The cheapest country in the world is India – Here are some examples

We’ve recently been compiling our Backpacker Index list for 2011, which reveals that most of the cheapest cities in Asia are alse the cheapest cities in the world. In fact, Hanoi, Vietnam comes out the least expensive of all tourist cities in the world, with the state of Goa in India coming in right behind.

Looking at the Asian cities list you’ll notice that there are many destinations in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and even Thailand that are extremely cheap, with the enormous metropolises of Delhi and Mumbai being significantly more expensive. The complication is that outside of India’s huge cities, prices tend to go way down, so when taking the country as a whole, India is definitely the cheapest destination in the world.

Get out of India's biggest cities quickly

Obviously nearly everyone will enter India by flying into Mumbai, Delhi, or perhaps Chennai or Kolkata. Some will immediately transfer to another flight to Goa or another resort area, but for most of us our introduction to this country is by staying in one or these enormous and amazingly overcrowded cities.

There are reports of some travelers just getting right back on a plane home as soon as possible, but it’s definitely worth it to stick it out for at least a couple of days to witness the insanity for yourself. But after that, go elsewhere to experience the magical parts of India, and enjoy the world’s cheapest tourism prices at the same time.

Accommodation prices in India

Thanks to extreme overcrowding that has actually sent real estate prices into the stratosphere, hotels in the large Indian cities tend to start around US$20 per night and go up steeply from there. In fact, it’s hard to find anything in Mumbai in the tourist district for under US$40 per night, and India as a whole has very few hostels to help with the situation.

The good news is that just about every other town that gets tourists at all has private rooms starting at around US$2 per night. That’s right, for rates starting at 100 rupees (US$2.15) you can even find hotels that meet Lonely Planet standards, and quality does tend to go way up for those who are willing and able to pay more. Those on even tighter budgets, and those staying more than a few days in one place can usually negotiate even better rates.

For example, a good-sized room withing walking distance of the beach in Goa, Puri, Pondicherry, or any other coastal town can be found for perhaps US$8 including a refrigerator and cable TV. If you can afford US$20 for a double room you can get something large and spotless with a comfortable bed and plenty of other amenities.

Transportation prices in India

Even though hotels in India’s large cities tend to be somewhat expensive, transportation is incredibly cheap throughout the country.

In fact, Delhi itself has the cheapest taxi prices in the world, and among the cheapest public transportations on the planet as well.

Some examples:

  • Ride on Delhi’s new metro system: US$0.38
  • All-day van and driver in Mumbai or Delhi: US$25 to $30 (including everything for up to 8 hours for 4 people)
  • 16-hour overnight train in the spacious, air-conditioned, and comfortable AC2 class: US$20

Transportation in India is rarely fast, but even domestic flights on local low-cost airlines tend to be incredibly cheap by international standards.

Attraction prices in India

The amazing Taj Mahal costs nearly US$17 to enter, but it’s easily the most expensive attraction in India.

Nearly every other fort or temple complex will be US$5 or even less, and there’s an endless list of free sights and attractions all over the country. In some cases prices for tourists are higher than for locals, but even then you’ll never come across something that feels too expensive for what it is.

Even things like yoga classes are usually just a couple dollars at most, so it’s quite easy to budget virtually nothing for sightseeing and attractions, and be endlessly entertained all day.

Food prices in India

This is where things really get amazing for new visitors. While it’s possible to find meals at tourist restaurants in southeast Asia for between US$1 and US$2 for a main course, it can be difficult to find things that aren’t that cheap in much of India.

Western food is available nearly everywhere, though in some holy cities it will all be vegetarian, and it’s usually easy to get a starter, a main course, and a beverage for under US$2 total, or a breakfast for around US$1.

Probably the best value if you like curries and Indian food in general is the ‘Thali’ (known as a ‘set-menu’ at many places) where you get a metal tray filled with lentil soup, rice, curried vegetables, pickled vegetables, and even curried meat in many places, all for around US$1.50 to US$2. Better still, these meals are generally all-you-can-eat, even though the original portion will be enough for all but the hungriest travelers.

Drink prices in India

Alcohol isn’t easy to find in some parts of India, though it’s usually just a matter of asking a waiter or hotel employee if you don’t see it on the menu, and then paying a small fee for delivery. Still, those who like tea, fresh juices, or yogurt lassis will always find good and cheap options.

