Indian Rupees ₹ , Rs or INR are the currency in India.
Unfortunately actual Indian Rupees cannot be taken out of India so you are unable to convert pounds to Indian rupee notes prior to travelling. On arrival at the airport purchase approx £50 of rupees and exchange more later when you find a better rate . Larger hotels will exchange for you. Visit a bank or currency changer for the best rates.
Larger outlets accept debit and credit cards. However it is likely you will need a fair amount of cash for stalls, smaller shops, food, cabs, buses, markets and tips. Try and keep hold of as much small change as possible as you will often need it. For example – a bus fare a few years ago was 30 rupees – it’s a lot easier to have the correct fare. Buses don’t like to hang about. Often it’s more of a slow down than a stop. You might be ‘encouraged’ to make your way down the bus fairly quickly and be given your change later.
At the time of writing there are approximately 83 rupees to a £. As a very rough guide to converting indian prices and notes to pounds while I am in India – as I am useless with foreign currency – I divide Indian rupees by 100 so a Rs 500 note is approximately £5 and a Rs 2000 is approximately £20. (Actually £6 and £24 currently ). For small amounts of money this is a good enough indication – for larger figures I would use a conversion site on my phone.
Debit and credit card providers are best prewarned that you are travelling.
Indian Rupees – denominations
Coins Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5 and 10 rupees.
Banknotes Banknote denominations Rs 10, Rs 20, Rs 50, Rs 100 ( out soon ), Rs 500 and Rs 2000.
Coins now replace Rs 2 and Rs 5 notes.
New notes for 500 and 2000 Indian Rupees
New Indian Rupees with enhanced security features are being introduced. Rs 500 and Rs 1000 banknotes were withdrawn by the Indian government on 8 November 2016. Rs 500 were reissued with a new design and a new Rs 2000 note was introduced. Newly designed Rs 1000, Rs 100 and Rs 50 notes are due 2017. Old notes will not be valid currency so don’t get stuck with any – unless you collect old bank notes !
New 1 Rupee note 2017
After 22 years the 1 Rupee note is to be launched sometime later in 2017
Prepaid travel cards for Indian Rupees
Buy Indian Rupees loaded onto a prepaid travel card via ICICI bank in the UK via www.icicibank.co.uk . Cards are valid for 180 days from first use when it is activated in India. Money remaining on the card after 180 days is transferred back to your bank account.
Keeping your Indian Rupees and bank cards safe
Lastly think about keeping your money and cards safe. And your passport. A neck pouch is ideal for travelling. I use an RFID blocking passport holder – everything essential is round my neck close to me and accessible – with the added bonus of RFID blocking for extra security. Radio frequency shielding material blocks any attempts to steal your passport data or debit/credit card details.
Maybe it’s India. Maybe you’ve booked it. Maybe it’s still a dream.
Let’s face it the more money you have available the easier your trip will be and the more fun you’ll have. So why not start saving now.
Buy a hot drink flask.
Make fresh coffee at home and stop buying on the way to work. This will not only benefit your pocket but the environment also. Plastic coated paper coffee cups are not good for the environment – they do not recycle – and millions are used and disposed of every day . Often in the recycling bin by mistake !
Do the same for cold drinks
Buy a metal cold drink bottle and take your own drink to work. Again a lot cheaper than buying at lunchtime. While it’s true plastic bottles can be recycled , often they are not and find there way into the ocean . And bottled drinks are far more expensive than bringing your own from home .
And carrying on in the same vein…
….make a packed lunch instead of buying.
To continuously motivate yourself to save put photos of your intended destination up in areas you go to frequently – in a diary , wallet , near kettle , bathroom mirror, laptop and phone.
If you have online banking open a savings account and transfer small amounts regularly . If you haven’t already booked – £1 a day or even £10 per week for a year covers return flights to India depending when and where you are travelling.
Have a declutter and sell
eBay is good for selling second hand goods. You’d be surprised what you’ve got lurking around that people would buy.
Don’t go to the shops !
