For many British 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 a must.
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 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.
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 by TravelHealthPro.
Their guide to India may also prove useful when you’re travelling. It’s also important to check the FCO 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.
The FCO advises women travellers in particular to exercise caution, even when in groups. It’s important not to put yourself at unnecessary risk by walking alone or in remote areas after dark or, if possible, during daylight hours. 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 FCO 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 transport 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/damaged skin.
If you plan on doing any adventure activities, make sure you are doing it with a licenced 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.
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. The most important cultural element for a visitor is to be aware of the customs of the region you are visiting and to be respectful of their culture.
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 FCO, 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 FCO advises against all travel to. Remember that if you travel to an area that the FCO advises against travelling to, your travel insurance is likely to be invalid.
British imperial influence in India is most evident in its trains. 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 more reckless than we’re used to in the UK, and traffic can feel like a law unto itself. 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.
Travel insurance for India
It is vital to have good holiday insurance for a trip to India. It will be necessary should you fall ill.
Moreover, there are any number of things that can go wrong while you’re away, and good travel insurance can make sure you’re protected in the event of loss or theft to belongings and cancellations to flights or bookings.