Some examples:

  • Black tea in a restaurant: US$0.18
  • Sweet chai tea on a train: US$0.09
  • Coca-cola or other soft drink: US$0.23
  • Fruit lassi (yogurt shake): US$0.45 to US$0.65

For those who like to combine alcohol and travel, India also tends to be incredibly cheap. While it doesn’t have the world’s cheapest draft beer, the 650ml bottles of Kingfisher and other local lagers are usually cold and inexpensive.

Similar to so many other places, local taxes play a big role in the final price for drinks, and they range from moderate in Mumbai and Delhi, to non-existent in Goa or Pondicherry.

  • Large bottle of beer in Mumbai: US$1.80 to US$3.00 at most places
  • Large bottle of beer in Goa: US$0.90 to US$2.00 at most places, including on the beach itself

Liquor and mixed drinks tend to be a bit more expensive than beer, but not by much. If you opt for the locally-made Arak (coconut liquor) it can be even cheaper than beer, though it’s not always safe or legal.

Again, escape the big cities

India is overwhelming to every traveler upon arrival, even those who’ve already filled up their first passport. Most agree that the key to appreciating the country is to head to smaller towns quickly. There are holy towns like Pushkar in Rajasthan and mountain stations like Darjeeling and beach resort towns on both coasts, and all are less insane and far cheaper and more pleasant than Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, and Chennai.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All Comments

  1. Piyush says:

    Midwest girl…
    U shoud directly come to uttrakhand state its in base of himalayas and known as dev bhumi means gods place..its one of the most beautiful and senic state of india….Before indepandance it was most popular among britishers…
    All tourist can come here by public transport,,or by air and train…
    One of the most polution free town is lohaghat of district champawat..for more details you can check on wikipedia
    By writing lohaghat…and enjoy..
    I can be your guide for here…you can get every type of resthouse or restraunt here…so plese take a trip to here…
    Any one intrested in visting can mail me [email protected]
    ..only foreign tourist because domestic tourist will have ni problem here because people here knows hindi…

  2. Pragyan says:

    Most people here fail to understand what the admin is trying to say.

    We are talking about shoe-string travelling here. I am a back-packer my-self and have lived in India for long. I am essentially a budget traveler and I haven’t come across any place cheaper than India so far. I am really interested going to one place which is cheaper than India, that’s one of the reason I want to travel to Vietnam. However, this blog suggests that Vietnam is not cheaper than India.

    I can speak 4 Indian languages so I can’t say I have paid more than what locals would pay for same. With 30% of its population living ‘international below poverty line’, I wasn’t eating the food meant for IBPL but rather meant for ‘daily or minimum wages’ workers. In terms of hygiene, I have seen that the street vendor (specially in South) puts a fresh butter paper before putting food on it. I am presently in travelling in Africa.

    Here are my experience in terms of prices in India in terms of lowest. Here by lowest I mean the lowest I have paid. The food here meant basically eating by a street joint which may or may or may not have seat to offer.

    Most people here fail to understand what the admin is trying to say.

    We are talking about shoe-string travelling here. I am a back-packer my-self and have lived in India for long. I am essentially a budget traveler and I haven’t come across any place cheaper than India so far. I am really interested going to one place which is cheaper than India, that’s one of the reason I want to travel to Vietnam. However, this blog suggests that Vietnam is not cheaper than India.

    I can speak 4 Indian languages so I can’t say I have paid more than what locals would pay for same. With 30% of its population living ‘international below poverty line’, I wasn’t eating the food meant for IBPL but rather meant for ‘daily or minimum wages’ worker. These figures are from my travelling in 2011-12. I left India in February, 2012.

    1. Private hotel room with shared bathroom with running water: 0.90 Cents
    2. Private hotel room with bathroom with running water, ceiling fan, change of linen on Demand : 2.70 USD
    3. The Breakfast (Steamed rice cake with unlimited lentil soup and coconut dip): 0.09 USD
    4. The lunch (6 course meal rice, Indian bread, lentil soup, vegetables, pickle, crispy fried wafer): 0.21 USD
    5. High-tea (Tea with fried snacks): Tea for 0.053 USD, Fried snack each for 0.017 USD
    6. Dinner (4 course meal with Indian bread, Vegetables, soup): 0.18 USD
    7. Fresh Orange Juice: 0.18 USD
    8. Transport-Public: Less then 0.010 USD/ KM
    9. Transport-Private in 3 wheeler: About 0.15 USD/KM

    Let me know if anyone has paid anything less that that in last one year.

    The rates in USD is based on today’s conversion.

