India is generally considered to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to drive. Indian drivers often take more risks on the road than what most Western visitors are used to, and road conditions can often be chaotic, leading many to consider traveling India by train.
However, it is possible for non-Indians to learn to drive in the country through exercising patience and caution. Alternatively, the majority of foreign visitors to the country choose to rent a car with a driver to take them around the most popular routes, which is often much safer and fairly inexpensive.
Read on for a complete guide to driving in India, including rules for obtaining an international license, laws for driving, and how to rent a car or motorcycle while in the country.
Can Foreigners Drive in India?
Yes, foreign citizens are able to drive any motor vehicle in India as long as they have an international driving license or an Indian license. An international driving license for India is valid for 1 year from the date of issue and can be obtained from any Regional Transport Office (RTO) in India.
It is necessary to present a valid passport, a valid visa for India (if applicable), a birth certificate, proof of address, and driving license from home to apply for an international driving license in India, which will take between 2-7 working days to process.
Although those visiting the country for short stays with an Indian tourist visa or business visa are able to use the international license to drive in India, travelers planning to stay for more than a year are required to apply for an Indian driving license. Like the international driving license, the Indian driver’s license can be obtained from an RTO, but it can also be obtained through a driving school in India.
In order to submit an Indian driver’s license application, it is necessary to provide the following:
- A completed Indian driver’s license application form
- A copy of the applicant’s residence permit for India
- Proof of current address
- A passport-sized photograph of the applicant
- A medical fitness certificate issued by a doctor.
After completing driving classes in India, the applicant is issued a learner’s license valid for 3 months. After 3 months of probationary driving on the learner’s license, the driver will be issued a full Indian driver’s license valid until the Indian residence permit expires.
What Are the Driving Rules in India?
It is important for foreign travelers to be aware of the following rules for driving in India:
- Traffic drives on the left side of the road in India
- The minimum driving age in India is 16 for motorcycles of 50cc or less and 18 for all other vehicles
- The national speed limit in India is 140 kilometers per hour for cars and 80 kilometers per hour (50 mph) for motorcycles
- Seatbelts must be worn in cities by law, but the use of seatbelts is only advised elsewhere
- The blood alcohol content limit for driving in India is 0.03%, and drivers who exceed this may face a fine of around ₹10,000 (US $140). Repeat offenders face the risk of being handed a prison sentence of up to 6 months.
Police in India will enforce many of these laws for driving, so it is important to be aware of the rules if planning to drive a vehicle in the country. Punishments for certain traffic and non-traffic offenses on India’s roads involve the motorist receiving points on their license: those with 12 points face a temporary suspension from driving in India.
What are Road Conditions Like in India?
Although the general quality of roads in India is acceptable, road maintenance can be poor. The most surprising thing for foreign drivers in India is that traffic does not respect lanes as in most Western countries, and it is not uncommon to be faced with vehicles traveling in the opposite direction cutting into your lane.
Indian drivers are notorious for ignoring the rules of the road and commonly over-speed, ignore traffic lights, overtake from the wrong side, and use barely road-worthy vehicles without mirrors or with broken lights. These conditions can make for chaotic scenes on India’s roads and result in frequent spats between drivers as well as extensive traffic jams and slow-moving traffic.
Those who do decide to risk driving in India are advised to exercise patience and mental presence and to consider all the risk factors before getting in the driver’s seat. With time and experience, foreign citizens may learn to cope perfectly well with road conditions for driving in India.
Nevertheless, many travelers unfamiliar with negotiating India’s roads prefer to rent a car with a driver to get around the country. Not only is this comparatively cheaper than in most countries, but having a driver familiar with road conditions also helps the traveler to explore India more safely.
Renting a Car or Motorcycle to Drive in India
Because of the road conditions, very few foreign travelers to India choose to rent a car to drive themselves, and the most common option is to rent a car with a driver. This is actually quite an affordable option, especially if the cost is split between a group of travelers. It is also incredibly easy to find a rental car with a driver: most Indian towns will have a taxi rank or car-hire company which can provide both short-distance and long-distance services.
When planning to rent a car with a driver in India, it is important to keep the following in mind:
- There is a wide variety of models of car which operate as taxis, with something for every budget
- Evaluate the car and the driver before committing to contracting the service. Try to find a driver who speaks some English and is familiar with the region you plan to visit.
- Be firm but polite with the driver from the beginning, letting them know you are making the decisions for the trip
- Drivers of cars that are licensed to travel beyond their home state pay extra state taxes, which are factored into the total cost of the hire
- Although prices for multiday rental include the driver’s meals and accommodation, the driver should make their own sleeping and eating arrangements.
Those who feel confident about driving in India by themselves may want to consider undertaking a long-distance motorcycle tour – an increasingly popular option in the country. In order to rent a motorcycle in India it is also necessary to have a valid international driver’s license for stays up to one year, and an Indian driver’s license for any longer.
Whether or not you intend to drive in India during your stay, make sure to check India visa requirements before departing for the trip. The majority of foreign citizens are required to obtain a visa to travel to the country and can do so through the India eVisa application online, which eliminates the need to visit an embassy or consulate.