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India 2019 Crime & Safety Report: Kolkata

India 2019 Crime & Safety Report: Kolkata

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Consulate in Kolkata, India.


The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses most of India at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to crime and terrorism. Some areas have increased risk: do not travel to the state of Jammu and Kashmir (except the eastern Ladakh region and its capital, Leh) due to terrorism and civil unrest; and do not travel to within ten kilometers of the border with Pakistan due to the potential for armed conflict.


Overall Crime and Safety Situation


The U.S. Consulate Kolkata in does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.


Review OSAC’s India-specific webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.


Crime Threats


There is moderate risk from crime in Kolkata. Crime is relatively low for a major city with over 15 million inhabitants. Criminal acts are not common, but can occur at local markets and tourist areas. Though Kolkata does experience a full range of criminal activity, most of the crime is generally non-violent. Petty crime (e.g. theft of personal property) is common and occurs regularly in local markets, at tourist sites, and on public transportation (e.g. buses, auto rickshaws). Exercise extra vigilance in major tourist areas, on overnight trains, and at rail stations and airports. Foreigners are favorable targets because they often carry a considerable amount of cash and are easily distracted by the sites.


There are a number of scams that target foreign travelers. The scams generally target younger travelers and involve suggestions that money can be made by transporting gems or gold (both of which can result in arrest) privately or by taking delivery abroad of expensive carpets, supposedly avoiding customs duties. Most schemes require that the traveler put up a deposit either to show sincerity or as a down payment or wholesale cost. These schemes invariably result in the traveler losing all of their money. The gem/gold is nearly always counterfeit; if it was real, the traveler could be subject to arrest. Such schemes often pull the unsuspecting traveler in over the course of several days, and begin with a new friend who offers to show the traveler the sights, so that the friend or new acquaintance can practice his English. Offers of cheap lodgings and meals also can place the traveler in the physical custody of the scam artist, and can leave the traveler at the mercy of threats or physical coercion. Travelers should deal only with reputable businesses, and should not give their money unless they are certain that goods being shipped to them are the goods they purchased.


Violent crime is rare. Women continue to report incidents of verbal and physical harassment by groups of men. These incidents can be quite frightening and can cross the line into criminal behavior.


Other Areas of Concern


The government designates certain parts of India as "restricted areas," and requires special advance permission to visit. These areas include the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur*, Mizoram*, Nagaland*, and Sikkim.


*In 2011, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced that U.S. citizens traveling as tourists would no longer need Restricted Area Permits to visit Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland. The government has not clarified implementing regulations, however, so travelers should seek clarification before traveling to these areas.


You can find more information on travel to restricted/protected areas at India’s Bureau of Immigration. You can obtain “Restricted Area Permits" at Indian embassies and consulates abroad, or from the Ministry of Home Affairs (Foreigners Division) at Jaisalmer House, 26 Man Singh Road, New Delhi. The states of Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, and Sikkim all maintain official guesthouses in New Delhi, each of which also can issue Restricted Area Permits for their respective states for certain travelers. The Foreigner Registration Office in Kolkata is located at 237 Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose Road, Kolkata - 700 020.


Avoid trains, crowds, and travel outside major cities in India's northeast states (Assam, Manipur, and Meghalaya) at night.


Limit trekking expeditions to routes identified for this purpose by local authorities. Solicit assistance only from registered trekking agencies, porters, and guides; suspend trekking after dark; camp at designated camping places; and ideally travel in groups of 8-10 people.


Cybersecurity Issues


Be wary of free Wi-Fi in Kolkata, and assume monitoring of all electronic media communications. Secure electronics in a hotel safe to prevent theft or loss of data.  


Transportation-Safety Situation


For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.


Road Safety and Road Conditions


Travel by road is dangerous. In Kolkata, road direction changes twice a day to accommodate huge inflows and outflows of vehicles during rush hours. Traveling at night is particularly hazardous. The safest driving policy is to assume that other drivers will not respond to a traffic situation in the same way you would in the U.S. Road rage is common. Use caution use while driving. Traffic moves on the left. Buses and trucks often run red lights and merge directly into traffic at yield points and traffic circles. Cars, auto-rickshaws, bicycles, and pedestrians behave only slightly more cautiously. Use your horn or flash your headlights frequently to announce your presence; doing this is both customary and wise.


Driving in Kolkata can be highly stressful and difficult for most foreigners to adjust to safely. To self-drive, you must have either a valid Indian driver’s license or a valid international driver’s license. Consider hiring a professional driver when visiting the region. Driving defensively is the best course of action. Avoid driving in rural areas after dark. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s report, Driving Overseas: Best Practices.