    1. Spring Hawk says:

      the prices you are quoting… can you tell us the name of the city or place?

      thank you in advance !!!

      1. Roger Wade says:

        Spring Hawk, I was quoting prices I was seeing all over, as long as you avoid the large cities. I was in Puri, Varanasi, Pondicherry, Fort Cochin, and Goa. But if you pick up a current Lonely Planet book, you’ll see similar prices in most smaller cities. -Roger

  3. Girl form the Midwest says:

    I just returned from Vietnam and a wonderful time and found the people amazingly sweet and friendly. I plan to visit India in December 2012 and appreciate the consistent message to get out of the big cities fast. Any ideas how I can prepare myself for places that will be impoverished, polluted and very crowded. First time traveling there, I think it could at make me feel incredibly grateful, but will also make me incredibly saddened. Any ideas on how to balance

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Hey Midwest Girl,

      I think you’ll do fine in India, although it has almost nothing in common with Vietnam.

      The important thing for India is what you already understand, which is to see the big cities in as short of time as possible, and prepare to be overwhelmed, comforted by the fact that most of the rest of the country is beautiful and not insanely crowded.

      Also, plan to stay in hotels that are a couple steps above the cheapest ones you read about, although they should still be reasonable. For example, you can literally get a US$6 per night room near the beach in Goa, but if you spend US$20 per night you’ll be much happier and it should be decent or better. That bottom, zero-star rung of accommodations can take a lot out of you. Many 2-star and 3-star places outside the cities have nice gardens on large lots, so staying in a place like that can be a nice way to get out of the craziness just outside the front gate.

      Bon voyage,

  4. deepa says:

    Hi i am deepa from india i spend all of life india

    india is cheaptest country there r some people who sell very cheap substance at very high price to forign tourist

    tip to bought any substance in india

    1.check out mrp rate (market retail price)
    which is listed at bottle like (cold drink,oil,any ôther bottle and covered substance like shamppo ,and other covered with plastic material
    2.always bought mrp listed substance
    3. Some time at bôttles written Rs/- which mean also mrp
    4.and always takes help from well and person which stand at bus stand,and always takes help from women
    5.never trust on men and avoid from hïm

    for any help my facebood id
    [email protected]


    1. Roger Wade says:

      Deepa, those are some great tips. It’s definitely easy to get ripped off if you don’t pay attention or you go to dodgy businesses. -Roger

  5. gargi shah says:

    well you seem to have done a lot of work, but i am afaraid….. all u rcalculations are based 5-10 years back…… and well if this is for tourist they are not gonna eat the food that ur calculating for…. what is the quality like, cold drinks and lassi is no more cheap… the hotel prices that u r talking about are neally shaddy hotels…. i am an indian… and have been living here… all my life… have visited many other countries… and renring car in india is also not as cheap as what ur talking about, the tourist places r free, but most of them dont have any maintainance, they are about be be ruined… is u look at other places there is a lot of information written at varios spots, but here you need to hire a guide…. so u do pay for ur visit may be not as much but its not free

    1. Roger Wade says:


      My research on this was done while I was spending more of the first half of 2011 in India, so all the prices were current as of then. I know inflation is a problem these days, but prices haven’t moved up much in the past 6 months, I’m sure.

      However, I do agree with you that the quality of the cheap things in India is important to note. The article is about how India remains the cheapest place for budget tourists, and that’s still true, but I do agree that a hotel room for 100 rupees is likely to be a nightmare. It’s important to realize that spending a month even in small towns in India for, say, US$300, is going to feel more like camping in a land fill than a proper holiday.

      But again, is there a cheaper country than India for budget travelers?

  6. Prem says:

    I have lived my entire life in India, but I do not fully agree with the analysis. First of all, comparing just the cost of living without comparing the standards of living is like comparing apples to oranges. There must be some measure of costs to lifestyle standards ratio to make a proper comparison. If you really build such a scale, India could be one of the most expensive countries of the world.

    I agree with Robert Klaus when he says that prices are rising day on day. Official estimates of inflation are usually between 10 and 20% while the real inflation could be much higher. Somebody who visited India even 3-4 years ago and visits India today can feel that the prices have gone up by two times or more. And this trend is likely to continue in the foreseeable future. And trust me, it is true for both cities and even non-descript villages in the interiors of the country. Prices are rising, and rising very fast. An insanely growing population with fast growth in wealth is putting too much pressure on the supplies. I also agree to his point that you may live for a little less in India than many other countries, but the quality of living will be really very, very poor. On the contrary, a 20% increased cost of living would give you a much better standard of living in East Europe or Turkey or Thailand, while in India, the same increase in the budget would not proportionately change your standard of living.

