Before you head off to India, you might find yourself getting nervous about landing and getting from the airport to your first hotel. I want to ease your stress and anxiety by basically walking you through the basic Indian airport procedure and what to do when you arrive at the airport in India from abroad. It will be slightly different at each airport but very very similar. While writing this, I have Mumbai/Bombay airport in mind, with International arrivals.
I know the feeling as I was full of anxiety my first trip to India and I also generally get anxiety when I travel. Knowledge is power, though. So let this ease your fears! India has many new improved airports and has slowly been making the arrival process easier for people! It’s a great time to travel to India.
Indian Airport Procedure: You’ve Landed, Now What?
When you land, it’s likely your plane will be mostly Indian passengers. They have a knack for standing immediately and rushing to get off the plane, which is annoying. You don’t have to get into their stress and bustle; just keep your own pace.
Usually, planes go to the walkway but sometimes they land a bit far outside of the airport and you’ll have to take a quick shuttle bus to the airport.
As you get in, there will be signs leading you onward. There will be a split off for people who are going onward and are only in India for a layover. That would be a sign for “international transfers”. This is not you! Follow the signs to baggage claim/immigration.
The first place you will reach is immigration.
You’ll want to have already gotten your landing paper from the staff on the plane. Travel with a pen! There is always chaos before immigration where they run out of paper and have two pens for 50 people. Most international flights into India will give you the landing card on the flight and you can fill it out before you land.
There will be a few lines for immigration: E-visa tourists, Business class, Indian nationals, Non-Indians without E-visa (visas stamped in your passport longer than 60 days). Choose your correct line. It’s usually pretty organized and goes fairly fast.
You’ll have to have on your landing card the address of where you are staying and answer a few questions to the immigration officer. It’s quick and easy for most people.
Once they stamp your passport, keep it open as when you walk on someone will check it again before you get to baggage claim.
Get your bags.
It’s always the most annoying part, I have to say. Everyone in India crowds around the place where the bags come out which is so unproductive and staff at the airport will be pulling bags off and putting them to the side. Welcome to India! Find your bag, then line up in the “green” nothing to declare line to go through customs.
Find your bag, then line up in the “green” nothing to declare line to go through customs. They will then scan your carryon and personal item, not your checked luggage.
EVERYONE who lands in Mumbai needs to collect luggage. This is the rule for almost all flights: you must collect luggage at your first port of entry into the country and go through customs THEN you can recheck the luggage.
Either go to “exit” or to “domestic transfer”
If you are going onward within India to another city, then you need to follow the domestic signs. To the left (in Mumbai), you’ll see the signs for domestic transfers. If you want to exit just go straight out.
If you do have a domestic transfer, you will see most major airlines to your left with little booths where they immediately take your luggage and recheck it.
If you did NOT book your flight all as one trip to your final destination, you might have to pay for the luggage here. This is one good reason to book your flight as one itinerary. Domestic flights in India charge A LOT for checked luggage, by the kilo and up to around $200 for one 22 kg bag. Defintiely make sure this is sorted ahead of time, as many people book just for example London to Mumbai then book a cheaper domestic flight on an Indian website for Mumbai to Goa and don’t realize that checked luggage isn’t included. If you fly internationally, luggage allowance is really high and that will count toward the domestic flights too if it’s in the same booking only.
For domestic transfers, you’ll recheck luggage, then follow signs to go through security again. In Mumbai this means taking an escalator up, getting your passport checked, then another escalator, then you’ll be in the Mumbai departures area. Then go forward toward security (or go to get your onward ticket if you don’t have it). Security splits to International and Domestic. Follow the domestic one. Once through security, you can find your gate, have a coffee, and chill!
READ MORE: Sample India Itinerary
The next step will be about what to do once you finally exit the airport, so for those of you who fly to Mumbai and don’t go onward, then this applies to you but it’s the same as basically every airport in India.
*If you’re connecting domestic flight is on a budget airline like Spicejet, IndiGo, or GoAir, you will need to change airports to the old airport, which is the domestic (but only for these budget airlines) and they have done away with the shuttles so you will need to take a taxi between airports.
Exit: get money, SIM (maybe), and taxi (Uber?)
So once you have your bags and land to your final destination and exit you will have to get things sorted out to get to your hotel. There is WiFi at most all Indian airports but you need to have an Indian number to use it as they will SMS (text) you an OTP code to login. This is a bummer for foreigners!
If you are a nervous person, you will do best to have the hotel you are staying at send a driver who will stand there with a sign with your name on it. Then, that person can wait a few minutes while you get money and a SIM if you need it.
The other transportation options are Uber in the big cities like Mumbai and Delhi. Here’s an article on everything you need to know about Uber and which cities it runs in. Goa is not one of them.
Other than your hotel sending a driver or Uber, you can consider a government prepaid taxi (sometimes a ripoff) or something like MERU where you pay a fee to use them and they give you a reliable driver who will turn on the meter. I prefer MERU especially as you can follow on a map that they go the correct way if you have internet. If you are worried about being ripped off, keep in mind it does happen with taxis, but it’s unlikely it would be a huge chunk of change so don’t let this one thing stress you. Do not try and go outside the airport and negotiate. It’s chaotic and you’ll be way more ripped off this way! Use an official taxi.
Before leaving the airport, you’ll want to get money. You can bring rupees into the USA (bought from places like AAA or Thomas Cook), you can bring foreign currency and change it to rupees, or you can use your ATM card and draw out rupees. This article has what you need to know about handling money in India.
If you are getting a SIM card, rumor has it those on “evisas” will get one given to them. If you need to buy one, you could do this at the airport but I don’t think it’s the best option as if they do it wrong and you need to go back, airports are usually out of the way. It’s better to buy it in the area you are staying so you can easily pop in with any issues later on. Here are tips on getting a SIM card in India, which is not an easy process.
Once you have money and your transportation sorted out, then you are good to go! If you are arriving late, you might like to grab some bottled water at the airport in case the hotel/hostel you go to does not have any bottled water on hand late at night (the restaurant could be closed). Other than that, just head to your hotel and you’re ready to take a nap!
A little tip for those of you who aren’t going to have WiFi: You can download an offline maps app so you can track the location of the airport to your hotel. You could also take screenshots of the mapped out instructions in case that doesn’t work well, as a backup. Do have the phone number of the hotel on hand in case the driver is lost and needs to call. Do not just hop out of the taxi if the driver says you are “here” but you do not see the hotel. Wait until you know for sure.
- Want more tips for traveling India or better yet to have me plan your trip? Buy my India Guide ebook and even if you ONLY read that, you’ll be 1000% prepared for your trip. It’s 6 years of India travel experience all wrapped up in an organized easy to read manner.