Have groceries delivered. Or if that’s not practical then only shop once a week for food – including any packed lunches – so you will not have to nip into the shops continuously and fall into the temptation of buying anything unnecessary. And stay off of websites where you might be tempted to spend.
Ask for money as xmas/birthday presents.
And put it away straight away in your holiday fund.
And then start planning
If you haven’t already booked start researching using skyscanner, to compare prices of flights to give yourself an indication of cost, and tripadvisor to look for accommodation. I’ve used them both for India. If you’re looking for cheapest possible accommodation and you are flexible, I recommend booking in advance for three nights – it gives you time to settle in to an area and look around for somewhere cheaper once you are there. Many places will pay for a car or taxi from the airport if you book for a few days. There are a lot of smaller cheaper hotels / beach huts that are not to be found on the internet.
Start looking around at prices for luggage if you don’t have any and luggage accessories – luggage scales are fairly cheap and you will need them for travelling – and a good padlock. Remember the cheapest suitcase or backpack isn’t necessarily the best value.
Don’t buy too many clothes for your holiday in India – they are cheaper there.
Check with your phone provider and debit / card providers re using abroad.
I travelled to Kolkata in February 2017 with a friend and volunteered at Missionaries of Charity for just over a week. Volunteering was, for me, hard work but extremely rewarding and at times emotional. I often found myself very tearful. The process of arranging to volunteer is fairly simple – there is no need to contact the Missionaries of Charity before you travel to India – you literally just turn up in Kolkata and register. Language should not be a problem as many people in India speak English – most of the sisters at Mother Teresa speak English but some of the Indian helpers – mashis – do not. You do not have to be catholic to volunteer.
Registering for Mother Teresa
Registration for is 3.pm sharp at Mother Teresa / Shishu Bhavan 78 A.J.C. Bose Road, Kolkata, 700016 – ground floor, on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays – just turn up with your passport and I recommend a notebook and a bottle of water . It’s quite noisy as next to a main road. There is a group meeting where general advice is given including information about the different homes you can work in – after which is a one to one meeting with a sister to decide where you will volunteer. There are 6 different homes – for men / women / children / children with special needs/ & 2 for the dying & destitute. It is preferred that you remain where you first chose to work although some long term volunteers told me they had moved around. Two are at 78 AJC Bose Road – the rest are a very cheap bus ride away (bring change). I chose to work with children with special needs at Shishu Bhavan children’s home which was located at 78 AJC Bose Road.
What hours do you work ?
You will also decide whether to work AM shift 7.30-12 or PM shift 2-5.30 – you can do both but it is advised to just work one shift at first as it is very tiring, then review after a few days. Most days I worked only AM and it was indeed tiring. Even though it was technically winter when I was there it was still very hot – there were fans but no air-conditioning. There is a 15 minute break for black sweet tea and biscuits – where you quickly bond with the other lovely volunteers from around the world. You can work for just a day or for as long as you like.
Do you have to pay to volunteer at Mother Teresa ?
You do not have to pay to volunteer here but you do have to arrange and pay for your own accommodation, living expenses and of course flights. Most volunteers tended to stay around the Sudder street / Park Road areas where there are many cheap hotels and hostels aimed at tourists as well as places to eat. Bring Imodium ! A good place to look is Tripadvisor.
Also remember you will need a visa before travelling to India – for more info read my blog on visa’s. I strongly advise you visit your doctors for malaria advice and immunisations for India.
All volunteers meet daily at 54A AJC Bose Road either at 6 am if you want to attend mass first ( I didn’t – though on the first day we did hear the sisters singing from outside and it was adorable ) or later at 7 am where you will meet up with the rest of the volunteers for chai, bananas and bread ( from the nearby Russian Bakery). This is for the morning shift – sorry I am not sure what time the afternoon shift meet here – I’m guessing about 1 pm. I did work one very long day it was a picnic in a park outside Kolkata – a bus trip. Note the pm shift finishes at 5.30 and it is dark by then – you need to take this into consideration if you are a lone female needing to travel back to your accomodation. The picnic trip returned to AJC Bose Road about 7 in the evening and it was a little scary flagging down a taxi on my own at that time. There is no volunteering on Thursdays.