    Lastly to take the thread from what Robert Klaus said – you pay more for being a foreigner in India. Even though I am an Indian, I will agree with him, but also assure him that I, as an Indian, suffer the same fate in India if I dont speak the local language. Only that the 30 cent bread might get sold for $1 instead of $2. It is also true even if I speak the same language, but visit a smaller town from a city. But then, being a European, he must not crib. Indian visitors in Germany get the same type of shock when they get a bottle of water in a supermarket for 30 cents while they need to pay 3 Euros at a park or roadside stall or a train. In India, prices of commodities have to carry a retail price by law and it cannot be sold beyond the same retail price. As a result, small neighborhood shops use such tricks to extract more from visitors (Indians and foreigners alike) because the locals can take time to complain to authorities and the shopowner may be penalized.

    1. admin says:


      You make great points, as do previous commentors, but it still feels like you aren’t getting the concept of this article. Basically, if you are a backpacker or budget traveler, and you are looking for the country where you can stretch your funds the furthest, then India remains the cheapest in the world. I’ve recently been to all the countries that even come close, and all are more expensive.

      What would you suggest as the cheapest country for budget travelers?

      Here I’m discussing an acceptable hotel room, 3 meals a day, and transportation. It’s a shame that inflation is hitting residents hard, but the prices I quoted are all from early 2011 and I’m sure they haven’t doubled during the monsoon season.

  7. Robert Klaus says:

    No, not at all. I am not satisfied with the author. It is not true India is not the cheapest country any more. I am German. They are getting expensive day by day. There are many food crisis. Living standard is very low. Though you can live with 500 $ per month, but with dipshit has no living standard.

    They came to know that your are foreigner, they will loot you. 1 $ beer and for foreigner 2,50 $. So how it works for us.

    I still remember I was in a Bakery to buy some bread, The seller told me that I have to pay 2 $, but I was not satisfied, I have send one of my Indian Friend, He pays only .30 Cents, Just imagine, what kind of cheaters are they. Sorry for India.

    1. admin says:

      Robert, It seems that many people experience India in different ways, and that you had the bad luck of being ripped off all the time. I spent 3 months earlier this year traveling all over India for my second time there and I still found many hotels and guesthouses that literally charge 50 to 100 rupees per night. And as mentioned you can get a thali meal for around the same price, even in many tourist restaurants.

      Which country would you say is cheaper? The previous year I spent 4 months all over Vietnam and I think it’s the next cheapest, but it’s still definitely more expensive than India in general.

      And again, as mentioned in the article itself, the key to visiting India on a very low budget is to avoid the big cities. That will also probably help you avoid getting ripped off. Both Mumbai and Delhi are far more expensive than, say, Hanoi, which I’ve written about elsewhere on the site.

      Thanks for your comments and story though. The feedback is appreciated.

  8. C Patel says:

    It’s not really “overcrowding” that has driven up the price of hotels in India, but a middle class of 300 million people who are exploring their own country. Just ten years ago, newlyweds did not honeymoon; now it is common. I was recently in India in Feb 2011 and was shocked at how much more expensive it was compared to 5 years earlier (with a similar exchange rate of Rs45/US$1.) Hotels above $100/night are common. I did not see a single room for $10 or $20.

    Food can be very inexpensive, though $1 (Rs50) thalis at modestly sanitary restaurants are rare, and while seasoned travelers know that higher price does not always equate to good sanitation, there is a correlation. The $1-$2 thalis can be found at some temples, but again, sanitary conditions vary. Travelers who are not on a mission to try to save money should easily expect more like $5 for a meal, $10 if you “pig out”. Liquor prices and availability vary by state. In Gujarat, which is dry, expect to pay more.

    Transportation is inexpensive in India, the train, cars, rickshaws and even domestic flights. But it can be hard to get a seat on the train!

    The tourist attractions are a big part of a reason that you just spent a fortune on international airfare, and they are rarely free. There is an endless list in any city of $5 entry fees. This can run up a serious tab.

    I’m shocked that someone would conclude that India is the cheapest country in the world. I’ve been to many cheaper. In fact, traveling around the US, staying in Motel 6s and Quality Inns–rooms from $40-$60 per night–and eating at inexpensive places and happy hours, with some self-catering thrown in, in a rented car that can cost as little as $12/day can be cheaper than India! I’ve recently done both so I can say this with authority.

