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India - Banking

Department stores, hotels and upmarket restaurants in India all accept credit cards and debit cards.

You will be asked to enter your PIN number when making a credit or debit card transaction. However, Visa contactless payments are now available at some leading retailers including Starbucks, McDonald’s, Big Bazaar and some outlets of Costa Coffee. The maximum amount you can spend in one contactless transaction is ₹2000.

Some vendors will allow you to pay with your credit or debit card using a magnetic swipe machine. Take care not to let your card out of your sight during this process, as this will guard against fraud.

If your credit or debit card was issued abroad, you will incur exchange rates that may not be optimal, and you will get charged a foreign exchange fee for each transaction. If you are going to live in India for more than six months, there is a clear financial benefit to obtaining a card issued there, providing you meet the financial criteria for applicants.

It is important to remember that most of Indian society operates as a cash-based economy. Many families have too little income or live too far from branches to operate a bank or post office account. These families rely entirely on cash.

This means that if you need to pay a rickshaw fare, buy something from a small store or pay for a cheap meal, you’ll definitely need cash. Haggling may be required too! As American expat Elizabeth Huesing told ExpatFocus from her home in Chennai:

“There’s the morning haggle with a rickshaw driver over ten rupees too much or too little in fare. I usually cave in and pay the extra fare as it’s not much for me but a few more rupees for the driver’s family.”

Bringing Cash To India

The Indian government maintains strict control over the amounts of cash and jewellery that can be brought into or removed from the country.

Visitors and tourists may not bring any Indian cash with them. Instead, you must obtain Indian rupees from an ATM or foreign exchange bureau after you have arrived in the country. There are also limits on how much foreign currency can be brought into India.

Residents are allowed to bring in rupees, but the amount is controlled. Check with the Reserve Bank of India to see what rules apply to you at the time of travelling.

What Currency Is Valid In India?

The official currency of India is the Indian rupee. The currency code for the rupee is INR, with the symbol ₹. Each rupee is worth 100 paise.

The rupee trades in the USD/ING currency market under a regime known as a managed float. This means exchange rates continually fluctuate, but central banks buy and sell currencies in an attempt to keep their national currency’s exchange rate within certain parameters. If you are staying in India for the short to medium term, or you have investments abroad, the strength and expectations of the rupee will be important for your financial decisions.

In November 2016, the BJP government announced the withdrawal of ₹500 and ₹1000 banknotes to crack down on forged currency. Between them, these notes represented 86 percent of the cash in circulation. The time scale for withdrawal caused long queues at banks and worries for expats about how to exchange the notes, particularly from outside the country. ExpatFocus examined these events in the article “What The New Money Laws In India Mean For Expats”.

New notes have been issued which meet better security standards. The current legal tender now consists of:

● Banknotes: ₹1, ₹5, ₹10, ₹20, ₹50, ₹100, ₹200, ₹500 and ₹2000

● Small Coins: 10 paise, 20 paise, 25 paise, 50 paise

● Rupee Coins: ₹1, ₹2, ₹5, ₹10.

A number of commemorative issues of coins have also been released, several as ₹10 coins. They were released in limited numbers and, whilst being legal tender, they are not designed for regular circulation.


If you live in an Indian city, you will be able to locate an ATM easily. In rural areas, they are harder to find.

You will need to input your four-digit PIN to proceed with an ATM transaction.

Normally ATMs are reliable sources of cash. However, following the withdrawal of the old ₹500 and ₹1000 banknotes and the issue of the new ₹500 and ₹2000 notes, long bank queues developed and people experienced problems withdrawing cash from ATMs. During the first 13 days of April 2018, currency in circulation suddenly increased by $7bn, immediately followed by a shortage of cash able to be issued at ATM and bank branch counters in several Indian states. The reasons behind the April events are unclear, although money hoarding for tax avoidance purposes was suggested as part of the problem. Roughly one percent of the population pays personal taxes.

It is not anticipated that this problem will last long or become more widespread. However, it is a reminder that Indian systems and society can sometimes throw up unexpected problems.

Bank Accounts In India

India has a thriving IT sector offering outsourced technology services to companies around the Western world. In India, banks have long understood the benefits of offering online banking for their customers, and such technology is available.

However, while some bank customers eagerly sign up to these new ways of banking, uptake has wavered. In the aftermath of the banknote crisis of late 2016, mobile banking use climbed significantly, but then dropped back down in mid-2017. As an expat, this should not cause you a problem as your bank will offer you the chance to use the online services you are used to.

There are a number of banks you can choose from when opening a new account. All of the banks listed below employ English speakers.

State Bank of India

Bank of Baroda


Punjab National Bank

Bank of India

HDFC Bank Ltd

Yes Bank

Barclays (India)

DBS Bank (India)

HSBC (India)

Standard Chartered Bank (India)

Citibank (India)

You will need to prove your identity and legal right to stay in India. The bank will also want to check your source and level of income as part of the application procedure.

Theft And Fraud

India has great deprivation and poverty in a significant portion of its population. While this causes obvious and distressing hardship, it also provides an environment where individuals may learn to accumulate what they can by any means, regardless of whether they actually live in those conditions or simply wish to avoid doing so.

Being the victim of theft, fraud and scams can happen wherever you live. You should always be alert to the risks whatever your location. However, the unfamiliar noise, weather and chaos of India may make it harder to spot potential trouble, especially in an environment where you want to be pleasant and friendly.

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has been informed about train travellers being drugged and then robbed as they sleep. They advise you not to accept any friendly offers of food or drink from strangers.

The FCO also warns of a confidence trick prevalent in Goa, Agra and Jaipur involving jewellery. You will be asked to take jewellery abroad and promised a significant cash payment when you deliver the items. In return, all you need do is pay a cash deposit - which is substantial. You later discover that the jewellery is worthless and there is no delivery to be made. But your cash deposit has gone.

Finally, have a look at the ExpatFocus article “Five Things To Avoid Doing When You Move To India”. This includes advice about your conduct around beggars. Many of them are part of a begging gang, including the children, and as heart-breaking as it can be to walk past someone in obvious need, your money is better spent supporting a local charity which works with destitute people.

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