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Travel insurance for India

For many UK holidaymakers, India is an intriguing and diverse culture with colourful traditions and engrossing history. For many others, it’s a home from home.

Whether you’re travelling there to see the Kathakali dancers of Kerala for the first time or you’re visiting family for the tenth, having good travel insurance is important. Our guide also looks at medical care for Brits in India, plus local and cultural considerations.

Taj Mahal in distance with people in the foreground

Healthcare for Brits in India

Public healthcare in India may not be up to the standard of UK healthcare, and outside of major cities facilities may be few and far between. If you require medical treatment, contact your insurer at the earliest opportunity to assess what kind of healthcare might be available to you.

It’s vital to visit your healthcare professional at least 4-6 weeks before you travel and discuss the health risks you might encounter. Getting the required travel vaccinations is imperative, and understanding travel risks in India may be more important if you have existing medical conditions.

Risks to travellers are often from food and drink. It’s normally considered safe to drink bottled, factory-produced water with unbroken seals. The same applies to cans of soft drinks. It’s not a good idea to drink tap water or use it to brush your teeth, and ice in drinks should be avoided. Tea where the water has been boiled ought to be safe.

Protect what matters when you go with good travel insurance

Avoid raw food, including salads, as well as anything that has been left out, such as at a buffet. Don’t eat fruit you cannot peel yourself and try to stick to foods that have been cooked in front of you. Make sure that your food is always piping hot and cooked through when you eat it. While it may be culturally interesting, street food can be dangerous and is safest avoided. Restaurants in 4 and 5 star hotels may offer delicious and safe food, and the popularity of a restaurant might indicate its safety.

Insect bites are a common cause of disease transmission in India. Make sure you have had all of the vaccinations your health professional or travel nurse recommends and, while in India, take all precautions you can against getting bitten. If you are in areas where biting insects like mosquitoes are common, try to wear loose-fitting clothing that is light in colour and covers your exposed skin. This may not always be practical, so also make sure you pack enough insect repellent for your stay. It’s important to use this safely and according to safety guidelines set out in the TravelHealthPro guide to avoiding insect and tick bites.

Their TravelHealthPro guide to India may also prove useful when you’re travelling. It’s also important to check the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) travel advice for India as they will report on recent developments in health concerns that may be local to your holiday destination.

Travel risks in India

India is divided into states, and laws differ according to which one you’re in. It’s important to understand what the local regulation surrounding things like alcohol are to avoid breaking rules. Drugs are illegal everywhere and their use can come with serious penalties.

Exercise caution and avoid travelling alone, especially in unfamiliar areas and at night. And be mindful that some individuals – such as lone travellers or women – may be a particular target. This applies throughout India; even in tourist hotspots such as Goa.

Alongside the vigilance you should exercise against crime and scams everywhere, there are a few types of crime that are more prevalent in India. In particular, the FCDO advises avoiding solo travel in taxis, rickshaws and on public transport, as this can give opportunities to pickpockets and other thieves who may snatch bags or valuables.

Your most important belongings, such as your passport, cards and travel documentation, should be backed up online before you leave and you should take a photocopy with you as well as the originals in case you are a victim of theft. The originals should be carried on your person, preferably underneath clothes and not in pockets. Remember that you will have to have a police report in order to make a travel insurance claim in the event of loss or theft.

For excursions into new areas, it is safer to travel as part of an organised group. Failing that, it is often both safer and more rewarding to try and find other tourists you can join who are travelling the same way.

It’s generally considered unsafe to bathe in rivers and lakes, as the water might contain bacteria and parasites and can cause infection if ingested, inhaled or exposed to broken or damaged skin.

If you plan on doing any adventure activities, make sure you are doing it with a licensed provider and that you are covered for it by your holiday insurance policy. You may not be covered for activities that seem commonplace, or there may be exclusions placed on the activity in order for you to be covered (for instance wearing a helmet when cycling). Take a copy of your policy document with you to double check.

Regional considerations

With over 20 languages spoken and a handful of major religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and Christianity practised, India is a country of diversity. There are 29 states and 7 union territories in India, and each may have its own laws. It’s important to be aware of what the local laws are for the states or areas you’re visiting. It's both respectful and rewarding to learn about the cultural expectations of the areas you're visiting and act appropriately.

It is normally advisable for tourists to dress respectfully and wear appropriate covering, in particular when visiting religious or sacred sites.

There are some activities that are legal in the UK but illegal in India. Prominent among those is homosexuality. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association has useful advice on how different cultures relate to homosexuality.

According to the FCDO guidance on local laws and customs in India, things that would seem innocuous in the UK like birdwatching or the use of binoculars, particularly near to military sites, can be seen misunderstood and create serious problems. It’s therefore best to avoid these activities.

There are parts of India, particularly on the border with Pakistan, that the FCDO advises against all travel to. Remember that if you travel to an area that the FCDO advises against travelling to, your travel insurance is likely to be invalid.

Getting around

The country has a rich culture around rail travel and tradition. India has a grand rail network that can be a wonderful way of getting around – but travel in 1st or 2nd class, and apply the same vigilance with food safety and looking after your belongings as you would anywhere else.

Bus travel is a popular way of getting around, however buses are rarely air-conditioned and can be uncomfortable when travelling long distances. Driving can be riskier than we might be used to in the UK, so if you choose to drive, exercise a lot of caution. It’s not advisable to hire a car in India due to traffic rules rarely being properly observed, making it incumbent on the driver to interpret what other drivers are doing and saying.

Rickshaws and taxis can be convenient and memorable ways to get around, however they are also prone to scams and so it is best not to get them alone.

India has a good network of internal flights, and this can often be the quickest way of getting around if you want to cover large distances.

Do I need travel insurance for India?

Getting travel insurance in place for your trip to India means not just one less thing to worry about before you go, but several. That’s because a good policy will provide you with the level of cover you need for the places you’ll be going, the things you’ll be doing and the potential travel mishaps – however unlikely – that could happen while you’re away.

For instance, it’s important to have medical cover in place that you can call on if you fall ill or are involved in an accident on your trip. Your policy should provide the right level of coronavirus cover to protect against issues or disruptions the virus could cause during your trip. It can help cover expenses you incur, including the repatriation costs to get you home if needed.

Beyond keeping you safe, travel insurance can also provide protection for cancellation, delay or disruption, compensating you for their impact on your holiday plans. And it also provides loss, damage and theft cover for some of your belongings, like passports and luggage.

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