    While India is wonderful, it is a moderately priced travel destination.

    1. admin says:

      C Patel, very interesting comments, and I don’t dispute any of your personal experiences. I wrote that post in my 3rd month of my second trip to India, and I found that as long as you avoid Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and such, that things were insanely cheap, even a bit cheaper than Vietnam, which probably ranks as second cheapest. I stayed at a very nice guesthouse in Anjuna, Goa with A/C and TV for around US$9/night at the end of the high season. A big bottle of beer in Goa or Pondicherry (even on the beach) can be under $2, and around US$3 even in central Delhi. A 9-hour train ride in a sleeper bunk can be US$20, and a thali in a reasonably hygienic sit-down restaurant can be around US$1. There’s nothing even close to that in the US, even with occasional rental car or hotel deals. Vietnam is definitely next cheapest, and the USA is in another league altogether. Still, I really do appreciate the feedback, and we each experience things differently. -Roger

  9. rocky says:

    I am an Indian settled in the US. If you stick to vegetarian meals, chances of food poisoning are minimal. Most of the food is cooked fresh daily. Make sure that there are a lot of natives eating in that food joint. Spoons would better be avoided. Bottled Coke/Pepsi is generally safe too. Cheap accommodation can have a theft problem. Besides, a lot of cheap accommodations are also prostitution dens.

  10. Sachin says:

    I’m from India. Good analysis. However, we also have to take into account “quality” of “Service”.

    The service and quality you get in these prices is very low..infact…it could be a “frustrating” experience to get things done here in India. I would urge tourist to NOT eat at cheaper places…food poisoning looms large here…. also, DO NOT drink tap water or bottled water either…they are all same… corruption is the name of the game…Boil your water or ask the hotel to give you only boiled water and then cool the water in your room.

    Cheap does not necessarily mean good. Quality does not come with cheap either. I want to showcase what real India is NOT what we see on TV or media..they are all propaganda tools of the government as you have back home.

    I agree that places outside of major cities are Pushkar and Darjeeling…As the article says…get out of major cities as soon as possible..i agree totally…thats the best, safest, cleanest and cheapest way to experience India.

    1. admin says:

      Sachin, thank you for the insightful comment.

      You make a great point that cheap often means poor quality, which is actually true around the world as well. I’m in Puri now, on my second long trip to India, headed for Chennai and Pondicherry next. So far I’ve had no problems with the sealed bottled water, although now I’ll have to pay even more attention. Personally, I think drinking only boiled water would be too much of a hassle.

      And sadly, I agree that food poisoning is more of an issue here than it is most everywhere else. Although at the same time, as I implied in the post, it can be difficult to find a restaurant that is not cheap. Here in Puri there are about 15 tourist restaurants and their prices and menus are nearly identical. Still, no problems after a couple weeks here.


    2. Ganesh says:

      @Mr Sachin,
      I am an Indian too, but wondering if you really are from India. Agreed, service and quality is sometimes low, and food and water might not be always safe for people with sensitive stomach, but these happen in countries in Europe too! I know this for a fact because I fell sick eating a burger in Spain, and the some of the hostels I’ve seen in London have given me some sleepless nights.

      A tourist wont bother about how corrupt your country is unless he/she intends to live here. India is not the only corrupt country. Go check the stats on internet.

      The only reasonable sentence in your whole comment is the last line.

      So keep your frustrations to yourself and welcome a guest like our culture advises us to.

      @Admin: Cheers on the website. Come visit South India some time… Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have a lot of places even most of the localites have to visit.. advise to avoid Summer time as most westerners aren’t used to the extreme heat

    3. Karan Chawla says:

      I really tend to wonder people criticizing actually live here or have traveled anywhere at all.
      I live here since 32 years and have traveled the world most of it.
      India is by far the cheapest country ive known and quality standards i stayed in hostels as well as 5 stars… Quality is much better if you compare anywhere for that price.
      But why people experience different experiences… i have an answer
      India is extremely sentimental and sensitive country….majorly due to spiritual backgrounds.
      Some of the foreigners (not all) tend to be rude and snob in their behavior while bargaining or talking to shopkeepers….they get offended and feel piss off instantly and either you get inflated price or poor quality in return.
      My advice is that talk politely i bet u’ll be treated better than locals for sure.