India will provide free SIM cards to all tourists. Here’s why it’s a bigger deal than you think

Obtaining a SIM card in India can sometimes be a long and arduous process. Pic: Meena Kadri/flickr

INDIA’s Home Ministry has given the go-ahead to give out free SIM cards to all tourists upon arrival in India. The cards will be provided to those with eTVs – Electronic Travel Authorisation or electronic visas.

Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma said, “We had a number of meetings with the Home Ministry with regards to providing SIM cards to foreign tourists when they land in India. The Ministry has finally agreed to our proposal. Now, it will take some time to start the facility.”

The SIM cards will be loaded with an undisclosed amount of free credit, and will come in a tourist kit comprising of maps, tourist information, guidelines, dos and dont’s, and emergency contacts.

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According to Mashable, state-owned telecom operator BSNL is likely to provide the service to foreigners, and that discussions have reached the “last level”.

The initiative could be rolled out as early as September 27, also the United Nation’s World Tourism Day.

The proposal was first put out early this year to provide tourists with a “hassle-free holiday” in India.

“It will make things hassle free for international tourists as it’s not easy to procure a SIM for foreigners in the country. It can also be helpful from the security point of view,” said a government official.

Currently, obtaining a local SIM in India as a foreigner is a battle of sorts. For years, visitors have had to endure mind-boggling bureaucracy simply to get a mobile number in-country.

For no particular reason, India has made it especially difficult to get a SIM card, and this has resulted in many tourists succumbing to phone booths.

In addition, a traveler is also required to do a tele-verification with the respective operator, which itself can take up to two days. Once the proposal is executed, things could get a lot simpler and swifter.

DW compiled a TripAdvisor post from 2014 to document the complexities of getting a SIM:

“You need to be prepared to submit the following documents to the SIM vendor, along with an application form:

 Two color passport photographs, photocopy of the personal details page of your passport, photocopy of your Indian visa, photocopy of the proof of your home address in your country of residence (passport, driver’s license or any other government-issued document), and proof of where you will be staying in India.”

Once the documents are verified, the SIM can be purchased immediately, and a 10-digit mobile number will be issued. The SIM is activated within 24 hours after a confirmation call is made to your mobile phone verifying the details provided in your application.

The new move could pull in more tourists, as has India’s eTV visa-on-arrival implemented in April last year. Visas into the country are now electronically applied for and authorized, saving tourists the hassle of visiting their respective Indian embassies.

Under the e-tourist visa scheme, an applicant receives an email authorizing him or her to travel to India, and he or she can travel with a print-out of this letter.

According to The Indian Express, the UK occupied the top spot in availing the eTVs, followed by the US and France.

To go with this new-found convenience of tourist visa applications, the free SIM cards will surely go a long way to driving more tourists into India.

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