use a Lebara Mobile UK SIM card in India.
You can also get special rates for international roaming in India on the following UK mobile networks:
- VOXI: On VOXI, you can buy a Global Roaming Extra which will allow you to use your mobile phone in India at a discounted rate. It costs £15 for an 8-day Global Roaming Extra (with 2GB data, 100 minutes & 100 texts included) and £25 for a 15-day Global Roaming Extra (with 4GB data, 200 minutes & 200 texts included). If you buy the 15-day Global Roaming Extra, this will allow you to use your mobile phone in India from just £1.67 per day. There’s no contract and no credit check required when you join VOXI.
- Vodafone UK Pay As You Go: Like VOXI, Vodafone UK also offers an 8-day and 15-day Around The World Extra if you’re a Pay As You Go customer. It’s exactly the same as what you’ll get on VOXI, but you’ll get less data included on your UK plan. You can order a Vodafone Pay As You Go SIM card online. To buy the Extra, text ROAMEXTRA8 to 2345 (for the 8-day Around The World Extra), or ROAMEXTRA15 to 2345 (for the 15-day Around The World Extra).
- Vodafone UK Pay Monthly: If you’re a Vodafone UK Pay Monthly customer, you’ll pay £6 per day to use your allowances in India.
Standard Roaming Rates
If your current provider doesn’t have any roaming offers for India, the following table shows the standard rates you can expect to pay for using your phone in India:
|Network||Making a Phone Call||Receiving a Phone Call||Sending a Text||Accessing the Internet|
|BT Mobile||£1.59/minute||£1.42/minute||44p/text||£6/day for 500MB|
|EE||£2.05/minute||£2.05/minute||67p/text||£6.85/day for 500MB|
|Lebara Mobile||Included at no extra cost|
|Vodafone Pay Monthly||£6/day to use your UK allowance of minutes, texts & data|
|Vodafone Pay As You Go||60p/minute||36p/minute||8p/text||12p/MB|
|VOXI (without Extra)||60p/minute||36p/minute||8p/text||12p/MB|
In the UK, the average smartphone user can normally expect to use around 100MB (0.1GB) of data each day. Therefore, the costs of roaming in India can add up very quickly unless you have a suitable deal for roaming.
Buying A Indian SIM Card On Arrival
You can also use your mobile phone in India by getting a local SIM card on arrival. This has the advantage that you’ll get a local phone number (beginning with +91). You’ll also get a larger allowance of minutes and mobile data. The caveat is that there’s a lot more hassle involved. You’re also unlikely to save much money compared to using a UK-based SIM.
Here are the key things to know about buying a local SIM card in India:
- You’ll need to buy your SIM card on arrival, with prices varying based on location and negotiation. You’ll need to pay an upfront fee when you buy a local SIM card in India. This will vary based on the location and store. For instance, in the city centre, you might be able to get a SIM card for about 100 Indian rupees (about £1). However, this might be 1000 Indian rupees at the airport (about £10). On the contrary, it’s normally a lot less hassle getting a SIM card at the airport as they’re more used to dealing with foreign visitors.
- You’ll need to register your SIM card with the Indian authorities. When you buy a local SIM card in India, you’ll need to provide a copy of your passport and your travel visa for India. You’ll also need to provide proof of your UK address, along with proof of your address in India (e.g. a letter from the hotel to confirm your stay there or a letter of invitation if you’re staying at a private address). You may also need to provide a passport-sized photo.
- It takes around 24 hours to activate a local SIM card in India. In contrast, a UK-based SIM card will work straight away. If you’re buying a local SIM card, it’s still worth bringing your UK-based SIM card to use on the first day of your trip. Alternatively, you can get an eSIM for use on your first day.
- You won’t get inclusive calls to the UK. When you get a local SIM card in India, this will only give you inclusive minutes for calling other phone numbers in India.
If you choose to get a local SIM card in India, there are three main providers that you’re able to choose from:
All three providers offer fairly similar plans so it’s mainly a matter of the coverage available in the places where you’re visiting. There’s also the convenience of finding a location where you’re able to actually buy the SIM card.
Once you’ve purchased your SIM card, you can expect to pay between 239 Indian rupees (about £2.40) and 299 Indian rupees (about £3) for a 28-day plan. This will come with unlimited minutes, 100 texts and 1.5GB data per day:
valid for 28 days
valid for 28 days
valid for 28 days
Alongside the three main providers, there are also a number of smaller providers such as the state-run BSNL and MTNL networks. However, these networks tend to have much poorer coverage so most people will choose one of the big three networks instead.
eSIMs For India
With eSIM, you’ll get the convenience of instant online delivery to your phone, and there’s no need to register your eSIM with the authorities in India. However, the disadvantage is that you won’t be able to make any phone calls on it (you’ll need to use your regular SIM card for calling, for which additional fees may apply).
You can get a data-only eSIM from Indicomm (via Airalo). At present, the Indicomm plans start from US$4.50 (approx £3.70) for 1GB of data with 4G LTE coverage on the Airtel network. However, for most people, we’d recommend the 3GB plan which costs US$10.50 (approx £8.60) for up to 30 days of use.
valid for 7 days
valid for 15 days
valid for 30 days
valid for 30 days
valid for 30 days
valid for 30 days
As a special offer for October 2023, you can enter the KEN10 voucher code at checkout to get a 10% discount on your Indicomm eSIM (new customers only). Existing Airalo customers can use the KEN5 voucher to get a 5% discount.
For more information, see our Indicomm eSIM review.
Handset & Network Compatibility
Most UK smartphones will work in India without any problems. This is because the main bands and frequencies used in India are also in use in the UK (including band 3 LTE for 4G coverage).
The following table shows the bands and frequencies that are used by the mobile networks in India:
|Network Provider||4G Bands||3G Bands||2G Bands|
|Jio||LTE bands 3, 5, 40||–||–|
|Airtel||LTE bands 1, 3, 40||–||GSM 900, 1800|
|Vi||LTE bands 3, 40, 41||WCDMA 2100||GSM 900, 1800|
You can check your handset manufacturer’s spec sheet to see a list of bands supported by your phone.
If you’re using a different SIM card for the duration of your trip abroad, you’ll need to make sure your handset is unlocked.