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Using a credit card in India
Using a credit card in India, especially in major cities like New Delhi and Mumbai, is a fairly hassle-free experience — but what about in smaller cities and rural towns?
Large establishments, hotels, restaurants, shops and most online retailers allow you pay by credit card in India. However, many smaller vendors accept only cash, so it’s ideal that you keep cash on you at all times. In addition, small towns and rural villages often don’t have ATMs or credit card machines, which means you can’t use debit or credit cards.
Before you depart for India, take some time to understand when and where you can use your credit card and how much it might cost you. Explore your options below.
When you use your credit card overseas, you may face the following types of credit card fees:
- Foreign transaction fees. Credit cards that come with foreign transaction fees tend to charge between 1% to 3% of the transaction amount. Before you use your card outside of Canada, find out how much your provider will charge you. There are a couple of credit cards available in Canada that charge no foreign transaction fees.
- Currency conversion fees. The Indian Finance Act allows merchants to levy a service tax on the purchase and sale of foreign currencies, which includes transactions. Banks can fix currency conversion charges depending on their internal cost structures. As a result, if a merchant offers to convert your bill into Canadian dollars, politely refuse and make your payment in rupees instead.
Avoid using your credit card to withdraw cash unless it’s an emergency. While you may be tempted to use your credit card to withdraw cash from an ATM, remember that you’ll typically pay a cash advance fee as well as an interest rate on the borrowed amount. Unlike a purchase interest rate, interest on a cash advance begins accruing from the day of the transaction – and will accrue until you pay back the balance in full.
What is a cash advance fee?
A cash advance fee is charged when you withdraw cash using your credit card. It’s usually the greater of a flat fee or a percentage of the transaction. For example, you may be charged either $10 or 5% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
If you exercise caution, you can use your credit card in India without worry. Keep your credit card safe with these tips:
- Safeguard your PIN. Always cover the keypad when you enter your PIN. This keeps it safe from prying eyes and hidden cameras.
- Use ATMs with care. When using ATMs to withdraw cash, look for an ATM in a crowded place – preferably attached to a bank. Avoid using ATMs in isolated locations.
- Don’t use an ATM that doesn’t look right. If you notice the keypad is hard to press or any obstruction when inserting your card, it’s best to cancel your transaction. The machine could have a credit card skimmer installed that can steal your card’s information.
- Keep your credit card physically safe. Pickpocketing is not uncommon in India. Keep your belongings close to you at all times, especially when you’re in crowded places and on public transportation. Don’t let your credit card out of your sight when paying bills to avoid your credit card being skimmed – even at restaurants and bars. Consider using a money belt or a neck pouch to keep your cards and important documents with you at all times.
Cash is king in India. Keep cash with you at all times, especially when you’re moving out of big cities. One important thing to note is that most ATMs in India come with a maximum daily withdrawal limit of 15,000 rupees. In addition, keep the following tips in mind:
- Most establishments in smaller towns and even some popular tourist destinations don’t usually accept credit or debit cards.
- Many restaurants (or dhabas) found along the Indian highways only accept cash.
- If you’re travelling by train, you’ll need cash to pay for food and other supplies when on board.
- Rural India remains largely free of ATMs and credit card machines, which means you’ll need cash.
In November 2016, India’s prime minister announced the demonetization of all 500 and 1,000 rupee notes. This essentially rendered some 86% of the paper currency in India useless unless exchanged through banks within a given time frame.
One notable impact of this was a considerable increase in credit card machines at retailers. As a result, you can expect most retailers in big cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Bangalore to have credit card machines.
- Some merchants discourage credit and debit card payments because they have to pay a transaction fee to their banks for the convenience. Others tend to charge their customers 1% or 2% extra to cover the fee. However, this practice is considered illegal by the Reserve Bank of India.
- Go with Visa or Mastercard. These are the most commonly accepted cards in India. While you’ll find merchants that accept American Express, they’re few and far between.
- Get a card with no foreign transaction fees. Depending on the card you currently use, you might have to pay around 3% of each transaction in fees. Instead, consider getting a card that comes with no foreign transaction fees for overseas use.
- Notify your bank. Credit card providers are watching for fraudulent transactions. If your bank sees an international transaction on your card, it could consider it suspicious and place a hold on your account. Inform your bank before you travel to India to prevent blocked charges or your card being locked.
- Keep emergency numbers at hand. You never know when you’ll need customer service, so keep relevant credit card numbers handy. These phone numbers can help when you need a card replacement or you have a credit card emergency.
- Know where to get money from. There’s a good chance you’ll end up needing cash rather early into your visit to India. Plan where you’ll get cash from ahead of time and learn whether you can use specific ATMs free of charge.
Before packing your bags for India, ask yourself:
- Which credit cards will I use? Take two or more chip-enabled credit cards with you. Try to have at least one credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Visa and Mastercard are the most commonly accepted credit cards in India.
- Have I informed my bank of my trip? Let your credit card provider know of your travel plans to India. This can help you avoid dealing with blocked credit cards or failed transactions.
- How do I deal with any card problems? Keep important credit card numbers on you at all times. If you lose your card or have it stolen, you can immediately call your card provider to get a replacement card and cancel your old one.
- How much will I pay in fees? Learn about any potential fees you may face in advance – or you could be in for a shock when you receive your next credit card statement.
- How will I get cash? Find out where you can safely retrieve cash from in India. Most debit cards will charge you a fee when you withdraw cash overseas from an ATM, however there are some banks who have international alliances that allow you to withdraw cash free of charge from specific ATMs overseas.
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