What should I pack for kolkata & Mother Teresa
You are asked to follow a dress code at Mother Teresas. Basically dress repectfully. Women – skirts/dresses which must be must be down to the knee – or trousers – nothing low cut – shirts must have sleeves but they can be short. I would recommend nothing too tight and also even if wearing dresses to the knee I would advise you wear leggings underneath as you will be sitting on the floor, bending and lifting a lot. I purchased some long kurta tops from New Market in Kolkata , brought my own leggings and also bought some there. Kurta tops were between 250-600 rupees and leggings 300 rupees.
I think similar with men though I didn’t pay particular attention to this , being female ( we were all called ‘aunty’ by the sisters and mashis which was amusing) and as there were no male staff or volunteers in our home I can’t look back and recall. But i vaguely remember the information given on the first day was T-shirt with sleeves or shirts – short sleeved were acceptable and long trousers or shorts to the knee . My clothes were very stained by the end of each shift with yellow food marks and general stains from feeding and carrying children. The nappies are not like here in the UK they are just cloth strips tied on – nothing waterproof – so I was usually a little damp as well – but you get used to it. You do have to wear an apron – this does give a little protection but not much really – it isn’t waterproof. I have read that if you work both AM and PM shifts that you need to change into fresh clothing for the PM shift. You leave your shoes outside the room so slip on shoes are easier. Most adults were barefoot inside the rooms but wearing socks is permitted. I would advise taking something to tie your hair up if long and not to wear dangly earrings or jewellery that can be pulled off. I also had two pairs of glasses accidently broken when pulled off by children – luckily I had packed spare cheap ones. For great general advice on what to pack when travelling to India, for applying for visa’s and general advice including money and immunisations/health refer to my other blogs.
Bring hand sanitiser
Many of the children and adults being cared for have compromised immune systems. If you are ill you are requested to stay away. It is advised to wash your hands frequently and to use a hand sanitizer. You may want to do this to protect yourself as well. The restroom facilities are a little more basic than at home. I purchased good quality Purell hand sanitizers from Amazon – pack of 6 for £6.95 before i traveled – they are used in the NHS – they come with a neck lanyard – great as always to hand. The sanitizer slips conveniently behind the apron out of the way. I got through a couple of bottles in just over a week . The Purell is stronger than the sanitizers you buy in the supermarket.
There was no air-conditioning in the room I worked at – there were lots of open windows and fans but it was hot and dusty ( and noisy being on the high road) – so it was imperative to take and drink lots of water. There was a communal locker type cupboard inside the room where volunteers can leave valuables which was quite safe but i would recommend you bring a fairly large bag that you can fit everything in including your water as it is easy to get them mixed up with everyone else’s. You are asked to keep your mobile phones inside the locker and also not to take photographs – you can obtain permission to take some on your last day – but they are strictly as a personal momento and not for publishing on social media or anywhere else on the internet. Hence no photo’s of inside the home here on this blogpost. The home – which was basically one room – was about 60% cots and then some space with chairs tables and padded mats. It was sadly quite bare – I wish someone could paint some nice bright stimulating childrens pictures on the walls and ceilings – there’s an idea for someone !
Depending on where you are working you could be helping with feeding, helping with drinking, potty runs, nappy changing, laundry, physical therapy, dishwashing, helping men shave, cutting nails, helping in kitchen, brushing teeth, dressing, changing beds, cleaning, playing with children, talking with adults or just giving care and love and being there. We are reminded that only 10% of communication is verbal. On saturdays the whole of the room I worked in is scrubbed down – toys / windows / chairs etc with disinfectant – the volunteers were pretty much left to do this and was actually quite fun.
You are advised that some residents may touch your heart -( and they do ! ) – but you are asked not to give gifts to individuals as it can cause jealousy as most have nothing- but you can give gifts to the sister in charge instead who will be in charge of them.
