India Business Travel: 10 Things I Wish I Had Known Before

10 Tips for your business trip to India

Recently I went on a business trip to Mumbai and Delhi. Here are the top things I learned which might help you prepare for your own business trip.

Work from Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai

Where to go

Despite both being key cities in India, Delhi and Mumbai are fundamentally different. You will most likely visit Mumbai if you have meetings in the commercial sector, whereas Delhi will be the go-to destination for all government-related meetings. It’s interesting to see that there are more expats in Delhi than in Mumbai. 

Business Visa

If you are going on a business trip you will need a business visa. Depending on your nationality, there is the option to apply for an e-business visa, which I did. It took only one working day to arrive – but I wouldn’t rely on it. Officially it can take up to 5 working days to be approved. Click here to visit India’s official Visa website. 

Exchanging Money in advance

Make sure that you have enough cash on you when you travel to India. The ATMs in India are not very reliable, so you want to bring enough Indian Rupees to live on during your trip. Also, card payments are mostly not accepted (Uber and Ola car services only take cash). 

Hire a private driver

In India you should always hire a private driver for the day. It doesn’t matter where you are in India but chances are that traffic (and hour-long jams) is mad. Never drive on your own – it’s way too stressful and dangerous. Hiring a driver for the day will ensure that he is always there for you in between meetings. In the end a private driver is more reliable and also cheaper than an Uber or Ola, which can also cancel on you last minute. We paid 2000 Rupees for 8 hours in both Delhi and Mumbai. 

Organise meetings in advance

Before going to India, you should already plan all of your meetings. Don’t be surprised if there are many last minute changes, but at least you have something scheduled that people can refer to. 

Buffers, buffers, buffers

Take it from a German, Indians are never on time. Not that I blame them, the traffic is just so crazy (especially in Mumbai) that it is already expected to arrive late. So don’t worry if no one is showing up on time, they haven’t forgotten you. Another tip is that you hire your driver 30 minutes in advance so that you can ensure that he is actually there when you want to leave.

Toxic Air Pollution 

The air pollution is something you need to take seriously! Pollution is especially high in the winter months, Delhi being worse than Mumbai. The air is so polluted because farmers are burning their crops during those months. Combined with the general pollution, the so-called haze is really harmful to your lungs and general health. You will notice that your throat hurts at the end of the day. I recommend buying pollution masks at the airport so that you are less exposed to the toxic air. The haze is especially high during mornings and evenings. 

Respect for Women

You wouldn’t notice it as a general tourist, but being on a business trip you notice that India is a male-dominated country. Most of the positions in corporates or the government are held by men. Not so in the South (including Mumbai), but more in the North (e.g. Delhi), most men won’t look at you when shaking hands, and conversation will be mostly directed towards the men in the group. You need to have a loud voice and strong opinions to be heard as a woman. Small tip: Dressing in proper business attire will earn your more respect. 

Carry a passport copy with you

Make sure that you carry a passport copy with you at all times. For safety reasons, I would leave the passport in your hotel safe – it is only required for meetings with government entities. However, the passport copy might be needed for some business meetings. 

Get an Indian phone number

Without a local phone number you will be lost in India. Most registrations at corporates require you to leave your phone number to which a verification code is sent. You will also need your phone to reschedule business meetings or keep in touch with your driver. 

Don’t shake hands with women

Lastly, the one thing that foreigners get wrong most of the time: Don’t shake hands with Indian women – unless they reach out to you first. It is not custom for a man to shake hands with an Indian woman – especially older ladies. Just nod your head and smile nicely – that should do the trick. 

If you are looking for more useful tips and tricks for your first visit to India, click here

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