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The Indian SIM Card

When I arrive in a foreign country, I always like to have a local SIM card for my phone. Despite the fact that smartphones were invented and rose to popularity within my lifetime, it’s difficult to overstate the confidence boost obtained from having a map, navigation system, translation device, and Internet access portal all in my pocket. It can of course be fun and enjoyable to venture out and explore with no knowledge or expectation of where I’m going. But I like having access to a map…just in case (though this too can backfire, as I learned in South Africa).

In some countries, travelers can buy a local sim from a vending machine in the airport, or at the least find one of several telco vendors selling travel SIMs and cheap phones. India is not one of those countries. I found out later that this is because the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2011 were coordinated via burner phones, so the government cracked down on SIM card registration, especially for foreigners, making it quite difficult.

I decided to test the concierge service of the fancy, five-star hotel I was staying in. The lobby was absolutely packed with attendants, all professing their desire to serve my every whim. Presumably this meant things like calling me a taxi or refreshing my linens, but I asked the gentleman at the desk if he could help me get a SIM card.

(My phone at the time was still CDMA-only, so I of course also brought the South African phone which had betrayed me earlier.)

He told me that I would need passport-size photos, a service that the hotel did not offer, and once I got them he would handle the rest, but it would be a couple of days. He told me a place I could go to get the photos taken not far from the hotel, so I walked there and got it done that same day. I came back with the photos, gave them to him, and then went on my merry way.

A couple of days later, I got a call to my room that my SIM card had arrived. I went down to the concierge desk and retrieved it (it cost some number of rupees that I don’t remember now but which translated to only a buck or so, which was added to my bill).

To this day I have no idea how difficult it was for the hotel to get my SIM card (I assume they went through legal channels, as they required the pictures from me). But I determined that the concierge service of a five-star hotel is absolutely capable of obtaining one!

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