In large cities, high-quality medical care is available but may be quite difficult to find in rural areas. As always when travelling makes sure that you have adequate travel insurance to cover any unforeseen ailments or accidents.
The list of potential ailments in visiting a country like India may seem daunting but millions of travellers leave India having suffered nothing more than an upset stomach – even this small inconvenience should settle within a few days, your system the stronger for it. Just plan ahead and take precautions, India is an amazing place to visit so don’t be put off by worries over potential medical issues!
You will almost certainly be advised to be vaccinated against hepatitis A, cholera, tetanus, and typhoid; also make sure your polio immunization is up to date. Longer-stay visitors should consider getting hepatitis B and meningitis vaccinations as well. Note that travellers arriving from yellow fever-infected areas must have a yellow fever vaccination certificate.
The US Center For Disease Control maintains an updated list of medical advice for those travelling to India.
The CDC recommends being up to date with all your regular shots. These vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot
What to pack in your first-aid kit
- Antidiarrheal medication, of which the most important are rehydration salts. If you forget these are readily available in India
- Possibly, bring a course of antibiotics (such as Ciprofloxacin, which is widely available in India at a fraction of what you’ll pay back home) for stomach-related illnesses.
- Antibacterial soap and cream. Frequent hand washing is critical to avoid Delhi Belly.
- Carry as much hand sanitiser as you can carry, for those time you can’t wash your hands. Use frequently after touching door handles, money and other surfaces that are frequent touchpoints.
- Prescription medications should be carried in your carry on luggage and kept in the original packaging. Keep copies of the drug information separate from the medication – also record the generic drug information as well as the brand name.
Food & water safety
Food and water safety is a big issue in India. The water from the taps (faucets) is not safe to drink. Only drink water from a bottle that has a sealed lid! Also, don’t have ice in your drinks. I also suggest only eat cooked, hot food. No salads or fruit unless you are in a reputable hotel. It is also a good idea not to try the street food unless you are with a tour guide who will advise you on what is good and what to avoid.
Air pollution levels in many Indian cities are very high and contain high levels of suspended particulate matter. This is mostly from vehicles and the use of diesel generators and is exacerbated by construction work, stubble burning in the fall and people using open fires to keep warm. The air quality can be particularly bad in the late autumn / early winter in cities like Delhi. If you have a respiratory condition this can be dangerous so avoid this time of the year in the big northern cities. Wearing a face mask will help keep from breathing in particulates.
India is also plagued by noise pollution, and most visitors are usually shocked at how often drivers blare their horns. There’s really nothing you can do other than accept that honking is usually a necessary precaution to avoid smashing into people, stray dogs, cattle, and all kinds of other obstacles (including cars).
Where not to go …
Here is a link to the US State Department Travel Advisory for India for the latest information on travelling to India.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to the following areas due to terrorism concerns:
- The immediate vicinity of the border with Pakistan, other than at Wagah
- Jammu and Kashmir
- The state of Manipur, except the state capital Imphal and the Meiti Valley areas
Crossing the road
The streets of India are packed wherever you go. They are filled with cars, taxis, buses, trucks, tuk-tuks, carts pulled by oxen and even camels. Also, there are millions of animals from dogs, cats, pigs and cows just wandering around. Additionally, there is not much adherence to any form of highway code – so vehicles will approach you from all directions. Incredibly, it all seems to work, but you need to be a local to figure this out. For visitors, especially from western countries, it appears to be uncontrolled chaos. For this reason, you need to be incredibly cautious when crossing the road. That said you also need to be brave and sometimes go for it otherwise you will never get to the other side because the traffic is not going to stop for you – just be vigilant!
Street crime and scamming
For a country with such a high level of poverty the levels of street crime are surprisingly low, but as always be careful to keep valuable locked away in hotels etc and when out and about keep your money and cards safe and don’t leave phones, cameras, wallets, bags etc where they can be easily snatched.
In India, scamming is an art form with tourists firmly in their sights. Although it’s okay to have a heart, don’t fall into the costly pit of naiveté. Politeness is likely to be your enemy. If someone tells you up front that he’s not interested in your money, the warning bells should begin to sound; 9 times out of 10, a casual conversation or unintentional tour will end with a request for payment.