If you’re travelling to India on holiday, you can’t get cash ahead of time.
Indian law doesn’t allow foreigners to bring Indian money into the country, unless they’re residents who have been away on a short trip. So you’ll need to wait until you’ve landed to buy Rupees.
ATMs aren’t as plentiful as they're in some other countries. However, you’ll definitely find a few you can use to get a good exchange rate, at least in major airports and popular areas.
Read this guide to see where you can find ATMs in India, and what you need to know about using them.
Unfortunately, ATMs in India aren’t evenly distributed. They’re plentiful in major airports, large cities and tourist hotspots. But once you venture to lesser known places and rural areas, finding an ATM can be difficult. You’ll need to think ahead, or risk being left without access to cash.
India’s four largest banks all have convenient online ATM locators. Check ATM locations in your area beforehand and plan accordingly.
Most Indian ATMs accept Cirrus, Maestro and Plus - the most common card networks worldwide. Your bank can confirm the network your card belongs to. Once you’re in India, simply look for your card’s logo on an ATM. Alternatively, use Visa’s online locator (for Plus cards) or MasterCard’s online locator (for Cirrus and Maestro cards).
Don’t forget to inform your bank of the dates you’ll be abroad. If you don’t, your transactions may be considered suspicious and your card will be blocked.
Indian ATMs have some unique characteristics:
- Most ATMs give your card back at the beginning of the transaction. Just take your card, then key in your PIN and carry on as normal.
- It’s not uncommon for ATMs to have low per transaction withdrawal limits. You’ll normally only be able to withdraw about INR 10,000 at once. If you need more cash, you’ll have to find another ATM to make a second withdrawal.
- Most ATMs only give out INR 10 and INR 500 notes.
- Chip-and-pin technology is still being rolled out. Make sure your card has a magnetic stripe on the back, as you may have a hard time finding an ATM that accepts a chip-and-pin only card.
- Indian ATMs only accept PIN numbers that are four digits long.
While not all Indian banks charge ATM fees, most of them do.
Fees vary, but can be anywhere between INR 150 and INR 300 per transaction. ATMs that charge fees should warn you and give you the option of ending the transaction before you’re charged.
Your home bank will also charge fees - usually an ATM withdrawal fee and a foreign transaction fee. Check with them how much you can expect these fees to amount to.
Never choose to perform transactions in your home currency. If you do, the ATM will use Dynamic Currency Conversion to make up an exchange rate. This is often a bad deal. Withdrawals in Rupees, on the other hand, are worked out at the mid-market rate - the best exchange rate possible.
If you think using an ATM isn’t worthwhile because of the fees, think again. Fees can be avoided, or at least kept to a minimum.
You can avoid paying withdrawal fees if:
1. Your bank is a Global ATM Alliance member
Deutsche Bank, a member of the Global ATM Alliance, has a network of ATMs in India. If you’re an alliance member’s customer, you can use Deutsche Bank ATMs without paying a withdrawal fee.
2. You’re a Citibank customer
Citibank has several branches and ATMs around India. If you’re a Citibank customer in another country, you can use its Indian ATMs for free.
3. You’re an HSBC customer
HSBC operates in India and has a network of ATMs. As an HSBC customer, you can make withdrawals from its Indian ATMs free of charge, but only if you’re an Advance or Premier customer.
Some cards have low foreign transaction fees, making them cheaper to use abroad. Check your bank’s fee schedule, so you’ll know what charges to expect. If you travel a lot, consider switching to a bank with lower fees or getting a fee-free card.
Avoid using your credit card for ATM withdrawals. The transaction is considered a loan; and attracts fees and interest.
If you have an Indian bank account, or know someone who does, use TransferWise to make the transfer ahead of time and save even more. Not only does TransferWise use the real mid-market exchange rates to convert your money (which almost always beats the banks), but since your currency is received and sent via local banking systems in both your home country and in India, all those nasty international fees magically disappear. Give it a try.