Dangers for Travelers in India & How To Protect Yourself

I’ve been living and traveling in India for awhile now, and one of the first questions people ask about is, “how safe is it?” In the media, you hear about tourists getting pickpocketed, riots, gangs and worse. But what are the actual dangers that I’ve seen as I travel and live here…?

The other day my gardener knocked on my door saying “Pump taking nighttime!” He showed me that our water pump was gone. “Pump taking nighttime!” He does a saw motion where it looks like the pipes have been cut.

I ask him how much it was worth and he says 8000 rupees. That’s over $100 USD and with the poverty around here, it’s not surprising someone did this.

It was pretty scary to think that while I was asleep there was someone outside my house sawing away. What else could they have stolen?

I knew I was a target being a foreigner, but this was the first real danger I had personally encountered. This also got me thinking about other dangers and how I could protect myself and friends…

Dangers for Travelers in India

I’ll go through the dangers that I’ve found or heard about from my expat and traveler friends. I’ve also researched the common dangers that other travelers have experienced.

1. Theft

When your gardener notices someone stole your water pump 🙁

Like my water pump, my neighbor had his scooter stolen in the past. That was the first thing I decided to start locking up each night.

I also have lights on my house that I’ll be sure to turn on. My landlord also wants me to lock our gate whenever I go out, even during the day time.

Protect yourself by getting security system at your place. Or getting a place in an apartment complex with a security guard..

2. Pickpockets

In any major city this is a problem. I’ve never had anyone pick my pocket, in fact, it’s been mostly the opposite. I find the local people will often warn me if my phone is sticking out of my pocket or if some money is sticking out of my pocket.

Tips to protect yourself:

  • I always keep my phone in my front pocket.
  • Anchor your backpack or purse when seated at a cafe. If I have my backpack, I put one arm around my leg or chair. My mom would do this with her purse when we would visit NYC as a kid.
  • Use a money belt or pickpocket-proof clothing. Some travel pants have a special pocket to prevent pickpocketing.
  • Use a buttoned or zippered pocket.
  • Beware of signs about pickpockets. Pickpockets will actually watch tourists near those signs as they adjust their wallet, so they can look for someone to target.
  • Stash money in multiple places.
  • Copy all your important documents and keeping them in your hotel room or house.
  • Getting travel insurance that will reimburse you.
  • Photograph your expensive gear so you can make an insurance claim
  • Keep your camera strap around your neck and make sure it’s strong to prevent someone who might ride past and grab your camera.

Before I came to the town I live in South India, there was a problem with young men on motorcycles riding past a woman and snatching their purse. Or grabbing a tourist’s camera as they drove past. It’s better now though!

3. The Tap Water

This is probably the one that is the most likely to affect you.

It is polite for locals to offer you a glass of water when you visit their home and considered rude if you don’t take a sip. Don’t take a sip though!

Tips to protect yourself:

  • Always drink the best brands of bottled water: Bisleri, Kinley and Aquafina.
  • Always check the seal. It’s not uncommon to find a bottle that’s been opened already, so squeeze it before buying.
  • Avoid ice in most restaurants, because the water may not be sanitary.
  • Avoid juices on the street.
  • Choose a hotel or house with a water filtration unit. I have one and it’s extremely convenient.
  • Bring your own napkins to restaurants. The water used to wash your plate may not be sanitary.
  • Bring your own hand sanitizer. The water used to wash your hands may not be sanitary.

4. Traffic

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, as many as 1,301 people were injured and 461 died every day in traffic in India. That’s 19 deaths an hour or a death every 3 minutes.

When you see how many cars and scooters there are, and how they drive, this statistic probably won’t surprise you. I swore I would never drive while I was traveling in India!

But then I did end up renting a scooter and it was a lot of fun.

In fact, according to the World Health Organization, the rate of traffic accidents in India is 18.9 for every 100,000 people and that’s only a little higher than the average around the world which is 18. There are many countries with a much higher rate: Thailand (38), Venezuela (37.2), Iran (34), Oman (34), Nigeria (33), South Africa (32), Iraq (31), Saudi Arabia (28), Malaysia (25), and China (20.5).

The traffic is really scary but the drivers here also seem extremely skilled. I feel like they all should be professional Nascar drivers, and everyone’s just used to the ‘break the rules’ style.

5. Parasites

The microbes in the USA are different than the microbes in India.

If you’ve grown up on the opposite side of the world, then your body has grown tolerant to a whole different set of diseases and bacteria and parasites. This can make Westerners especially vulnerable to getting sick here.

I never thought twice about this stuff before I came. Some friends had gotten a little sick, yet I didn’t have much problem on my first 3-month trip.

On this trip though, I met a man from Denver who’s hands were deformed and misshapen. He had been coming to India for years and he got a parasite one time. He was sick for months and it ended up causing permanent damage to the bones in his hands.

When I heard his story, I was blown away. I didn’t realize how naive I had been. Up until this point, I was drinking water at local restaurants and trying street food to experience the local culture.

His story made me prioritize being safe a bit more.

Now plenty of travelers eat street food or take some risks and they are perfectly fine (I’ve never puked since I’ve been here). But since I’m going to be here awhile it just makes sense to be careful with my health.

My friend said that it’s also a lot safer now than it was.

He has been coming here for many years and “back in the day” the restaurants were much less sanitary. They didn’t even import fresh vegetables.

My mom and aunt are coming here, and they’re getting all the vaccinations you would need. I chose NOT to get the vaccinations and I can sleep fine at night. I think the risk is very low, as friends have been here for over 10 years and they say it’s not really an issue.

