Best ways to spend travel money in India: Debit and prepaid cards

Learn more about the best types of plastic to use when spending money in India.

You’ll be able to spend on your credit or debit card in many places in India and banks and ATMs are widely available, even in smaller villages. That said, plastic won’t be accepted everywhere so it’s wise to also take some cash with you. This will also come in handy for taxi fares and markets.

Low cost travel money options for India

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UK debit cards

Using a debit card is a quick and convenient way to pay for purchases in shops and restaurants. It also gives you the option of being able to withdraw cash whenever you need it. However, you’ll need to watch out for foreign usage fees.

Many debit cards will charge a foreign transaction fee of between 2.75% and 2.99% every time you make a purchase. If you withdraw cash, a further fee of around 2–2.75% will be charged on top. That means if you withdrew £100, you could be charged around £5.74 (£2.99 + £2.75).

For this reason, you should look for a debit card that won’t charge foreign usage fees.

Pros

  • Easy to pay for items in shops and restaurants
  • Can also withdraw cash from ATMs
  • Safer than carrying around a lot of cash

Cons

  • Some debit cards charge high foreign usage fees
  • Not accepted everywhere

Prepaid travel cards

Prepaid travel cards can be loaded with foreign currency before you set off on holiday, letting you lock in a set exchange rate. Unfortunately, not many prepaid cards allow you to preload Indian rupees.

Another option is to load your prepaid card with pounds and this will then be exchanged into rupees when you spend. Prepaid card providers use the interbank exchange rate or Mastercard or Visa’s exchange rate. In some cases, they might apply a fee on top.

Prepaid travel cards can be a good option for budgeting as you can only spend what’s on the card. You’ll need to top up again if you need more funds.

Pros

  • Can help with budgeting
  • Not connected to your bank account if your card is stolen
  • Some won’t charge foreign usage fees
  • Many don’t require a credit check

Cons

  • Won’t be accepted everywhere, for example, car hire firms and petrol stations
  • Fees can apply for topping up your card or being sent a replacement
  • Some ATMs may charge a fee

Credit cards

A credit card can also be a convenient way to pay in shops and restaurants. Plus, all purchases costing more than £100 and up to £30,000 will be protected under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

The downside is that you may have to pay interest if you don’t clear your balance each month and foreign usage fees can be high. You may have to pay a fee of around 2.99% for foreign transactions and if you withdraw cash, a further cash advance fee will apply. This means it’s best to look for a credit card that won’t charge these fees.

That said, it’s best not to use your credit card for cash withdrawals at all, even if it doesn’t charge a fee. That’s because interest will be charged from the date of the transaction, even if you pay off your balance in full that month.

Pros

  • Widely accepted
  • Section 75 protection
  • Safer than carrying around cash
  • Access to funds up to your credit limit

Cons

  • Foreign usage fees can apply
  • Interest may be charged if you don’t clear your balance
  • Expensive for cash withdrawals

Traveller’s cheques

Traveller’s cheques are no longer as popular as they once were, but you can still use them in India. However, you’ll need to watch out for high fees for cashing them in, so make sure you shop around and compare options.

Pros

  • Safer than carrying cash
  • Widely accepted

Cons

  • Can be costly to cash in

How many rupees do I need to bring to India?

High season premiums will add to the cost of your Indian summer, but the cost of living and travel varies depending on where you are in the country. Off-season, prices drop dramatically.

Find out some typical prices in New Delhi, India

BudgetMidrangeExpensive
bldg

Hostel or dorm

£10-£15 per night

3 Star hotel in New Delhi
£20 – £55 per night
5 star hotel in New Delhi
£70 – £200+
utensilPani puri (street food)
50p
Dinner for two at a casual restaurant
£10-£15
Fine dining
£7 – £15 per dish
cameraExplore markets
for free!
Visit the Red Fort
70p per person
Day trip to the Taj Mahal
£20 – £40

*Prices are for example purposes only.

Bottom line

There are a number of different options to explore when thinking about how to spend in India, so you’ll need to consider which option is most convenient for you. If you’d prefer to stick to a budget, you might prefer a prepaid card. But if you’re happy to go with the flow, you might prefer a debit or credit card. Whichever option you choose, try to find one that charges low or no foreign usage fees and make sure you also take some cash with you so that you’re covered for all events.

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