Local laws and customs

There may be very serious penalties for breaking a law which might seem trivial to you, or for doing something which may not be illegal in the UK. Hobbies involving cameras and binoculars, like bird-watching or plane spotting, may be misunderstood particularly near military sites, government buildings, airports and railway stations.

Indian family law is very different from UK law and particular caution is needed when, for example, child custody becomes an issue.


The laws governing alcohol vary from state to state. Consumption of alcohol is prohibited in Bihar, Gujarat, Mizoram, Nagaland and the union territory of Lakshadweep. There is a partial ban in some districts in Manipur.

Consumption or possession of alcohol in prohibited states can lead to arrest without bail and charges which carry a sentence of 5 to 10 years. In some states foreign nationals and non-resident Indians are able to buy 30-day alcohol permits. Seek advice from your local travel agent/hotel or the authorities to ensure you’re aware of any alcohol prohibition in the state.

During major religious festivals, national holidays and elections, a ban on the sale of alcohol is often imposed.

Smoking and E-cigarettes

Smoking is banned in public places, with the exception of airports, hotels and restaurants with designated smoking areas. E-cigarettes and related products are banned. You will be unable to buy e-cigarettes in India or bring them into the country.


Don’t get involved with illegal drugs. There is no categorising of drugs into Class A, B and C. There is a minimum sentence of 6 months for possession of small amounts deemed for personal consumption only. A 10-year sentence for possession of other amounts applies. The judicial process is slow and pre-trial detention lasting several years is normal.

Customs regulations

Indian customs has strict rules about goods that can be brought into and taken out of the country. Failure to declare contents you’re carrying which may be prohibited or subject to a tax or duty payment can lead to heavy penalties including imprisonment. You can find more information about the list of items and rules and regulations on the Indian Customs website.

For information about rules on travelling with currency, see Money.

It is illegal to possess and operate satellite phones in India, and British nationals have been arrested for bringing satellite phones into the country without prior permission from the Indian authorities. More information on the use of satellite phones can be found on the Department of Telecommunications’ website.

You may need prior permission from the Indian authorities to bring equipment like listening or recording devices, radio transmitters, powerful cameras or binoculars into India. Seek advice from the Indian High Commission in London.


In September 2018, the Indian Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality. Although homosexuality is no longer prohibited by law, same-sex marriage is still illegal. Indian society remains conservative and public attitudes towards LGBT people can be less tolerant than in the UK. This is especially the case outside of big cities. LGBT travellers should be mindful of local attitudes and be aware that public displays of affection may attract unwanted attention. See our advice page for LGBT travellers.


It’s illegal to buy, sell, kill or capture any protected wild animal or trade its parts without a licence. India has a strong legal framework to regulate and restrict wildlife trade and is also a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). If you’re caught purchasing or trafficking such goods illegally, you will be prosecuted and receive prison sentences or fines.

Sexual offences

The penalties for child sex offences are severe. Legislation prescribes a minimum jail term of 20 years, which may go up to life imprisonment, or a death sentence to those convicted of raping a child below 12 years of age.