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Foreign Drivers in India: Legal Aspects

If you are an adventurous spirit, driving in India might be the thrill you have been looking for. If not, you should get a professional driver to navigate you through the congested streets and their unwritten rules. Our driving guide for expats gives you a good idea of what to expect.
Cows are not an uncommon sight on Indian streets.

Out of Chaos Comes Order: The Most Important Driving Regulations

Contrary to what you might expect when thinking about driving in India, there are specific rules and regulations to be followed on India’s roads. Although they are not always enforced, they still exist and should be obeyed:

  • The legal minimum age for driving a car in India is 18.
  • Indians drive on the left-hand side of the road with the steering wheel on the right side of the car.
  • The blood alcohol content limit is 0.3% and punishment for going over is severe: a first offense may include imprisonment for up to six months and/or a fine of up to 2,000 INR. A second offense within three years of the first will be two years of imprisonment and a fine of up to 3,000 INR.
  • You may not use a handheld mobile phone while driving in India, and you may be charged 1,000 INR for this offence.
  • The use of seatbelts, and helmets for motorcycles, is only mandatory in major cities, but comes highly recommended.

India does not consider foreign licenses valid. You can apply for an international driver’s license in your home country if you are in India on a short-term assignment for less than a year. If you intend to stay in India for longer, however, be sure to have an Indian driver’s license, which is administered by the regional transport office — under the governance of the state, not the federal government. There are several types of vehicle licenses you can apply for, the most important being:

  • motorcycle license (2 wheeler)
  • light motor vehicle license (LMV) to drive passenger cars (3/4 wheeler)
  • heavy motor vehicle license (HMV) for driving a bus or truck

The process of getting said license is fairly similar to most other countries. You need to apply for a learner’s license and take a written and practical exam in order to get a permanent license for driving legally.  

Import of Vehicles to India: Mission Impossible?

Importing your used private car is an undertaking that is not only somewhat tricky but also rather expensive and, ultimately, pointless. As used cars have a (minimum) import duty rate of 125% of their actual value, you should only really consider this option if there is absolutely no other way for you to obtain a car that fits your needs.

Most people need an import license in order to take their car with them to India. There are, however, a number of categories for exemption from the need for a license. Customs duties have to be paid in both cases. The exempt categories include, for instance, disabled persons who rely on vehicles customized to their needs, Indians returning to India after a period of at least two years abroad, honorary consuls, and branches or offices of foreign companies.

The vehicle you wish to import has to fulfill a number of requirements, such as a right-hand steering wheel and a speedometer indicating the speed in km/h. The car (only if it is new) must also be imported from the country of manufacture. New cars whose engine capacity exceeds 1,600cc are banned from import, though used and old cars have no limit.

Please keep in mind that the port in Mumbai is currently the only point of entrance for imported used cars.

Vehicle Registration

To register a car in India, you have to go to the Regional Transport Office in your area of residence and request a registration form. Along with the completed form you will need the following:

  • the original sales certificate of the car issued by the dealer indicating you as the new owner
  • the original invoice
  • a roadworthiness certificate issued by the car manufacturer
  • a “pollution under control” certificate concerning exhaust fumes and emissions
  • the customs clearance certificate for imported cars
  • an attested copy of a valid insurance policy
  • a proof of address
  • a one-time road tax fee
  • a registration fee

Car Insurance in India: Highly Recommended

The only mandatory vehicle insurance in India is third-party liability insurance. You have the choice of adding a full-coverage policy, which includes liability against theft and damages by fire, flooding, or earthquakes. Taking into account the state of the roads and general living conditions in India, this is probably not a bad idea. There are several good vehicle insurance companies in India, which offer solid and comparatively inexpensive policies.

Most Indians cannot afford to buy a car, let alone pay the fee for registering one. For this reason, less than half of the demand is for private vehicles. However, as an expat, you will probably find cars fairly cheap in India. In fact, the world’s cheapest car, the Tata Nano, was manufactured in India at an initial selling price of about 2,000 EUR.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

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