There are a lot of beggars around AJC Bose street – outside the Mother Teresa centres and in Kolkata generally – and the advice given by everyone is not to give money as most are professional beggars and probably do not get to keep the money. I found it extremely difficult as a mother to ignore women with babies in their arms desperately begging for food for their babies. I did buy and give food to mothers who were not professional beggars – it doesn’t really take to long to tell the difference though I learnt the hard way by making the mistake of paying, in hindsight, far too much for a bag of rice for a woman with a baby begging . She told me to give the money to a man stood near the shop ( more of a stall ) on the road – I didn’t have change and apparently he didn’t have change but he took my 500 rupee note (approx £5) and she told me to ‘follow him, follow him’ as he was going to get some change for me – he walked off beckoning me to follow and I started following but he was way too fast for me and he very quickly disappeared into thin air ! I didn’t bother going back to see if the woman was still there. It still kind of annoys me as there were many other women on the street with children I would have preferred to have given to but you live and learn.
I had researched quite a lot before travelling to Kolkata to volunteer – often coming across articles criticizing the facilities and care at the Mother Teresa homes. I think the criticism is more directed at the destitute and the dying homes – all I can say is that where I volunteered , despite being a little sparse, the children seemed happy , loved and taken care of and the sisters and mashis were all friendly and kind. Mother Teresa herself is in a tomb at 54 A.J.C. Bose Road and you can go in and visit if you so wish. Kolkata itself has wealthy spots but there is an enormous amount of poverty – a shocking amount of homelessness including whole families living on pavements, under flyovers and in unfinished buildings. Many buildings are very run down. Surprisingly after a period of time it almost becomes normal. Despite this you can’t help falling in love with Kolkata and I would return in a heartbeat. I am a little biased though because I am in love with India.
When I am travelling I find it very useful to keep all my documentation in an clear plastic A4 Documentation wallet that stays in my hand luggage. This keeps them all together for easy reach – you may need to show some of them at the airport – and most importantly keeps them dry ! Before I leave home I check in on-line and print off any boarding passes – it’s a good idea to try and do the same for the return journey either at an internet cafe or at the hotel if possible. I used the Emirites App for my last flight to check-in and receive the boarding passes but I printed them off as well which saves time at the airport and is a back up should your phone die for any reason or the worst happens and it is lost or stolen. Also printing out emails of your flight booking will avoid problems – you need to show this information to enter the airport / departures in India. Just do anything that makes life easier for yourself. I hadn’t printed mine off and had problems at Kolkata airport – I had intended to just show the email on my phone but I was unable to log into my e-mails for the duration of my last visit to India so was unable to locate and print off the flight booking email – it was pure luck i had whatsapped a snapshot copy of the flight tickets email to my son before i left that i was able to retrieve. you’re not allowed to enter the airport unless you can prove you are about to fly !
I also took a print out of my insurance document ( again the info was in my emails that i was unable to log into ) . Also it’s a good idea to take a photo and print it off of your passport and visa. With Emirites at Heathrow you will need a printed out copy of your boarding pass and also a print out of your Indian e-visa (if you opted for the electronic version ) – I hadnt realised this was neccessary and had to forward the email from the Indian visa dept to the lady at the Emirites desk so that she could print it out for me. Bit of a pain.
If you are taking medication – either on a direct flight or via a stop over – it’s best to take a letter from your doctor and/or a copy of the prescription ( I take tranquilizers for flying and need an epipen for bee-stings & i photograph the prescriptions before i hand it over to the chemist and print copies off ).
Print off info for your hotel/accommodation including address photo & phone number if you know where you are staying – when hailing taxis sometimes the drivers don’t understand English very well and it’s useful to show them – was useful for me a few times in Kolkata.
And as a back up it’s a good idea to let someone at home to have copies of all this info as well.
Leaving it too late to apply for a normal visa I applied instead online for the new e-tourist visa. I was disappointed that there is only an option for a one month visa for online applications whereas if you apply via www.vfsglobal.com you can get a 6 or 12 month multiple entry visa.
