India is the biggest country in South Asia and a place that is impossible to forget. Sumptuous cuisine, iconic landmarks, and a diverse mix of cultures are just some of the reasons millions of tourists flock to its bustling metropoles and sultry shores each year. It’s also the largest democracy in the world with the second biggest population and one of the cheapest places to live, but you might be wondering, is India safe?
Over one billion people call India home and the rich mix of cultures and religions is what makes it so unique and enthralling. Yet, India’s reputation has been tainted by terrorism, sexual violence, and extreme poverty. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t visit, but there are some precautions you can take before heading off to the subcontinent of Asia.
From the transport to the tap water, our guide outlines all the dangers of traveling to India in 2022 so you can ensure your trip is a problem-free one. Let’s get into it.
Is India safe to visit?
India has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and is one of the fastest developing countries too, making its bustling cities alluring in themselves. Nevertheless, a weak currency, oversized population, and poor access to resources in vast rural regions have led to a poverty crisis, which has a direct impact on crime and personal security.
Two-thirds of the Indian population is estimated to live below the poverty line, surviving on just $2 a day or less, while 30 percent live on half of this. India might be cheap, but this doesn’t make individual economic crises any easier to bear. Although being poor is no crime, in India it can be and condemn individuals to a life of suffering and hardship.
Impoverished families need children to work from a young age instead of going to school, and a lack of education and employment opportunities is closely linked to crime. Poverty itself is also tied to violence, criminal damage, and drug use, and India demonstrates some of the highest crime rates in the world in some sectors, which are only on the rise.
India was deemed the most dangerous country for women in 2018, beating Afghanistan, Saudi Arabic, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen to the top spot thanks to shocking sexual crime rates. Slave labor and human trafficking are rife in India and gender discrimination, harassment, lack of education, dowry-related objectification, and a gender pay gap remain everyday issues for the women of the country. But what does this all mean for your upcoming vacation?
Despite high crime rates, India is considered mostly safe for tourists and violent crimes against foreigners is actually very uncommon. Petty theft can be an issue, especially in touristy areas, and low standards of safety and hygiene mean it can be easy to get sick or be at risk of an accident, but there are ways to avoid these things.
There is still ongoing civil unrest in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and terrorism remains a risk. Nevertheless, most areas demonstrate relatively low crime rates, especially those frequented by foreigners, and there’s no reason to feel unsafe in India as long as you exercise precautions.
Is India safe for solo travelers?
India is one of the most exciting backpacker destinations in the world and it’s no surprise that millions of tourists are drawn to its magical culture, festivals, food, and sites every year. Solo traveling in India can be problem-free, especially if you’re following a planned route and meeting like-minded people on the way. Still, India has a dubious reputation as a destination for solo female travelers and women will need to take some extra safety precautions.
The vibrant coastal region of Goa with its golden beaches and party atmosphere is the safest place for females in the country and women shouldn’t feel threatened traveling here alone. The same goes for some of the Himalayan regions like Sikkim in the eastern portion of the mountain range. Meaning ‘abode of God’ the untouched surroundings, floral summers, snowy winters, and Buddhist culture make it the perfect place for some enlightening solo travel.
However, the sweaty city of Delhi, and the state of Rajasthan on the whole, are ranked as some of the least safe places for women in the world. While violent crimes against women are less likely to affect foreigners, unwanted attention, harassment, abuse, and hostility will and can make these destinations less than appealing for solo females.
The truth is, most women traveling in India won’t face any aggressive behavior. Invasive looks and unwanted attention are common, but if you can turn a blind eye, you shouldn’t have any issues. Traveling with at least one companion is always better, but India has a vibrant backpacker community with plenty of safe and welcoming hostels that make meeting like-minded individuals easy for solo travelers.
Is transport safe in India?
It’s just as much about the journey as it is the destination in India. Local transport options come in all shapes and sizes and experiencing your fair share of rickshaw rides and overnight trains is all part of the adventure.
When it comes to personal security, pickpockets and money scams will be your biggest concern. Petty criminals operate on trains and busses wherever you go, but especially in the big cities, and it’s not uncommon for your taxi or tuk-tuk driver to try and rip you off when they can see you are a tourist. Always agree on a price beforehand. For example, it shouldn’t cost much more than 10 rupees per kilometer to travel by tuk-tuk, if not slightly more in touristy destinations. It’s important to know your stuff as a foreigner.
Tuk-tuks and mopeds are open-air vehicles so always keep your belongings close to your person and zipped away to avoid snatch and grab theft. Better yet, leave as many valuables as you can back at your accommodation as you can never tell who’s in reach in the traffic-choked lanes and crowded streets.
Overnight trains and buses can come with more serious risks, especially if you’re traveling alone as a female, but the same goes for anywhere else in the world. Consider traveling with a companion if your moving around at night or opt for private transportation like taxis over busses and trains if you’re only going a short distance.
Human dangers aren’t the only concern when it comes to getting around India. Due to poor road conditions and relaxed driving laws, it’s not safe to navigate roads by yourself and you should always think twice about venturing off the beaten track. We don’t recommend hiring your own vehicle as the way Indians drive will be a shock. Leave it down to your driver and always wear your seatbelt if there is one.
Is it safe to drink tap water in India?
If there’s one thing you take away from this guide, it’s that tap water in India is not safe for drinking. The mere mention of drinking from the tap here is enough to give foreigners Delhi belly, and you’re certain to have heard horror stories of ingested water and violent food poisoning.
The truth is, it might not be as horrific as you think and filter taps are widely accessible across the country. Still, as a rule of thumb, you never want to drink straight from a tap without checking.
