Last Updated on: 22nd March 2023, 09:06 pm
India is a land of diverse cultures, customs, and traditions, and it’s no wonder why many people apply for an Indian visa and travel to this incredible country. While this is excellent for intrepid travelers, it can also be overwhelming for those traveling to India for the first time.
From how you dress to how you greet people, there are many cultural rules that you should be aware of before setting foot in this country. In fact, a respectful attitude and understanding of these cultural nuances are essential for a fun and fulfilling trip to India.
This article will go over the most important cultural etiquette in India, including how to talk with locals, what to know before you go, and other important social rules.
Whether you’re visiting India for business or tourism, this guide will help you understand the country’s unique customs so that you can make the most of your trip and avoid any cultural missteps!
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My Favorite Travel Booking Sites for 2023
These are my favorite companies that I use on my own travels.
Protect Your Trip via Safety Wing
Find the best deals on hotels & vacation rentals on Booking.com.
For English-speaking private airport transfers, book through Welcome Pickups.
For road trips and independent travel, rent a car through Discover Cars.
Find information and cruise reviews on Cruise Critic.
For packing and travel essentials order via Amazon.
Tips for Following Etiquette in India
Here we go!
Use Your Right Hand
When traveling in India, it is customary to use your right hand more than your left hand. This is because the left hand is considered unclean, as it is only used to clean one’s feet and do other hygiene-related activities.
Using your left hand can accidentally offend someone, so make sure to ‘switch’ to your right hand whenever possible.
For example, do not touch locals with your left hand, do not eat with it, and try to use your right hand when shopping or giving something to someone.
Instead of shaking hands when greeting a local, put your palms together at chest level and say “Namaste” as a respectful greeting.
Remove Shoes Before Entering Some Buildings
Do not be surprised if, upon arrival in India, you are asked to take off your shoes when you go to the store or step inside a building.
In India, it is customary to take off your shoes at the entrance to some buildings, whether it be a shop, a temple, or someone’s house.
This tradition has been kept since ancient times and is still observed in many places around the country.
Local residents have adapted to the growing number of foreign travelers, and in some touristy areas, it may not be necessary to take off your shoes.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that there is the possibility of an establishment kindly asking you to remove your shoes.
For such cases, be sure to take a fresh pair of socks so you can quickly and easily change into them.
Respect religious practices
India is considered a secular country, but despite this, religion is very prevalent here. As such, showing respect for the local religious customs and practices is very important.
If you plan on visiting a Hindu temple, it’s best to wear modest clothing covering the body.
Avoid short t-shirts, shorts, and anything that is too revealing. As mentioned in the point above, do not forget to bring socks with you, as you will need to take off your shoes when entering.
Similarly, do not take photographs or disturb believers when they are performing religious rituals.
It is also worth noting that not all Hindu temples are open to foreigners. Typically, this is indicated by a sign near the entrance to the temple.
Shopkeepers in souvenir stores and local markets will deliberately inflate the price of their goods in the hopes that the unsuspecting buyer will buy the items at full price.
This practice is especially prevalent in touristy areas.
In Indian markets, you can and should bargain. In fact, you can often drop the price by 40% percent — and sometimes even more!
Of course, it is very important to be respectful during the haggling process and come to an agreement that works for both parties.
Bargaining rules do not apply to places where goods are sold at a fixed price (i.e. have a label), such as large supermarkets or brand-name stores in shopping centers.
Respect Local Customs
While tipping in India is not mandatory, it is customary to tip for good service. In restaurants and cafes, the average tip is between 10 to 15%.
It is also typical to leave a tip for tour guides, as this usually makes up a good chunk of their income.
Indians can be very formal, and it’s not uncommon to be called sir or ma’am during a conversation. Do as the locals and use a few courteous greetings when meeting someone or talking to them.
If you like to take a lot of photographs while traveling, be sure to ask a local for permission before taking their photo.
You also need to be prepared for the fact that locals will want to take pictures with you since tourists are considered a rarity in some regions.
5 Things You Need to Pack for India
The Lonely Planet India guidebook. It can be kind of a pain to find the major guidebooks once you land, or you’ll find them overpriced. I always like to pick mine up ahead of time.
An Unlocked Cell Phone so that you can use a local sim card while here to help navigate public transportation and when you’re on the road.
Backup Charging Bank for your cell phone since you’ll be using it as a camera, GPS system, and general travel genie.
A Waterproof Passport Holder so that if something happens when you are near the water, your passport and important IDs don’t get wet.
I’ve seen people denied boarding on flights due to wet passports, and you can technically not be allowed to go over the border.
A Great Day Bag so you can carry what you need with you (like your camera, snacks, water, sunscreen, cash, etc).
My current favorite is the Pacsafe Citysafe, which is especially great for India because it has many anti-theft features designed to deter pickpockets.
It also transitions to a night bag more easily and won’t embarrass you if you go to dinner directly after sightseeing all day.
More India Travel Resources
Here are more resources to help you plan your trip to India.
India Country Guides
To get excited before your trip, check out this guide to the Best Bollywood Travel Movies.
To help you decide what to buy in India, check out this Indian souvenir guide.
For tips on how to follow local cultural expectations, use my guide to etiquette in India.
Headed to Mumbai? Enjoy these funny puns and jokes about Mumbai.