Remain alert while crossing streets and intersections, especially after dark as traffic is coming in an unexpected direction. Exercise extreme caution when crossing streets, even in marked pedestrian areas. Always wear protective equipment on motorcycles and bicycles.


Outside major cities, roads are often subject to poor maintenance and severe congestion. Even main roads frequently have only two lanes, with poor visibility and inadequate warning markers. On the few divided highways, expect to meet local transportation traveling in the wrong direction, often without lights. Heavy traffic is the norm and includes (but is not limited to) overloaded trucks/buses, scooters, pedestrians, animal carts, bicycles, and free-roaming livestock.


Traffic accidents are a regular occurrence. Emergency response capabilities are limited. If a driver hits a pedestrian or a cow, the vehicle and its occupants are at risk of attack from angry mobs. Such attacks pose significant risk of injury or death to the vehicle's occupants, or at least of impounding of the vehicle. If it is unsafe to remain at the scene of an accident, try to reach the nearest police station.


Protestors often use roadblocks as a means of publicizing their grievances, causing severe inconvenience to travelers. Visitors should monitor local news reports for any reports of road disturbances.


Public Transportation Conditions


Buses and trams are overcrowded and poorly maintained. Buses, patronized by millions of Indians, serve almost every city. However, drivers are usually fast, reckless, and inconsiderate of the rules of the road. Accidents are quite common. Crime is covert and involves pickpocketing.


Another popular mode of transportation is the train. Train accidents occur more frequently than in other countries, especially at night. Theft aboard trains along popular tourist routes is common. Criminals can drug food/drink offered to passengers. Where possible, lock your compartment. If you must sleep, position your luggage so that you would awaken if someone attempted to tamper with it. Alert authorities if you feel threatened. Extra police often ride trains on routes where crime is a serious problem.


Use metered taxis or hotel vehicles for transportation. Try to use pre-paid taxi booths for hired transportation. If you do not have access to a metered taxi, agree on a fare prior to embarking. Only take taxis clearly identified with official markings, and beware of unmarked cabs. It is preferable to obtain taxis from hotels rather than from on the street. Seat belts are not common; if possible, select a vehicle with seat belts and ask the driver to maintain a safe speed. Never take the advice of taxi drivers regarding your stay or tourism in Kolkata.


For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s report, Travelers' Guide to Indian Transportation Security.


Aviation/Airport Conditions


Use caution when taking public transportation from the airport. Generally, reputable hotels will arrange for airport pickup and delivery. Never accept rides from individuals claiming to be taxis. If you must use public transportation, use a pre-paid taxi service from the authorized taxi stand located just prior to exiting the airport near exit 4A and 4B.   


On leaving the airport building, take precautions; the large crowds and chaotic atmosphere is ideal for pickpockets. Avoid anyone offering cheap residential accommodation/transportation.


Other Travel Conditions


India offers opportunities for observation of wildlife in its natural habitat in Assam and West Bengal. Many tour operators and lodges advertise structured, safe excursions into parks and other wildlife viewing areas for close observation of flora and fauna. However, safety standards and training vary. It is a good idea to ascertain whether operators are trained and licensed.


Terrorism Threat


Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns


There is considerable risk from terrorism in Kolkata. Terror attacks are a serious threat to U.S. citizens. Always practice good personal security, including maintaining a heightened situational awareness and a low profile. Because the locations of attacks have included luxury and other hotels, trains, train stations, markets, cinemas, mosques, and restaurants in large urban areas, it is difficult to modify one's behavior to lessen the risk. Attacks have taken place during all hours and in markets and other crowded places. In 2008, several coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in major cities, to include New Delhi, Mumbai, Patna, Kolkata, and Burdwan, West Bengal.


The U.S. government continues to receive information that terrorist groups are planning attacks that could take place in locations throughout the Kolkata consular district and India as a whole.


Incidents of violence (e.g. bombings of buses, trains, markets) by ethnic insurgent groups are common in parts of Assam, Manipur, and Meghalaya. While insurgents have not specifically targeted U.S. citizens, there is a risk visitors could become unintended victims. Security laws are in force, and the central government has deployed security personnel.


Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment


Coordinated attacks in Mumbai in November 2008 and July 2011 targeted areas frequented by Westerners. Anti-Western terrorist groups and Islamist extremist groups (e.g. Harakat ul-Mujahidin, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e Tayyiba, and Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami), some on the U.S. government's list of foreign terrorist organizations, are active in the Kolkata consular district.


Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence


Civil Unrest


There is moderate risk from civil unrest in Kolkata. Demonstrations can occur spontaneously and escalate rapidly, posing risks to personal safety and disrupting transportation systems and city services. Authorities occasionally impose curfews and/or restrict travel. Political rallies and demonstrations have the potential for violence, especially immediately preceding and following elections.


Avoid political demonstrations and rallies. While most political demonstrations have been peaceful and orderly, destruction and/or damage of public municipal transportation is common during bandhs (general strikes), which usually call for the total shutdown of all services for some period (usually for a day) as a political protest.


Religious/Ethnic Violence


Tensions between castes and religious groups can result in disruptions and violence. The Gorkhaland statehood movement in the northernmost district of Darjeeling, West Bengal, is a political movement for the creation of a new state primarily along ethnic lines. Road blockages and disruptions to public transportation have been more frequent than in other areas in the region, and there is a heightened potential for civil unrest that affects travelers. Travelers should monitor local television, print media, and U.S. Consulate social media tools for further information about unstable situations.


Post-specific Concerns


Environmental Hazards


Northeastern India is highly susceptible to earthquakes.

·         In 2016, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake struck Imphal, Manipur. At least 11 people died, 200 others injured, and numerous buildings damaged.

·         In 2015, an 8.1-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal and seriously affected northeast India, specifically causing serious damage in Sikkim and Darjeeling.

·         In 2011, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake hit Manipur, and a 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck Sikkim. These earthquakes were felt in Kolkata and continue to cause serious concern for future events. 


During the June-September monsoon season, Kolkata receives heavy rainfall, overwhelming the underground sewage and drainage system. There is a history of major flooding in Assam and West Bengal. Exercise caution if you intend to swim in open waters along the coastline. Trained lifeguards are rare along the beaches, and the surf can be turbulent. Heed warnings posted or advised at beaches and avoid swimming in the ocean during the monsoon season.


Respect animals marketed as “tame” as wild and extremely dangerous. Keep a safe distance from animals, remaining in vehicles or other protected enclosures when venturing into game parks. For more information, review OSAC’s report, When Wildlife Attacks.


Critical Infrastructure Concerns


There have been occasional industrial accidents in Kolkata.


Economic Concerns


India has long been in disagreement with other industrialized nations over intellectual property rights. Police view these crimes as a low priority, and there is an abundance of software and music piracy. Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the U.S., you may be breaking local law. Licensing policies favor the country’s generic drug manufacturers. 


In 2016, the Indian government announced an immediate ban on 500 INR and 1000 INR notes. The government required all remaining 500 INR and 1,000 INR deposited in bank accounts before the end of the year. In 2017, all old 500 INR and 1000 INR notes became worthless. Be careful when receiving cash to make sure you do not receive any old notes. In this largely cash economy, there are occasional shortages of cash, especially in the countryside. The Indian government may institute withdrawal limits at banks and ATMs, subject to change.


Privacy Concerns


India’s Constitution does not guarantee a right to privacy for foreigners or Indian citizens.


Personal Identity Concerns


Women have been subject to targeting of sexual harassment and assaults in Kolkata. Women should be careful when traveling in/around Kolkata, maintain heightened awareness, and maintain strong personal security habits. Women should not travel alone. Women should observe stringent security precautions (e.g. avoiding using public transport after dark without the company of known and trustworthy companions, restricting evening entertainment to well-known venues, and avoiding walking in isolated areas alone at any time of day). Women should also ensure their hotel room numbers remain confidential, and insist the doors of their hotel rooms have chains, deadlocks, and spy holes. Women should hire reliable cars and drivers and avoid traveling alone in hired taxis, especially during the hours of darkness. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Female Personnel & Traveler Security in India.


An 1861 colonial-era law, known as Section 377 of India’s penal code, makes same-sex sexual acts illegal in India, and a December 2013 Indian Supreme Court ruling confirmed the law. Although prosecution under Section 377 is rare, LGBTI visitors may wish to avoid drawing attention.


If you plan to engage in religious proselytizing, Indian law requires you to have a missionary visa. Immigration authorities have determined that certain activities, including speaking at religious meetings to which the public is invited, may violate immigration law if the traveler does not hold a missionary visa. Foreigners with tourist visas who engage in missionary activity are subject to deportation and possible criminal prosecution. The states of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Arunachal Pradesh have legislation that regulates or places restrictions on conversion from one religious faith to another. If you intend to engage in missionary activity, seek legal advice to determine whether the activities you intend to pursue are legal under Indian law.