I would read the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Website though and decide what’s best for your situation.

6. Dogs, Monkeys and Cows

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Dogs: If you’ve read the classic novel, Shantaram, you’ll remember the scene where the main character and a boy he’s caring for are attacked by a horde of dogs at night.

They literally have to fight for their life with bamboo sticks and would probably have been killed at not a member of the mob jumped to their aid with an iron rod, killing two dogs and frightening the rest to retreat.

I’ve never run into a pack of dogs like that here, but my aunt is a veterinarian and every time I talk to her she warns me about getting bit by a dog.


There are a lot of dogs in fact there was a pack of about 8 dogs that I just saw on a walk around my block. They didn’t cause me any trouble, and can usually be scared away with a rock thrown in their direction.

Monkeys: You’d think the monkeys would be super cute and cool too, but they are kind of a nuisance. They are on the local mountain here and a friend was bitten on the leg by one.

They are also eating the trash and stealing food from restaurants.

One time I was eating breakfast at an open-air rooftop restaurant and a monkey jumped down and started walking between tables looking for food. One of the waitresses was a young girl and she took a slingshot for this expressed purpose to try to frighten him away, and he charged her… stopping just a few feet in front of her.

Another monkey tried to grab a guy’s omelette and he had to push it away.

Cows: With the cows, they’re not really a problem. They’re more humorous, one time I was walking across the street and it’s common for cows to be on the street and everywhere. But this cow was walking down the street and cars had been avoiding it and it must have been getting defensive.

I walked in front of it and it started to charge me with its horns. It was easy to dodge and cracked up a local holy man who was watching the scene, but something to be aware of.

7. Identity Theft

Data theft has increased by 783% in 2017 in India. If you’re using free WiFi at the airport, a coffee shop, a restaurant or a hotel, it’s actually not difficult to get hacked.

A friend of mine said he started to notice weird things after working on his laptop at a local restaurant with free WiFi.

I will always use my mobile hotspot. I have enough data with my local SIM card that it just makes sense not to risk it.

I also use ExpressVPN as an extra layer of protection.

Finally I practice basic smart internet security practices like:

  • Strong passwords
  • Use an anti-virus program like Avast (free)
  • Beware of common phishing scams like fake websites that look real and something you might put your password into.
  • Beware of using computers at a computer lab which may have a keylogging software installed. I’ve been hacked this way in the US before.

I never buy things online or put in my bank information at a public WiFi network and prefer to do everything from home.

I’m probably more paranoid than I need to be, but since I’m here awhile it makes sense to me to take every precaution. It’d be very inconvenient to get hacked and lose my precious identity 😵

8. Street Food

What superhuman could resist this?

I’ve eaten it, there’s some buffalo cauliflower that I love. They fry it and it’s a little like buffalo chicken wings, haha.

Some people will be very adventurous and eat everything and have no problems.

My friend barely ate anything and was sick for an entire day. Others get sick for weeks or worse get a parasite as mentioned above.

You’ll want to avoid anything that looks disgusting of course. If it’s covered in flies or looks like it’s been sitting out all day, then that’s probably not a good sign.

  • Go to busy places that look clean.
  • Do NOT eat anything that hasn’t been cooked.
  • Avoid most fruit. Already cut fruit might be bad because they could have been cut with a dirty knife or held with a dirty hand.
  • A coconut might be bad because it was opened with a dirty knife.
  • Milk might be old.
  • Meat might be rotten.
  • The oil something is deep-fried in might not have been changed in a long time.
  • Something may have been fried but it has something raw or rotten inside it.

Now that I’ve taken away all the fund, do you thing… just be careful.

I’ve sipped out of coconuts and eaten cut fruit and had fried samosas (and the cauliflower!) and been fine. But I do stick to mostly the nice restaurants that get a lot of tourists since they’re used to strict cleanliness.

8. Terrorism

It’s an understatement to say that Pakistan and India aren’t really friends.

They have been at war for generations and if you’re heading to Jammu and Kashmir or anywhere near the border, you’ll notice that there is fear in the air and plenty of armed guards.

There are other groups throughout India too. It’s worth having some general knowledge about the activities here, you can read the US State Department advisories.

The odds of danger are small but some knowledge will help increase your chances of staying safe.

9. Sexual Violence

The Thomson Reuters Foundation released a survey from 550 experts on women’s issues and stated that, India is the most dangerous country for sexual violence.

The USA was ranked 10th most dangerous.

There are 1.8 reported rapes in India per 100,000 people in 2010, compared to 27.3 reported in the USA. These numbers can be misleading though, since social pressure in India means that less rapes would be reported.

Indian law also would NOT recognize that rape can be committed within a marriage. Men cannot be raped. Oral sex wouldn’t count as a criminal rape.

I don’t feel confident giving much help on this subject but I know you can read about how women who have traveled in India solo and feel safer in India than the USA. You can also read about how some have been sexually harassed or assaulted.

I know a woman who was here for a few months and was groped by men as they rode by on a motorcycle. She was grabbed by a man on a country road. But she would probably recommend India to you if you were called to come.

I know other women who have never had anything happen to them.

I would love to enthusiastically recommend India to everyone I meet but the reality is that things do happen and I’d want you to have the information to help you prevent them.

Related Question:

Is it safe to travel to India now from the USA?

You can check the US State Department for the latest advisories.

Benjamin Jenks

Traveler, Filmmaker, and Lover of India. I've been living, writing and sharing what I've learned about traveling in India since 2018. Learn more about me here or Youtube.

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