Prepare before applying !
It took over 3 & 1/2 hours to complete the appliction. Uploading photo and copy of passport in pdf format – which had to be under 300kb – was time consuming. I’m in my 50’s so thought perhaps it was just me not being very tech savvy but have asked around and it’s not just me . In hindsight I could have completed in stages – and had the photo and passport pdf ready before i started filling in the form. I would recommend you do this.
How easy is it to fill in the form ?
The form is relatively easy and straightforward to fill in – note where it asks for ‘referee in India’ I have filled in the name of hotel where i was first travelling to. I have filled in Indian visa application forms before and this is acceptable. If you are staying with someone you know that is obviously better. I have previously asked and if you are travelling around and do not know where you are staying it is also acceptable to just write in here that you are doing that and just write in roughly where you are heading first. However – when travelling to India it is actually quite a good idea to book ahead online somewhere to stay for the first couple of days at least while you get your bearings and then find alternative accommodation when you are there – this also makes filling in the ‘referee in India’ easier.
Laptop or phone best ?
I filled in the form using my laptop – on my phone the text is tiny and large form which needed to be moved around the screen to view) and used apps on my iphone to take passport photo in required square format and also take photo of passport and convert to required pdf size. See snapshots of the apps below. I then sent both to myself via facebook messenger from my phone and opened messenger on laptop and downloaded the photos. There is very probably an easier way but i was mid form and had to work this out as i went along.
The square passport photo was reasonably easy and straight forward – just follow the instructions on the app which will give you the option of taking a photo with dimensions specific for India.
The PDF shot of the passport not so easy. It took several attempts – each time sending the photo to myself via facebook messenger and saving in documents where i could then see how big the document was – the first was 876 kb , far too big and was rejected by the e-visa website . Several attempts later I managed to get it to the correct size by moving the camera further and further away from the passport ( the app will flash up a message to move the camera closer – ignore it , you will need to move it further away) and then crop the photo of any background stuff. Eventually you will get a pdf copy of the photo under 300kb which will be accepted by the e-visa website.
How much does e-tourist visa cost ?
The online visa cost me £49.37 and a 99p non-sterling transaction fee ( cost variable I guess due to currency conversion ). The good news is it arrives very quickly via email taking about a day and a half – a friend received hers quicker than that.
Remember to print copies off
I forgot to print the email and attachment off ( thinking I could just show the email )and had do do this at Heathrow as Emirites will not let you check-in without a hard copy – had to email it to them at the desk and they printed it off for me.
Passport storage tip
Lastly I would advise purchasing an neck pouch passport holder as you will be constantly showing your passport at the airports and it’s a lot easier to have it easily to hand rather than in a bag. I chose a RFID blocking passport holder for extra security. The Radio Frequency Shielding Material will block any attempts to steal your passport data and you can also store debit/credit cards in there.
Things I wish I had know before applying for the new India e-visa
Joining the snaking hundreds deep queue for immigration at Kolkata airport we noticed a small sign with an arrow pointing towards the e-tourist visa counters and smugly joined the much smaller 30 deep queue instead. The smugness wore off when we were still waiting half an hour after the previous queue had cleared.
So what was the problem ?
If you arrive on an e- tourist visa you will have your biometrics taken at the airport. Since 2016 everyone travelling to India requiring a visa will need to provide biometrics but if you apply for your visa the old fashioned way via VFS Global you provide your biometrics before you leave – still long winded – but in my opinion better than having them taken at the airport.
Why did it take so long ?
For the majority of the time there was only one counter open and the process of collecting our biometrics was painfully slow. The digital fingerprint machine needed several attempts to collect thumb and 4 fingers from each hand – each time the machine glass needing to be wiped and having to continuously have your fingers wiped of any grease to work – and then the staring into the camera for ages for the photograph.
Will this happen every time ?