While in India, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find in the United States. Despite legislation that all public buildings and transport be accessible for disabled people, accessibility remains limited.


Drug-related Crimes


There has been an uptick in illegal drugs transiting India. The use of "club drugs" is also on the rise. Most of the drugs that are illegal in the U.S. are also illegal in India. Some Indian drug laws are stricter than those in the U.S. Officials conduct major anti-drug operations, especially at transportation hubs (e.g. airports, train stations). Plain-clothed narcotics officers frequent clubs and hotels in attempts to apprehend drug users and dealers.


Kidnapping Threat


Criminals have targeted tourists whose first language is not English for express kidnappings, where they befriend travelers by speaking their native language and then hold them for days while the emptying the victim’s bank account. There are reports that express kidnappers held some women for weeks and allegedly repeatedly raped them. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.


Police Response


Overall, police assistance is fair for local citizens, with a typical response time of 30+ minutes. It may take several years for a case to be heard in court.


How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment


In case of police detention or harassment, contact the U.S. Consulate General in Kolkata at +91-33-3984-2400 and ask for American Citizen Services (ACS). Arrested U.S. travelers have a right to notify, or have officials notify, the nearest U.S. Embassy/Consulate. Insist on this as a right, since authorities often overlook it. Though the Embassy and Consulates may not intervene in legal matters, they can provide information on lawyers and the local justice system, visit you on a regular basis, and serve as a liaison with parties approved by you.


Crime Victim Assistance


The emergency line in India is 100.


If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, contact the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy/Consulate. The nearest U.S. Consulate can help you replace a stolen passport. Immediately report the theft/loss to the police where the theft occurred. The Indian government requires a police report, called the First Information Report (FIR), to obtain an exit visa. Although the Consulate is able to replace a stolen or lost passport, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs and the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) are responsible for approving an exit visa. This process can take three to four working days. If you are a victim of crime, you must obtain a copy of the FIR from local police at the time of reporting the incident. A copy of this report is helpful for insurance purposes in replacing lost valuables. Local authorities generally are unable to take any meaningful action without the filing of a police report.


Police/Security Agencies


The Kolkata Police Department and local police throughout northeast India are professional; however, training and equipment may not be up to the same standard as in the U.S. Police typically are limited in their ability to respond to emergencies due to the lack of transportation and communications systems. Calls for service often take 30 minutes at best.   


Medical Emergencies


For medical emergencies, the number for ambulance service number in Kolkata is 102 (local), and the fire service number is 101. Ambulances are not equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment. Local traffic does not yield to emergency vehicles. It is often more timely to proceed to the hospital using private transportation than to wait for an ambulance response.


The quality of medical care varies considerably. Medical care that approaches and occasionally meets Western standards is available in the major population centers, but adequate medical care is usually very limited or unavailable in rural areas.


Medical tourism is a rapidly growing industry. Companies offering vacation packages bundled with medical consultations and financing options provide direct-to-consumer advertising over the Internet. Such medical packages often claim to provide high quality care, but the quality of health care is highly variable. People seeking health care should understand that medical systems operate differently from those in the U.S. and are not subject to the same rules and regulations. Anyone interested in traveling for medical purposes should consult with their local physician before traveling and refer to the information from CDC. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Medical Tourism Surging.


Contact Information for Available Medical Services


The U.S. Embassy and Consulates maintain lists of local doctors and hospitals on their websites.


Available Air Ambulance Services


Two air ambulance companies operate in the Kolkata consular district: International SOS and Europ Assistance.


Insurance Guidance


You cannot assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctor and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy does not go with you when you travel, it is a very good idea to take out another one for your trip.


Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance


Altitudes in popular trekking spots can be higher than 20,000 feet; make sure that you have had a recent medical checkup to assure that you are fit to trek and cycle at these altitudes. For more information, refer to OSAC’s Report Traveling in High Altitude.


The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for India.


OSAC Country Council Information


The Kolkata Country Council meets annually. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s South & Central Asia team with any questions.


U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information


Consulate Address and Hours of Operation


5/1 Ho Chi Minh Sarani, Kolkata, 700071

Monday-Friday, 0800 to 1700.


Consulate Contact Numbers


Tel: +91-33-3984-2400

Website: https://in.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/kolkata/


Nearby Posts: Embassy New Delhi, Consulate Chennai, Consulate Hyderabad, Consulate Mumbai, Virtual Presence Post Bangalore


Consulate Guidance


American citizens register in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive information from the U.S. Consulate in event of an emergency.


Additional Resource: India Country Information Sheet



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