Water pipe infrastructure is not up to European standards and old, leaking pipes, leeching materials, and poor water storage tanks cause contamination before the water reaches the tap. Both Mumbai and Delhi have invested in water treatment systems in recent years so that millions of Indians can get direct access to clean water in their homes and Mumbai tap water is supposedly safe for drinking as of this year. Still, we wouldn’t advise travelers to be drinking it just yet.
Water pipe networks are still old and decaying, even in Mumbai, and after water treatment plants have done their thing, there’s no saying that the water won’t be contaminated on the way to the tap. And outside these major cities, there’s little to no treatment to start with.
You can brush your teeth with the water in big cities, as long as you don’t ingest it, but we’d recommend using filter water or bottled water if you’re in a more rural setting or on overnight transport. Locals might do it, but as a foreigner, your body won’t be used to the change.
Is India safe from natural disasters?
Unfortunately, crime and hygiene won’t be your only concerns in India. While these other issues are easier to avoid, to an extent, one thing you’ll have no control over is the weather. In fact, India is one of the most disaster-prone countries globally and, no thanks to its location and geography, it’s vulnerable to cyclones, droughts, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, wildfires, and avalanches.
With such vast and diverse landscapes, India is at risk of all the wild tropical weather of other South Asian nations, with the treacherous mountain conditions of the northern Himalayas thrown in. India’s rainy season, or monsoon season, can be much worse than in neighboring backpacker countries. Some areas are completely off-limits in the summer due to heavy rains. The earth, which is very dry and baked from the scorching Spring sun, cannot cope with the sudden torrents. Flooding, landslides, and widespread disruption is an annual occurrence, and visitors should rethink heading to areas where the monsoons hit especially badly at this time, such as the states in the Northeast like Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar.
The Deccan Plateau to the east of the Ghats mountain range, chilly Ladakh in the far north, and the desert state of Rajasthan receive the least amount of rain but still experience their highest temperatures at this time of year.
There hasn’t been a tsunami in India since the devastating Boxing Day event of 2004 which killed more than 230,000 across 14 countries, originating from a quake off the northern tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra. Yet, much like many South Asian countries on the Indian Ocean, India remains at risk, especially on the Western Coast where little developmental preparation is thought to have been taken. Regions in the east such as Puri, Kakinada, Machilipatna, Chennai, Kochi, and more are also vulnerable to an Arabian Sea tsunami.
Little can be done to prepare for the eventuality of a mass-natural disaster. However, you can stay up to date with meteorological reports and news reports from within India and around the world to get an advance warning on your trip. Avoid isolating yourself for too long or going off the beaten track where cell service is disconnected or emergency services cannot reach and stick to drier areas if you’re visiting in monsoon season.
7 Safety Tips for India
- Try to fit in – There’s not much chance that you’ll be able to hide the fact you’re a foreigner in India, and this quickly makes you much more vulnerable to theft and scams. But you can try to blend in and look more comfortable rather than naive. Try to wear similar clothes to the locals, respect the culture, and leave the flip-flops and fanny packs at home.
- Carry your address – It’s easy to get lost in any new place, especially in India’s hectic cities. Luckily, there are plenty of private transport options to use but make sure you bring the address of your lodgings out with you to show to the tuk-tuk and taxi drivers to make sure you get home.
- Leave valuables – Prevention is always better than the cure. Rather than trying not to get pickpocketed, leave all the valuables that you can’t hide on your person at home. That means bringing out only small amounts of cash, a photocopy of your passport, and leaving the big camera at home.
- Check the weather – Even in the dead of summer, your day could be spoiled in an instant by torrential downpours and even flash flooding. Avoid rural areas if the weather looks dubious and always dress appropriately for the climate. That means wearing plenty of sunscreens, staying hydrated, and also having a raincoat handy.
- Avoid large gatherings and demonstrations – Much of India is still in civil unrest and protests can turn ugly very quickly. Terrorist groups are also more likely to target large gatherings so try and keep your vacation to just that, rather than political activism.
- Don’t travel alone at night – India is great for solo travel and brave independent backpackers shouldn’t be scared off. However, certain areas, especially the big cities and even coastal party towns, have a dark side at night and it is best to walk around with a companion or take private transport.
- Stick to your limits – India has a great nightlife scene and the party hotspots on the coast are some of the safest places in the country. Still, things can turn soar when alcohol is involved and you never want to lose sense of your surroundings in a foreign country. Know your limits, never accept drinks from strangers, and don’t leave drinks unattended wherever you are.
Is Mumbai safe?
As a huge and populous city, crime levels in Mumbai can be high and it comes with some safety risks for foreigners. Still, petty theft and money scams are the most common crimes encountered by visitors and these can be avoided by being extra careful with valuables. It’s not recommended to travel alone at night or use public transport after dark but Mumbai is still considered a good place for solo travel.
When is the best time to visit Delhi?
The best time to visit Delhi is between October and March when the flora and fauna are in full bloom, the weather is warm but not sweltering, the monsoon season has finished and you can enjoy all the sites and experiences at ease.
What should I avoid in India?
India is a diverse country with varied cultures and a welcoming population. Still, there are some things you can avoid to steer clear of unwanted attention or disrespecting people. Don’t wear tight or overly-revealing clothing, unless you’re by the beach. Always take off your shoes inside unless permitted to do otherwise by your host. Never point your feet or fingers at people out of respect. Try not to eat food or pass objects with your left hand when dining with locals. And never act rude or rowdy in the streets, or any place for that matter, especially religious sites.