In the summer, before I went to Iceland, I booked a return flight to India for November. A few days before I was due to leave, I heard on the news that the prime minister, Narendra Modi, had unexpectedly announced the withdrawal of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes from circulation. I wasn’t sure how it would affect me. All I knew was that there were massive queues at banks and ATMs as people tried to exchange their old notes and withdraw money.
I normally get currency from an ATM when I arrive at the airport. I never exchange money in advance. Knowing the situation in India, however, I was going to have to do things a little differently this time. I went to a Bureau de Change before leaving the UK, only to be told that there was a ban on Indian currency. That didn’t surprise me, considering the situation. At Glasgow airport, the person I spoke to at the Bureau de Change advised me to bring sterling and exchange it when I arrived in India, which is what I did. During a stopover in Dubai, I decided to see if I could get any Indian currency there. I couldn’t. They also had a ban on Indian currency. Can you buy and sell Indian currency outside of India at the moment? I have no idea. All I know is that I couldn’t buy any in the two countries I tried.
When I finally arrived at the airport in Kolkata, I went to the first Bureau de Change I found, which was just after immigration. I queued up, patiently. I managed to exchange the sterling I had into Indian rupees. They were only exchanging a maximum of £80 per person. That plus my cards would have to see me through. I was given Rs2000 notes and a few notes of smaller denominations: 100, 50, 20, and 10. One person ahead of me in the queue questioned the fact that she had been given Rs2000 notes. I didn’t realise the significance of this until I got to the arrivals hall and wanted to buy a coffee. All the cafes there had signs up to say the highest denomination accepted was Rs100 notes. I was thankful that I had a few smaller denomination notes, but I realised the Rs2000 notes I had could be problematic. If you read anything about this, the advice is not to accept anything higher than a Rs100 note. It’s fine for them to say, but in reality, it doesn’t work like that. It’s an idealistic view. You have to accept whatever denominations you are given. You aren’t in a position to choose. The woman who questioned it, while I was queuing up in the hope of getting some Indian rupees, didn’t get her Rs2000 notes changed to Rs100 notes. They didn’t have enough Rs100 notes to go round.
The cash crisis in India is a short-term problem, and it’s affecting the locals far more than those on holiday. However, if you are going to India in the next couple of months, you are likely to experience problems. Having experienced it first-hand, here are some tips to help see you through:
Tips to see you through the cash crisis in India
Take cash with you. If you take sterling, make sure you take English rather than Scottish notes. I have been told they won’t exchange Scottish notes in India, even though these are legal tender.
Take at least two payment cards with you, just in case one doesn’t work. Consider using one of your cards and save the rupees for when you need them because you might have difficulty withdrawing cash.
Before you leave for India, inform your bank that you will be using your card in India for the duration of your stay. If you don’t, your bank might temporarily stop your card because of suspicious activity.
Regardless of how long the queue is, exchange your cash as soon as you can, once you have cleared immigration.
Ensure you have a few small denomination notes (Rs100, Rs50, Rs,20, and Rs10) to begin with because it is difficult, not impossible, to exchange Rs2000.
Use one of your Rs2000 as soon as you can to pay for something because lots of places won’t accept these. You might have to go to a restaurant or hotel in a touristy area to do so. While I was staying with a family, the husband, very kindly, exchanged one of my Rs2000 notes for me. That was a massive help. I managed to use the other Rs2000 note later in the week in a restaurant in a touristy area of Kolkata, Park Street. They weren’t initially keen to take it as payment because it meant giving me a lot of Rs100 notes in change because that’s the next largest denomination at the moment. They did eventually accept it.
Exchange or use all your India currency before you leave the country because you probably won’t be able to exchange it outside of India for a while.
Have your say
Have you been to India since 8 November when the cash crisis hit India? If so, what was your experience like? If you will be going to India in the next couple of months, do you have any questions? I’ll do my best to answer them.