I was assured that this process only happens once and next time I would not need to have biometrics taken again but if you still have to join the e-tourist visa queue and everyone in front of you needs their biometrics recorded you will still be there for a very long time. Some research on the internet has thrown up horror stories of the process taking 6 hours so in comparison we were fortunate – if you can call it that. I did try to ascertain which queue I would have to join on a subsequent visit but didn’t manage to get an answer – will update this post if I find out.
Note also ..
Luckily our hotel driver was still waiting for us. If you were arriving later in the day be aware it is apparently difficult to get a taxi from Kolkata airport after 10 pm . And on a more serious note – if you were planning to get a connective flight – you might well miss it.
And lastly …
Please don’t let the visa problems put you off travelling to India – as the advertisement claims .. it is indeed Incredible !
One of the mistakes I made the first time I travelled to India was to take the advice found on many blogs regarding taking toilet roll to India – What was I thinking ? Yes there were occasions where I needed some tissue for the bathroom but had to fish into my suitcase / rucksack for the messy unravelling loo roll. And how discreet was that ? Not. I learned from this and now make sure I pack lots of small packs of 12 tissues. They fit easily into pockets, rucksacks, daypacks bumbags and inside shoes and corners of your suitcase/backpack – and if you have them tucked away everywhere you are not going to have to be searching around for them. I did not encounter any squat toilets during my travels – all were flush toilets – but I did encounter the spray hose ( spray wash yourself clean) and also the jug ( to be filled with water and poured over yourself to clean).
Often there was also an option of loo roll but not always. I did use both the spray and jug methods – hygienic I guess but I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to dry myself afterwards – so still needed tissue. It is easier if wearing a skirt than trousers – I will have to research the logistics of using these methods a little better for my next visit! By the way – you are supposed to use your left hand for all toilet business – and your right for eating. Mostly there were hand washing facilities but again not always. I would recommend taking hand sanitising gel – I usually have a small one of these wherever I go even in UK. Although cheaper per ml to buy larger size bottles – again I would take several smaller bottles – I buy mine from Aldi – a small 50ml bottle is less than 50p. These again can be tucked into pockets, handbags, bumbags etc and if you have several you will always find one. For the journey home they are so cheap you can leave all but one bottle in India so that you have plenty of room to bring back all your favourite Indian souveniers. I will go into detail in a later blog about items to take and leave in India.
If you have a compromised immune system or you are working in an environment where a more professional hand sanitizer is required – or you just want to be extra careful , I would recommend Purell which comes with a handy lanyard to hang around your neck. I recently voluteered at Mother Terasa’s in Kolkata and used this system.
To travel to India you are likely to need an Indian Visa – you certainly need one if travelling from the UK. The good news is that as of August 2015 British citizens holidaying in India can now apply online for an e-tourist visa instead of applying by post or visiting an application centre via vfs global . Actually I rather enjoyed my visit to the application centre in London – not least because there is a great Indian supermarket on its doorstep. The older visa is attached in your passport where as the new e-tourist visa is e-mailed to you to be printed off and carried with you. There are 2 tourist visas via vfs-global – a one year visa £109.44 or a 5 year visa £309.44. You can leave and enter as many times as you like but each stay must not exceed 180 days. To help you decide which visa process to chose from as a word of caution read my blog post INDIAN E-TOURIST VISA BIOMETRICS PROBLEMS .
The online e-tourist visa shows up on my bank statement as £49.37 and an additional 99p non-sterling transaction fee – this is for a single entry to India and is valid for only 30 days from the date of arrival in India . The application process for the e-tourist visa was not straightforward – read some tips here in my blog post FILLING IN THE INDIAN E-TOURIST E-VISA VISA .
For either visa you will need to have at least 6 months left on your passport at the time of your arrival in India. There are many websites offering to secure an Indian Visa – they charge a fee on top of the visa fee – it is not necessary to use these services – the two websites on this page are the official websites – there are telephone numbers on both if you need more information. This information refers to tourist visas – if you are travelling on business you must apply for a different visa – details on vfsglobal website.